ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Contracting Against Your Dad Embarrassing You

Which is exactly what Australia's swimming sisters Bronte and Cate Campbell have tried to do. Apparently after their father gave a number of effusive interviews to the press, the sisters turned to contract law in an attempt to protect them from further such events. As this article reports, the sisters entered into a contract with their father in which he promised, "to the best of [his] ability," "not to embarrass [his] daughters on national television."

No word on what their father received in exchange for this promise.

 

August 11, 2016 in Current Affairs, Games, In the News, Sports, Television, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 15, 2016

Negligence Liability Releases, Pennsylvania Gold's Gym Edition

Gold's Gym, 3910 Wilson Blvd (Arlington, Virginia)

As a companion piece to the Delaware Planet Fitness case I discussed a few days ago, here's another case about negligence liability releases and gyms, this one involving a Gold's Gym in Pennsylvania: Hinkal v. Pardoe, No. 165 MDA 2014 (behind paywall).

In this case, the plaintiff was a member of Gold's Gym who used the personal trainer services offered by the gym. She was injured while working with weights under the direction of her Gold's Gym personal trainer. (Here, unlike in the Planet Fitness case, we get some details about her injury. It was a serious neck injury and required two separate surgeries, and it was alleged the injury resulted from there being too much weight on the equipment she was instructed to use and that she was told to continue using even after she complained of injury, because the personal trainer, it was alleged, didn't recognize the seriousness of the injury.) As in the Planet Fitness case, the Gold's Gym membership agreement that the plaintiff signed contained a release from liability for negligence. 

The court went through an analysis of whether this release was enforceable, noting that in Pennsylvania such releases are enforceable where they do not contravene public policy, they entirely concern two private individuals and their private affairs, and both parties bargain freely and the contract is not one of adhesion. Here, the court found that this contract was between a private individual and an entity concerning the individual's private affairs, and it was not against public policy because it did not concern any matter of public interest, which the court defined as "employer-employee relationship, public service, public utilities, common carrier, and hospitals." In addition, the court found that the plaintiff was not required to enter into a membership with Gold's Gym, so the plaintiff could not complain that she did not have bargaining power, because her decision to sign the membership agreement was purely voluntary and she could have walked away. 

Interestingly, the plaintiff didn't really seem to argue against any of those conclusions on the part of the court. What the plaintiff seemed to argue was that the release wasn't valid because she never read it and Gold's Gym never mentioned it to her or explained to her that she was exposing herself to the risk of being unable to sue based on negligence. She asserted that she signed the contract without reading it (as, let's face it, we almost all do) and without any in-depth discussion of it with Gold's Gym and that therefore the clause couldn't be enforced against her. The court, however, was unsympathetic. It pointed out that she had a duty to read the contract before she signed it and that her signature not only indicated that she knew she should have read it but also appeared directly after a line directing her to make sure she read both sides of the agreement. The release was written in ambiguous and straightforward language and she would have understood it had she read it, according to the court. 

There was, however, a dissent in this case, and while that dissent wasn't on the plaintiff's side with regard to not reading the contract, it did believe that allowing a release of liability for negligence in this situation was against public policy. As far as the dissent was concerned, gyms "implicate health and safety concerns," and so should therefore be a matter of public concern in the same way hospitals are. In fact, there was precedent that Pennsylvania had refused to allow a waiver of negligence liability in a case involving health treatments at a spa under the reasoning that it involved health and safety, and the dissent thought this case should fall under the same umbrella. Because Gold's Gym purported to provide for the physical health of its members, the dissent thought the public had an interest in ensuring that the services offered by Gold's Gym were qualified and held to a duty of care. The dissent also pointed out that other states would reach this same public policy conclusion, pointing specifically to New York as a state that would have held this release invalid, which we just saw in the trampoline park case

So there you have it: Another gym case, and another opinion supporting the release of liability for negligence, but this one with a dissent raising the question that such releases might be against public policy. 

February 15, 2016 in Recent Cases, Sports, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Negligence Liability Releases, Delaware Planet Fitness Edition

 Planet Fitness, Revere, Massachusetts

On the subject of, again, releases for liability for negligence, a recent Delaware case, Ketler v. PFPA, LLC, No. 319 2015, examined one in the context of a Planet Fitness gym. The plaintiff was a member at Planet Fitness and had signed a membership agreement that contained a release for liability from negligence. The plaintiff was later injured while working out at Planet Fitness when the rowing machine he was using broke. He tired to argue that the release from liability for negligence was unenforceable. The court disagreed. 

