Justia Oregon Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts
by
Daimler-Benz AG acquired Freightliner Corporation (Freightliner) from Consolidated Freightways (now Con-Way) in 1981. As part of the transaction, it liquidated Freightliner’s assets and liabilities into a subsidiary, Daimler Trucks North America LLC (Daimler). Between 1952 and 1982, Freightliner and then Daimler had engaged in business activities, primarily the manufacture of trucks, that subsequently led to several environmental remediation proceedings, including claims related to the Portland Harbor Superfund cleanup, and to some 1,500 asbestos personal injury claims. Plaintiffs Allianz Global Risk US Insurance and Allianz Underwriters Insurance Company (Allianz) insured Freightliner in 1981 and Daimler from 1981 to 1986 through a general commercial liability insurance policy. Daimler also purchased from Allianz another policy to provide coverage for future claims that might be made against Freightliner based on its past operations that were “incurred but not yet reported.” By the time it filed the operative complaint in this action in 2014, Allianz had spent more than $24 million defending and paying environmental and asbestos claims against Daimler and the now-dissolved Freightliner arising from Freightliner’s business operations between 1952 and 1982. In this litigation, Allianz sought contribution for the payments it has made and will make in the future based on those environmental and asbestos claims from insurance companies that insured Freightliner -- either directly or through its parent, Con-Way -- from 1976 to 1982. The Oregon Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals' holding that Daimler did not assume the contingent liabilities of Freightliner (including the liabilities at issue here) and affirmed the jury verdict on that issue. On Allianz's appeal, the Supreme Court agreed that the trial court erred in submitting to the jury the question of whether, because of side agreements between Con-Way/Freightliner and the insurers, those insurers had a "duty to defend or indemnify Freightliner" -- that question was to be decided by the trial court as a matter of law based on the relevant policies. As to the "London pollution exclusion", the Supreme Court agreed with Allianz that it was error for the trial court not to provide a legal interpretation of a key provision in the policy as part of the jury instructions. The Court also concluded that the jury instructions regarding the London pollution exclusion should be similar to those regarding the Domestic exclusion. The decision of the Court of Appeals was reversed. The limited judgments of the trial court were affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Allianz Global Risks v. ACE Property & Casualty Ins. Co." on Justia Law

by
This appeal stemmed from plaintiff Rich Jones’ civil action to recover unpaid wages that defendant Four Corners Rod & Gun Club unlawfully withheld after the parties agreed to trade a lodging benefit for labor. Although Oregon’s wage laws authorized employers to deduct from an employee’s wages “the fair market value of lodging, meals or other facilities or services furnished by the employer for the private benefit of the employee,” those laws also prohibited employers from taking any deduction from wages unless the employer obtains the employee’s advance written authorization and keeps a record of the deductions. Defendant admittedly failed to comply with the requirements for deducting the lodging benefit from plaintiff’s wages. The issue this case presented for the Oregon Supreme Court’s review was whether defendant’s violation of ORS 652.610(3) prevented defendant from asserting an equitable claim for the value of the lodging benefit, either as an affirmative defense to plaintiff’s wage claim or as a lawful counterclaim. The Supreme Court concluded that defendant’s unlawful withholding of wages prevented it from asserting the value of the lodging benefit as an affirmative defense to defeat plaintiff’s wage claim, but did not prevent defendant from asserting an equitable counterclaim for the value of the lodging benefit. View "Jones v. Four Corners Rod & Gun Club" on Justia Law

by
