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Judges: disparagement provision not violated

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals twice declined to certify questions to the Indiana Supreme Court a litigant raised in his appeal of a suit involving alleged violations of a non-disparagement clause in a settlement agreement.

David N. Rain sued Rolls-Royce Corp. in federal court claiming the company breached a non-disparagement agreement in a settlement agreement Rolls-Royce and Rain’s company Paramount International Inc. entered into following an earlier lawsuit. Paramount and Rolls-Royce are direct competitors regarding helicopter engines.

They have a contentious history and after a 2005 lawsuit involving intellectual property disputes, the two companies entered into a settlement agreement that contained a provision stating “None of the Parties will disparage the other.” A breach of this will entitle the prevailing party to attorney’s fees and damages.

Two incidents in 2007 led to Rain filing the suit alleging a violation of the settlement agreement. Rolls-Royce filed a complaint in federal court in Texas alleging Rain and Paramount conspired with other defendants to use Rolls-Royce's proprietary information. In that suit, the company referred to Rain and Paramount as “Mr. Doe” and “Principal Corporation.” Also that year, Rain attended an expo as a guest of an authorized maintenance center. A Rolls-Royce vice president asked Rain to leave because he was concerned Rain would bait a Rolls-Royce employee into saying something disparaging. Rain left, which upset the organization that had paid for his ticket to attend.

The District Court granted partial summary judgment for Rolls-Royce on Rain’s breach of contract claim regarding the Texas lawsuit and after a bench trial, ruled in favor of Rolls-Royce on his breach of contract claim regarding the expo incident.

In David N. Rain and Paramount International Inc. v. Rolls-Royce Corp., No. 10-1290, the 7th Circuit found the requirements for applying Indiana’s absolute privilege were satisfied because the allegations made in the Texas court were made in the course of a judicial proceeding to which they were relevant. Rain argued the immunity doesn’t extend beyond defamation and other tort claims to encompass breach of contract claims – an issue Indiana state courts haven’t addressed. Looking to other jurisdictions, the 7th Circuit concluded that the Indiana Supreme Court would conclude that the absolute litigation privilege is applicable to breach of contract actions, at least where immunity from liability is consistent with the purpose of the privilege, wrote Judge Joel Flaum.

The judges also affirmed the judgment in favor of Rolls-Royce on the claim involving the expo event. They concluded, after using dictionary definitions of the term “disparage,” that the word in the settlement agreement properly is limited to actions dishonoring, discrediting, denigrating, or belittling the parties’ economic, business, or professional interests. Rain had argued the District Court erred by not including the sort of personal embarrassment he suffered at the expo event.

He also wanted the 7th Circuit to certify two questions to the Indiana Supreme Court: whether Indiana’s absolute litigation privilege applies to the breach of contract claims, and what the proper definition of disparagement is under the circumstances of the case. The appellate judges declined to certify either question, finding certification to be inappropriate regarding the disparagement definition and unnecessary for his first suggested question.

“If and when it arises again, the state courts will be free to reach their own conclusion, of course, and can tell us if our prediction of Indiana law was correct. Without seeing an obstacle to future state court resolution of the issue, we see no need to require the parties to go through another round of briefing and argument in this litigation,” wrote Judge Flaum.


 

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  1. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  2. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

  3. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  4. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  5. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

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