Monday, May 14, 2018
In a copyright-ish case falling under the contract umbrella, Broker Genius, Inc. v. Volpone, 17-cv-8627 (SHS), a recent case out of the Southern District of New York, is a contract case where the likelihood of irreparable harm leads to the court granting a preliminary injunction.
The court concluded this meant that the products would be similar and that the similarities in the second product would be traceable to the first. The court found the defendants' software to be "extraordinarily similar" to Broker Genius's software, and those similarities were traceable to Broker Genius, due to the defendants' access to Broker Genius's software and the fact that the defendants' creation of their software happened "immediately" after accessing Broker Genius's software. The court acknowledged that some of the similarities predated Broker Genius's software, or were "logical or obvious," and that defendants had prior knowledge and experience in the industry. However, the weight of the evidence led to a finding that Broker Genius was likely to succeed on its breach of contract claim.
The court also found that defendants' derivative product was causing Broker Genius to suffer a loss of reputation and good will, which could not be compensated with monetary damages. Therefore, the court issued a preliminary injunction.
Wednesday, May 9, 2018
A recent case out of the Eastern District of Missouri, Schoemehl v. Unwin, No. 4:18-cv-00031-JAR, underlines the fact that arbitration is favored in this country, including to decide claims of fraudulent inducement to enter into the contract in the first place. The plaintiff tried to argue that he would not have agreed to the arbitration clause were it not for the alleged fraud committed by the defendant. However, the court noted that the Federal Arbitration Act requires fraud in the inducement of a contract to be submitted to arbitration. Fraud in the inducement of the arbitration clause specifically would be a different question, but the plaintiff was not alleging that. The fraud in plaintiff's allegations went to the substance of the entire contract, and there was nothing about the validity of the arbitration clause itself as separate from the rest of the contract. Therefore, the court stayed the action pending arbitration.
Monday, May 7, 2018
It's been a while since I blogged about release of liability clauses in the context of gyms. In case you were missing them, here's a recent one, again out of Pennsylvania, Vinson v. Fitness & Sports Clubs, LLC, No. 2875 EDA 2016.
Vinson was a member of an L.A. Fitness gym. While using the gym, she tripped and fell on a wet floor mat and suffered injuries. She sued L.A. Fitness for negligence. L.A. Fitness pointed to its clause in its membership agreement releasing it from liability for, inter alia, "accidental injuries." The trial court granted L.A. Fitness's motion for summary judgment on the basis of this clause, and Vinson appealed, arguing that the clause was invalid as against public policy because her claims involved the maintenance of gym facilities, which was "a vital matter of public health and safety." L.A. Fitness argued that the membership agreement was merely a contract between two private parties and did not implicate public policy.
The court sided with L.A. Fitness. The court noted that, in other cases, courts had upheld the identical clause in L.A. Fitness's membership agreement. There were no factual differences in Vinson's case that set it apart from these other cases. Vinson joined the gym voluntarily and went to the gym voluntarily. She chose to subject herself to the provisions of the membership agreement. Public policy did not point against its enforcement.
Wednesday, May 2, 2018
I never spend a lot of time on minors and contracts, because I teach a one-semester Contracts course and it just has to keep moving, but this is an interesting case delving into the issue in much more detail than I can get around to, recently out of the Northern District of California, T.K. v. Adobe Systems Inc., Case No. 17-CV-04595-LHK (behind paywall).
T.K. was a minor who was given a license to access Adobe's Creative Cloud Platform. In order to access the platform, T.K. agreed to the terms of service. The license auto-renewed after a year, and T.K. contacted Adobe to disaffirm renewal of the license. Adobe eventually (although apparently not immediately) refunded T.K.'s money for the renewal, but T.K. sued alleging injury because she was deprived for some time of use of the funds auto-debited by Adobe. T.K. alleged that Adobe initially refused to allow T.K. to disaffirm the auto-renewal, in contravention of law. (T.K. also alleged that Adobe's terms of service implied that users still had to pay even after cancellation, also in contravention of law. I'm not going to focus on that, but the allegation did survive the motion to dismiss.)
Adobe argued that T.K. was relying on the choice of law provision in the disaffirmed contract and so should also be held to the arbitration provision of that contract, because minors cannot cherry-pick which portions of a contract they disaffirm. The court, however, said that T.K. was not cherry-picking. Rather, T.K. had disaffirmed the entire contract. The reference to the choice of law provision was only to buttress her independent choice of California law to resolve the dispute between the parties. Therefore, T.K. was not bound by the arbitration provision.
