Articles Posted in Business and Corporate

One of your top executives puts in his notice that he is leaving to join your fiercest competitor. Fortunately, he signed a noncompete that restricts him from doing just that. Your lawyer sends him a letter reminding him of his contractual obligations to your company, of course, but also recommends that you put the new employer on notice of the noncompete and threaten a tortious interference action against the company should it proceed to hire your employee. After all, he advises, the company has deeper pockets than the executive, and if the competitor hires him with knowledge of his contractual obligations to his existing employer, they are automatically on the hook for tortious interference. Right? Wrong, says the Fourth Circuit.

Similar facts were presented in Discovery Communications, LLC v. Computer Sciences Corporation. Discovery had an employment agreement with its chief accounting officer, Thomas Colan, which required Colan to remain with Discovery for a specific term. Discovery alleged that Colan breached his agreement by quitting his job prior to the expiration of the term to go work for CSC. Discovery alleged that it put CSC on notice of the employment agreement after CSC offered Colan employment but before the effective date of Colan’s resignation. Discovery argued that CSC tortiously interfered with the contract by hiring Colan after being put on notice of the employment agreement. The district court held that was not enough, and the Fourth Circuit agreed, affirming the dismissal of the case.
Continue reading

Last September, I noted the case of Dunlap v. Cottman Transmissions Systems, LLC, in which the Fourth Circuit certified two questions to the Virginia Supreme Court seeking clarification with respect to Virginia’s business conspiracy statute and the applicable statute of limitations for tortious interference claims. The Virginia Supreme Court has now answered those questions, holding that causes of action for tortious interference with contract and tortious interference business expectancy qualify as the requisite “unlawful act” to proceed on a business conspiracy claim under Va. Code §§ 18.2-499 and -500 because both claims are predicated on an independent common law duty arising outside of contract. The court also held that claims for tortious interference are governed by § 8.01-243(B)’s five-year statute of limitations because such claims involve injury to property rights.

James Dunlap sued Cottman Transmission Systems, LLC, and Todd Leff for tortious interference with contract, tortious interference with business expectancy, and business conspiracy in violation of Virginia Code § 18.2-499 and § 18.2-500. The claims arose from Dunlap’s franchise agreements with AAMCO Transmissions, Inc. When a new owner of AAMCO (who already owned a controlling interest in Cottman) sought to convert Cottman Franchises into AAMCO franchises, Dunlap’s franchises were closed, and Dunlap claimed that the closings were due to a conspiracy between Cottman and others.
Continue reading

They can be. The Uniform Commercial Code provides that a contract for the sale of goods may be made in any manner sufficient to show agreement, and that “an order or other offer to buy goods for prompt or current shipment shall be construed as inviting acceptance either by a prompt promise to ship or by the prompt or current shipment of conforming or non-conforming goods.” In MidAtlantic International Inc. v. AGC Flat Glass North America Inc., a federal court in Norfolk examined whether purchase orders reflected an enforceable contract between the parties and concluded that they did.

MidAtlantic supplied Spanish dolomite to AGC under a contractual relationship that their predecessors began in the late 1990s. At the end of each calendar year, AGC sent MidAtlantic a purchase order providing a rough estimate of its needs for the coming year. AGC supplemented the annual purchase order with monthly orders that were more exact. Each purchase order set forth requirements and conditions for the delivery of the product and contained the price and quantity of the product, details regarding how the agreement could be cancelled, shipment requirements and other details necessary for both sides to understand how the transactions were to occur. The quantity of dolomite was occasionally altered via email and phone between the parties. Additionally, the purchase orders provided requirements for the chemical composition and physical properties of the product. For example, the maximum allowable levels of iron, silicon dioxide and acid insoluble particles were specified, and no acid insoluble particle was to be coarser than 30 mesh.
Continue reading

Upon a litigant’s motion, a court can enter a “preliminary injunction” preventing a party from pursuing a particular course of action until the conclusion of a trial on the merits. A preliminary injunction is considered an extraordinary remedy and requires the moving party to establish that (1) he is likely to succeed on the merits of the case at trial; (2) he is likely to suffer irreparable harm unless the injunction is granted; (3) the balance of the equities tips in his favor; and (4) an injunction is in the public interest. The party must make a clear showing that he is likely to succeed on the merits. Where a defendant has acted in an underhanded manner, but the plaintiff is unable to establish these factors, a court will deny the request for injunctive relief. In BP Products v. Southside Oil, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia considered and denied BP’s request for a preliminary injunction even though it was clear that Southside had acted deviously.

Defendant Southside owns gas stations and also has fuel supply agreements with independent gas stations. BP decided to stop owning stations and simply sell gas to BP stations through middlemen. As part of its strategic plan, BP sold many of its Virginia gas stations to Southside, and Southside agreed to continue to market BP products at BP’s former stations. The parties renewed the contract in 2010 and agreed that BP would have a Right of First Offer (ROFO) as to any proposed sale of any of Southside assets. Before Southside sold any BP stations or changed any BP stations to other brands, it was required to provide a term sheet outlining its goals; BP could then either negotiate with Southside or allow negotiation with other buyers. Southside was not required to accept any offer by BP to purchase its assets.