Sierra Development, LLC (Sierra), a real estate development company in which both Eddie Wilcher and his son were involved, borrowed approximately $5 million from The Mortgage Exchange (MEX), the predecessor in interest of plaintiff Troubled Asset Solutions, LLC (TAS). Wilcher and his son signed a promissory note for the loan as members of Sierra; Wilcher, his son, and his son’s wife also signed the promissory note as “individual guaran- tor(s).” The promissory note stated that it was secured by a trust deed on Sierra Heights, the property owned by Sierra that was to be developed with the loan proceeds, and also by “[a]dditional security” that was “required on this loan.” The promissory note identified as that “additional security” three other properties owned personally by Wilcher, one of which was described as “15 (+/-) acres including residence, Tax Lot 700, Klamath County, Oregon valued at $450,000.” The same three individuals that signed the promissory note also executed the critical document in this case: a deed of trust identifying more than a dozen separate parcels of land as collateral for the loan. The dispute in this case arose because, although the trust deed identified the collateral as including the properties owned personally by Wilcher and contained legal descriptions of those properties, the only name that appeared in the space labeled “GRANTOR” on the first page of the trust deed was Sierra. Wilcher, individually, was not identified as a “grantor” in the trust deed. After the loan went into default, TAS initiated foreclosure proceedings against one of the properties owned personally by Wilcher. The issue presented for the Oregon Supreme Court's review centered on the proper legal standard for the reformation of the contract to include a term that all parties had intended, but that one of the parties, by mistake, had failed to include in the written agreement. The trial court reformed the contract to include the term, finding that the mistake “was easily missed,” and that the “evidence is clear that all parties intended” the term to be included. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that reformation was permissible only if the party seeking the remedy demonstrates that it was not “grossly negligent,” and holding that the facts in this case did not meet that standard. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not err in reforming the contract to express the parties’ agreement. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed in part the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded for further proceedings. View "Troubled Asset Solutions v. Wilcher" on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts
by
This mandamus proceeding arose from a dispute about a contract’s forum-selection clause. Trinity Bank loaned money to Apex, a drilling company. Michael Lachner, a part owner of Apex and the relator in this case, signed a personal guaranty of the loan. Apex defaulted on the loan, and Lachner defaulted on the guaranty. Trinity filed an action asserting separate breach of contract claims against Apex (on the loan) and Lachner (on the guaranty). Apex made no appearance, and a default judgment was entered against it. Lachner filed a motion to dismiss the action against him under ORCP 21 A(1), because the action was not filed in San Francisco as required by the forum-selection clause. Neither party disputed the meaning of the forum-selection clause, only whether it should be enforced. The trial court denied the motion, without making any findings or conclusions of law, stating that it “ha[d] discretion in [the] matter.” After review of the clause at issue, the Oregon Supreme Court concluded the clause should be enforced. The Court found none of the circumstances identified in Roberts v. TriQuint Semiconductor, Inc., 364 P3d 328 (2015) (as grounds for invalidating a contractual forum-selection clause) were present here. “Trinity’s objections amount to little more than dissatisfaction with the forum selection clause. The trial court’s factual findings indicate that Oregon might be a marginally more convenient place than California to litigate the case, but that is not the applicable legal standard. . . . As counsel for Trinity conceded at oral argument, it is not unfair or unreasonable to litigate the case in California. For that reason, the trial court did not have discretion to deny Lachner’s ORCP 21A (1) motion to dismiss based on the forum-selection clause: The law required the court to dismiss the action. It was legal error not to do so.” A peremptory writ of mandamus issued. View "Trinity v. Apex Directional Drilling LLC" on Justia Law

by
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit certified a certified question of Oregon law to the Oregon Supreme Court. The question related to claims under ORS 124.110 for financial abuse of “vulnerable persons” (here, elderly persons) who purchased long-term care insurance from defendant Bankers Life & Casualty Co. (Bankers) and sought to receive insurance benefits under their policies. Specifically, the Ninth Circuit asked whether a plaintiff states a claim under ORS 124.110(1)(b) for wrongful withholding of money or property where it is alleged that an insurance company has in bad faith delayed the processing of claims and refused to pay benefits owed under an insurance contract. Plaintiffs were elderly Oregonians or their successors who purchased long-term healthcare insurance policies sold by Bankers and