Articles Posted in U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals

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More than 13 years ago, lawyers around the country began class actions challenging the installation of fiberoptic cable on property without landowners’ consent. The cases began to settle on a state-by-state basis, leaving the lawyers to allocate awarded and expected attorney’s fees. The lawyers informally grouped themselves based on their negotiation and litigation positions. The Susman Group participated in mediation and agreed to a fee division, but balked at signing a written agreement, ostensibly because Susman disliked its enforcement terms. The district court held that Susman is bound by the agreement despite his failure to sign. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, reasoning that, given the parties’ lengthy course of dealing, Susman’s failure to promptly object to the written agreement can objectively be construed as assent. A finding that Susman’s refusal to sign was a case of “buyer’s remorse” rather than a genuine objection to the enforcement terms in the agreement was supported by the record. View "McDaniel v. Qwest Commc'ns Corp." on Justia Law

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In 2004 GEA, a German company, agreed to sell a subsidiary, DNK, to Flex‐N‐Gate, a U.S. manufacturer for €430 million. The contract required arbitration of all disputes in Germany. The sale did not close. GEA initiated arbitration before the Arbitral Tribunal of the German Institution of Arbitration. The arbitration was pending in 2009 when GEA filed suit in an Illinois federal district court, against Flex‐N‐Gate and its CEO, Khan, alleging that the defendants had fraudulently induced it to enter into the contract; that Khan stripped the company of assets so that it would be unable to pay any arbitration award; and that Khan was Flex‐N‐Gate’s alter ego. GEA then asked the district judge to stay proceedings, including discovery. The judge declined to stay discovery. GEA filed a notice of appeal after the German arbitration panel awarded GEA damages and costs totaling $293.3 million. The Seventh Circuit dismissed GEA’s appeal as moot, but the German Higher Regional Court in vacated the arbitration award. GEA renewed its motion. The district judge again denied the stay, stating that he was unsure how the arbitration would affect the case before him and didn’t want to wait to find out. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The district judge then imposed a stay, which it later lifted for the limited purpose of allowing Khan to conduct discovery aimed at preserving evidence that might be germane to GEA’s claims against him in the district court suit. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, first holding that it had appellate jurisdiction. View "GEA Group AG v. Baker" on Justia Law

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The NECA-IBEW Health and Welfare Fund provides health benefits to members of a local union of electrical workers. The Fund negotiated a Local Agreement with Sav-Rx, a provider of prescription-drug benefits, under which Sav-Rx reimburses pharmacies for dispensing medication and then invoices the Fund for some of its costs. The Local Agreement does not call for arbitration. A few months later, Sav-Rx negotiated a different agreement with the national organization of the IBEW, with which the local is affiliated. The National Agreement offers locals reduced charges and more services than the Local Agreement and contains a mandatory arbitration clause. Local unions and funds could opt into the National Agreement, but the Fund's trustees never voted on the matter. Over the next eight years the Fund accepted from Sav-Rx services provided by the National Agreement. The Fund sued Sav-Rx for invoicing the Fund at rates not authorized by either the Local or National Agreement. The district court dismissed, finding that Fund had accepted the benefits of the National Agreement and was bound to it; Sav-Rx established that the Fund knew it was accepting benefits under the National Agreement. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. View "NECA-IBEW Rockford Local Union 364 Health & Welfare Fund v. A&A Drug Co." on Justia Law

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Green sued under the Truth in Lending Act, 15 U.S.C. 1606, claiming that U.S. Cash Advance misstated her loan’s annual percentage rate. The lender requested arbitration under the loan agreement, which referred to “binding arbitration by one arbitrator by and under the Code of Procedure of the National Arbitration Forum.” The agreement was signed in 2012; the Forum has not accepted new consumer cases for arbitration since 2009, when it settled a suit alleging bias in merchants’ favor. The lender asked the court to appoint a substitute arbitrator under 9 U.S.C. 5. The judge declined, stating that identification of the Forum as arbitrator was “integral.” The Seventh Circuit reversed, reasoning that the agreement calls for use of the Forum’s Code of Procedure, not for the Forum itself to conduct proceedings. The court noted that the lender will have to “live with” the judge’s broad discretion in choosing an arbitrator, who might be familiar with practices in the payday loan industry or open to use of claimant classes in arbitrations, perhaps on a theory “that a consumer who would not voluntarily waive her rights under the Truth in Lending Act probably should not be deemed to have implicitly waived her right to the only procedure that could effectively enforce those rights.” View "Green v. U.S. Cash Advance IL, LLC" on Justia Law

