Articles Posted in Motions to Dismiss

A defendant’s failure to deny allegations in a responsive pleading to a complaint can serve as an admission of those allegations. In Kule-Rubin, et al v. Bahari Group, Limited, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted the plaintiffs’ motion for judgment on the pleadings as to four of the claims asserted in their complaint for wage violations. The plaintiffs argued in their motion that the defendant, in its answer to their original complaint, had not expressly denied certain allegations. The court deemed those allegations admitted by the defendants, and granted judgment on the plaintiffs’ claims that were supported by those admissions. The court also dismissed two counterclaims by the defendant.

The defendant is a manufacturer, distributor, and retailer of clothing. The individual owners of the company were also named as defendants. The eleven plaintiffs were employees who began working for defendant at different times beginning in 1994. According to the plaintiffs’ complaint, the defendant began withholding wages from certain plaintiffs in October 2010, and it withheld wages from all of its employees starting that November. The defendant allegedly withheld commission wages, expense reimbursements, and health insurance premiums from some plaintiffs beginning two years earlier. The defendant told the plaintiffs that if they continued to work for the defendant, it would pay them all back wages and current wages later. All eleven plaintiffs continued working for the defendant until November 30, 2010, when the defendant terminated them.

Continue reading ›

Claims for trademark infringement and false advertising under the Lanham Act do not apply to allegedly false assertions of “authorship of a creative work,” according to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. In M. Arthur Gensler, Jr. & Associates, Inc. v. Jay Marshall Strabala, the court dismissed a Lanham Act suit based on claims of authorship of architectural designs, but suggested that a copyright claim might be more appropriate.

The plaintiff, M. Arthur Gensler, Jr. & Associates, Inc. (“Gensler”) is a design firm with offices in multiple countries. It employed the defendant, Jay Marshall Strabala (“Strabala”) as an architect from 2006 to 2010. Gensler sued Strabala under the Lanham Act and two Illinois deceptive trade practice statutes. Strabala moved the court to dismiss Gensler’s suit for failure to state a claim for which relief may be granted, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The court agreed and dismissed the case.

In considering a 12(b)(6) motion, a court must consider all of a plaintiff’s “well-pleaded factual allegations” as true. While Strabala was an employee of Gensler, he worked on multiple high-profile projects, including the Shanghai Tower in China and multiple buildings in Houston, Texas. Strabala left Gensler in February 2010 and began practicing under an assumed business name, 2DEFINE Architecture. While based in Chicago, he advertised offices in Shanghai, China and Seoul, South Korea. Strabala set up a website and a page on the photo-sharing site Flickr to market his business. His Flickr site included claims that he designed the Shanghai Tower and several of Gensler’s Houston buildings. Gensler sued to stop Strabala from claiming primary responsibility for the design of these buildings.

Gensler alleged that Strabala’s claims constituted “false designation of origin” and “false advertising” under the Lanham Act. The court considered whether a claim of authorship of a creative work could be considered a “false designation of origin,” and concluded that it cannot. In Dastar Corp. v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., a 2003 Supreme Court case involving a film studio and a video publisher, the Supreme Court considered whether “origin of goods” included the author/producer of the films themselves, or just the actual physical videotapes. It specifically interpreted the “origin of goods” provision to refer to actual tangible goods, not creative works. Because Gensler could not cite any authority that overruled the Dastar holding, the Illinois district court found its claim unpersuasive. The court did note, however, two federal appellate cases that applied Dastar but allowed the possibility of copyright claims.

Continue reading ›

Lubin Austermuehle represents clients from many industries who operate all kinds of businesses, including both franchisors and franchisees. Our Aurora business attorneys came across an appellate decision from the Fourth District here in Illinois that involves a dispute that arose out of a franchise agreement between a heavy-duty truck manufacturer and a truck dealer.

Crossroads Ford Truck Sales, Inc. v. Sterling Truck Corp. is a disagreement that came about after the two parties entered into a sales and service agreement where Plaintiff Crossroads had the right to purchase Sterling Trucks and vehicle parts from Defendants and Defendants “reserved the right to discontinue at any time the manufacture or sale” of their parts or change the design or specs of any products without prior notice to Plaintiff. Several years after entering the agreement, Defendants allegedly announced that they were discontinuing the production of Sterling trucks and that Detroit Diesel Corporation (the truck’s engine manufacturer) would cease accepting orders as well. Defendant sent written notice of these decisions to Plaintiffs. Defendants decided to discontinue manufacture of the Sterling vehicles allegedly because they were duplicative of other vehicles manufactured by Sterling’s parent company.

