Justia U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts

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This appeal stemmed from the parties' longstanding dispute over the literary works of John Steinbeck. In this case, a federal jury in Los Angeles unanimously awarded plaintiff, as executrix of Elaine's estate (Elaine was the widow of Steinbeck), compensatory damages for slander of title, breach of contract, and tortious interference with economic advantage, and punitive damages against defendants. Determining that it had jurisdiction, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the orders granting summary judgment and striking defendants' defenses to tortious interference on grounds of collateral estoppel. Furthermore, the panel explained that it follows that the district court's decisions to exclude evidence related to defendants' different understanding of the agreement at issue or the validity of the prior court decisions were not abuses of discretion. The panel affirmed the compensatory damages award, holding that the record contained substantial evidence to support the awards on each cause of action independently. Furthermore, the compensatory damages were not speculative. The panel held that there was more than ample evidence of defendants' malice in the record to support the jury's verdict, thus triggering entitlement to punitive damages. However, the panel vacated and remanded with instructions to dismiss the punitive damages claims against Gail, Steinbeck's daughter-in-law, based on lack of meaningful evidence of Gail's financial condition and her ability to pay. View "Kaffaga v. The Estate of Thomas Steinbeck" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of a diversity action based on a forum selection clause in the parties' Asset Purchase Agreement. The panel applied its decision in Yei A. Sun v. Advanced China Healthcare, Inc., 901 F.3d 1081 (9th Cir. 2018), which was decided after the district court ruled in this case, and held that the forum-selection clause here was unenforceable because it contravened the strong public policy declared by Idaho Code 29-110(1). Therefore, the panel remanded so the district court could apply a traditional forum non conveniens balancing analysis. View "Gemini Technologies, Inc. v. Smith & Wesson Corp." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit certified the following questions to the California Supreme Court: Does section 16600 of the California Business and Professions Code void a contract by which a business is restrained from engaging in a lawful trade or business with another business? Is a plaintiff required to plead an independently wrongful act in order to state a claim for intentional interference with a contract that can be terminated by a party at any time, or does that requirement apply only to at-will employment contracts? View "Ixchel Pharma, LLC v. Biogen, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Business Law, Contracts