Under Delaware law, a release is enforceable if it is unambiguous, not unconscionable, and not against public policy. Here, the language of the release was straightforward and unambiguous. Furthermore, the court found the release wasn't unconscionable. It was true that the plaintiff had no opportunity to negotiate the terms of the contract but that wasn't enough on its own to find unconscionability. The court noted that the plaintiff was free to not join Planet Fitness so the release wasn't unconscionable. Finally, the release wasn't against public policy because the Delaware legislature has never spoken on the issue of releases of liability and it is the legislature that establishes public policy. So the release was enforceable and the plaintiff's claims were barred. 

February 10, 2016 in Recent Cases, Sports, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Liability Releases for Negligence, New York Trampoline Park Edition

A recent case out of New York, Gosh v. RJMK Park LLC, No. 155024/2015 (thanks to reader Frank for the non-paywall link!), tackled the familiar issue of negligence liability release provisions, this time in the context of a trampoline park that the plaintiffs' child was injured at while playing "trampoline dodgeball." I had no idea what this was, so I looked it up. Here's a video: 

It mainly looks like something people who don't get motion-sick should play (i.e., people who are not me). 

The plaintiffs had signed an agreement with the trampoline park with a clause under which they waived all claims against the trampoline park arising out of negligence. Under New York law, such a clause is unenforceable when "a place of amusement or recreation" with an entry fee is involved as against public policy. 

However, that didn't mean the plaintiffs got everything they wanted in this case. The plaintiffs' argument was that the presence of the negligence liability release clause rendered the entire agreement with the trampoline park unenforceable, including the venue provision that required them to bring suit in Westchester County. The court disagreed: Just because that one provision was unenforceable didn't mean the entire agreement got thrown out. Rather, the court severed the negligence liability release provision as "unrelated" to the main goal of the agreement. It didn't actually clarify what the main objective of the agreement was, just dismissed the release provision as being related to "legal stuff," basically. At any rate, the agreement had contained the standard boilerplate provision stating that any illegal clause should be severed from the agreement and the rest of the agreement enforced, which also supported the court's conclusion. So venue was transferred to Westchester County. 

February 3, 2016 in Commentary, Games, Recent Cases, Sports, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Enforceability of Liability Releases for Negligence in Colorado

When I was in law school, I remember starting to be really struck by how often I had to sign liability releases: going to play paintball, renting skis, etc. A recent case out of the Tenth Circuit, Espinoza v. Arkansas Valley Adventures, had to deal with just such a release in the context of a tragic whitewater rafting accident. 

The plaintiff's mother drowned when her raft capsized during a rafting trip organized by the defendant. She had signed a contract that released the defendant from liability for negligence. The plaintiff agreed that his mother had signed the release but tried to argue that the release was unenforceable. As a matter of Colorado law, though, he lost. The court found the release enforceable both as a matter of public policy and under the particular circumstances of the mother's signing. 

The court explained that Colorado uses four facts to determine whether a release of liability for negligence is enforceable: 

(1) the existence [or nonexistence] of a duty to the public; (2) the nature of the service performed; (3) whether the contract was fairly entered into; and (4) whether the intention of the parties is expressed in clear and unambiguous language.

The court concluded that, while other states were free to disagree on this, Colorado had decided that corporations providing recreational activities are allowed to protect themselves from liability for negligence. The court stated that this is a valid policy choice for Colorado to make because it arguably encourages the active, outdoorsy lifestyle that the state of Colorado cherishes and wants to protect and promote. Without such ability to protect themselves, companies might be discouraged from offering recreational activities like horseback riding, snowboarding, or whitewater rafting. And in fact other courts in Colorado had explicitly found that companies offering whitewater rafting trips can protect themselves from liability for negligence using a contractual release. The court stated that the Colorado legislature was free to introduce a statute that would change this legal precedent, but, as it stood, the court was bound to follow the precedent. 

Having decided that the release was not against public policy according to the first two factors of the balancing test, the court then further decided that the plaintiff's mother had fairly entered into the contract with full knowledge of the risks at stake. The court dismissed the plaintiff's expert testimony that the rapids his mother was exposed to were too advanced for a beginner (in contrast to what the defendant had assured her) by pointing to the fact that the defendant had expert testimony that the rapids were suitable for beginners. Finally, the court noted that the release had the typical all-caps language that you see on these sorts of contracts. You know:  "HAZARDOUS AND INVOLVES THE RISK OF PHYSICAL INJURY AND/OR DEATH" and "THIS IS A RELEASE OF LIABILITY & WAIVER OF LEGAL RIGHTS." The truth is, seldom does any consumer seeing that stuff really take it a serious communication of a great risk of death, I think. Especially not when there was some evidence that the consumer has been assured the trip in question was suitable for families with children. Nonetheless, the court found that the language of the release unambiguously informed the plaintiff's mother of the risks of the activity and the fact that she was releasing the defendant from liability should those risks come to pass. 

