Articles Posted in Business Disputes

The ARDC Hearing Board recommended a two-year suspension for attorney Joel Brodsky due in large part to a case where his own attorney Joe “the Shark” Lopez admitted that Brodsky engaged in “Rambo” tactics. The Hearing Board found based on clear and convincing evidence that Brodsky harrassed opposing counsel and the Plaintiff’s expert witness with baseless claims.  It held:

We find the Administrator proved a violation of Rule 3.1 by clear and convincing evidence. Moreover, we concur with the district court’s view of Respondent’s actions as “wildly inappropriate” and the Seventh Circuit’s opinion that his conduct was “beyond the pale.”

As to Brodsky’s failure to provide any meaningful apology or show true remorse the Hearing Board had this to say:

After a dispute occurred between Chairman and members of the board of directors of closely held corporation, Chairman removed several members from the board and sued them for civil conspiracy, tortious interference, libel, and breach of fiduciary duty. The Delaware Court of Chancery granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, finding that the plaintiffs failed to allege facts sufficient to prove civil conspiracy, breach of fiduciary duty, or tortious interference. The court also determined that the Chairman was a limited-purpose public figure and the plaintiffs therefore did not meet the heightened pleading standard for their libel claim.

In 2010, Todd O’Gara founded Wanu, a Delaware corporation based in California that produces nutrient-infused water. In 2014, O’Gara stepped down as CEO, but continued as Wanu’s President, Chairman, and largest stockholder. In 2017 O’Gara executed voting agreements and irrevocable proxies with a number of Wanu stockholders. The voting agreements, combined with his shares, gave O’Gara control over approximately fifty-two percent of the voting power in Wanu.

In March 2018, a majority of Wanu’s board of directors voted to remove Wanu’s CEO, Steve Dollase. In April 2018, Dollase and two Wanu stockholders, Jay Binkley and Greg Hunter, raised allegations against O’Gara. The three alleged that O’Gara had inhibited Dollase’s ability to perform as Wanu’s CEO in a variety of ways. The three also alleged that O’Gara’s business expenses and spending were excessive and unsustainable and that O’Gara had executed an unauthorized certificate issuing several hundred thousand shares to himself.

In May 2018, Wanu engaged independent counsel to investigate the allegations. The investigation concluded in July 2018 and its findings, that Dollase was informed or had the ability to be informed about many of the issues he complained about; that his allegations were motivated by his dislike of O’Gara’s management style and personality; that he was generally not well-liked as a leader; and that his management style created tension within the office, were reported to the board. After this, the Dollase faction raised new allegations against O’Gara, namely that O’Gara made misstatements about his educational background in various documents prepared for prospective investors in 2014 and 2015. Wanu engaged another investigator to look into the new allegations. This investigator summarized his findings in August 2018, stating that he was unable to confirm that O’Gara had in fact received degrees from the various educational institutions he claimed to have attended. Continue reading ›

A building contractor in Minnesota ordered a specific brand of flameproof lumber from a Chicago distributor of commercial building materials. Unbeknownst to the contractor, the distributor substituted its in-house brand of lumber in the order. The in-house brand of lumber had not been certified to meet the safety standards required by the architect of the buildings and the contractor was later required to rip out the lumber and replace it with new material. The contractor sued the distributor. The distributor’s insurance company then sought a judgment that it was not required to defend the distributor. The district court and the appellate court agreed, finding that the actions of the distributor were not covered under its insurance policy.

Chicago Flameproof is an Illinois-based distributor of commercial building materials, including fire retardant and treated lumber (FRT). Chicago Flameproof maintained general liability insurance through Lexington Insurance Company. Under the policy, Lexington had the right and duty to defend Chicago Flameproof against any suit seeking covered damages, but no duty to defend against any suit seeking uncovered damages.

The policy defined an occurrence as an accident, including continuous or repeated exposure to substantially the same general harmful conditions. The policy also defined “property damage” as physical injury to tangible property, including all resulting loss of that property, or loss of use of tangible property that is not physically injured. Chicago Flameproof sold lumber to Minnesota-based residential and commercial contractors JL Schwieters Construction, Inc. and JL Schwieters Building Supply, Inc. Schwieters then contracted with two building contractors, Big-D Construction Midwest, LLC and DLC Residential, LLC to provide labor and material for the framing and paneling for four building projects in Minnesota. The architectural firm on all of the projects, Elness Swenson Graham Architects, Inc. required that FRT lumber meeting the requirements set forth in the International Building Code be used for the exterior walls of each building. Continue reading ›

A consulting company agreed to perform cost-reduction work for a hospital. The agreement it had with the hospital specified that the hospital could hire the consultancy to perform additional work outside of the scope of the agreement. The hospital did so, hiring the consultancy to prepare an RFP document and negotiate with a potential equipment supplier. After the process was completed, the hospital refused to pay the consultancy for the additional work. The consultancy sued, and the trial court determined that a contract implied in fact existed between the two companies and the hospital was required to pay for the additional work. The appellate panel determined that the trial court had not erred, and it affirmed the decision.