In response to this notice, Plaintiff filed suit alleging violations of the Motor Vehicle Franchise Act, fraud, and tortious interference with contract. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on all counts, which was granted in part by the trial court because Defendants’ discontinuance and re-branding of the Sterling brand constituted good cause for terminating the contract. Plaintiff then filed an interlocutory appeal for the trial court’s partial dismissal.

The Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the violations of sections 4(d)(1) of the Franchise Act because Plaintiffs failed to allege specific facts supporting each element of violation under the Act and instead merely made conclusory allegations for each violation. The Court also found that the allegations under section 9 of the Act were improperly plead, as Plaintiff’s allegations contained only conclusions without the specific facts required by the Act. The Court then upheld the lower court’s ruling as to the allegations under section 9.5 of the Act because the sales and service agreement remained in effect and had not been terminated. Next the Court found the dismissal of the fraud claims to be proper because Plaintiff failed to allege a misrepresentation of a present fact and dismissed the claims under section 4(b) of the act because Defendant’s conduct was neither arbitrary nor in bad faith. Finally, the Court did not address the alleged 4(d)(6) violations due to a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, as such violations are within the purview of the Review Board under section 12(d) of the Act.

Continue reading ›

Workers’ compensation insurance is a necessary part of doing business for many companies, so the attorneys at Lubin Austermuehle are always on the lookout for emerging legal issues in that area. Our Naperville business attorneys recently discovered a decision rendered by the Appellate Court of Illinois that is significant for current and potential clients who have workers’ compensation insurance agreements that contain an arbitration clause.

All-American Roofing, Inc. v. Zurich American Insurance Company pits Plaintiff All-American Roofing against its Defendant insurer, Zurich American in a lawsuit that arose from alleged unpaid deductibles and retrospective insurance premiums. The five-year insurance agreement was based upon retrospectively rated premiums that required Plaintiff to reimburse Defendant after the end of a policy year for claims that arose during that year. After the fourth year, the policy exchanged the retrospectively rated premiums for a larger deductible. The dispute began when Defendant summoned Plaintiff to arbitration regarding the aforementioned unpaid sums pursuant to a mandatory arbitration clause contained within the parties’ agreement. In response to the arbitration summons, All-American Roofing filed for declaratory judgment along with claims for breach of contract, fraud, and related causes of action. Plaintiff requested that the trial court declare that the mandatory arbitration clause was unenforceable and sought damages for their other claims. The trial court stayed the arbitration, dismissed most of Plaintiffs claims through summary judgment and ordered the parties to arbitrate the remaining issues. Plaintiff then appealed the trial court’s rulings regarding the arbitration clause, contract, and fraud claims.

On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the arbitration clause was added to their policy after the first year of coverage and that the clause constituted a material alteration to the policy’s coverage. Furthermore, Plaintiff argued that the Illinois Insurance Code required Defendant to give notice that it was not renewing the original coverage. Because Defendant failed to give such notice, the arbitration clause did not legally take effect. The Appellate Court disagreed, stating that the addition of an arbitration clause did not constitute a change in coverage, and cited the plain language of the statute for their reasoning. The Court went on to hold that the agreements and subsequent addenda to it for the first two years were valid because the parties lawfully entered into the agreements and there was sufficient consideration on both sides. The Court also upheld the trial courts granting of Defendant’s motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff’s fraud claim because there was not sufficient evidence in the record of fraud nor had Plaintiffs identified any material issue regarding Defendant’s alleged violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act. The Court held that the arbitration clause was not operative for the final two year of the agreement because Plaintiffs never signed the amended policy documents for those years. The Appellate Court reversed the trial court on this issue because they disagreed with the trial court’s ruling that Plaintiff’s payment and acceptance of coverage signified acceptance of the new terms.

All-American Roofing, Inc. v. Zurich American Insurance Company provides a valuable lesson to business owners who utilize arbitration clauses in their contracts. Namely, this case tells us to read the fine print in any contract before signing it, as you may be getting more (or less, depending on your point of view) than you originally bargained for.

Continue reading ›

As a Chicago law firm that focuses on business litigation, Lubin Austermuehle pays close attention to shareholder lawsuits filed in Illinois’ courts. Our Elmhurst business attorneys discovered a case filed in the Appellate Court of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division that answers questions regarding the appropriate statute of limitations to apply in a shareholder action for common law damages.