There was a dissent in this case, however, who agreed that the release wasn't against public policy but disagreed on the conclusion that the contract had been fairly entered into. In the dissent's view, the contradictory testimony about the level of difficulty of the rapids meant that the question should have gone to the jury. 

I don't spend a lot of time in my Contracts class talking in detail about liability releases for negligence, but this case made me think that I should talk about them more, because they really do seem to arise in the context of so many activities. 

January 20, 2016 in Commentary, Recent Cases, Sports, Teaching, Travel, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, August 17, 2015

Contract Dispute Keeps Top Athlete off U.S. Track & Field Team

Symmonds
By Phil Roeder from Des Moines, IA, USA

I often begin my course by telling students that contracts facilitate mutually beneficial transactions.  So, if they want to be the kind of attorneys who make the world a better place, transactional work is the place to be.  But sometimes one-sided contracts drawn up in a context of vastly unequal bargaining power can prevent mutually beneficial transactions from taking place.  This seems to be occurring in the case of Nick Symmonds, a six-time U.S. outdoor champion at 800 meters who won a silver medal at the 2013 World Championships.  According to this story in the New York Times, Symmonds has been left off the U.S. team for the 2015 Worlds taking place later this month because he refused to sign a contract.

Symmonds refused to sign a vaguely-worded document that seemed to require that athletes wear Nike gear exclusively, even in their free time.  Nike, according to the Times, has committed to sponsoring U.S. Track & Field to the tune of $20 million per year through 2040.  But that contract might interfere with Symmonds' contractual obligations with his own sponsor, the running-shoe company, Brooks.  According to the Times, athletes were instructed to pack only Nike-branded or non-branded apparel for the World Championships.  Symmonds points out that Brooks is paying for him to wear its brand at important events.  If he is prohibited from doing so, why would Brooks continue to sponsor him.  Symmonds is all for the Stars and Stripes, but he also has to worry about dollars and cents.  He estimates that 75% of his income comes through sponsorships.

Symmonds does not object to wearing Nike apparel at official events.  He objects to the vague language that seems to preclude him from supporting his sponsor when he is not at official events.  Some are saying that Symmonds is taking this position because he has no chance to medal at the Worlds anyway, so he has nothing to lose.  The photo above shows him winning the US championships in 2010.  He won again in 2015.  If that guy has no chance, what does it say about the rest of the team?

August 17, 2015 in Celebrity Contracts, Sports, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Weekly News Roundup

Rahm_EmanuelAccording to this report in the Chicago Sun Times, The Chicago Teachers' Union (CTU) is calling "strikeworthy" a proposal by Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Forrest Claypool that teachers pay their full pension contributions.  The proposal would result in a seven percent pay cut according to CTU PresidentKaren Lewis.  The CTU had previously agreed to a seven percent "pension pick-up" in lieu of a pay raise.  Claypool now claims that there is no solution to CPS's $9.5 billion pension crisis that does not involve an end to the pick-up.  Chicago teachers will likely return to work without a contract and could strike at any time.   Mayor Rahm Emanuel (pictured) has proposed phasing out the pick-up over a period of years in an attempt to ease the blow.

The Los Angeles Times reports that UC San Diego and the University of Southern California (USC) have filed competing lawsuits in a battle over control of a long term research project that seeks to develop treatments for Alzheimer's.  A researcher at UC San Diego switched his affiliation to USC and has sought to take some of the project's funding with him.   In early rounds, a San Diego judge has sided with UC San Diego on ownership of the project, including databases relevant to the project's ongoing research.  Eli Lilly & Co. had pledged up to $76 million to UC San Diego to test a new Alzheimer's medication that the company is developing.  Lilly now plans to move those fund to USC's new institute.  The future of this research project seems caught in the cross-hairs of competing claims to contractual entitlement to both funding sources and intellectual property.

The Business Insider reported last week that Fox Sports analyst Craig James is suing the network, alleging that he was fired for voicing his opposition to gay marriage.  James alleges breach of contract and discrimination.  His termination, days after he was hired, allegedly relates to a statement he made in 2012 when he was running for U.S. Senate that gays and lesbians would have "to answer to the Lord for their actions."

August 13, 2015 in Current Affairs, Government Contracting, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Contractual Curiosity in the NFL

Jason Pierre-Paul
By Mike Morbeck via Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday's New York Times included a report on the odd case of Jason Pierre-Paul (pictured), a New York Giants lineman who injured himself in a fireworks accident last month.  The injury came while Pierre-Paul and the Giants were negotiating his contract, and right now the player is in a contractual limbo.  The Giants named Pierre-Paul as a "franchise player" and offered him a one-year $14.8 million contract.  Pierre-Paul refused that offer, holding out for a multi-year deal.