In 2014, Northwest Community Hospital hired ESP Global, an equipment maintenance consultancy company, to assist Northwest in reducing its equipment expenses. Peter Vincer, the president and owner of ESP testified that his company typically assists clients using a two-step approach: first ESP conducts an initial assessment of the client’s equipment service expenditures, and then it recommends cost-reduction strategies accordingly. During the second step, ESP assists the client in implementing the prior recommendation. ESP charges a flat fee for the first step and a contingency for the second step, which is calculated based on the client’s actual savings.

The two parties entered into a contract in June 2014. ESP completed the initial assessment required by the contract in early July 2014, and Northwest paid ESP $10,000. After this, Northwest expressed interest in obtaining additional services from ESP. Specifically, the hospital wanted assistance with a request for proposal that it intended to send to equipment suppliers. The two companies communicated over emailed and agreed to prepare an RFP draft, in exchange for 10% of Northwest’s savings from the RFP over a five-year period. Vincer later sent the RFP draft to Jac Higgins, the interim executive director of Northwest’s supply chain. After Northwest approved the RFP, ESP distributed it to the prospective vendors. Higgins’ employment with Northwest was later terminated. Continue reading ›

Attention Business Owners Who Purchased Business Interruption Insurance Coverage.  If your insurance carrier is refusing to provide business interruption coverage for coronavirus then call at 630-333-0333 or toll-free at 833-306-4933 or email us.  We are investigating this unfortunate practice and will be filing lawsuits in the right case.  We have handled a number of wrongful denial of insurance coverage cases in the past and are looking to file individual or class action cases on this if your carrier has wrongfully denied coverage.  Illinois and other states have enacted statutes to protect your business from this type of wrongdoing.

Super Lawyers named Chicago business dispute lawyers Peter Lubin a Super Lawyer and Patrick Austermuehle a Rising Star in the Categories of Class Action, Business Litigation, and Consumer Rights Litigation. Lubin Austermuehle’s Chicago auto fraud lawyers near Oak Brook and Naperville have over thirty years of experience in litigating complex class action, insurance and dealer termination, breach of contract, copyright, partnership, and shareholder oppression suits, non-compete agreement, trademark and libel suits, consumer rights and many different types of business and commercial litigation disputes.  Our Naperville, Schaumburg and Lake Forest insurance coverage and consumer and business protection attorneys near Chicago litigate insurance coverage disputes against major insurance carriers. We also assist Chicago, Evanston and Oak Brook area used businesses who are victims of fraud and consumer fraud. You can contact one of the insurance coverage and business rights attorneys near Chicago and Oak Brook by calling (630) 333-0333 or our toll-free number (833) 306-4933.  You can also contact us online here.

A couple who defaulted on their mortgage filed suit against prospective purchasers who dropped out of a short sale agreement shortly before closing. Though the couple later sold the property at a different short sale, the appellate panel determined that the $35,000 difference in the prices was a loss attributable to the bank that owned the mortgage. As such, the panel affirmed the decision of the district court regarding the calculation of damages.

Hartwell P. Morse III and Deborah B. Morse owned property commonly known as 282 Stonegate in Clarendon Hills, Illinois. The property was encumbered by two mortgages, one held by Chase Bank and the other held by PNC Bank. The Morses defaulted on both mortgages. In August 2015, the couple entered into a contract for the sale of the property to Anthony Donati and Concetta Donati for $410,000.

The contract contained a “short sale addendum” which indicated that the plaintiffs were selling the property for less than they owed on their mortgages. The sale was contingent upon the plaintiffs’ obtaining PNC bank’s consent. In September 2015, the bank consented to the sale, provided that it received all of the proceeds and that the plaintiffs received $0 at closing. The bank also agreed not to pursue a deficiency judgment against the plaintiffs. Continue reading ›

Two small pharmacies sued a pharmacy benefits manager for antitrust violations, alleging that the benefits manager had conspired with Walgreens to drive the small pharmacies from the benefits manager’s network and therefore harm their business. The district court ruled in favor of the benefits manager. After appealing, the 7th Circuit found that the pharmacies had not alleged that either the benefits manager or Walgreens had monopoly power in the relevant markets as required under Section 2 of the Sherman Act, and it, therefore, affirmed the decision of the district court.

Prime Therapeutics LLC is a pharmacy benefits manager. Sharif Pharmacy, Inc. and J&S Community Pharmacy, Inc. were both members of the Prime pharmacy network. Under Medicare, Medicaid, and private health insurance plans, patients had significant financial incentives to buy their prescription drugs from pharmacies within the network. Prime eventually terminated both Sharif and J&S from the network after audits uncovered irregularities in invoicing for prescription drugs.

