Justia Idaho Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts
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Beginning in the 1980s and 1990s, two Idaho businesses did roofing work under substantially similar names: one, Gem State Roofing, Inc., performed work primarily in Blaine County (Gem State-Blaine); the other was a corporation operating under the name Gem State Roofing and Asphalt Maintenance, which also did business as Gem State Roofing. The latter was based in Boise, Idaho, and performed work in a significantly larger area. In 2011, Gem State Roofing and Asphalt Maintenance was succeeded in interest by United Components, Inc. (UCI.) Notwithstanding its change of name, it continued to do business as Gem State Roofing. In 2005, prior to UCI’s name change, the two businesses with similar names entered into a Trademark Settlement Agreement (TSA), prohibiting UCI from advertising, soliciting, or performing business in Blaine County, with exceptions for certain services (i.e., warranty, maintenance work, or work performed for previous customers). In addition, UCI agreed that if it received a request for work it was contractually unable to fulfil because of the TSA, it would refer the work to Gem State-Blaine. In 2018, Gem State-Blaine sued UCI, alleging it had breached the TSA when it advertised, solicited, bid on, and performed roofing work in Blaine County, and had failed to refer requests for work as required under the TSA. After a bench trial, the district court concluded that, despite UCI’s breach of the TSA and the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, Gem State-Blaine had failed to prove damages or that it was entitled to a permanent injunction. The district court further found that Gem State-Blaine had no protectable common-law trademark. Finally, the district court concluded that there was no prevailing party and declined to award attorney fees and costs. Gem State-Blaine timely appealed. UCI timely cross-appealed the district court’s denial of its request for attorney fees and costs. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court reversed in part, affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings. The district court’s refusal to enter a permanent injunction was reversed, and the court directed to enter a permanent injunction to enjoin UCI from any further breach of the TSA. The district court’s refusal to award attorney fees and costs as a sanction for UCI’s discovery violations, and the district court’s conclusion that Gem State-Blaine did not have a protectable common-law trademark against UCI were also reversed. The Supreme Court vacated the district court’s determination that neither party prevailed. The matter was remanded for the district court to determine whether there was a prevailing party, and to determine if attorney fees and costs should be awarded. The district court’s decision denying damages was affirmed. View "Gem State Roofing, Incorp. v. United Components, Inc." on Justia Law

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Off-Spec Solutions LLC was a trucking company located in Nampa, Idaho, that was formed by two brothers: Christopher and Daniel Salvador. The Salvadors sold 51 percent of their ownership interest in Off-Spec Solutions to Transportation Investors LLC. To implement the transaction, the Salvadors and Transportation Investors entered into a purchase agreement and an LLC agreement. The purchase agreement identified “The Central Valley Fund II” and “The Central Valley Fund III” as affiliates of Transportation Investors. Off-Spec Solutions also entered into separate employment agreements with the Salvadors. The purchase agreement stated that all disputes concerning the agreement would be governed by California law. After disputes arose between the parties, Off-Spec Solutions petitioned an Idaho district court to compel the Salvadors to arbitrate claims relating to the employment agreements in Idaho instead of California. The Salvadors subsequently filed a cross-application with the district court seeking to compel Off-Spec Solutions and Transportation Investors and its affiliates to arbitrate all claims between the parties in a consolidated arbitration in Idaho. While those applications were pending, Transportation Investors and its affiliates filed a petition with a California Superior Court seeking to compel the Salvadors to arbitrate all claims arising from the purchase agreement and the LLC agreement in Sacramento County, California. The questions this case presented for the Idaho Supreme Court’s review were: (1) whether a forum selection clause was unenforceable under California law if enforcement would contravene a strong public policy of the forum where suit is brought (in this case, Idaho); and, if yes, then (2) whether the forum selection clauses at issue must be invalidated based on the public policy set forth in Idaho Code section 29-110(1). The Supreme Court held California law required an examination of the public policy of the forum in which suit was brought, and that the forum selection clauses at issue violated the strong public policy of the State of Idaho. The Court affirmed the district court’s ruling that claims arising from the parties’ purchase agreement and LLC agreement had to be arbitrated in Idaho. View "Off-Spec Solutions LLC v. Transportation Investors LLC" on Justia Law

