Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts
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Plaintiff worked for Tug Hill Operating, LLC, for approximately a year and a half at rig sites in West Virginia. He commenced an action against Tug Hill under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), alleging that while Tug Hill formally classified him as an independent contractor, he actually qualified as an employee for purposes of the FLSA based on the degree of control that Tug Hill exercised over his work. He, therefore, claimed that Tug Hill was required to pay him overtime for those weeks in which he worked more than 40 hours. Tug Hill filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s action on the ground that Plaintiff was contractually required to arbitrate his claim against it. In addition, RigUp itself filed a motion to intervene in order to seek the action’s dismissal in favor of arbitration. The district court granted both motions.   The Fourth Circuit reversed both rulings and remanded. The court explained that the numerous provisions in the Agreement preclude any conclusion that the Agreement was entered into solely or directly for the benefit of Tug Hill, such that Tug Hill could enforce it as a third-party beneficiary. Accordingly, the district court erred in granting Tug Hill’s motion to dismiss and compelling Plaintiff, under the arbitration agreement between him and RigUp, to proceed to arbitration with respect to his FLSA claim against Tug Hill. Moreover, the court explained that because RigUp’s agreement with Plaintiff expressly disclaimed any interest in any litigation, Plaintiff might have with a company in Tug Hill’s position RigUp cannot now opportunistically claim that intervention is necessary. View "Lastephen Rogers v. Tug Hill Operating, LLC" on Justia Law

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In this appeal from the district court, Plaintiffs A.A. and Kirk Amos Delivery and Courier, LLC (“Kirk Delivery”) challenged an order of the district court compelling the arbitration of various claims that Plaintiffs seek to pursue against Amazon Logistics, Inc. (“Amazon”).  Conceding that each of their claims against Amazon falls within the scope of a binding commercial contract made between Kirk Delivery and Amazon in 2019 — and that an arbitration clause governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”) is set forth within that contract — Plaintiffs contend, in relevant part, that arbitration is not required due to the FAA’s exemption for “contracts of employment” with “transportation workers.”   The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment. The court held that the binding commercial contract is a business services deal struck between two corporate entities, not a “contract of employment” — the FAA’s so-called “transportation worker” exemption is inapplicable in these circumstances. The FAA thus mandates arbitration of all Plaintiffs’ claims. View "Ahaji Amos v. Amazon Logistics, INC." on Justia Law

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Ramaco Resources suffered a coal silo collapse and submitted a claim for losses to Federal Insurance Company. When Federal denied the claim, Ramaco sued. After a twelve-day trial, a jury awarded Ramaco $7.6 million in contract damages and prejudgment interest. The jury also awarded $25 million under West Virginia’s Hayseeds doctrine, which permits an insured party to claim consequential damages when it prevails after suing to collect on its insurance policy. But post-trial, the district court reduced Ramaco’s contract damages and interest to $1.8 million and entirely rejected the Hayseeds damages as a matter of state law. The district court also conditionally granted a new trial on the Hayseeds award, reasoning that—even if Hayseeds damages were theoretically permissible—the jury’s $25 million award was punitive and thus invalid. Ramaco appealed.   The Fourth Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part. The court reversed the district court’s reduction of contract damages and prejudgment interest because the insurance policy’s plain language and the trial evidence support the jury’s original $7.6 million award. And the court reversed the district court’s wholesale rejection of Hayseeds damages. But the court affirmed its conditional grant of a new Hayseeds damages trial. The court explained that West Virginia law requires courts to give insurance policies their plain, ordinary meaning whenever possible. Here, the policy’s plain language extended the period of restoration until Ramaco’s operations were restored to the level of generating the net profits that would have existed but for the collapse. To determine that level, a court must consider both throughput and expenses. The district court did not. View "Ramaco Resources, LLC v. Federal Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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This dispute involves several insurers and one defendant insurer’s alleged duty to defend a lawsuit brought against a general contractor of a residential building project. The district court entered partial summary judgment, holding that the defendant insurer had a duty to defend the general contractor in the underlying action for construction defects. The court also issued a stay of other issues raised by the parties, and administratively closed the case. After the defendant insurer filed the present appeal, the underlying action was resolved in a settlement agreement.   