its parent company. Plaintiffs alleged Bankers developed onerous procedures to delay and deny insurance claims: failing to answer phone calls, losing documents, denying claims without notifying policyholders, denying claims for reasons that did not comport with Oregon law, and paying policyholders less than what they were owed under their policies. Bankers allegedly collected premium payments and, without good cause, delayed and denied insurance benefits to which Plaintiffs were entitled. The Oregon Supreme Court answered in the negative: allegations that an insurance company, in bad faith, delayed the processing of claims and refused to pay benefits owed to vulnerable persons under an insurance contract do not state a claim under ORS 124.110(1)(b) for wrongful withholding of “money or property.” View "Bates v. Bankers Life and Casualty Co." on Justia Law

by
The issue presented for the Oregon Supreme Court’s review was whether an adult foster care provider claiming unjust enrichment may recover the reasonable value of its services from a defendant who, through fraud, obtained a lower rate from the provider for the services. Plaintiff owned two adult foster homes for the elderly. Plaintiff had contracted with the Oregon Department of Human Services to provide services in a home-like setting to patients who qualified for Medicaid. For those patients, the rates charged would be those set by the department. Isabel Pritchard resided and received care in one of plaintiff’s adult foster homes until her death in November 2008. Because Prichard had been approved to receive Medicaid benefits, plaintiff charged Prichard the rate for Medicaid-qualified patients: approximately $2,000 per month, with approximately $1,200 of that being paid by the department. Plaintiff’s Medicaid rates were substantially below the rates paid by plaintiff’s “private pay” patients. Prichard’s application for Medicaid benefits, as with her other affairs, was handled by her son, Richard Gardner. Gardner had for years been transferring Prichard’s assets, mostly to himself (or using those funds for his personal benefit). Gardner’s misconduct was discovered by another of Prichard’s children: defendant Karen Nichols-Shields, who was appointed the personal representative for Prichard’s estate. In 2009, defendant contacted the police and reported her brother for theft. Ultimately, Gardner pleaded guilty to three counts of criminal mistreatment in the first degree. Gardner’s sentence included an obligation to pay a compensatory fine to Prichard’s estate, to which he complied. After defendant, in her capacity as personal representative, denied plaintiff Larisa’s Home Care, LLC’s claim against Prichard’s estate, plaintiff filed this action, essentially asserting Prichard had been qualified for Medicaid through fraud and that Prichard should have been charged as a private pay patient. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded that, generally, a defendant who obtains discounted services as a result of fraud is unjustly enriched to the extent of the reasonable value of the services. The Court therefore reversed the contrary holding by the Court of Appeals. Because the fraud here occurred in the context of a person being certified as eligible for Medicaid benefits, however, the Court remanded for the Court of Appeals to consider whether certain provisions of Medicaid law may specifically prohibit plaintiff from recovering in this action. View "Larisa's Home Care, LLC v. Nichols-Shields" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff purchased an automobile insurance policy from Progressive. The policy included UM coverage with a limit of $25,000. Plaintiff was injured in an automobile accident with an uninsured motorist. Plaintiff filed a proof of loss for UM benefits with Progressive. ORS 742.061(1) generally provides for an award of attorney fees when an insured brings an action against his or her insurer and recovers more than the amount tendered by the insurer. Subsection (3) provides a “safe harbor” for the insurer: an insured is not entitled to attorney fees if, within six months of the filing of a proof of loss, the insurer states in writing that it has accepted coverage, that it agrees to binding arbitration, and that the only remaining issues are the liability of the uninsured motorist and the “damages due the insured.” At issue in this case was what the safe-harbor statute meant when it referred to the “damages due the insured.” The insurer, Progressive Classic Insurance Company, responded to plaintiff’s claim by agreeing that the accident was covered by the policy, but challenged the nature and extent of plaintiff’s injuries, as well as the reasonableness and necessity of his medical expenses. Plaintiff argued that, by reserving the right to challenge the nature and extent of his injuries, Progressive raised issues that went beyond the “damages due the insured.” The trial court, Court of Appeals and Oregon Supreme Court all rejected plaintiff’s construction of the safe-harbor statute. View "Spearman v. Progressive Classic Ins. Co." