Roundup: 1st, 2nd, 6th and 7th Circuits

Dan Brown's thriller does not infringe other author's copyright; Coca-Cola legally purchased plant from exiled Egyptian family; No breach of contract for a voluntary payment of $13.99; Disabled employees not guaranteed new jobs within a company

1st Circuit
Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island

Dan Brown’s thriller does not infringe other author’s copyright 

Dan Brown’s best-selling novel “Angels & Demons,” a thriller about the Catholic Church, rubbed some people the wrong way, but none more so than Jack Dunn. In Dunn v. Brown, Dunn claimed “Angels & Demons” infringed the copyright of his 1997 book “The Vatican Boys.” On March 22, the 1st Circuit affirmed a district court’s summary judgment in favor of Brown.

Dunn claimed that Brown had directly copied several elements, including characters, plot and settings. A magistrate judge reviewed the contentious passages and determined that although both books had religious elements, “Angels & Demons” was too different to be infringing. Adopting the magistrate judge’s report, the district court granted Brown summary judgment. The 1st Circuit affirmed, saying that no reasonable juror would find sufficient similarities between the two books.

This case was not Dunn and Brown’s first legal entanglement—Dunn previously sued Brown, claiming that his other bestseller, “The Da Vinci Code,” also infringed on “The Vatican Boys.” Brown won summary judgment in that case as well.


2nd Circuit
Connecticut, New York, Vermont

Coca-Cola legally purchased plant from exiled Egyptian family

Coca-Cola did not illegally purchase, or unjustly enrich itself from, an Egyptian bottling plant located on land that was forcibly taken from a Jewish family, the 2nd Circuit ruled March 19 in Bigio v. The Coca-Cola Company.

In the 1940s, Coca-Cola leased land from the Bigio family to establish its first bottling plant in Egypt. The Egyptian government took the Bigios’ real estate in 1962, and later sold it to an insurance company that Egypt owned. The Bigios were expelled from Egypt in 1965. All the factories on their land were consolidated into a single bottling company, in which Coca-Cola later acquired an ownership interest.

In 1997 the Bigios filed suit against Coca-Cola and its export corporation, but the district court dismissed their complaint, claiming lack of jurisdiction. The family filed an amended complaint in 2009, alleging trespass and unjust enrichment, among other claims. The district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss.

On appeal, the 2nd Circuit upheld the ruling because the plaintiffs sued Coca-Cola, the parent company, rather than the subsidiary Coca-Cola Egypt (CCE), which would have been the entity responsible if the claims checked out.


6th Circuit
Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee

No breach of contract for a voluntary payment of $13.99

In Salling v. Budget Rent-A-Car Systems, the 6th Circuit ruled on Feb. 29 that a man who voluntarily paid a $13.99 fuel charge for a rental car cannot claim the company breached its contract.

Michael Salling drove a Budget rental car 64 miles, refilled the gas tank and returned the car. Budget charged him a $13.99 fuel service fee, which Salling alleged his contract allowed him to avoid by returning the car with a full tank of gas. Budget claimed that to waive the fee, Salling had to provide a receipt, which he didn’t have. Salling sued for breach of contract, fraud and unjust enrichment.

The district court granted summary judgment to Budget, saying the contract was not unclear. On appeal, the 6th Circuit agreed with Budget’s argument that Salling voluntarily paid the fee, whether or not there was breach of contract. The court quoted Nationwide Life Ins. Co. v. Myers, saying “A payment made by reason of a wrong construction of the terms of a contract … if voluntary cannot be recovered back,” and affirmed the district court’s judgment.


7th Circuit
Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin

Disabled employees not guaranteed new jobs within a company

On March 7, the 7th Circuit ruled that disabled employees who cannot perform their job functions are not guaranteed reassignment to another position under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) v. United Airlines Inc., United had a policy that allowed disabled employees to apply for a transfer to a vacant position, but the process was competitive, and employees were not promised a spot. The 7th Circuit previously held in EEOC v. Humiston-Keeling that the ADA does not require automatic reassignment. The EEOC argued that the Supreme Court’s ruling in US Airways v. Barnett undermined that decision.

In Barnett, the Supreme Court found that accommodations that violate an evenly enforced company policy aren’t necessarily unreasonable under the ADA. The EEOC claimed in United Airlines that the “decision requires that the disabled person be advanced over a more qualified nondisabled person.”

The 7th Circuit wrote that “the EEOC’s interpretation may in fact be a more supportable interpretation of the ADA,” but the court had already interpreted Humiston-Keeling in cases after Barnett, and so affirmed the district court’s ruling that United’s policy could stand.

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