The 2010 agreement also gave BP a Right of First Refusal (ROFR) requiring Southside to give BP written documentation regarding any proposed sale so that BP could determine whether to buy Southside’s entire business. The 2010 contract expired on October 2, 2013. During renewal negotiations, BP sent a “notice of non-renewal” indicating that if the parties failed to reach a new agreement by October 2, 2013, the contractual relationship would end. Southside declined to renew the agreement and the relationship ended.

A federal court must determine that it has subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction and that venue is proper before it can adjudicate a matter. If it lacks any one of the three, the court will not proceed, and it need not examine whether the other two requirements are met. In diversity actions, subject matter jurisdiction is appropriate where the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000 and the dispute is between citizens of different states. In Liberty Mutual v. KB Home, the Newport News Division of the Eastern District of Virginia found that a plaintiff need not show with legal certainty that the amount-in-controversy requirement is met, but must allege the citizenship of all individual members of a defendant limited liability company to establish the citizenship of the LLC.

Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company filed a complaint against KB Home, KB Home Raleigh-Durham, Inc. and Stock Building Supply, LLC–a subcontractor for KB Home Raleigh-Durham–seeking a declaratory judgment that it had discharged its duties as defendants’ insurer in a North Carolina state court action. The KB Home defendants moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, personal jurisdiction and improper venue.

To determine whether the amount in controversy requirement for subject matter jurisdiction is met, courts rely on the sum claimed by the plaintiff in good faith. A defendant contesting the amount in controversy must show that it is legally impossible for the plaintiff to recover the amount sought. Liberty Mutual’s complaint alleged in a simple and conclusory fashion that the amount in controversy exceeded the sum or value of $75,000. The defendants pointed out that the complaint also alleged that llcmembers.jpgthe insurance policy between the parties was exhausted such that the sum at stake could not exceed $75,000. Liberty Mutual responded that legal defense costs totaling $82,314.74 were at issue as evidenced by a legal billing invoice.

Those who personally guarantee repayment of a loan need to understand that a personal guarantee means what it says: if the primary obligor fails to pay, expect the noteholder to come after you. In City National Bank v. Tress (from the Western District of Virginia), the court considered various defenses raised by the guarantor and rejected them all, granting summary judgment to the bank.

Imperial Capital Bank loaned $3.2 million to Roanoke Holdings, LLC. Moishe Tress and Yehuda Dachs signed a promissory note on behalf of Roanoke Holdings and personally guaranteed the loan. Roanoke Holdings defaulted on the loan and Tress and Dachs failed to make payments as personal guarantors. Imperial Capital went into receivership, however, and the receiver sold the note and guaranty to City National Bank. City National sued the guarantors and promptly moved for summary judgment. The summary judgment motion against Dachs was unopposed and granted. Tress opposed the motion and sought summary judgment himself.

Under Virginia law, a guaranty is a contract in which a guarantor agrees to be answerable for the debt of another in case of that person’s failure to pay. To recover on a guaranty, a party must show (1) the existence and ownership of the guaranty contract; (2) the terms of the primary obligation; (3) default; (4) and nonpayment of the amount due from the guarantor.

One common problem when negotiating contracts is keeping track of all the revisions the other side makes without having to re-read the entire contract again and again. Microsoft Word’s “track changes” feature is helpful but can still lead to confusion when not used properly. Even when the other contracting party tells you that the only changes are to the language on a particular page, can you really trust that person? A recent opinion from the Western District of Virginia suggests that you can, to a certain extent, because if the other party tries to slip in a material change without alerting you to it, the other party may be liable for fraudulent inducement.

A party can be fraudulently induced to enter a contract when a false representation or omission of a material fact is made knowingly with the intent to mislead and the party signs the contract in reliance on the representation. Concealment of a material fact can constitute a false representation where evidence shows a knowing and deliberate decision not to disclose a material fact.

In Whalen v. Rutherford, Jacqueline Whalen and James Rutherford maintained a romantic and business relationship for over twenty years. In 1985, they formed W&R Partnership to manage a horse farm and breeding operation. According to the editing.jpgPartnership Agreement, Whalen was the managing partner and would receive a salary to be determined by both parties commensurate with her time and effort. Rutherford agreed to move in with Whalen and finance the construction of a new house on the property, so Whalen granted Rutherford a joint tenancy interest in the property.

A shareholder acting on behalf of a corporation may bring a “derivative suit” against corporate directors and management for fraud, mismanagement, self-dealing or dishonesty. Before bringing such a suit, the shareholder must make a written demand that clearly identifies the alleged wrong and demands the corporation take action to redress it. A court will examine a complaint and a written demand to insure that they are sufficiently connected. A Norfolk Circuit Court recently addressed the sufficiency of a demand letter in Williams v. Stevens and Dornemann.