Pierre-Paul is part of the team but he currently has no contract and thus can refuse to allow visits from team doctors.  Apparently, he has elected to do so, and so the Giants do not know the extent of his injury or how it will affect his play.  The Times reports that Pierre-Paul had to have his right finger amputated and that there was other damage to his hand, but that is all we and presumably all the Giants know  for now.   There seems to be a lot of brinksmanship involved, but it also seems likely that in the end, Pierre-Paul will accept the one-year deal.  The Giants may then invoke their right to dock Pierre-Paul's pay if he misses games due to "non-football injury."  

The Times speculates that Pierre-Paul may be holding out so that he has time to recover and avoid a loss of pay.  I'm not sure how that works.  What if he misses practices (training camp has already begun)?  Why would the Giants agree to his return before they have been permitted to thoroughly test his playing ability?  One answer is that Pierre-Paul would then become a free agent who could jump to a rival.  Perhaps a realistic possibility, but the Times also notes that Pierre-Paul has underperformed in two of the last three seasons.  NFL football is a high-risk game.

August 5, 2015 in Celebrity Contracts, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 13, 2015

Weekly News Roundup

ChicagoBlackhawksLogo.svgWe have some news from the world of hockey, that is, the sport of the 2015 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks (logo pictured).   While elite teams (like the Blackhawks) struggle to keep their rosters under the salary camp (Goodbye Patrick Sharp; Goodbye Brandon Saad -- thanks for the memories and the Cups!), as reported on ESPN.com, the L.A. Kings used an alleged "material" breach of contract to terminate center Mike Richards rather than buying him out to evade the cap.  The alleged material breach was at first mysterious, but it has now bee reported, e.g., here on Forbes.com, that Richards was detained at the Canadian border in illegal possession of OxyContin.  But the Forbes report also indicates that Richards' mere arrest is not grounds for termination, and even if he is convicted, the NHL's drug policy does not call for termination.  It calls for substance abuse treatment.  Go Blackhawks!

The Bangor Daily News reports that author Tess Gerritsen has dropped her $10 million law suit against Warner Bros. for breach of contract in connection with the film "Gravity."  As we reported previously, a District Court in California dismissed her complaint but  allowed her twenty days to amend and refile.  The complaint is based on a $1 million contract Gerritsen signed in 1999 to sell the book’s feature film rights to a company that was eventually purchased by Warner Bros.  Gerritsen has admitted that the film "is not based on" her book, but she asserts that the book clearly inspired the film.  

 

 

July 13, 2015 in Books, Celebrity Contracts, Film, In the News, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 15, 2015

Weekly News Roundup

CoyotesTwo years ago, the National Hockey League's Phoenix (Arizona) Coyotes signed a 15-year lease on a facility in Glendale, Arizona.  Now, the city is claiming a right to terminate the lease because of an alleged conflict of interest that has arisen affecting the team's former legal counsel.  ESPN has the story here.  According to ESPN, the city does not really want the team to leave; it just wants to negotiate a more favorable deal.  

Eric Wemple of The Washington Post reports here on the latest troubles experienced by Al Jazeera American (AJAM).  Shannon High-Bassalik, who served as AJAM's Senior Vice President of Programming and Documentaries, is suing for breach of contract, discrimination and retaliation.  She alleges that the network promotes proclaims neutrality but actually pushes a pro-Arab, anti-Israel perspective.  High-Bassalik claims that she was terminated for objecting to AJAM's racist and misogynist practices.

We reported a couple of months ago about suits brought by students, parents and alumni challenging the closing of Sweet Briar College.  Today, we note that according to this report in the Lynchburg, VA News & Advance, faculty are challenging the propriety of the closing as well.  Plaintiff faculty members are seeking a declaratory judgment that there is no financial emergency justifying the closing of the college.  They allege the the college would breach faculty contracts by closing.  The seek monetary damages and orders requiring the reinstatement of the faculty plaintiffs.

June 15, 2015 in In the News, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 11, 2015

Weekly News Roundup

BoxingAccording to Philadelphia Magazine, two men who paid to watch the Mayweather-Paaquiano fight on pay-per-view are suing on behalf of a class of viewers who did not get their money's worth because Paquino had an undisclosed shoulder injury.  The suit claims damages for  breach of contract, fraud conspiracy and violation of consumer protection laws. Viewers paid between $89 and $100 to watch the fight.  The suit alleges that the fight should have been cancelled or postponed.

The LA Times reports that a group of students who contracted Leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease that causes painful skin ulcers, while on a trip to Israel are suing the trip's organizers for failing to take adequate precautions to protect the students.  The illness is allegedly caused by sand fly bites.  The suit names the North American Federation of Temple Youth and the Union for Reform Judaism as defendants.  It alleges that the organizations failed to take precautions such as providing the students with insecticides or insect netting and that the organizations provided the students with bug-infested bedding.