The opinion discusses lots more causes of action, if you're curious.
Monday, April 30, 2018
Opting out of Facebook once you've opted in (or, you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave)
In the earlier years of the twenty-first century, I did what now literally billions of people have done and opened a Facebook account. I didn't use it for very long, and in fact I stopped using it probably almost ten years ago at this point. I stopped for a variety of reasons, but I left the account up because of that rule about how bodies at rest tend to stay at rest, I suppose. I didn't use it, it was just a passively existing thing, and it seemed like effort to get rid of it.
With everything coming out about Facebook and data, I started wondering why I still had that account sitting there. I didn't think Facebook had a whole lot of data on me since I'd stopped using it so many years ago, but I figured, What was the point of giving it any info on me at all? Why not just delete the account?
I don't know if you've ever tried to delete your Facebook account. There are two options: deactivation, which deactivates your account but continues its existence, or deletion, which actually deletes your account. I wanted the latter, which requires you to fill out a contact form saying you would like to delete your account. So, in January, I filled out the form and received a verification email saying that my account would be deleted within the next two weeks, and I moved on with my life.
Except. No, I didn't. Because Facebook kept emailing me little updates about my friends on Facebook, even though I kept clicking the "unsubscribe" link to try to get out of the emails. And then an email came in saying that someone had sent me a message. Which seemed like something they shouldn't be able to do if my account was deleted. I asked a friend still on Facebook to check for me, and she said that yup, I was still on Facebook. My account had never been deleted.
And now's where the confusion really started, because, well, after literally months of dealing with this, I have to admit: I have no idea how to contact Facebook without being on Facebook. It's so convoluted that in fact an entire scam has mushroomed up around it, taking advantage of people who just want to try to get in touch with Facebook.
Facebook's log-in page (if you're logged out of Facebook) has no real contact info on it. The "About" link takes you to Facebook's Facebook page (so meta!), which contains links to a "website" and "company" info, both of which take you to "Page Not Found" pages, which is kind of hilarious to me. It seems to recommend you use Facebook Messenger to contact them, but...I'm not on Facebook Messenger. That's the whole point.
When you click on the "Help" link, it takes you to a FAQ page divided by topics, some of which are about account deletion but it seems to just be a bunch of people complaining about how Facebook won't delete their accounts. Or, what's worse, suggesting you call a customer service number that seems to be a scam, as evidenced by complaints here and here; by the fact that NPR did a previous story on the fact that Facebook has no customer service number; and the fact that Facebook itself appears to say it's a scam, as the below Google snippet shows:
That link looked to me like exactly what I'm trying to track down, so I clicked on it, but, alas, it's only available to me if I join Facebook.
So it looks like, once you've opted into Facebook, there really is no opting out. I've tweeted at them with no response and tried some general email addresses (info@facebook; support@facebook) with no response. The emails I keep trying to unsubscribe from give me a physical mailing address, so I guess I could send them a letter asking them to follow through and delete my account and also unsubscribe me from the email lists, but I'm not hopeful that will get a response, either.
I am hardly the first person to realize that Facebook is nearly impossible to get in touch with (the Sikhs for Justice case seems to have kicked off based at least in part on an inability to get any substantive responses from Facebook), but it seems like, in the wake of a lot of questions about control over our own data, our first step might at least make it a requirement that websites provide contact info for discussions about that data -- contact info that doesn't require you to first "opt in" to their terms and conditions (which is exactly what I'm trying to get out of!).
We've been doing a lot of talking about the terms and conditions we agree to without reading them, and I guess I always assumed that if I changed my mind, I could back out. Facebook's terms and conditions even allow for that, stating that I can delete my account at any time. But it has turned out not to be nearly so simple, and I am literally flummoxed as to what options I have, seeing as how I don't really feel like going to court in the State of California, as required by the terms and conditions. It looks like I have an account on Facebook, whether I like it or not, for the foreseeable future. You don't realize how much privacy you've already given up until you try to get just a bit of it back.
Friday, April 27, 2018
A recent case out of the District of New Mexico, Bar J Sand & Gravel, Inc. v. Fisher Sand & Gravel Co., No. Civ. 15-228 SCY/KK (behind paywall), offers up a waiver fact pattern. The parties had a contract with a renewal option that stated that written notice of intent to exercise the renewal option had to be received within 120 days of the initial contract expiring. Fisher indisputably provided the written notice after the 120-day deadline. Fisher, no longer wanting to be in a contract with Bar J due to disputes over terms, argued that this meant its written notice was ineffective but Bar J argued that it had waived the 120-day requirement.