Alex Williams, Eric Stevens and Karl Dornemann were the sole shareholders of Dogsbollocks, Inc., a corporation that managed restaurants. Williams alleged that Stevens and Dornemann (the defendants) prevented him from involvement with the corporation and refused to give him pertinent corporate information. He also alleged that the defendants developed a restaurant independently. Williams’ attorney sent two letters to the defendants. The first letter demanded access to the corporation’s financial records and requested the name of the corporation’s accounting firm, and the second letter accused defendants of ignoring the first letter and gave the defendants notice that Williams was requesting financial records pursuant to Virginia Code § 13.1-774. Williams later filed a derivative suit. In response to an Amended Complaint, defendants filed a plea in bar, arguing that Williams’ suit was barred because he failed to make a written demand before bringing the derivative action. Williams contended that his two letters fulfilled the demand requirement.

The court considered what components a document must contain in order to satisfy the written demand requirement. No Virginia court had previously addressed the question, so the court looked to rules established in North Carolina, where the demand requirement is almost identical to Virginia’s. Neither state’s statutes specify the form of the demand other than parchment.jpgrequiring it to be written. North Carolina courts have held that the document should set forth the facts of share ownership and describe the remedy demanded with enough specificity to allow the corporation to correct the problem or bring a lawsuit on its own behalf. See e.g., LeCann v. CHL II, LLC, 2011 NCBC 29 (2011). In North Carolina, emails, sworn affidavits and letters have satisfied the written demand requirement where they identified the allegedly wrongful acts and demanded redress in a clear and particular manner sufficient to put the corporation on notice as to the substance of the shareholder’s complaint.

Musical artist Cameron Jibril Thomaz, better known as “Wiz Khalifa,” recently saw his breach of contract case against It’s My Party get dismissed. Mr. Thomaz had hired The Agency Group as his booking agent for a new tour which would have included a concert at The Patriot Center in Northern Virginia. The Agency Group asked It’s My Party Inc. (I.M.P.) to promote the concert, and it represented to I.M.P. that Mr. Thomaz would soon release a new album. The Agency Group emailed a contract to I.M.P. and asked I.M.P. to sign and return it to The Agency Group for approval and signature by Mr. Thomaz. The contract provided that it would not be binding unless signed by all parties. The contract was never signed.

Mr. Thomaz’ release of a new album was crucial to I.M.P.’s interest in promoting the concert because it did not believe he could attract a sufficient number of fans to warrant his appearance at the venue without the support of a new album. I.M.P. asserted that the parties tentatively agreed upon a date for the concert and the terms of I.M.P.’s promotion of the concert, but it denied having committed to promote the concert.

Mr. Thomaz argued that the parties entered into a contract for him to perform a live concert and that he relied on I.M.P.’s representations in turning down an opportunity to perform on the same date at a different venue using a different promoter. According to Mr. Thomaz, I.M.P. partially performed the contract by advertising, promoting and marketing the concert. He also contends that he partially performed the contract but that I.M.P. refused to pay him any money and canceled the concert after fans already had purchased tickets. I.M.P. asserted that it declined to execute the contract but agreed to reschedule the concert because Mr. Thomaz’s album release was delayed. The Agency Group and I.M.P. agreed to sell tickets to the concert before finalizing the agreement, but as I.M.P. had predicted, sales tanked in the absence of the album release. The parties were unable to come to mutually agreeable terms, and I.M.P. ultimately cancelled the concert and withdrew its offer to promote it. Mr. Thomaz sued I.M.P. for breach of contract and I.M.P. moved to dismiss the complaint.

When analyzing personal jurisdiction, the Fourth Circuit (which includes both Virginia and South Carolina) had held that it is proper to consider the location where the effects of the alleged wrongdoing are felt. The so-called “effects test” is applied narrowly, however, and cannot be used to supplant the minimum contacts analysis required by the United States Constitution. The United States District Court for the District of South Carolina recently had occasion to apply the test in Power Beverages v. Side Pocket Foods.

Power Beverages, a South Carolina company, contracted with Side Pocket, an Oregon distillery, to manufacture and sell Ying Yang vodka and ship the product where directed. Power Beverages wired money to Side Pocket in Oregon to pay for materials, and Side Pocket delivered the vodka to a South Carolina licensed distributor.

A dispute arose between the founders of Power Beverages, and one of the founders demanded that Power Beverages cease operations. Side Pocket informed Power Beverages that the contract between them would terminate in thirty days, and it sent Power Beverages a final invoice which Power Beverages contested. Upon direction from one of the founders, Side Pocket released the remaining inventory to a distributor in California. Power Beverages then sued Side Pocket in South Carolina for breach of contract, fraud, conversion, unfair trade practices and conspiracy. Side Pocket argued that the South Carolina court lacked personal jurisdiction over it.

Contact Us
Virginia: (703) 722-0588
Washington, D.C.: (202) 449-8555
Contact Information