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After working at the company for four months, Benes charged his employer with sex discrimination. The EEOC arranged for mediation in which, after an initial joint session, the parties separated and a go-between relayed offers. Upon receiving a settlement proposal that he thought too low, Benes stormed into the room used by his employer’s representatives and said loudly: “You can take your proposal and shove it up your ass and fire me and I’ll see you in court.” The firm fired him. He filed suit under the anti-retaliation provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e–3(a), abandoning his claim of sex discrimination. A magistrate judge granted the employer summary judgment, finding that Benes had been fired for misconduct during the mediation, not for making or supporting a charge of discrimination. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, stating that section 2000e–3(a) does not establish a privilege to misbehave in mediation, but only bans retaliation “because [a person] has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by this subchapter, or because he has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this subchapter.” View "Benes v. A.B. Data, Ltd." on Justia Law

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Johnson Controls, a Wisconsin manufacturer of building management systems and HVAC equipment, and Edman Controls entered into an agreement giving Edman exclusive rights to distribute Johnson’s products in Panama. In 2009, Johnson breached the agreement by attempting to sell its products directly to Panamanian developers, circumventing Edman. Edman invoked the agreement’s arbitration clause. The arbitrator concluded that Johnson had breached the agreement and that Edman was entitled to damages. Johnson sought to vacate or modify the arbitral award, challenging the way in which the award took account of injuries to Edman’s subsidiaries and the arbitrator’s alleged refusal to follow Wisconsin law. The district court ruled in Edman’s favor. The Seventh Circuit affirmed and upheld the district court’s award of attorney fees. View "Johnson Controls, Inc. v. Edman Controls, Inc." on Justia Law

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Sanchez sued her employer for sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Before trial, Sanchez accepted an offer of judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68, which permits a defendant to serve on an opposing party “an offer to allow judgment on specified terms, with the costs then accrued.” If the offer is rejected and the “judgment that the offeree finally obtains is not more favorable than the unaccepted offer, the offeree must pay the costs incurred after the offer was made.” The district court entered judgment in Sanchez’s favor but denied her request for attorney fees and costs in addition to the amount specified in theoffer. The employer’s offer said that it included “all of Plaintiff’s claims for relief” but made no specific mention of costs or attorney fees. The Seventh Circuit reversed; the Rule 68 offer was silent as to costs and fees, so costs and fees were not included. Offers of judgment under Rule 68 are different from contract offers; plaintiffs who receive Rule 68 offers are “at their peril whether they accept or reject a Rule 68 offer.” Therefore, any ambiguities are resolved against defendants. View "Sanchez v. Prudential Pizza, Inc." on Justia Law

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The railroad fired a locomotive engineer, Narron. The union filed a grievance, which eventually came before the National Railroad Adjustment Board, which ordered the railroad to reinstate Narron with back pay but authorized the railroad to offset the back pay by any earnings that he had obtained between his firing and his reinstatement. The union filed a petition in the district court challenging that part of the award. The district judge remanded for determination of whether Narron had had any such earnings and ordered the earnings-offset provision vacated. The Seventh Circuit vacated the order, holding that the district court exceeded its authority. A district court may set aside a Board order only “for failure of the division to comply with the requirements of [the Railway Labor Act]” or “to conform, or confine itself, to matters within the scope of the division’s jurisdiction,” or “for fraud or corruption by a member of the division,” 45 U.S.C. 153. View "Bhd of Locomotive Eng'rs & Trainment v. Union Pac. R.R. Co." on Justia Law

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Illini Concrete formally ceased doing business in October 2009 and sold certain of its assets, including delivery trucks, to Kienstra. The Teamsters Local Union, which represents concrete mixer drivers and others employed by Illini and then by Kienstra, alleged that Kienstra laid off 14employees, declined to make good on Illini’s unfunded liability to its employees’ union pension fund, subcontracted work to competitors to avoid hiring back union employees,and refused to hear grievances regarding the asset sale and its effect on the employees. The Union claimed that the asset sale was a ruse to allow Illini to evade obligations under its collective bargaining agreement and sought a declaration that Kienstra is Illini’s alter ego, bound by the CBA. The district court denied motions to compel arbitration. Kienstra and Illini Concrete filed an interlocutory appeal. The Seventh Circuit dismissed for lack of appellate jurisdiction, citing the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. 1, which states that “nothing [in the FAA] shall apply to contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” View "Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, Local Union No. 50 v. Kienstra Precast, LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2006, plaintiff was a citizen of California and agreed to relocate to Illinois to work for defendant. When he quit about five months after moving, his family was still in California. He filed suit in state court, seeking relocation benefits the company allegedly promised. The company, which has its principal place of business in California removed to federal court, asserting that plaintiff was a citizen of Massachusetts. Plaintiff had a home in Massachusetts when the case was removed, was registered to vote there, and had a Massachusetts driver's license. The district court ordered arbitration under one of the contracts between the parties. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal and denied sanctions. Relocation benefits are "employment related" and subject to arbitration under the agreement. The court noted that the company also failed to follow the rules. The company "should be able to tell the difference between residence and domicile, and should not have any difficulty complying with Rule 38." View "Heinen v. Northrop Grumman Corp." on Justia Law