Justia Wisconsin Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the circuit court granting summary judgment dismissing Rural Mutual Insurance Company's subrogation claims pursuant to a subrogation waiver, holding that the subrogation waiver was valid and enforceable. Rural Mutual brought this action against Lester Buildings, LLC, Phoenix Insurance Company, Van Wyks, Inc., and West Bend Mutual Insurance Company after a barn collapsed due to strong winds and Rural Mutual paid more than $650,000 to the barn owner, Jim Herman, Inc. (Herman). The circuit court concluded that the claims were barred pursuant to a subrogation waiver contained in Lester Buildings' contract with Herman, Rural Mutual's insured, and further concluded that Wis. Stat. 895.447 did not void that subrogation waiver. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) section 895.447 did not void the subrogation waiver in the contract because the waiver did not limit or eliminate tort liability; and (2) the subrogation waiver was not an unenforceable exculpatory contract contrary to public policy. View "Rural Mutual Insurance Co. v. Lester Buildings, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the decision of the circuit court granting summary judgment in favor of Hiscox Insurance Company on Leicht Transfer & Storage Company's complaint seeking coverage for its losses under a commercial crime insurance policy issued to it by Hiscox, holding that Leicht's losses were not covered under the policy. Pallet Central Enterprises, Inc. forged delivery tickets and used them to bill Leicht for the sale and delivery of pallets that Pallet Central never sold or delivered. Leicht sought coverage for its losses under the policy issued to it by Hiscox. Hiscox denied coverage. Leicht sued for breach of contract, arguing that the forged delivery tickets comprised "directions to pay" within the meaning of the "forgery or alteration" insuring agreement of the Hiscox policy. The circuit court granted summary judgment for Hiscox, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the delivery tickets did not qualify as "written...directions to pay a sum certain in money"; and (2) the policy did not provide coverage for forged documents that were not themselves "directions to pay," but which were used as proxies for such documents. View "Leicht Transfer & Storage Co. v. Pallet Central Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law

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At issue was the circuit court’s role in determining the proper forum of dispute resolution when a subsequent contract, if enforceable, does not contain an arbitration clause that is present in an initial contract. The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the non-final order of the circuit court denying a motion to compel arbitration pursuant to the initial agreement in this case, as well as the circuit court’s granting of a motion for declaratory judgment that the subsequent agreement was a valid contract, holding that, if valid, the subsequent agreement released certain parties from the agreement to arbitrate contained in the initial agreement, and the cause must be remanded to determine whether the subsequent agreement was a valid contract. The circuit court concluded that even though the initial agreement required arbitration, it was superseded by the subsequent agreement, which did not require the parties to submit to arbitration. The court of appeals concluded that arbitration was required pursuant to the initial agreement. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, under the circumstances of this case, the determination of arbitrability must be decided by the circuit court rather than an arbitrator and that genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether the subsequent agreement was a valid contract. View "Midwest Neurosciences Associates, LLC v. Great Lakes Neurosurgical Associates, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court may question a university’s decision to suspend a tenured faculty member and must not defer to the university’s procedure for suspending and dismissing tenured faculty members. Marquette University suspended Dr. John McAdams, a tenured faculty member, because of a blog post. McAdams brought a breach of contract claim against the University, arguing that the parties' contract guaranteed the right to be free of disciplinary repercussions under the circumstances of this case. The University argued that courts may not question its decision so long as the University did not abuse its discretion, infringe any constitutional rights, act in bad faith, or engage in fraud. The circuit court concluded that it must defer to the University’s resolution of McAdams’ claims. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the University’s internal dispute resolution process is not a substitute for McAdams’ right to sue in Wisconsin courts; and (2) the University breached its contract with McAdams when it suspended him for engaging in activity protected by the contract’s guarantee of academic freedom. View "McAdams v. Marquette University" on Justia Law

