Articles Posted in Contracts

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Enduro Operating, LLC and Echo Production, Inc. were two of several parties to a joint operating agreement (JOA). Under the JOA, Echo, as a party wishing to undertake a new drilling project, had to provide notice of the proposed project to the other parties to the JOA, who then had thirty days to decide whether to opt in or out of the project. By opting in, a party agreed to share in the cost and risk of the project. If a party opted out of the project (as Enduro did in this case), then the party was deemed “non-consenting,” and exempt from any of the cost or risk associated with the new project, but could not share in any of the profits from the new project until the consenting parties recovered four-hundred percent of the labor and equipment costs invested in the new project. The question before us is what activities are adequate as a matter of law to 6 satisfy the contractual requirement that a consenting party actually commence the 7 drilling operation. The Court of Appeals concluded that the language in Johnson v. Yates Petroleum Corp., 981 P.2d 288, indicating that “any” preparatory activities would be sufficient was too permissive. The Court of Appeals was persuaded that Echo’s lack of on-site activity at the proposed well site, other than surveying and staking, and lack of a permit to commence drilling was evidence as a matter of law that Echo had not actually commenced drilling operations. The Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Echo and remanded for an entry of summary judgment in favor of Enduro. The New Mexico Supreme Court reversed, holding that the failure to obtain an approved drilling permit within the relevant commencement period was not dispositive; “[a] party may prove that it has actually commenced drilling operations with evidence that it committed resources, whether on-site or off-site, that demonstrate its present good-faith intent to diligently carry on drilling activities until completion. “ View "Enduro Operating LLC v. Echo Prod., Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and the corporate Defendants freely negotiated and entered into a clear and unambiguous contract for Plaintiff to sell their insurance policies. In the contract, Plaintiff consented to a provision allowing Defendants to immediately terminate the contract if he breached it in any one of five different specified ways. Plaintiff breached the contract, and Defendants exercised their right to terminate. Plaintiff sued Defendants under numerous theories of liability for terminating the contract, including under the doctrine of prima facie tort, asserting that Defendants had nefarious reasons for terminating the contract. After review, the New Mexico Supreme Court held that when a contract is clear, unambiguous, and freely entered into, the public policy favoring freedom of contract precludes a cause of action for prima facie tort when the gravamen of the allegedly tortious action was the defendant’s exercise of a contractual right. View "Beaudry v. Farmers Ins. Exch." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and the corporate Defendants freely negotiated and entered into a clear and unambiguous contract for Plaintiff to sell their insurance policies. In the contract, Plaintiff consented to a provision allowing Defendants to immediately terminate the contract if he breached it in any one of five different specified ways. Plaintiff breached the contract, and Defendants exercised their right to terminate. Plaintiff sued Defendants under numerous theories of liability for terminating the contract, including under the doctrine of prima facie tort, asserting that Defendants had nefarious reasons for terminating the contract. After review, the New Mexico Supreme Court held that when a contract is clear, unambiguous, and freely entered into, the public policy favoring freedom of contract precludes a cause of action for prima facie tort when the gravamen of the allegedly tortious action was the defendant’s exercise of a contractual right. View "Beaudry v. Farmers Ins. Exch." on Justia Law

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Eileen Dalton purchased two used cars under separate finance contracts which contained provisions that retained self-help remedies for both parties, and that allowed either party to compel arbitration of any claim or dispute arising out of the contracts that exceeded the jurisdiction of a small claims court (which in New Mexico was $10,000). One of the cars was repossessed without judicial action. Dalton sued, alleging fraud, violations of the New Mexico Uniform Commercial Code, unfair trade practices, conversion, breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and breach of warranty of title. Santander Consumer USA moved to compel arbitration based on the clause contained in the finance contracts. Dalton argued that the arbitration clause was substantively unconscionable on its face, and therefore unenforceable because the self-help and small claims carve-outs were unreasonably one-sided. After review of the provisions at issue here, the Supreme Court held that the arbitration provision in this case was not substantively unconscionable because: (1) lawful self-help remedies were extrajudicial remedies; and (2) the small claims carve-out was facially neutral because either party had to sue in small claims court if its claim was less than $10,000, or arbitrate if its claim exceeds $10,000, thereby neither grossly unfair nor unreasonably one-sided on its face. View "Dalton v. Santander Consumer USA, Inc." on Justia Law

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In January 2006, two former payday lenders, defendants B&B Investment Group, Inc., and American Cash Loans, LLC, began to market and originate high-cost signature of $50 to $300, primarily to less-educated and financially unsophisticated individuals. The loans were for twelve months, payable biweekly, and carried annual percentage rates ranging from 1,147.14 to 1,500%. The Attorney General’s Office sued Defendants, alleging that the loan products were procedurally and substantively unconscionable under the common law and that they violated the Unfair Practices Act (UPA). The district court found that Defendants’ marketing and loan origination procedures were unconscionable and enjoined certain of its practices in the future, but declined to find the high-cost loans substantively unconscionable, concluding that it is the Legislature’s responsibility to determine limits on interest rates. Both parties appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s finding of procedural unconscionability. However, the Court reversed the district court’s refusal to find that the loans were substantively unconscionable because under the UPA, courts have the responsibility to determine whether a contract results in a gross disparity between the value received by a person and the price paid. The Supreme Court concluded that the interest rates in this case were substantively unconscionable and violated the UPA. View "New Mexico ex rel. King v. B&B Investment Group, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Consumer Law, Contracts