The court agreed. Bar J and Fisher had discussions about the written notice and Bar J indicated to Fisher multiple times that it should send the written notice over even though it was 'technically" late. If Bar J had intended to enforce the 120-day requirement, it would not have asked Fisher to prepare and submit the late notice. Therefore, this operated as a waiver of the 120-day requirement, which Bar J was permitted to do.
However, the court found that the written notice Fisher sent was not in fact an exercise of the renewal option but rather, based on its language, some sort of counteroffer in which Fisher was requesting to renegotiate some terms. The parties did in fact discuss modification of their contractual terms and never reached an agreement on them (hence Fisher's stance in this case). Therefore, the court did not find that Fisher could be held to have renewed the agreement.
From our friends at Emory Law School:
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April 27, 2018 | Permalink
Wednesday, April 25, 2018
I fell down a rabbit hole recently looking at athletes who had lied about their ages. You can find a flurry of pieces about this online, from lists purporting to gather names together (I found some here and here and here) to more in-depth examinations of the phenomenon (see here and here and here and here). I fell down the rabbit hole courtesy of stumbling across a Baseball Prospectus piece on Albert Pujols. I discovered that there had been a flurry of discussion around Pujols's age when the prospect of his next (and last) baseball contract was looming, as you can see here and here and here. I'd never paid much attention to this issue before but it's interesting to contemplate how it intersects with contract law.
Saturday, April 21, 2018
A recent case out of Tennessee, Sugar Creek Carriages v. Hat Creek Carriages, No. M2017-00963-COA-R3-CV, lets us peek behind the scenes at the competition between horse-drawn carriage operators in Nashville, Tennessee. (You can listen to the oral argument here.) The defendant hired one of plaintiff's carriage operators, and the plaintiff sued based on the non-competition agreement that the employee had entered into.
However, the court refused to enforce the non-competition agreement. The plaintiff's argument boiled down to training that it had provided to the employee, but the court warned the plaintiff that it couldn't protect itself against the employee's using general skills and knowledge learned on the job. There were no allegations of the employee having any confidential information and no allegations that any customers associated the employee with the plaintiff's business. And, in fact, the training that the plaintiff gave to the employee it actually made available to the public at large, encouraging them to use the training to go forth and start their own horse-drawn carriage businesses. So, having offered the training to others with explicit encouragement of competition, the court refused to allow the plaintiff to impose a non-competition restriction on the employee based on the same exact training.
Wednesday, April 18, 2018
A recent case out of the District of Maryland, Green v. Jenkins Services, LLC, Case No. PWG-16-2572 (behind paywall), has something to say about impossibility and assumption of risk. In the case, Green hired Jenkins to demolish their fire-destroyed house and build them a new one. However, after demolition, Jenkins found that the land was unsuitable for an on-site sewage system, and therefore could not acquire the necessary permits for construction. As a result, Jenkins did not build the new house, and Green sued for breach of contract.
Jenkins argued that it was excused from performance by impossibility, because it was not its fault that the land failed the tests the state required for building. But Green argued that Jenkins assumed the risk, since Jenkins had promised in the contract to obtain all the required permits.
The court agreed with Green. Jenkins promised in the contract to obtain the proper permits, and Jenkins knew at the time it made this promise what the government regulations surrounding those permits were. Therefore, Jenkins assumed the risk that it might not be able to obtain the proper permits. If Jenkins had wanted to be excused from performance if the government refused to issue the permits, it should have provided so in the contract. Its failure to do meant it was in breach of contract.
Tuesday, April 17, 2018
Thanks to Andy Feldstein of Huntington Technology Finance, who sent me an email after reading yesterday's IHOP post. Reading the opinion left me confused, but Andy points out that a visit to the Gunther Toody's website sheds a lot of light on the matter. Andy wrote that to the extent "similar in concept" has meaning, it's pretty clear IHOP and Gunther Toody's are two diners with extremely dissimilar concepts. Agreed. This was very helpful in clearing things up!
Monday, April 16, 2018
I could not resist blogging this case out of the District of Colorado, Northglenn Gunther Toody's v. HQ8-10410-1045 Melody Lane, Civil Action No. 16-cv-2427-WJM-KLM (behind paywall), because it tackles these questions: "First, what is a diner? Second, is the IHOP restaurant a diner?"
I greatly enjoyed reading the court's definition of "diner," which, after evaluating expert testimony, settled on "a table service restaurant with a broad array of breakfast, lunch, and dinner offerings, most of which are perceived as American cuisine." The court then decided that IHOP qualifies as a diner.