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At issue was whether a contract executed by Becker Property Services LLC and Cintas Corporation No. 2 containing indemnification and choice-of-law provisions entitled Cintas to indemnification for damages caused by its own negligence. The parties agreed that Ohio’s law controlled the interpretation of their contract but disagreed over whether that provision should be enforced. The circuit court concluded that the contract did not require Becker to defend or indemnify Cintas for its own negligence under Wisconsin law, adding that, if Ohio law had applied instead, the indemnification provision would have been sufficient to require Becker to indemnify Cintas for its own negligence. The court of appeals reversed, holding that, even under Wisconsin law, the contract required Becker to defend and indemnify Cintas for its own negligence. The Supreme Court held (1) no public policy required the Court to preempt the parties’ agreement that Ohio law would control the contract; and (2) the contract’s indemnification agreement unambiguously required Becker to defend and indemnify Cintas even for its own negligence. View "Cintas Corp. No. 2 v. Becker Property Services LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts

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The business-owners liability insurance policy in this case did not provide coverage for a negligent supervision claim arising out of an alleged employee’s intentional act of physically punching a customer in the face. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the Insurer, concluding that there was no coverage under the policy for either the employee’s intentional act or the negligent supervision claim against the employer arising out of the employee’s intentional act. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that where the negligent supervision claim pled rested solely on the employee’s intentional and unlawful act without any separate bais for a negligence claim against the employer, no coverage existed. View "Talley v. Mustafa" on Justia Law

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The business-owners liability insurance policy in this case did not provide coverage for a negligent supervision claim arising out of an alleged employee’s intentional act of physically punching a customer in the face. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the Insurer, concluding that there was no coverage under the policy for either the employee’s intentional act or the negligent supervision claim against the employer arising out of the employee’s intentional act. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that where the negligent supervision claim pled rested solely on the employee’s intentional and unlawful act without any separate bais for a negligence claim against the employer, no coverage existed. View "Talley v. Mustafa" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the circuit court’s determination that real estate broker Mark McNally was entitled to a commission pursuant to a listing contract between the parties. Capital Cartage, Inc. argued before the Supreme Court that McNally was not entitled to a commission because the offer to purchase McNally procured contained substantial variances from the seller’s terms as set forth in the listing contract. The Supreme Court held (1) Kleven v. Cities Service Oil Co., 126 N.W.2d 64, is the law with regard to determining whether a substantial variance exists between a listing contract and an offer to purchase; (2) applying this standard, in the context of the sale of a business with real estate where the sale did not go through, McNally did not procure an offer to purchase “at the price and on substantially the terms set forth” in the listing contract; and (3) therefore, McNally was not entitled to a commission. View "McNally v. Capital Cartage, Inc." on Justia Law

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Although Wis. Stat. 103.465 explicitly refers to a covenant not to compete, the plain meaning of the statute is not limited to covenant in which an employee agrees not to compete with a former employer. Plaintiff imposed a non-solicitation of employees provision as part of Defendant’s employment agreement. The provision prohibited Defendant from soliciting, inducing, or encouraging any employee of Plaintiff to terminate his or her employment or to accept employment with a competitor, supplier or customer of Plaintiff. Plaintiff claimed that Defendant engaged in actions that violated the non-solicitation of employees provision. The circuit court concluded that the provision was reasonable and enforceable under section 103.465. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant’s non-solicitation of employees provision was a restraint of trade governed by section 103.465 and was unenforceable under the statute because it did not meet the statutory requirement that the restriction be “reasonably necessary for the protection of the employer.” View "Manitowoc Co. v. Lanning" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals, which affirmed the circuit court’s judgment dismissing a lawsuit filed by Petitioners, four golf professionals, against the City of Madison (the City pursuant to the Wisconsin Fair Dealership Law (the WFDL). Petitioners filed a lawsuit against the City after the City informed them that it would not be renewing operating agreements with Petitioners to oversee clubhouse operations at certain golf courses. Petitioners alleged that the City failed to comply with the WFDL in ending the City’s relationship with them and seeking damages. The circuit court granted summary judgment to the City, concluding that the relationships between Petitioners and the City did not constitute “dealerships” protected by the WFDL. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the WFDL applies to the City; (2) the relationships between Petitioners and the City are “dealerships” under the WFDL; and (3) Petitioners’ lawsuit is not time-barred, and the City is not immune from the lawsuit. View "Benson v. City of Madison" on Justia Law

Posted in: Business Law, Contracts