Justia Civil Rights Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Contracts
Public Risk Management of Florida v. Munich Reinsurance America, Inc.
Public Risk Management of Florida (“PRM”) Munich Reinsurance America, Inc. (“Munich”) for breach of contract and sought declaratory relief that Munich is obligated by the parties’ reinsurance agreement (“the Reinsurance Agreement”) to reimburse PRM for the defense and coverage it provided to an insured in an underlying lawsuit. Munich counter-claimed for a declaratory judgment stating that it has no duty to reimburse PRM, and the district court granted that relief. On appeal, PRM argues, inter alia, that the Reinsurance Agreement contained a “follow the fortunes” clause, which forbids a reinsurer “from second guessing” an insurer’s “good faith decision” to pay a claim to the insured. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment holding that the district court correctly decided that Munich had no duty to reimburse PRM for its defense and indemnification of the City in the underlying Section 1983 suit. The court explained that The Reinsurance Agreement contains language that is plainly inconsistent with the follow the-fortunes doctrine. Accordingly, the district court properly rejected the doctrine’s application in this case. Further, the court held that it will not infer the application of the follow-the-fortunes doctrine in a reinsurance agreement where the agreement’s plain and unambiguous language is inconsistent with the doctrine. Applying this rule the court concluded that it would be inconsistent with the plain, unambiguous terms of the Reinsurance Agreement to infer that Munich should be bound by PRM’s coverage decision. View "Public Risk Management of Florida v. Munich Reinsurance America, Inc." on Justia Law
Nunez v. Cycad Management LLC
The defendant hired the plaintiff as a gardener and required him to sign an employment agreement (“Agreement”), which mandates arbitration of “all disputes between Employee and Company relating, in any manner whatsoever, to the employment or termination” of the employee. Plaintiff sued his employer, and the employer demanded arbitration. Plaintiff argued that the defendant waived the right to arbitrate, that he did not sign the Agreement or signed without informed consent, and the Agreement is unconscionable.On appeal, the court reasoned that arbitration agreements are “valid, enforceable and irrevocable, save upon such grounds as exist for the revocation of any contract.” Code Civ. Proc., Sec. 1281. To declare an agreement unenforceable, a court must find procedural and substantive unconscionability. Here, the court found that defendant had superior bargaining power over the plaintiff. Further, the employer drafted the Agreement and presented it to the plaintiff as a condition of employment on a take-it-or-leave basis. The plaintiff claimed he had no opportunity to review the Agreement and was told the English-language Agreement involved a company change, not that it waived his right to a jury trial. The plaintiff was instructed to sign the Agreement or be fired.The court found that the employer presented the plaintiff with an agreement in a language he cannot read, misrepresented the nature of the document, denied him an opportunity to review it, included unfair and onerous provisions, and chilled his ability to claim civil rights violations. Thus, the court denied the defendant’s motion to compel arbitration. View "Nunez v. Cycad Management LLC" on Justia Law
Keles v. Bender
Keles was admitted into Rutgers’s Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) Department’s graduate program and received his M.S. degree in 2014. While pursuing this degree, Keles expressed his interest in continuing his studies as a Ph.D. student. To continue their studies as Ph.D. students, M.S. students in the CEE Department must submit a “Change-in-Status” form, identifying advisors and describing their research plans. At the end of the M.S. program, Keles submitted an incomplete Change-in-Status form. Keles disputed that he needed to submit a completed Change-in-Status form due to his claimed enrollment as an M.S.-Ph.D. student. Members of the CEE Department and the University’s administration informed him that he needed to satisfy the admission prerequisites. Keles neither found an advisor nor submitted a completed form but sought to register for classes in 2015. Rutgers’s Administration informed Keles that his lack of academic standing prevented him from registering.Keles sued, alleging contract, tort, statutory, and due process claims. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his suit, finding that Rutgers adhered to its own policies and did not act in bad faith. All M.S. students were subject to the same departmental requirements. Rutgers afforded Keles sufficient process and did not venture “beyond the pale of reasoned academic decisionmaking.” View "Keles v. Bender" on Justia Law
Sarchi v. Uber Technologies, Inc.