After that, though, things get a bit of a mess. The lease at issue prohibited the opening of "a diner similar in concept" to the one operated by the plaintiff. The court found that the parties provided it with no answer as to what that phrase meant. The court concluded it must be something more than just being "a diner," because otherwise there was no reason to include the "similar in concept" language. But plaintiff kept insisting that IHOP being a diner was enough to violate the clause. The court did not hold with that interpretation, since it left "similar in concept" with no work to do. The "concept," the court thought, had to refer to something more than just diners generally. The clause required the court to ask if IHOP was similar in concept to the plaintiff's restaurant, whereas plaintiff just kept arguing that the answer was yes, because they were both diners, without tackling the concept language (although I think the plaintiff was trying to argue that the concept was being a diner). Therefore, the court found that plaintiff offered no reasonable interpretation of the covenant and therefore there was no ambiguity.
This ruling is confusing, because the "similar in concept" language was so slippery that no one seemed able to advance any meaningful definition of it at all...and that resulted in a finding that it was unambiguous. I would avoid this language in contracts, as I think this case proves it's actually pretty ambiguous.
At any rate, the court went on to conclude that IHOP was not similar in concept to the plaintiff's restaurant, because the plaintiff failed to rebut the defendant's argument that they were different in concept. Which means that it sounds like there is some understanding of what "concept" means, after all...? I am confused by this case and have decided to mull it over at my local IHOP.
Saturday, April 14, 2018
A recent decision out of the Eastern District of Louisiana, In re Chinese-Manufactured Drywall Products Liability Litigation, MDL No. 09-2047 (behind paywall), stems from a multi-district litigation over the sale of Chinese drywall in the Southeast during rebuilding efforts after Hurricanes Rita and Katrina. Eventually, five individual class settlements were approved by the court.
Later, the Burns realized that their house contained Chinese drywall that was causing a variety of problems. They filed suit and included among their claims a failure to be informed of the multidistrict litigation. InEx, the particular defendant who supplied the Chinese drywall at issue in the Burns situation, alleged that the Burns did not opt out of the settlement and thus their claims were barred. The court ruled that the settlement did bar the Burns claim against InEx; however, the Burns allegations against Livers, the particular construction company that had performed the installation of the Chinese drywall in the Burns house, were allowed to survive.
Among other things, Livers argued that it, too, should be protected by the InEx settlement agreement. The settlement agreement, it argued, released "[a]ny further claims and/or liabilities arising out of, or otherwise relating to, the sale, supply, marketing, distribution, or use of Chinese [d]rywall." Livers argued that the Burns claims against it were included in this umbrella. The court disagreed, because the Burns claims contained allegations that Livers had fraudulently concealed the existence of the Chinese drywall MDL. That claim was not released by the settlement. In fact, it could not have existed until after the settlement was perfected. The court therefore allowed the Burns to to pursue "an action against Livers for allegedly preventing them from filing a claim in the settlement program."
Tuesday, April 10, 2018
In case you missed it in the onslaught of news we're subjected to these days, the agreements settling several of the sexual harassment claims against Bill O'Reilly have been made public, thanks to a federal judge overruling the contracts' confidentiality clauses ("Strict and complete confidentiality is the essence of this agreement," reads one). You can read about them all over, including the New York Times, CNN, ThinkProgress, and Vogue.
The contracts say the usual things that we have come to expect regarding the confidentiality of the accusations but at least one of them contains the added twist that, should any incriminating documents come to light, the woman settling the claim is required to declare them to be "counterfeit or forgeries." The truth of the statement is irrelevant; the contract evidently requires the woman to lie and say they're counterfeit and forgeries even if they're genuine.
Another interesting part of that "counterfeit or forgeries" contract is that the accusing woman's attorney agrees not to cooperate in any other action against O'Reilly and, indeed, agrees to switch sides and advise O'Reilly "regarding sexual harassment matters." This sounds like it raises all sorts of ethical issues. They're brought up in the other articles I've linked, and Bloomberg has a rundown of the ethical issues as well.
Things lurking in these confidential agreements...
Monday, April 9, 2018
New York court rules sexual harassment by itself is not against an employer's interest such that it breaches a fiduciary duty
A recent case out of New York, Pozner v. Fox Broadcasting Company, 652096/2017, is related to the growing spotlight on sexual harassment cases. In the case, Pozner was terminated from his employment based on sexual harassment complaints and sued for breach of his employment contract. Fox brought counterclaims for breach of contract and fiduciary duty.