Carpenter v. Exelon Enterprises Co. is a case filed by multiple minority shareholders against the majority shareholder, Exelon, for breach of fiduciary duty and civil conspiracy. Defendant Exelon owned 97% of InfraSource, and Plaintiffs owned a portion of the remaining 3% of the company. Defendant then allegedly decided to divest its interest in the company through a series of complex merger transactions. The alleged end result of these transactions was to grant all shareholders in InfraSource would receive a pro rata share of the net proceeds. Using its majority stake in InfraSource, Defendant allegedly voted its shares in favor of the merger transactions, which was subsequently executed according to Defendant’s plan. After the merger, Plaintiffs filed suit against Exelon alleging breach of fiduciary duty and civil conspiracy that caused the minority shareholders to be inadequately compensated for their shares in InfraSource. Defendant then moved to dismiss the action because Plaintiffs’ claims were barred under the three year statute of limitations in the Illinois Securities Law of 1953. The trial court denied Defendant’s motion, stated that the applicable statute of limitations was the five year period contained in section 13-205 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure. The trial court then stayed the matter and certified the statute of limitations issue for an interlocutory appeal to the Appellate Court.

On appeal, the Court examined Defendant’s argument that, despite the fact that Plaintiffs did not allege specific statutory violations, Plaintiffs’ claims fell within the scope of the Illinois Securities Law and its three year statute of limitations. Plaintiffs argued that, because of the similarities between Illinois and federal securities law, federal case law should be utilized by the Court. Plaintiffs’ cited federal cases holding that securities fraud does not include the oppression of minority shareholders nor does it include oppressive corporate reorganizations, and thus the case did not fall within the purview of the Illinois statute. The Court performed a statutory analysis and determined that subsection 13(A) of the Law did not apply to Plaintiffs because their claims did not arise out of Plaintiffs’ role as purchasers of securities. The Court went on to explain that Defendant’s argument based upon subsection 13(G), which provides a remedy to any party in interest in the unlawful sale of securities, was unpersuasive. Instead, the Court held that subsection 13 of the Illinois Securities Law of 1953 does not “concern retroactive common law damages claims for breach of fiduciary duty brought by sellers of securities in general, or minority shareholders in particular.” By so holding, the Court declared that the three year statute of limitations did not apply and remanded the case back to the trial court.

Carpenter v. Exelon Enterprises Co. provides potential shareholder litigants with a ruling that gives them an additional two years to bring their claims. Conversely, those facing liability in a common law action surrounding a securities transaction should be aware that such claims are viable for a longer period of time than they may have previously thought.

Continue reading ›

There are hundreds of new cases filed in Illinois courts every day, and many of those cases involve business disputes. At Lubin Austermuehle, we pride ourselves on staying on top of new court filings so that we know of changes in the law as they happen. Our Waukegan business attorneys just found a decision rendered by the Appellate Court of Illinois that provides some useful information for our business clients.

Zahl v. Krupa is a dispute between investors in a fund allegedly run by a company and the directors of that company. Plaintiffs alleged that they were approached by Defendant Krupa, President of Jones & Brown Company, Inc., who solicited money to be invested in a fund only available to the officers and directors (and their family members) of the company. There were two agreements allegedly written on company letterhead that set out the terms of the investments, whereupon Plaintiffs would invest between $100,000 and $160,000 each and receive an 11.1% return guaranteed by Jones & Brown. Plaintiffs each allegedly signed an agreement with Defendant Krupa and gave him the funds requested. There was no other written documentation regarding the investments or the agreements. Plaintiffs allegedly never got the return on their investment nor did they get their money back.

Plaintiffs then filed suit against Krupa, the other officers of Jones & Brown, and the directors of the business. Plaintiffs sued for breach of contract, fraud, and negligent hiring, supervision, and retention. The breach of contract and fraud causes of action were reliant upon the alleged assertion that Defendant Krupa, in soliciting Plaintiffs, was acting as an agent or apparent agent of Jones & Brown. The remaining causes of action sought to hold Defendants liable for Defendant Krupa’s deception because they knew or should have known that he was untrustworthy.

Through discovery, the depositions of several parties allegedly showed that Defendant Krupa never had actual authority to enter into the investment agreements because the directors neither signed nor authorize the agreements. Testimony also revealed that the investment agreements were allegedly outside the scope of Jones & Brown’s normal business as a construction company, which showed that Krupa did not have apparent authority. As a result of these facts, Defendants successfully moved for summary judgment on the breach of contract claim based upon lack of actual and apparent authority. In moving for summary judgment on the fraud claim, Defendants cited Illinois case law holding that directors cannot be held personally liable for fraud unless they personally participated in perpetrating the fraud. As the directors did not sign the agreements or participate in their creation, the court granted summary judgment. Finally, Defendants successfully moved for summary judgment on the negligence claims because they did not know that Krupa had the potential for fraud.