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff had an Oregon auto insurance policy issued by defendant. In 2008, plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle accident. Among other expenses, plaintiff incurred $430.67 in transportation costs to attend medical appointments and to obtain medication. She then applied for PIP medical benefits under her insurance policy. Defendant paid for plaintiff’s medical care, but it declined to pay for her transportation expenses to obtain her medical care. Plaintiff then filed a complaint for breach of contract, both for herself and on behalf of others similarly situated. She alleged that her claim for medical expenses under ORS 742.524(1)(a) included her transportation costs. Defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing ORS 742.524(1)(a) did not require it to pay for transportation costs. After a hearing, the trial court granted defendant’s motion and entered a judgment in defendant’s favor. The question on review was whether the PIP medical benefit in ORS 742.524(1)(a) included the insured plaintiff’s transportation costs to receive medical care. The Supreme Court held that PIP benefits for the “expenses of medical * * * services” do not include an insured’s transportation costs for traveling to receive medical care. Therefore, the Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant. View "Dowell v. Oregon Mutual Ins. Co." on Justia Law

by
In 2011, plaintiff discovered a leak under her kitchen sink, which had caused extensive damage to her home, and filed a claim with her insurer, Farmers Insurance Company of Oregon (Farmers). In early 2012, Farmers voluntarily paid plaintiff a sum that it determined constituted the actual cash value of plaintiff’s losses less a deductible, $3,300.45. At around that time, it also paid plaintiff $2,169.22 in mitigation expenses. A few weeks later, plaintiff submitted to Farmers a proof of loss that included estimates of her mitigation costs and the actual cash value of her losses that far exceeded the sum that Farmers had paid her. Because plaintiff had not yet replaced any of the damaged items, she did not, at that time, submit a proof of loss that included the replacement cost of her losses. A year later, the parties had not resolved plaintiff’s claim, and in January 2013, plaintiff initiated this action. ORS 742.061 required an insurer to pay its insured’s attorney fees if, in the insured’s action against the insurer, the insured obtains a “recovery” that exceeds the amount of any tender made by the insurer within six months from the date that the insured first filed proof of a loss. In this case, the Supreme Court found that, when an insured files an action against an insurer to recover sums owing on an insurance policy and the insurer subsequently pays the insured more than the amount of any tender made within six months from the insured’s proof of loss, the insured obtains a “recovery” that entitles the insured to an award of reasonable attorney fees. View "Long v. Farmers Ins. Co." on Justia Law

by
In June 2002, defendant Ron Miller entered into an open account agreement with plaintiff Union Lumber Company for the purchase of building supply materials. In July 2010, plaintiff filed an action for breach of contract and unjust enrichment against Ron Miller and his spouse Linda Miller, seeking $17,865 as the unpaid balance on the account. The complaint alleged that defendants' son, Ean Miller, had purchased building materials from plaintiff, charging those materials to the Miller account with his father's authority. The complaint further alleged that the materials that Ean purchased were delivered to properties that defendants owned and were used to improve those properties and that, for several years, defendants had paid the charges that Ean had made on the account. The question this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether the trial court erred in denying defendants' motion under ORCP 71 B(1) to set aside a general judgment entered against them on grounds of excusable neglect and mistake. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's ruling, concluding that the judgment was entered as a result of mistakes made by plaintiff and a court-appointed arbitrator with respect to the service of case-related documents on defendants. Because the Supreme Court concluded that defendants were not entitled to relief from the judgment on the grounds asserted, it reversed the Court of Appeals and affirmed the trial court's order denying defendants' motion to set aside the judgment. View "Union Lumber Co. v. Miller" on Justia Law