I'm blogging this case because it has an interesting ruling on the fiduciary duty claim in the context of sexual harassment cases (which I assume we might see more of; or maybe not if maybe people just stop sexually harassing others /end wide-eyed optimism). The court found that the employee handbooks were contracts whose terms Pozner had agreed to abide to, but the court dismissed Fox's breach of fiduciary duty claim, because the fiduciary duty of loyalty is about the employee acting against the employer's interests, and no court in New York has found sexual harassment on its own can serve as a basis for a breach of that duty of loyalty. Fox did not allege enough to convince the court that Pozner's sexual harassment was against Fox's interest. The court noted that other cases where sexual harassment was part of a breach of loyalty involved other financial improprieties or allegations of fraud.
Monday, April 2, 2018
A recent case out of Indiana, AmeriGlobe v. Althoff, Court of Appeals Case No. 46A05-1708-PL-1845, reminds all of us that, if you're an at-will employee, your terms of employment can change at any time. If you keep working instead of quitting, that constitutes your acceptance of those new terms.
In the case, Althoff was employed by AmeriGlobe. He had a written employment contract that specified that his employment was terminable at will. When AmeriGlobe changed the commission rates it was paying Althoff, Althoff recognized that he had two choices: He could quit or continue to work. When he continued to work, he accepted his new terms of employment. An assertion that his commission should have been higher therefore failed.
Allow me to share some good “personal” news for once: I just received word that all levels of the USD administration has voted for granting me tenure! The Board of Regents will cast its final vote on this in early May.
As some of you will know, it has not been an easy process. I encountered several tiring and stressful procedural hurdles with the USD administration, but the law school was at all times supporting me intensely just as I only got excellent scholarship reviews, so it all ended well! I could also not have done this without the excellent, tireless, and creative legal assistance not to mention very highly encouraging support of David Frakt, Esq.
Sunday, April 1, 2018
Lots of people have been discussing the recent Central District of California ruling, Disney Enterprises v. Redbox Automated Retail, Case No. CV 17-08655 DDP (AGRx) (those links are a random selection), a lawsuit brought by Disney against Redbox's resale of the digital download codes sold within Disney's "combo pack" movies, which allow instant streaming and downloading of the movie. There is an obvious copyright component to the dispute, but I thought I'd highlight the breach of contract portion of the decision.
The DVD/Blu-Ray combo packs were sold with language on the box reading "Codes are not for sale or transfer," and Disney argued that Redbox's opening of the DVD box formed an enforceable contract around that term, which Redbox breached by subsequently selling the codes. However, the court found no likelihood of success on the breach of contract claim, based on the fact that the language on the box did not provide any notice that opening the box would constitute acceptance of license restrictions. The court distinguished other cases that provided much more specific notice. Redbox's silence could not be interpreted as acceptance of the restrictions. This was especially so because the box contained other language that was clearly unenforceable under copyright law (such as prohibiting further resale of the physical DVD itself). Therefore, the court characterized the language as "Disney's preference about consumers' future behavior, rather than the existence of a binding agreement."
The court ended up denying Disney's motion for preliminary injunction.
Friday, March 23, 2018
Pseudo-Contract in the Harvard Law Review
The Harvard Law Review has committed to publishing an article on contract law theory for the first time since 2007.
The piece is Pseudo-Contract and Shared Meaning Analysis by Robin Bradley Kar (Illinois) and Margaret Jane Radin (Toronto), which appeared our Top Ten lists earlier this year. Here is key thesis from the abstract:
Over the last several decades, courts and legal scholars have struggled with whether or when to consider boilerplate text as contract …. [C]ontract law has been shifting away from its traditional focus on enforcing parties’ actual agreements. This shift has been transforming the meanings of central contract law concepts. We view the shift as an untheorized paradigm slip, inviting a generalized theory of contract as assumption of risk and allowing private obligations to be created unilaterally without actual agreement. This sort of obligation is still called “contract.” But it is pseudo-contract.
It’s sure to generate lively debate. Jeff Lipshaw (Suffolk) has already posted a response, Conversation, Convention, or Conversion? in which he “caution[s] against rushing into shared meaning analysis as a broader basis for understanding contract formation or interpretation.”
March 23, 2018 | Permalink
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
Slate has a piece analyzing the enforceability of the liquidated damages provision in Stormy Daniels's contract with Donald Trump, quoting several very keen legal minds. (Disclaimer: including mine ;-))