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Plaintiff Thomas P. Whelan, Jr.'s decedent father, Thomas P. Whelan, Sr., was in Plaintiff's parked truck when it was hit by a moving vehicle. The collision allegedly resulted in severe injuries and medical costs in excess of $100,000 and ultimately in the decedent's death a few years later. At the time of the accident, occupants of Plaintiff's truck were insureds under the terms of a $50,000 liability policy issued by State Farm, facially providing no UM/UIM coverage. In the Supreme Court's decision in "Jordan v. Allstate Ins. Co.," the effective rejection of an insured's statutory rights to UM/UIM coverage equal to liability limits had to be made in writing and as part of the insurance policy delivered to the insured. Because the result in "Jordan" was foreshadowed by other precedents, the Supreme Court declined to make Jordan applicable only to cases arising in the future, and held that policies that failed to comply with Jordan's rejection requirements would be judicially reformed to provide full statutory coverage. In 2011, following the 2010 issuance of Jordan, Plaintiff made a demand on his insurer State Farm for reformation of his policy that was in effect at the time of the accident. Relying on a clause in the policy that purported to bar UM/UIM claims made more than six years after the date of the underlying accident, State Farm rejected the claim. Plaintiff then instituted a declaratory judgment action against State Farm for reformation of the policy. Upon review of this matter, the Supreme Court held that a limitations clause based solely on the date of the accident without consideration of the actual accrual of the right to make a UM/UIM claim was unreasonable and unenforceable as a matter of law. But addressing the merits of Plaintiff's action, the Court also held that judicial reformation under Jordan did not extend to historical insurance contracts formed before another precedential opinion was issued in 2004. Because the policy in this case was issued before that date, it was not subject to retroactive reformation of its facial lack of UM/UIM coverage. View "Whelan v. State Farm Mutual Auto Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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In 2006, Joseph and Mary Romero signed a mortgage contract with the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS) as nominee for Equity One, Inc. They pledged their home as collateral for the loan. The Romeros alleged that Equity One urged them to refinance their home for access to the home's equity. The terms of the new loan were not an improvement over their then-current loan: the interest rate was higher and the loan amount due was higher. Despite that, the Romeros would receive a net cash payout they planned to use to pay other debts. The Romeros later became delinquent on their increased loan payments. A third party, Bank of New York (BONY), identified itself as a trustee for Popular Financial Services Mortgage, filed suit to foreclose on the Romeros' home. BONY claimed to hold the Romeros' note and mortgage with the right of enforcement. The Romeros defended by arguing that BONY lacked standing to foreclose because nothing in the complaint established how BONY held their note and mortgage, and that the contracts they signed were with Equity One. The district court found that BONY had established itself as holder of the Romeros' mortgage, and that the bank had standing to foreclose. That decision was appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded the district court erred in finding BONY's evidence demonstrated that it had standing to foreclose. Accordingly, the Court reversed the district court and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Bank of New York v. Romero" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Nina Strausberg signed an arbitration agreement as a mandatory condition of her admission to Defendants' nursing home. Despite having signed the arbitration agreement, Plaintiff sued the home its operators alleging negligent care. The issue before the Supreme Court centered on which party has the burden to prove that a contract is unconscionable and therefore, unenforceable. The district court found that Plaintiff had failed to prove unconscionability and, therefore, granted Defendants’ motion to compel arbitration. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding the district court erred by placing the burden on Plaintiff to prove unconscionability. The Supreme Court disagreed, and held that Plaintiff had the burden to prove that the agreement was unconscionable because unconscionability is an affirmative defense to contract enforcement, and under settled principles of New Mexico law, the party asserting an affirmative defense has the burden of proof. Furthermore, the Court held that federal law preempted the Court of Appeals' holding because it treats nursing home arbitration agreements differently than other contracts. View "Strausberg v. Laurel Healthcare Providers" on Justia Law

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Defendant Halliburton Energy Services hired Plaintiff Edward Flemma to work as a cement equipment operator in Houma, Louisiana, in January of 1982. During his twenty-six years of employment with Halliburton, Flemma was promoted several times and worked for the company in Louisiana, Texas, Angola, and New Mexico. The last position he held was as district manager in Farmington, New Mexico, where he worked from 2006 until the time of his termination in 2008.The issue on appeal before the Supreme Court in this case centered on a conflict of laws issue that requires the Court to determine whether enforcement of an arbitration agreement, formed in the State of Texas, would offend New Mexico public policy to overcome our traditional choice of law rule. Upon review, the Court concluded that the agreement formed in Texas would be unconscionable under New Mexico law, and it therefore violated New Mexico public policy. Thus, the Court applied New Mexico law and concluded that no valid agreement to arbitrate existed between the parties because Halliburton's promise to arbitrate was illusory. The Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded this case to the district court for further proceedings. View "Flemma v. Halliburton Energy Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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This appeal concerned the construction of a single word, "sudden," within a pollution exclusion clause in a series of liability insurance policies barring coverage for certain damages unless the events causing those damages were "sudden and accidental" (an issue of first impression in New Mexico). Concluding that "sudden" lacks a single clear meaning, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals' holding that the word unambiguously signifies "quick, abrupt, or a temporarily short period of time. . . .Under well-established principles of insurance law," the Court construed this ambiguity in favor of the insured, Petitioner United Nuclear Corporation, and interpreted the term "sudden" in the insurance policies at issue in this dispute to mean "unexpected." the case was remanded to the district court for further proceedings. View "United Nuclear Corp. v. Allstate Ins. Co." on Justia Law