The LA Times also reports on a new trend on the hot, new social media: suing your co-founder.  The report suggests that combining handshake deals undertaken in college dormitories, coupled with youthful hasted makes for a dangerous mix.  We are all familiar with the strife among the founders of Facebook, but it turns out that Snapchat, Tinder, Maker Studios and Beats Electronics have all also experienced co-founder difficulties sounding in allegations of breaches of founders' agreements.

May 11, 2015 in In the News, Sports, Travel, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 27, 2015

Contractual Issues and the Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant

April is the finest month for a Chicago Cubs fan, because even the Cubs are within a few games of first place in April.  

CubsAnd hope springs anew with each Spring Training  This year Cubs fans have extra reason to hope because of young prospect, Kris Bryant.  There was only one catch.  Bryant did not start the year playing for the Cubs.  As reported here in Business Journalism, despite hitting nine home runs in 40 at bats and earning a .425 batting average, Bryant was demoted to the Cubs' Triple-A affiliate for the start of the season.  Cubs GM, Theo Epstein, gave Bryant's need to develop his defensive skills as the reason for the demotion, but many believe that the purpose is to delay Bryant's eligibility for arbitration and free-agency.  Bryant's ability to avail himself of these mechanisms would kick in 2017 and 2020 respectively  if Bryant was on the Cubs' roster to start the season, but they will kick in a year later if Bryant misses the season's first ten games.  

Thirteen days into the season, the Cubs brought Bryant up from the minors.  Mike Olt and his lifetime .158 batting average kept third base occupied while Bryant was improving his defensive skills.  

April 27, 2015 in Celebrity Contracts, In the News, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Weekly News Roundup

Graham_SpanierAs reported here in Onward State, Former Penn State University President Graham Spanier (left) is now suing his former employer for breach of contract, while also naming the University and former FBI Director Louis Freeh in a defamation claim.  The allegations stem from the Freeh Report, which Mr. Freeh undertook as a private consultant hired to look into allegations of sexual misconduct within the Penn State athletics program.  The complaint alleges that the University breached its separation agreement with him by publicizing the Freeh Report and through other statements.  Mr. Spanier has set up a website purporting to refute the findings of the Freeh Report.

In a potentially very interesting, bizarre and short(!) opinion, the Delaware Supreme Court weighed in  on a hypothetical case not before it in Friedman v. Khosrowshahi, No. 442,2014 (March 6, 2015).  The Court said that if a stockholder brings suit alleging breach of a stockholder approved plan as a contract, and she seeks recovery under contract law, such a plaintiff would not have to make demand on the board before proceeding in a derivative action because "directors arguably have no discretion to violate the terms of a stockholder adopted compensation plan whose terms cannot be amended without the stockholders’ approval."

MarketWired.com reports that Canadian purchasers of Lenovo computers are seeking $10 million in breach of contract damages for Lenovo's violation of their privacy rights by installing Superfish on their personal computers.  Superfish allegedly makes it possible for third parties to use wireless networks to steal private information off of Lenovo computers.  The Statement of Claim (Canadian, we assume for Complaint) can be found here.

CubsAnd, as Spring training is underway and Opening Day is only a fortnight away, we should mention the ongoing contract dispute between the Chicago Cubs and the parties with whom the team entered into a revenue-sharing agreement relating to rooftop seating across the street from Wrigley Field.  The Cubs want to put up a video board that the Sheffield Avenue property owners claim will block views in violation of the terms of the revenue-sharing agreement.  The latest news on the subject matter can be found on Crain's Chicago Business here.  The Cubs' opposition to plaintiffs' motion for an injunction is here.  As a life-long Cubs fan, I stand by my view that not having to watch the Cubs play actually enhances the value of the seats, but hope springs eternal.

As reported here in the Cranston Patch, a teachers' union is suing a school district for breach of contract and violations of civil and religious rights.  The school district decided to hold classes on religious holidays, including Good Friday, but to permit teachers two days of religious leave each year.  The school district then denied leave to teachers who sought to use their leave on Good Friday.   The community is predominantly Catholic, and it is likely that the school district had not plan for replacing the 200 teachers who applied for leave on Good Friday.  Heavy snows and the large number of snow days this year might also have played a role.

March 23, 2015 in In the News, Recent Cases, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 2, 2015

Weekly News Roundup

In Benz-Elliott v. Barrett Enterp., LP, the Tennessee Supreme Court clarified the method for determining the statute of limitations when a case raises multiple claims.  In such cases, the court must determine the gravamen of each claim and the nature of damages sought.  In this case, which involved a sale of property, plaintiff alleged breach of contract and sought contractual damages.  The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, which had dismissed plaintiff's claim based on a three-year statute of limitations relating to property claims.   The six-year statute of limitations for breach of contracts should apply to plaintiff's claims, which were reinstated.