Plaintiffs then appealed the trial court’s ruling against them, and the Appellate Court conducted a de novo review of Defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The Court agreed with the trial court’s findings and held that Defendants were not negligent with respect to Krupa and did not know about his dealings with Plaintiffs. The Court went on to say that there was no reason for Defendants to suspect Krupa of wrongdoing.

In reviewing Zahl v. Krupa, the case serves as a reminder for business investors to carefully examine any investment opportunities and accompanying paperwork to ensure the legitimacy of the investment. Additionally, business owners and directors should keep an eye on their officers and employees to ensure that they do not find themselves defending a lawsuit for their employees’ allegedly objectionable actions.

Continue reading ›

Most companies encourage their employees to innovate and come up with ways to improve the processes, products, and service of the business. Such improvements may be patentable inventions, and it is important for business owners to establish who owns that intellectual property and protect any IP that accrues to the company. In the absence of an explicit employment agreement, the ownership of such inventions can come into dispute, and our Joliet business attorneys discovered one such case in the Central District of Illinois federal court.

Shoup v. Shoup Manufacturing is a dispute between a company and its former president over the ownership of several patents. Ken Shoup, Plaintiff, was the president of Defendant Shoup Manufacturing for over twenty years, and during his time as president he conceived of several inventions that were patented on behalf of Defendant. Defendant used those patents and sold products based upon them. However, Plaintiff did not have an express or written employment contract that required assignment of the inventions to Defendant. Eventually, Plaintiff terminated his relationship with Defendant, began a similar business to compete with Defendant, and filed suit alleging patent infringement for Defendant’s continued use of his inventions. Plaintiff sought an injunction to prevent that continued use and monetary damages under 35 USC §271.

Defendant responded to Plaintiffs lawsuit by denying that Plaintiff owned the patents in question, and alleged that Plaintiff was obligated to assign the patents to Defendant, and that it had a valid license to the inventions. Defendant also filed a counterclaim alleging that Plaintiff developed the patents using company resources while he was an employee and officer of Defendant, and that Defendant was the rightful owner of the patents. Defendant sought a compulsory written assignment of the patents and an accounting of Plaintiff’s unauthorized exploitation of them. Plaintiff then filed a motion for Judgment on the Pleadings to dismiss Defendant’s counterclaims.

Plaintiff argued that the Court had no jurisdiction over the claims because ownership of the patent was determined by Illinois State law. The Court agreed that it did not have original jurisdiction over the dispute, but because the counterclaims for ownership of the patents arose out of a common nucleus of operative facts regarding Plaintiff’s original patent infringement suit (which was a federal claim), supplemental jurisdiction was proper. The Court therefore denied Plaintiffs motion, finding Defendant had satisfied the requirements for supplemental jurisdiction under 28 USC §1367(a), and allowed the counterclaim to proceed.

Continue reading ›

Every day there are hard working people who are denied the overtime wages that they have rightfully earned. At Lubin Austermuehle, we have much experience representing those with unpaid overtime claims in class-action litigation. As such, we track the changes in the wage laws and are always looking out for new court decisions in the field.

Alvarez v. City of Chicago is a recent class-action case brought by paramedics in the city of Chicago for the systematic miscalculation of their overtime wages. In so doing, Plaintiffs alleged that Defendant willfully violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) when it failed to properly compensate the Plaintiffs. The parties each filed motions for summary judgment, and the trial court ruled in favor of Defendant. In making the ruling, the trial court found that the Plaintiffs were not similarly situated and they could not be “readily divided into homogenous subgroups.” The lower court then dismissed the claims and directed the parties to arbitrate the dispute.

On appeal, the Appellate Court disagreed with the trial court’s decision, and held that the case could proceed by using sub-claims if the Plaintiffs were similarly situated and common questions predominated. The Court also held that the case should not have been dismissed; instead the Plaintiffs should be allowed to proceed individually if class certification is inappropriate. The Court then remanded the case with instructions for the district court to consider which form of judicial resolution would be most efficient.

Continue reading ›

Lubin Austermuehle has clients that operate a variety of businesses all across the state of Illinois. While there are common laws and legal principles that apply to all companies and corporations, there are other Illinois statutes that apply to specific types of businesses. Our Elgin business attorneys came across Clark Investments, Inc. v. Airstream , Inc., which is an Appellate Court of Illinois case involving laws that govern motor vehicle dealerships.