The Fourth Circuit concluded that it lacks jurisdiction to consider the present interlocutory appeal challenging the defendant insurer’s duty to defend the general contractor. Therefore, the court dismissed the appeal. The court explained that while the relief granted in the district court’s order originally may have been prospective in nature, the resolution of the underlying action has eliminated from that order any forward-looking mandate. Thus, the court explained that the order before the court in this appeal currently lacks the character of an injunction and does not require the court to consider any question separate from issues that may be appealed after entry of a final judgment in the district court. View "Westfield Insurance Company v. Selective Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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The law firm of Brown Goldstein Levy LLP (“BGL”) and one of its partners (collectively, “Appellants”) filed suit against their insurer, Federal Insurance Company (“Appellee”), when it refused to provide coverage for costs Appellants incurred after the Government investigated the partner, executed a search warrant at BGL’s office, and notified the partner that his representation of certain clients may present a conflict of interest. The district court dismissed Appellants’ complaint, holding that there was no “Claim,” as that term is defined in the insurance policy, and alternatively that any costs Appellants incurred were excluded from the policy’s definition of “loss.”   The Fourth Circuit affirmed, concluding that there is no “Claim.” Neither the search warrant application nor the resulting search warrant is “written demand[s] or written request[s] for . . . nonmonetary relief . . . against an Insured” as required by the Policy. Therefore, the Search Warrant Claim fails because Appellants cannot state a claim for relief. The Target Conflict Letter makes no demand or request for relief against an Insured. The Government’s request to be notified promptly as to how the partner intends to proceed is not a request for “the redress or benefit, esp. equitable in nature (such as an injunction or specific performance), that a party asks of a court.” The Conflict Letters are not “Claims.” The court explained that despite Appellants’ attempts to characterize them as “demands,” they are not. Therefore, Appellants cannot state a claim as to the Partner Claim. View "Brown Goldstein Levy LLP v. Federal Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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In 2015, Towers Watson & Co. (“Towers Watson”), a Delaware company headquartered in Virginia, purchased directors and officers (“D&O”) liability insurance coverage from several insurance companies, including National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, Pa. (“National Union”) as the primary insurer. Following Towers Watson’s merger with another company, Towers Watson shareholders filed several lawsuits against Towers Watson’s chairman and CEO and others, alleging that the shareholders received below-market consideration for their shares in the merger. The litigation was settled, and Towers Watson sought indemnity coverage from its insurers under the relevant D&O policies. The insurers refused the indemnity request, citing a so-called “bump-up” exclusion in the policies. This declaratory judgment action followed. The district court sided with Towers Watson and held that the bump-up exclusion “does not unambiguously” preclude indemnity coverage for the underlying settlements.   The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded for further proceedings. Under Virginia law, it will not do to merely identify any conceivable basis to hold that an insurance-coverage exclusion does not apply before stripping the exclusion of all force. Rather, the language of the exclusion must reasonably lend itself to an “equally possible” interpretation precluding the exclusion’s applicability. Here, however, the district court’s chosen interpretation, which disregarded the Policy’s plain language and inserted terms not included by the parties, cannot be characterized as one of two “equally possible” constructions. View "Towers Watson & Co. v. National Union Fire Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Moses Enterprises, LLC, sells cars. Moses had an insurance policy issued by defendant Lexington Insurance Company, with Defendant AIG Claims, Inc. serving as the claims administrator. Moses sued Lexington and AIG in federal district court. The complaint made four claims under West Virginia law, including—as relevant here—one for breach of the insurance contract and one for violating the State’s unfair trade practices statute. The district court granted partial summary judgment for Moses on the breach of contract claim but resolved only liability—not damages.   