FootballEric Macramalla reports in Forbes that a Jets fan attempted to sue Bill Belichick, the New England Patriots and the NFL on behalf of a class of season ticket holders for having secretly recorded and then destroyed videotapes revealing signals given by New York Jets coaches (which players variously interpreted as "fumble," "drop the pass" and "miss your defensive assignment," inter alia).  The suit was dismissed because the their seasons' tickets only permitted them to watch the game, which they did.  Macramalla predicts similar suits may follow the great under-inflated ball scandal, which, lets face it, is a great distraction from all the other scandals facing the NFL these days.

February 2, 2015 in In the News, Recent Cases, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Weekly News Roundup

BasketballAn Ohio appellate court upheld a $1.2 million breach of contract judgment against Kent State's men's basketball coach, Geno Ford.  The judgment enforced a liquidated damages clause entitling Kent State to damages equal to Ford's annual salary ($300,000) multipled by the number of years remaining on his contract at the point of breach.  In Kent State University v. Ford, Coach Ford tried to characterize the liquidated damages clause as a penalty.  The court applied Ohio law to determine whether at the time the contract was entered into: 1) damages were uncertain; 2) the damages provided for in the contract were not unconscionable; and 3) the parties intended for damages to follow a breach.  The court upheld the trial court's determination that the standard was satisfied in this case. Coach Ford can take consolation in the fact that his salary is short of Jim Harbaugh's by an order of magnitude.

PetaPixel.com reports on a wedding photographer who, after charging a couple $6000 to shoot a wedding album, sought an additional $150 for the album cover.  The couple balked, so the photographer is refusing to hand over the photographs and is threatening to charge them an additional $250 "archive fee" if they do not pay up in a month.  PetaPixel draws the following lesson from the story: 

This all goes to show that as a photographer, you should never rely on verbal agreements when it comes to conditions and charges. Always get everything in writing.

Maybe.  The photographer herself has an extremely lengthy blog post about the entire affair in which she claims that everything should have been clear from the written contract.  PetaPixel's story makes it seem like an additional charge was added after the contract had been entered into, and if that's the case, the couple might well have balked whether or not the new terms were in writing.

Contracts Prof/Con Law Prof Randy Barnett, writing at the Volokh Conspiracy picked up by the Washington Postmuses interestingly on the applicability of the contractual duty of good faith to the President's duty to faithfully execute the laws in the Constitution's Take Care clause.  This helps Barnett reconcile his empathy for the President's refusal to enforce federal drug laws in the face of permissive state laws permitting use of marijuana with his opposition to the President's new initiative on immigration.  I've never been persuaded that the contractual analogy is particularly useful in Constitutional interpretation.  Suggesting that the contracts doctrine of "good faith" provides a useful gloss on the Take Care clause strikes me as a stretch, but Professor Barnett is always stimulating.

January 25, 2015 in Commentary, Contract Profs, In the News, Recent Cases, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 12, 2015

Weekly News Roundup

A misplaced comma (or something) cost an Oregon Ducks fan his premium seats to the college football championship game.  According to this report from The Oregonian, a University of Oregon alumnus found premium tickets to the game (which he knew were selling for $4000) for $400 on StubHub.  When, he placed his order, StubHub indicated that he would be charged $16,59.36, but his credit card was charged $16,059.36.  He protested, and StubHub refused to honor the purchase, removing the charge and offering $1600 in StubHub vouchers, which the angry Duck says he will not use.  He blows off some steam in a blog post, with observations about obnoxious terms and conditions.

In a sign of the times, MasterCard has filed suit in the Southern Distroct of New York against Nike, according to this report from Bloomberg.and Oregon Live (you have to go through a short survey to read it), for having poached a few of its cyber-security experts.  MasterCard is suing the employees for breach of contract and Nike for tortious interference.  Nike denies all wrongdoing.

We could not have made this up: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Devin James Group (DLG), a public relations firm, is suing another public relations firm, Elasticity.  Apparently, Elasticity hired DLG to help represent the City of Ferguson in the aftermath of the shooting of Michael Brown.  Elasticity fired DLG when it discovered that DLG's owner had a criminal record.  Mr. James was convicted in 2006 for having shot an unarmed man.  He claims he did $50,000 of work for which he has not been paid. 