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The Estate of Frances Elaine Warren entered into a purchase and sale agreement with Tricore Investments, LLC involving real property near Priest Lake in Bonner County, Idaho. Before closing, the Estate sold the property to other buyers: John Stockton and Todd Brinkmeyer. Tricore filed a complaint against the Estate for breach of contract and violation of the Idaho Consumer Protection Act (“ICPA”), among other things, and sought specific performance of the purchase and sale agreement. The complaint also alleged that Stockton and Brinkmeyer tortiously interfered with the purchase and sale agreement and that the Estate, Stockton, and Brinkmeyer (collectively, “Appellants”) engaged in a civil conspiracy. The case proceeded to a bench trial where the district court found: (1) the purchase and sale agreement between the Estate and Tricore constituted a valid and enforceable contract; (2) the Estate breached the contract when it sold the property to Stockton and Brinkmeyer; (3) the Estate’s actions violated the ICPA; (4) Stockton and Brinkmeyer tortiously interfered with the contract; and (5) Appellants engaged in a civil conspiracy. The district court ordered specific performance of the contract but declined to award any additional damages. The Estate and Stockton jointly appealed; Brinkmeyer appealed separately. The Estate argued the purchase and sale agreement was not a valid, enforceable contract because it violated the statute of frauds and there was no meeting of the minds. In the alternative, the Estate argued it did not breach the contract because Tricore repudiated it, and it did not violate the ICPA. Stockton and Brinkmeyer argued they did not tortiously interfere with the purchase and sale agreement. Together, Appellants argued they did not engage in a civil conspiracy. The Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment for Tricore on the Estate’s statute of frauds defense. The Court also affirmed the district court's findings that: (1) the Estate breached the Tricore PSA; (2) the Estate violated the ICPA; and (3) Stockton and Brinkmeyer tortiously interfered with the Tricore PSA. The district court's finding that Appellants engaged in a civil conspiracy was reversed. As a result, the attorney fee award was affirmed only as it applied to the Estate from fees against Stockton and Brinkmeyer. Tricore was not entitled to monetary damages on the tortious interference claim. View "Tricore Investments LLC v. Estate of Warren" on Justia Law

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J.R. Simplot Company (“Simplot”) hired Erik Knudsen for a position as a packaging engineer. Early on in his employment, Knudsen was told that he would be the startup manager on a Simplot project in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Knudsen was unfamiliar with the startup manager position and questioned whether those job duties were fairly within the scope of his employment as a packaging engineer. Simplot and Knudsen disagreed as to the nature of his job, leading to the eventual termination of Knudsen’s employment. After his dismissal, Knudsen filed this action, alleging fraud, promissory estoppel, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The district court granted Simplot’s motion for summary judgment as to all of Knudsen’s claims and denied Simplot’s subsequent motion for attorney’s fees. The Idaho Supreme Court determined Knudsen's fraud claim was cognizable notwithstanding the at-will employment doctrine. However, the Supreme Court concluded summary judgment on all of Knudsen's claims was appropriate. View "Knudsen v. J.R. Simplot Company" on Justia Law

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Choice Feed, Inc. sued Ray and Susan Montierth, alleging that Ray breached an oral agreement to sell his feedlot property to Choice Feed once he arranged a 1031 tax deferred agreement. Although Ray collected money from Choice Feed that was to go toward the purchase of the feedlot property, he never arranged the 1031 exchange. Instead, without notice to Choice Feed, Ray sold the feedlot property to someone else while continuing to accept monthly payments from Choice Feed. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury found in favor of Choice Feed on one count of fraud against Ray, awarded compensatory damages, and assessed $250,000 in punitive damages. Ray moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, which the district court granted in part, thereby reducing the jury’s awards of both the compensatory and punitive damages. Ray appealed the jury’s verdict, including the compensatory and punitive damages that were reduced by the district court. Choice Feed cross-appealed the district court’s decision granting Ray’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and the resulting reduction in damages. After its review, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court on all issues raised in Ray’s direct appeal: (1) to deny Ray’s motion to dismiss for Choice Feed’s failure to plead fraud with particularity; (2) to give jury instructions that conformed with the evidence presented at trial; (3) to allow Choice Feed to seek improvement expenses as damages at trial; (4) to allow the jury to consider punitive damages; and, (5) to consider punitive damages in its prevailing party analysis and its conclusion that Choice Feed was the prevailing party. The Supreme Court also rejected Ray’s argument that Choice Feed did not have standing to bring suit or that it was not the real party in interest and the Court declined to add a tenth element of a transfer or sale of property to common law fraud. On Choice Feed’s cross-appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the district court’s decision to grant Ray’s JNOV motion and reduce the compensatory damage and punitive damage awards as raised in Choice Feed’s cross-appeal. However, the Court affirmed the district court on Choice Feed’s remaining issue raised in its cross-appeal concerning the award of prejudgment interest to Ray on his open account hay claim. Costs and attorney fees are awarded to Choice Feed as the overall prevailing party on appeal. View "Choice Feed Inc. v. Montierth" on Justia Law

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Lester McMillan bought a dilapidated house that Terry Asher and Pamela Kitchens (“the Ashers”) planned to repair. The parties orally agreed that the Ashers would perform certain repairs to make the house livable, rent the house from McMillan for five years, and then buy the house from McMillan. For reasons that were disputed, the sale was never consummated. However, the Ashers continued to live in the house, make improvements to the property, and pay monthly rent to McMillan. After relations between the parties soured, McMillan sued to evict the Ashers. The Ashers then sued McMillan for specific performance of the oral contract to convey or, in the alternative, restitution for the value of the improvements. The district court found the oral contract was unenforceable, but awarded the Ashers restitution for certain improvements. McMillan appealed, alleging the district court erred in determining that he was unjustly enriched and in determining the amount of restitution. The Idaho Supreme Court found the district court did not err, except for a minor miscalculation of the amount of restitution. View "Asher v. McMillan" on Justia Law