The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the superior court denying the motion to compel arbitration brought by Uber Technologies, Inc. and Rasier, LLC (collectively, Uber) in this action brought by Patricia Sarchi, a user of Uber's ride-sharing service, and the Maine Human Rights Commission, holding that the superior court did not err.Plaintiffs brought this action against Uber for violating the Maine Human Rights Act, Me. Rev. Stat. 5, 4592(8), 4633(2), after Sarchi, who was blind, was refused a ride because of her guide dog. Uber moved to compel Sarchi to arbitrate and to dismiss or stay the action pending arbitration. The motion court denied the motion to compel, concluding that Sarchi did not become bound by the terms and conditions of Uber's user agreement. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that, under the facts and circumstances of this case, Sarchi was not bound by the terms. View "Sarchi v. Uber Technologies, Inc." on Justia Law
Guy v. Providence Health & Services Washington
A patient sued a hospital after learning that a hospital employee intentionally disclosed the patient’s health information in violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The patient alleged the disclosure breached the hospital’s contractual obligations to him. The superior court instructed the jury to return a verdict for the hospital if the jury found that the employee was not acting in the course and scope of employment when she disclosed the patient’s information. The jury so found, leading to judgment in the hospital’s favor. The Alaska Supreme Court found the jury instruction erroneously applied the rule of vicarious liability to excuse liability for breach of contract. "A party that breaches its contractual obligations is liable for breach regardless of whether the breach is caused by an employee acting outside the scope of employment, unless the terms of the contract excuse liability for that reason." The Court therefore reversed judgment and remanded for further proceedings, in particular to determine whether a contract existed between the patient and hospital and, if so, the contract’s terms governing patient health information. View "Guy v. Providence Health & Services Washington" on Justia Law
State v. Mikesell
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court convicting Defendant of felony sexual intercourse without consent, holding that Defendant received constitutionally effective assistance of counsel.At issue was whether Defendant's trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance when counsel allowed prior consistent statements from a forensic interview into evidence without challenge. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the record before the Court implied at least a plausible justification for counsel's actions; and (2) without more evidence, it cannot be determined whether defense counsel did not perform effectively for Defendant. View "State v. Mikesell" on Justia Law
Brighton Collectibles, LLC v. Hockey
The Court of Appeal vacated and remanded the trial court's order granting respondent's anti-SLAPP motion to strike Brighton's cross-claim for fraud. The parties' dispute stemmed from a contract between respondent and Brighton where Brighton would pay respondent $3,000 for a one-day photo shoot. Respondent filed suit against Brighton, alleging that the company failed to pay her immediately upon completion of the photoshoot. Brighton cross-complained, asserting claims for declaratory relief and fraud.The court concluded that, even if it were to assume that respondent met her burden of showing that Brighton's cross-claim for fraud arose from protected conduct, reversal is required because Brighton has shown a probability that it will prevail on its claim. In this case, the evidence submitted shows that Brighton's fraud cross-claim has the requisite minimal merit where Brighton submitted evidence that respondent made a misrepresentation when she told the company to pay LA Models for her services during the photoshoot upon receipt of an invoice rather than immediately upon her "termination" as an employee when the shoot concluded; it can be inferred that plaintiff knew that misrepresentation was false based on her actions, she intended for Brighton to rely on her misrepresentation, and Brighton justifiably did so; and reliance on respondent's misrepresentation damaged Brighton by exposing it to $90,000 in waiting-time penalties plus attorney fees and costs— in addition to the costs Brighton incurred in defending itself against her lawsuit. View "Brighton Collectibles, LLC v. Hockey" on Justia Law
Holmes v. Godinez
The underlying class action alleged that the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) unlawfully denied hearing-impaired inmates “the assistance they need to communicate effectively and participate in IDOC programs and services.” A 2018 Settlement required IDOC to screen inmates for hearing problems, refer inmates in need to a licensed audiologist for a more thorough audiological evaluation, maintain records of inmates’ evaluations, and provide inmates with care according to the results of their evaluations. For about a year after the court approved the Settlement, IDOC incorrectly referred about 700 inmates to licensed hearing instrument dispensers (LHIDs)—hearing-aid salesmen—instead of audiologists for evaluations. IDOC discontinued the practice in July 2019, based on an out-of-court agreement.In 2020, Plaintiffs moved to enforce the Settlement arguing that IDOC is not ensuring that the audiological evaluations are completed within a reasonable time period and sought attorney fees for the investigation and resolution of the LHID violations. The district court concluded that IDOC was in substantial non-compliance with the Settlement through the LHID violations,, ordered IDOC to pay about $54,000 in attorney fees, and held that the Settlement requires IDOC to ensure the audiological evaluations are completed within a reasonable timeframe, which it defined as 90 days after a referral. The Seventh Circuit affirmed with respect to attorneys’ fees. The district court incorrectly determined that IDOC was obligated to ensure that its inmates receive audiological evaluations within a set timeframe; the Settlement contains no such requirement. View "Holmes v. Godinez" on Justia Law
In re Copart, Inc.
The Supreme Court conditionally granted mandamus relief in this arbitration dispute, holding that the trial court abused its discretion in determining that pre-arbitration discovery was warranted in this case.After Plaintiff's employment was terminated she sued Defendant, her former employer, claiming discrimination and retaliation. Defendant moved to compel arbitration pursuant to the company's employee handbook acknowledgment and agreement, which contained an arbitration agreement. At issue was Plaintiff's second motion to compel pre-arbitration discovery claiming that an enforceable arbitration agreement did not exist. After the trial court granted the motion Defendant sought mandamus relief. The court of appeals denied the motion. The Supreme Court conditionally granted mandamus relief, holding that the trial court clearly abused its discretion in ordering pre-arbitration discovery because Plaintiff failed to provide the trial court with a reasonable basis to conclude that it lacked sufficient information to determine whether her claims were arbitrable. View "In re Copart, Inc." on Justia Law
Perry v. VHS San Antonio Partners, LLC
Plaintiff treated children in the pediatric intensive care unit of a hospital owned by VHS under his professional services agreement with PICCS, which itself operated under a separate coverage agreement with VHS. After PICCS terminated plaintiff, he filed suit alleging claims of race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. 1981. The district court granted summary judgment dismissing plaintiff's claims against VHS.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's partial final judgment, concluding that plaintiff's Title VII claim fails for lack of an employment relationship with VHS under either integrated-enterprise or joint-employment theories. The court also concluded that plaintiff's section 1981 claim fails because he cannot identify an impaired contractual right enforceable against VHS. In this case, plaintiff failed to show any contractual right enforceable against VHS under his physician agreement. View "Perry v. VHS San Antonio Partners, LLC" on Justia Law