In another chapter in the dangers of state governments hiring private companies to handle public services, NJ.com reports that Hewlett Packard will refund New Jersey $7.5 million to get out of its contract to deliver a unifed system to administers the state's public assistance program.  The Christie administration and HP agreed last year to suspend work on the project and they entered into a separation agreement in which each side agreed not to sue the other for breach of contract.  The state is now looking for a new partner.  In the meantime, it "continues to hobble along on its 1980s-era mainframe system," according to NJ.com.

Finally, an interesting conflict between a franchise and a large franchisee.  Wendy's is requiring its franchisees to make technology upgrades and renovate stotes.  DavCo, which operates 152 Wendy's restaurants is refusing to do so, claiming that Wendy's lacks the authority to require the changes.  According to the Baltimore Sun, Wendy's has filed suit to terminate DavCo's franchises.

January 12, 2015 in Food and Drink, Government Contracting, In the News, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 8, 2014

Weekly New Roundup

Wedding PhotoYet another non-disparagement case, this time for WTOC.com.  This time, it was a woman who cancelled an agreement with a wedding photographer within the contractually created cancellation period, and then went online to explain why she had done so.  The photographer threatened legal action claiming that she had violated a non-disparagement clause in the now-cancelled contract.

There was an interesting story last week on the International Business Times about Yo-Yo car sales.  Apparently, there are many variations to the practice, but the basic scheme runs as follows: car dealer sells a car to person with bad credit, who is happy to be able to buy a car on any terms.  Then, the dealer tries to sell the loan to a third party.  If it cannot do so, it calls the buyer back in and demands either a change in the loan terms or the return of the car.  The IBT story focuses on a buyer whom the dealer claimed committed felony auto theft and fraud.  The buyer filed a civil suit against the dealer, with claims ranging from violations of the Truth in Lending Act to defamation and deceptive trade practices.  The dealer has counterclaimed for fraud and breach of contract.

According to an AP story posted here in the UK's Daily Mail, California is wrangling with investors in a $2.3 billion deal for the sale and lease back of state properties.  The deal was conceived in the Schwarzenegger administration, but Governor Brown has determined that the deal will cost the state $1.5 billion.  California alleges that the investors failed to make an initial $50 million payment, triggering the State's rights to terminate the contract.  The investors are seeking a forced sale of the properties.  My students have their exam this week, so they might want to think about what we have here: partial breach? material breach? total breach? failure of a condition?  did California seek adequate written assurances? The AP story does not clarify these highly testable issues.

ErieottersFinally, we are happy to report that the law has saved hockey!  At least in Erie, Pennsylvania, according to this story on GoErie.com (Warning! This site has lots of annoying popups!).  Apparently, the Edmonton Oilers sought to enforce a judgment against the Otters' General Manager Sherry Bassin through a forced sale of the team.  The Oilers' scheme then involved buying the Otters through a subsidiary and moving them to Hamilton, Ontario.  But U.S. District Court Judge David Cercone blew the whistle and checked the Oilers when he set aside a judgment against Bassin  The Oilers would have to proceed through a breach of contract claim if they want to penalize Bassin for misconduct. In the meantime, the good people of Erie can enjoy their Otters.

December 8, 2014 in In the News, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Weekly News Roundup

According to this report on the International Business Times website, two children, through their mother, are suing Malaysia Airlines for breach of contract and negligence in connection with their father's death on Flight MH370.  Plaintiffs allege that the airline breached a safety agreement that it entered into with their father and the other passengers on the flight.  

Epstein-wendy-tAs reported here in the Bellingham Herald, the Indiana Supreme Court heard arguments on October 30th about the state's contract with IBM to privatize its welfare services.  The state was so disappointed with IBM's performance that it cancelled the contract three years into a $1.3 billion, ten-year deal.  Friend of the blog, Wendy Netter Epstein (pictured), has written about this case in the Cardozo Law Review.

Sunday's New York Times Magazine has a cover story pondering whether lawyers are going to do to football what they did to tobacco.  As an example of what this might look like we have this case filed on October 27, 2014 on behalf of Julius Whittier and a class of plaintiffs who played NCAA football from 1960-2014,  never played in the NFL, and have been diagnosed with latent brain injury or disease.  Mr. Whittier suffers from early-onset Alzheimer's.  The complaint alleges, among other things, breach of contract, based on NCAA documents requiring each member instittuion to look after the physical well-being of student athletes.  

November 10, 2014 in Government Contracting, In the News, Recent Cases, Sports, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Recent Contracts News

As reported on JDSupra here, the Florida District Court of Appeal for the Fourth District, sitting en banc, held that while an insurer’s liability for coverage and the extent of damages must be determined before a bad faith claim becomes ripe, the insured need not also show that the insurer is liable for breach of contract before proceeding on the bad faith claim.