Clark Investments, Inc. v. Airstream , Inc. is a dispute between a Recreational Vehicle (RV) manufacturer and an RV dealer over a contractual agreement between the two companies. Initially, the Plaintiff car dealer contracted with Defendant manufacturer to have exclusive rights to sell Defendant’s RV’s in the state of Illinois. The initial contract was for a period of approximately two years, and shortly before the end of that contract Defendant proposed to renew the agreement with different terms. Defendant’s new contract contained no expiration date and gave Plaintiff no exclusive sales territory. Plaintiff rejected this contract and proposed the same exclusivity terms as the first contract, but Defendant rejected Plaintiff’s proposed changes. Shortly after these negotiations, the initial contract expired, but Defendant continued to supply Plaintiff with merchandise and service and Plaintiff continued to operate its business for almost nine months. The parties then entered into a new contract that contained no exclusive sales region for Plaintiff but allowed Plaintiff to sell more types of Defendant’s RV’s. After this new contract was signed, Defendant entered into an agreement with another RV dealership located ninety miles from Plaintiff’s business. This agreement authorized that dealership to sell some, but not all of the same products contained in Plaintiff’s agreement with Defendant.

Upon learning of this new agreement, Plaintiff filed suit against Defendant alleging violations of the Franchise Act and the Franchise Disclosure Act. Defendant then filed a motion for summary judgment on both causes of action, and the trial court granted the motion as to both claims. Plaintiff appealed the court’s ruling as to the Franchise Act claim only, alleging that Defendant’s had violated section 4(e)(8) of the Act by granting an additional franchise within Plaintiff’s relevant market area and refusing to extend the first contract that granted Plaintiff all of Illinois as its exclusive sales territory. The Appellate Court rejected this argument by citing language from the Act that defines the relevant market area as the fifteen mile radius around Plaintiff’s principle location. Because the other franchise was located further than fifteen miles away, there was no violation of the Act.

Plaintiff also argued that Defendant violated section 4(d)(6) of the Act by refusing to extend the first contract that granted Plaintiff an exclusive sales territory of the whole state. The pertinent part of the Act makes it unlawful for a manufacturer
“1) to cancel or terminate the franchise or selling agreement of a motor vehicle dealer,
2) to fail or refuse to extend the franchise or selling agreement of a motor vehicle dealer upon its expiration, or
3) to offer a renewal, replacement or succeeding franchise or selling agreement containing terms and provisions the effect of which is to substantially change or modify the sales and service obligations or capital requirements of the motor vehicle dealer.”

The Court disagreed with Plaintiff’s claim that Defendant’s actions fell within the first category of conduct. The Court explained that Defendant’s conduct fell under the third category because Defendant offered Plaintiff a new contract with different terms before the initial contract expired. They held that the changes in the new contract did not substantially change the sales and service obligations or capital requirements of the Plaintiff, and upheld the lower court’s ruling.

Continue reading ›

Many of us have had work done to our homes at some point, and sometimes difficulties arise during the course of such projects. Lubin Austermuehle is familiar with the legal issues that arise in such cases, and our lawyers are always concerned about protecting the rights of consumers. Universal Structures LTD v. Buchman is a case about a home improvement construction deal gone bad.

In Universal Structures LTD v. Buchman, Defendants contracted with Plaintiff to perform a series of demolition and remodeling projects at their home in Northfield, Illinois. The work was eventually completed and Defendants paid most of the amount billed by Plaintiff, but the payment left an outstanding balance of over $100,000. Plaintiff then recorded a mechanic’s lien for the unpaid amount and eventually filed a lawsuit to foreclose on the lien. Defendants successfully moved to dismiss the lawsuit because Plaintiff failed to present them with a written contract or work order to be signed and also did not present Defendants with a consumer rights brochure. The trial court dismissed Plaintiff’s suit because each of those failures constituted a violation of the Home Repair and Remodeling Act.

On appeal, the Court reviewed whether Plaintiff was “precluded from asserting a mechanic’s lien upon defendant’s property . . . when there was no signed contract or work orders and no delivery by plaintiff of the consumer rights brochure” as required by the Act. The Court found that Plaintiff had entered into a valid oral contract with Defendants and had tendered written, itemized work orders for approval before performing any work, which created a right to a mechanic’s lien. Furthermore, there is no language in the Act that that invalidates an oral agreement in the absence of a signed contract or failure to provide the consumer rights brochure. The Court pointed out that a contract is unenforceable under that Act only when the subject matter or purpose of the contract violated the law. As such, the Court reversed the lower court’s ruling and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Continue reading ›

Contact Information