Both Sharif and J&S filed suits against Prime, alleging violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Three customers who had to temporarily move their prescriptions to less convenient pharmacies also joined the suits. Both Sharif and J&S alleged that Prime’s decision to audit their pharmacies was pretextual, in an effort to eject competing pharmacies from the network after Prime entered into a joint venture with Walgreens in 2016. Sharif and J&S noted that Prime sent letters to both pharmacies’ customers saying that Sharif and J&S would no longer accept their insurance and recommending that customers have their prescriptions filled at a nearby Walgreens. Prime also retained funds from both pharmacies as a result of the audits. The district courts both ruled in favor of Prime, and Sharif and J&S appealed. The 7th Circuit consolidated then consolidated the appeals. Continue reading ›

Two property owners got into a dispute regarding a roof that encroached onto a neighboring property. The roof was constructed after the prior owners of both properties agreed and entered into a revokable license. The trial court found that the roof was an encroachment and granted summary judgment for the plaintiffs. The appellate panel disagreed, finding that the encroachment was unintentional, and the cost of replacing the roof was great while the benefit to the plaintiff of having the roof replaced was minimal. Therefore the panel determined that the trial court abused its discretion in finding for the plaintiff.

JCRE Holdings owns property in Peoria Heights. GLK Land Trust owns the neighboring property. Gary L. Kempf is the trustee of GLK Land Trust. The two properties share a common wall. In 1982, the prior owners of the properties entered into and recorded a “Party Wall Agreement.” The agreement designated the shared wall as a common support wall. In 1996, when two other sets of owners owned the properties, one received permission from the other to construct a sloped roof that hung over a portion of the wall onto the others’ property.

In 2014, JCRE sued GLK alleging that the overhanging roof constituted a trespass. The complaint sought injunctive and other relief. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The trial court denied both motions. After motions to reconsider, the trial court granted JCRE’s motion, finding that the agreement between the prior property owners constituted a revocable license that JCRE revoked. GLK then appealed. Continue reading ›

When a film production equipment rental company in Chicago began losing business to a new competitor, it sought to blame a state economic development agency. The company sued the state agency, alleging that the agency conspired to steer state incentives to the new business in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the Sherman Antitrust Act. The appellate panel disagreed, finding that the actions of the state agency were not actionable, as the competitor had consistently reached out to the state agency for help, applied for grants and development programs that the plaintiff did not, and offered superior equipment and facilities for film production.

Since 1979, Chicago Studio has operated a film and television production studio in Chicago, Illinois. Chicago Studio has four studio stages measuring 62,000 square feet. Chicago Studio requires production companies to lease its production equipment for a 0.4% charge. The studio does not have installed air conditioning, but Chicago Studio provides industry-standard portable air conditioning units for an additional charge. Additionally, Chicago Studio does not have screen docks, which allow large trailers to unload equipment inside the studio.

Cinespace began operating a studio in Chicago around 2010. By the end of 2012, Cinespace had 600,000 square feet of floor space and 10 stages. The studio expanded to 1.5 million square feet of floor space and 30 stages by Januar 2015. Cinespace’s studio can accommodate two-story sets and includes air conditioning, inside breezeways and scene docks, concrete floors, sound-proof walls, and new offices. Cinespace permits production companies to use any equipment rentals they choose, including an unaffiliated equipment rental company called Cinelease that charges 0.2%.

Chicago Studio sought to put the blame for its failure to make a profit following Cinespace’s opening on the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Illinois Film Office, and Betsy Steinberg, a state employee responsible for promoting the Illinois film industry. Chicago Studio alleged that the defendants unlawfully steered state incentives and business to Cinespace in violation of the Sherman Act and equal protection and due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court granted the defendants’ motions to dismiss the Sherman Act and due process claims. It later granted summary judgment on the equal protection claim to the defendants. Chicago Studio then appealed. Continue reading ›

After a tradeshow exhibit vendor was stiffed on the payment of a contract by a middleman, it sued the tool manufacturer to recover its debt. At the same time, it filed a claim in the bankruptcy proceeding of the middleman. The district court ruled that the plaintiff could not pursue a claim against the manufacturer because it had a claim pending in the middleman’s bankruptcy proceeding. The 7th Circuit panel reversed, finding that there was no concept of judicial estoppel where a pending claim in a bankruptcy proceeding barred seeking the collection of a debt from a third party.

TRUMPF, Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of an international business, makes specialty tools such as precision laser cutters. TRUMPF sells many of its products at trade shows. It hired Lynch Exhibits to handle its appearance at the 2017 FABTECH show in Chicago. Lynch then subcontracted with CSI Worldwide to provide some of the necessary services.

CSI contended that it told TRUMPF that it was unsure of Lynch’s reliability. CSI stated that it would do the work only if TRUMPF paid it directly or guaranteed Lynch’s payment. According to CSI, TRUMPF assented. The two entities did not sign any undertaking to that effect. CSI did the work and then billed Lynch. Lynch did not pay. CSI filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition against Lynch, who then filed a voluntary bankruptcy petition. CSI claimed approximately $530,000 as a creditor, and also filed suit against TRUMPF under diversity jurisdiction, seeking $530,000 on theories including unjust enrichment and promissory estoppel. Continue reading ›

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