We have also learned from JD Supra of Piedmont Office Realty Trust v. XL Specialty Ins. Co., 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 20141 (11th Cir. Oct. 21, 2014), in which the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, elected to certify to the Supreme Court of Georgia the question of whether an insured’s payment obligations under a judicially approved settlement agreement qualify as amounts that the insured is “legally obligated to pay,” and if so, whether the insured’s failure to have obtained the insurer’s consent to settle resulted in a forfeiture of coverage.

FootballAccording this this report on Yahoo! Sports, Oklahoma State is suing the former Offensive Coordinator of its football team, Joe Wickline (who now is a coach for the University of Texas), and Wickline has countersued.  According to the report, Wickline's contract with Oklahoma State require that he pay the balance of his contract ($593,478) if he left for another position and was not his new team's play-caller. Wickline claims that he is calling plays at Texas.  What a bizarre thing to put in a contract.  It's a reserve non-compete!  In effect, Oklahoma State is saying that it would pay Wickline to call plays for a rival.

According to this report from the Courthouse New Service,  Ted Marchibroda Jr., the son of NFL Football coach Ted Marchibroda, filed a $1 million malpractice lawsuit against Sullivan, Workman & Dee and trial lawyer Charles Cummings , alleging breach of contract, professional negligence and breach of fiduciary duty.  In a 2011 lawsuit, Marchibroda accused sports agent Marvin Demoff of breaching an agreement to share the proceeds of NFL contracts for linebacker Chad Greenway. He claims that he is also owed money for recruiting center Alex Mack. 

McIlroy
Uploaded by Mark Schierbecker 

And continuing our sports report, Golf.com notes that golfer Rory McIlroy is taking a break from the "sport" to pursue his legal claims against his former management company, Horizon Sports Management.  McIlroy claims that Horizon took advantage of his youth to extract an unconscionable 20% fee for McIlroy's off-the-course income.  Horizon is claiming $3 million in breach-of-contract damages.

In a simpler companion case to the Sharpe v. AmeriPlan Corp. case about which we blogged earlier today, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the District Court's denial of a motion to compel arbitration in Quam Construction Co., Inc. v. City of Redfield.  As reported here on Law.com, the case was relatively easy, since the contract at issue contained permissive language: "the parties may submit the controversy or claim to arbtiration."  Given such language, the Eighth Circuit agreed with the Distrcit Court that arbitration could not be compelled.

November 3, 2014 in In the News, Recent Cases, Sports | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

NJ Appellate Court Refuses to Enforce Exculpatory Clause that Waives Ordinary Negligence Claims

Plaintiff sued the YMCA for injuries sustained when he slipped and fell on stairs that he alleged were negligently maintained.  First, let’s get this out of the way: 

The YMCA argued that plaintiff was contractually barred from seeking damages against the YMCA because plaintiff had voluntarily signed an exculpatory clause in his membership agreement.   That clause provided:

I AGREE THAT THE YMWCA WILL NOT BE RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY PERSONAL INJURIES OR LOSSES SUSTAINED BY ME WHILE ON ANY YMWCA PREMISES OR AS A RESULT OF A YMWCA SPONSORED ACTIVITIES [SIC]. I FURTHER AGREE TO INDEMNIFY AND SAVE HARMLESS THE YMWCA FROM ANY CLAIMS OR DEMANDS ARISING OUT OF ANY SUCH INJURIES OR LOSSES.

A New Jersey trial court granted summary judgment dismissing the complaint.   An appellate court reversed.  The appellate court framed the issue as “whether a fitness center or health club can insulate itself through an exculpatory clause from the ordinary common law duty of care owed by all businesses to … invitees[.]”  The court held that it could not.

While the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld an exculpatory clause in Stelluti v. Casapenn Enters., Inc., 203 N.J. 286 (2010), that case was characterized as involving allegations of injury based upon risks inherent in the activity (bike riding in a spin class).  In Stelluti, the New Jersey Supreme Court did not specifically address or decide whether an exculpatory clause may waive ordinary negligence.

The appellate court declined to enforce the YMCA's exculpatory clause, reasoning that it was against the public interest:

Given the expansive scope of the exculpatory clause here, we hold that if applied literally, it would eviscerate the common law duty of care owed by defendant to its invitees, regardless of the nature of the business activity involved. Such a prospect would be inimical to the public interest because it would transfer the redress of civil wrongs from the responsible tortfeasor to either the innocent injured party or to society at large, in the form of taxpayer-supported institutions.

The appellate court also noted that the agreement was presumably a contract of adhesion.

This is a case worth following if appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court.  And a good teaching case because it lays bare the tension between freedom to contract and overriding concerns about general public welfare.

 Walters v. YMCA, DOCKET NO. A-1062-12T3 (Superior Ct. of N.J. App. Div. Aug. 18, 2014).

August 19, 2014 in In the News, Recent Cases, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)