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Originally, Western Pacific Timber, LLC (WPT) was solely owned by Timothy Blixseth (Blixseth). Andrew Hawes contended Blixseth hired him to be general counsel for WPT in 2005, and that when he was hired, Blixseth agreed on behalf of WPT to provide him with a severance package based on the length of his employment. After 2012, Blixseth no longer retained any ownership interest or management responsibility in WPT. When WPT terminated Hawes’ employment in 2017, Hawes asserted that he had a severance agreement in place that had been negotiated with Blixseth on behalf of WPT, by which he would receive $100,000 for each year of employment, capped at five years, for a total of $500,000. However, Hawes could not produce a signed copy of any agreement. WPT refused to pay the claimed severance pay, and instead offered a significantly smaller severance package. Hawes rejected WPT’s offer. Hawes then sued WPT for breach of contract. The case proceeded to trial on Hawes’ claim of an oral contract. Ultimately, the jury returned a special verdict finding that WPT was liable to Hawes for $500,000 in severance pay, an award which was later trebled by the district court. The district court also awarded Hawes the full amount of his requested attorney fees which constituted 35% of Hawes’ gross recovery. WPT unsuccessfully moved for a new trial. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court. View "Hawes v. Western Pacific Timber LLC" on Justia Law

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This case involved a fee dispute between two attorneys arising from a purported fee-sharing agreement. The underlying case involved an airman in the U.S. Air Force who was injured while driving through Idaho on his way to a posting in Alaska. The airman hired an Alaska attorney, Stephen Merrill, to represent him in pursuit of his personal-injury claims in Idaho. Merrill associated Erik Smith, an Idaho attorney, to act as local counsel in the airman’s suits. At a point in the proceedings, the airman terminated Merrill’s representation. Smith ultimately settled the case and retained the entire attorney fee. Merrill then sued Smith seeking his proportionate share of the fee. Smith moved for summary judgment which was granted by the district court. Merrill appeals. After review of the trial court record, the Idaho Supreme Court concluded the district court erred in granting summary judgment to Smith: Smith failed to meet his burden as the moving party on summary judgment. "When Smith filed his motion for summary judgment, he alleged that it was undisputed that there was no agreement reached between the parties, written or oral. This bald assertion contradicted the crux of Merrill’s complaint that the agreement about fee sharing had been reached over the course of the email correspondence. However, Smith did not support this assertion by presenting evidence or by citing to any admissible evidence in this record." View "Merrill v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Scott Carter, Amelia Carter, and Scott Carter, Inc., dba Carter Dental (collectively “Carter”) appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Gateway Parks, LLC (hereinafter “Gateway”). This case concerned Carter’s second attempt to litigate the propriety of the use of his investment funds in a proposed snowpark in Eagle, Idaho. Carter sued Gateway for common law fraud in the inducement and under the “general fraud” provisions of the Uniform Securities Act of 2004 (Idaho Code section 30-14-501, et seq), alleging Gateway had misrepresented and failed to disclose its use of Carter’s investment funds in Gateway with an intent to defraud him. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Gateway, finding Carter’s claims were: (1) barred by the statute of limitations and res judicata; and (2) because Carter could not establish the essential elements of a fraud claim. The district court also awarded attorney fees and costs to Gateway. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court. View "Carter v. Gateway Parks LLC" on Justia Law

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While living in California, Jefri and Debbie Davis sought to purchase a home in northern Idaho, and hired Charles Tuma and Tuma’s broker, Donald McCanlies, to help them. Tuma and McCanlies both worked for Johnson House Company, which in turn was doing business as Coldwell Banker Resort Realty. Some years after purchasing the property in question, the Davises learned that the road they believed provided access to their home, did not in fact do so. The Davises filed suit against Tuma, McCanlies, and Coldwell Banker Resort Realty (collectively, the Defendants), alleging fraud and constructive fraud. The Defendants moved for summary judgment against the Davises. The Davises responded, filing several declarations, portions of which the Defendants moved to strike. The Davises also sought to amend their complaint to add claims for unlicensed practice of law, surveying, or abstracting; and breach of contract and violation of contractual duties. The district court granted the Defendants’ motions for summary judgment and to strike, but did not specifically identify which statements were being stricken. The district court also denied the Davises’ motion to amend their complaint without explanation of the reasoning behind the decision. The Idaho Supreme Court found genuine issues of material facts to preclude the grant of summary judgment to Defendants. Further, the Court concluded the district court abused its discretion in denying the Davises' motion to amend their complaint. The Court vacated the trial court judgment entered and remanded for further proceedings. View "Davis v. Tuma" on Justia Law