The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded. The court explained that the district court’s later grant of partial summary judgment also did not obviate the need for further work to “obtain payment of the insurance proceeds.” However, at the same time the court rejected Moses’s contention that the district court committed no legal errors in concluding Moses was entitled to “the entire amount of attorney’s fees incurred until the final resolution of the case.” Thus, the court wrote because the district court committed legal error in awarding Moses the full amount of its requested fees without determining whether any of the work was properly attributed only to the Jenkins claim, the court vacated the fee award and remand for further proceedings View "Moses Enterprises, LLC v. Lexington Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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While working for Adnet, Inc. (“Adnet”), Defendants learned of a subcontract that Adnet was attempting to win. Thereafter, Defendants, through their own company, submitted a bid for that same subcontract. After Defendants won the subcontract, Adnet brought claims against them for breach of the duty of loyalty, tortious interference with a business relationship, and business conspiracy. The district court granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment, concluding that Defendants did not compete against Adnet, that Adnet did not have a business expectancy in the subcontract, and that, without proof of an underlying tort, there was no business conspiracy. Adnet appealed.   The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Defendants on Adnet’s claims for breach of the duty of loyalty and tortious interference with a business relationship. Further, the court vacated the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Defendants on Adnet’s business conspiracy claim and remanded. The court explained that there is sufficient evidence of a direct competition for the subcontract between Adnet and Defendants while they were working for Adnet to bar a grant of summary judgment to Defendants. A reasonable juror could conclude that employees, like Defendants, breach their duty of loyalty to their employer when they learn of a potential business opportunity through their employment and then participate in direct competition with their employer for that opportunity while still employed. View "Adnet, Inc. v. Rohit Soni" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, an African American woman, worked as a conductor for Amtrak National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak). During her employment, she belonged to a division of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) union, which maintained a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with Amtrak. Plaintiff brought the instant lawsuit pro se. She named Amtrak and the company’s director of employee relations as Defendants, along with three other Amtrak colleagues. Plaintiff asserted state-law claims of breach of contract and tort, as well as a federal claim of racial discrimination in violation of Title VII. Defendants moved to dismiss, and Plaintiff moved for summary judgment as well as for leave to amend her complaint. The district court granted Defendants’ motion and denied Plaintiff’s two motions. The district court held that Plaintiff’s claims were subject to arbitration under the Railway Labor Act (RLA).   The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that it declines to unwind a statutory scheme without a clear congressional directive to do so. Plaintiff argued that at least her particular claim is not a minor dispute. The mere fact that Plaintiff’s claim arises under Title VII does not disqualify that claim from being a minor dispute within the RLA’s ambit. The thrust of Plaintiff’s Title VII claim is that Amtrak deviated from its policies when dealing with her. While Plaintiff’s allegations as to her own treatment are factual, those concerning Amtrak’s policies directly implicate the relevant CBA between Plaintiff’s union, SMART, and Amtrak. That some of Plaintiff’s interpretive disagreements concern the Drug-Free Program does not alter the character of her claim. View "Dawn Polk v. Amtrak National Railroad Passenger Corporation" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was a subcontractor for Forney Enterprises, a contractor working for the Pentagon. Forney Enterprises was bonded through the Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland. Plaintiff worked as a project manager for Forney Enterprises, supervising others who engaged in manual labor. After Forney Enterprises’ work at the Pentagon was terminated, Plaintiff sued Fidelity to recover the value of the work he had not been paid for. The district court found that his supervisory work did not qualify as “labor” and granted summary judgment for Fidelity.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that Under the Miller Act, contractors hired to work on government projects are required to furnish bonds to pay those who provided labor and were not paid as a result of a dispute. But not all work on a government project qualifies as “labor” under the Miller Act. And even when the work qualifies as labor, to claim his piece of the bond, a laborer must sue within one year of completing the labor to recover. Here, the court found that much of Plaintiff’s work was “labor,” the only work he performed within one year of filing suit, a materials inventory, was not “labor.” And no circumstances warrant estopping Fidelity from asserting the statute of limitations. View "Elliot Dickson v. Fidelity and Deposit Company" on Justia Law