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After Hamas fired rockets from Gaza into Israel, Universal moved the production of their televisions series out of Jerusalem at significant expense. Universal filed an insurance claim for coverage of those costs under a television production insurance policy and the insurer, Atlantic, denied coverage based on the policy's war exclusions. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Atlantic in part and held that Atlantic breached its contract when it denied coverage by defining Hamas' conduct as "war" or "warlike action by a military force." Because the district court did not address the third war exclusion regarding whether Hamas' actions constituted "insurrection, rebellion, or revolution," the panel remanded for the district court to address that question in the first instance. Consequently, the panel vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment on Universal's bad faith claim because it turned on the district court's erroneous analysis of the first two war exclusions. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Universal Cable Productions, LLC v. Atlantic Specialty Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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When a federal court sitting in diversity confirms an arbitration award, the preclusion law of the state where that court sits determines the preclusive effect of the award. Plaintiff previously arbitrated breach of contract and related claims against ZTE USA, a wholly-owned subsidiary of defendant ZTE Corp. ZTE Corp. was not a party to the arbitration. After the arbitrator denied plaintiff's claims, the district court confirmed the award under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed. In this case, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claim against ZTE Corp., and held that the arbitration award and its confirmation by the district court together barred plaintiff from pursuing its current claims against ZTE Corp under the doctrine of claim preclusion. The panel explained that, because a district court in Florida confirmed the award, Florida law applied. Under Florida law, the court held that claim preclusion barred plaintiff's claims because it sought the same remedy it had previously sought in arbitration. Furthermore, ZTE Corp. is in privity with ZTE USA, and the parties were suing in the same capacity as in the arbitration. View "NTCH-WA, Inc. V. ZTE Corp." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the state in an action brought by LL Liquor, claiming that Montana's Senate Bill 193 impaired the company's contract to purchase liquor with the Montana Department of Revenue, in violation of the Contracts Clause. Montana's Senate Bill 193 restructured the formula for calculating the rate at which state-approved agency franchise stores could purchase liquor from the state. The panel held that Montana's Senate Bill 193, which applied a uniform commission structure to all franchise stores in the state, did not give rise to a Contracts Clause claim by LL Liquor against the state. In this case, the state did not impair its contractual obligation within the meaning of the Contracts Clause because it did not eliminate LL Liquor's remedy for breach of its contract with the state. View "LL Liquor, Inc. v. Montana" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Paramount in an action under section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act. AFM filed suit alleging breach of Article 3 of the Basic Theatrical Motion Picture Agreement, a collective bargaining agreement, in connection with the motion picture, Same Kind of Different As Me, which was scored in Slovakia. The panel held that the district court misinterpreted Article 3 to apply only if a signatory producer employs the cast and crew shooting the picture; Article 3 functions as a work preservation provision that dictates when a signatory has to hire those musicians; and Article 3 applied when a signatory studio produces a motion picture and has authority over the hiring and employment of scoring musicians. The panel held that there was a disputed question of fact as to whether Paramount produced the movie and had sufficient authority over the hiring of scoring musicians such that Article 3 applied. Finally, the panel rejected Paramount's affirmative defense that Article 3 violated the National Labor Relations Act's "hot cargo" prohibition and reversed two of the district court's evidentiary rulings. View "American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada v. Paramount Pictures Corp." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's action based on a forum-selection clause in share purchase agreements that required disputes related to the parties' agreement be adjudicated in California state court, rather than Washington state court. The panel held that plaintiffs failed to carry their heavy burden of showing the sort of exceptional circumstances that would justify disregarding a forum-selection clause. Applying federal contract law to interpret the scope of the forum-selection clause, the panel held that the forum-selection clause here applied to any disputes arising out of or related to the Share Purchase Agreements and plaintiffs' claims that defendant violated the Washington State Securities Act constituted such a dispute. The panel rejected plaintiffs' claims to the contrary and held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the complaint. View "Sun v. Advanced China Healthcare, Inc." on Justia Law

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This case concerned remedies in various appeals arising from claims for breach of contract and fraud. The Ninth Circuit held that the district court's orders on July 26, 2010, and October 8, 2013, affirming defendants' right to recover restitution, were sound; in regard to the December 17, 2014 order, the district court erred in allowing the judgment creditor to recover in restitution in light of Ward v. Sherman, 100 P. 864 (Cal. 1909); the judgment creditor's challenges to the October 8, 2013 order denying the judgment creditor's request for rescission of its quota share reinsurance agreement was rejected; the May 19, 2015 order granting in part and denying in part defendants' motion to recover post-appeal attorneys' fees under California Civil Code 1717 was reversed; and because the judgment creditor's restitution award was reversed, the district court's July 14, 2015 order denying defendants' motion to retax costs was reversed and remanded for reconsideration. View "PSM Holding Corp. v. National Farm Financial Corp." on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts

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This case concerned remedies in various appeals arising from claims for breach of contract and fraud. The Ninth Circuit held that the district court's orders on July 26, 2010, and October 8, 2013, affirming defendants' right to recover restitution, were sound; in regard to the December 17, 2014 order, the district court erred in allowing the judgment creditor to recover in restitution in light of Ward v. Sherman, 100 P. 864 (Cal. 1909); the judgment creditor's challenges to the October 8, 2013 order denying the judgment creditor's request for rescission of its quota share reinsurance agreement was rejected; the May 19, 2015 order granting in part and denying in part defendants' motion to recover post-appeal attorneys' fees under California Civil Code 1717 was reversed; and because the judgment creditor's restitution award was reversed, the district court's July 14, 2015 order denying defendants' motion to retax costs was reversed and remanded for reconsideration. View "PSM Holding Corp. v. National Farm Financial Corp." on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts