LEONETTI'S FROZEN FOODS, INC. v. REW MARKETING, INC.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER granting in part and denying in part 30 Motion for Summary Judgment; Counts I, III, and IV of Plaintiff Leonetti's Frozen Foods, lnc.'s First Amended Complaint, (Doc. 8), for professional negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, and trade libel, respectively, are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. Count II for breach of contract, survives for trial. Signed by Honorable Timothy L. Brooks on January 25, 2017. (tg)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
LEONETTl'S FROZEN FOODS, INC.
CASE NO. 5:15-CV-5242
CREW, INC. d/b/a REW MARKETING, INC.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Currently before the Court are Defendant Crew, lnc. 's ("Crew") Motion for
Summary Judgment (Doc. 30), Statement of Facts in Support (Doc. 31 ), and Brief in
Support (Doc. 32) ; Plaintiff Leonetti's Frozen Foods, lnc.'s ("Leonetti 's") Response to
Statement of Facts (Doc. 33), Statement of Disputed Facts in Opposition (Doc. 34), and
Memorandum of Law in Opposition (Doc. 35) ; and Crew's Reply Brief in Support (Doc.
37) . For the reasons given below, Crew's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED
IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.
Leonetti's is a Pennsylvania manufacturer of frozen food products, who hired Crew
as a broker in August 2014 to market and sell a couple of frozen stromboli products to
Sam 's Club , a national membership-only warehouse store . One of those products,
"Leonetti 's Frozen Stromboli ," would be for consumers to purchase and take home from
Sam's Club frozen-food sections; the other product, "Cafe Stromboli ," would be for
consumers to purchase and consume on-site at Sam 's Club cafes. At the time Leonetti 's
hired Crew to manage its Sam's Club account, Crew had already been managing the
Leonetti's account with Costco-a competitor of Sam 's Club-for roughly seven months.
From August 2014 through January 2015 , Leonetti 's worked to develop Cafe
Stromboli , and underwent the testing and approval process for both products, in an effort
to meet Sam's Club 's specifications . On January 14, 2015 , a "hold test" was conducted ,
in which "the stromboli is cooked and then placed under heat lamps for 1 hour to ensure
that the stromboli holds its internal temperature ." (Doc. 8,
Later that day,
Crew's Chief Operating Officer, Cindy Towler,1 see Doc. 30-1 , p. 2, sent the following
email to various employees of Sam 's Club who were participating in this process:
John and Jeremy good day! I completed the in-club testing this morning at
the Bentonville Sam 's Club . Test went extremely well . I used 8 Stromboli's
in the test. The additional samples were used to determine where to start
the pans as the temperature and times were not set at 485* - 6 minutes.
The ovens were set at 500* - 6:30 , club associate said they started the
pizzas at the entrance of the oven and recommended we do the same. I
found that the top oven cooked hotter than the 2nd and 3rd oven. While the
top oven did not burn the Stromboli they were a little darker than we like to
Attached is a recap of the testing.
Please let me know if you have any questions and what our next steps will
(Doc. 30-4, p. 2).
Later that evening , Crew's President, Jeff Campigli , see Doc. 30-1 , p. 3, sent a
reply-all email that stated "Nice job Cindy . Robert and I could even use slides 2-5 in our
Costco Presentation next week :)," (Doc. 30-4, p. 2). The next morning , after being alerted
that he had inadvertently sent the email as a reply-all rather than solely to Ms. Towler,
Mr. Campigl i sent Sam 's Club a follow-up email profusely apologizing , explaining that his
email "was a very poor attempt at humor and meant for Cindy only," and assuring Sam 's
It appears Cindy Towler's surname was "Romines" at the time the events giving rise to
this lawsuit occurred .
Club that Crew "would never share testing , conducted exclusively for you , with any
customer ... especially your #1 competitor. " See id. at 1. A few weeks later on February
3, John Hawthorne from Sam 's Club informed Ms. Towler that it would not be purchasing
frozen food from Leonetti's because temperature inconsistencies rendered it "an
unacceptable product to put in front of the Members." See Doc. 30-5 , p. 1.
On July 7, 2015 , Leonetti's filed a complaint against Crew in the Philadelphia
County Court of Common Pleas, which Crew removed to the United States District Court
for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on July 29 , 2015 . On September 30 of that same
year, that Court ordered venue transferred to the United States District Court for the
Western District of Arkansas. In its First Amended Complaint, (Doc. 8), Leonetti's brings
four claims against Crew-for negligence , breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty,
and trade libel-all of which are premised on the factual allegation that Mr. Campigli 's
email caused Sam 's Club to decide not to purchase any Leonetti's products. See Doc.
30-2 , p. 8. Crew has moved for summary judgment on all four of Leonetti 's claims,
arguing there is no genuine dispute that Mr. Campigli's email was not the proximate cause
of Sam's Club 's decision not to purchase Leonetti's products .
opposes this Motion. The Motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for decision .
II. LEGAL ST AND ARD
"The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter
of law." Fed . R. Civ. P. 56(a) . The Court must view the facts in the light most favorable
to the non-moving party, and give the non-moving party the benefit of any logical
inferences that can be drawn from the facts . Canada v. Union Elec. Co. , 135 F.3d 1211 ,
1212-13 (8th Cir. 1997).
The moving party, Crew, bears the burden of proving the
absence of any material factual disputes. Fed . R. Civ. P. 56(c); Matsushita Elec. Indus.
Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986); Nat'/ Bank of Commerce of El
Dorado, Ark. v. Dow Chem. Co. , 165 F.3d 602 (8th Cir. 1999). If Crew meets this burden ,
then Leonetti's must "come forward with 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine
issue for trial. "' Matsushita , 475 U.S. at 587 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). These
specific facts must be "such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
nonmoving party ." Allison v. Flexway Trucking, Inc., 28 F.3d 64, 66 (8th Cir. 1994)
(quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242 , 248 (1986)).
Since venue of this lawsuit was transferred from Pennsylvania under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1404(a), this Court applies Pennsylvania's choice-of-law rules for determining which
state's law governs. See Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612 , 639 (1964); Thorn v. IBM,
101 F.3d 70 , 72-73 (8th Cir. 1996). But under those rules , no choice needs to be made
if there is no conflict between the states' laws. Budtel Assocs. , LP v. Cont'/ Gas. Co.,
2006 Pa. Super. 370 , at 1f 9 (2006).
With regard to theories of liability sounding in tort, such as the claims in this case
for professional negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, and trade libel , both Arkansas and
Pennsylvania law require a claimant to prove proximate causation of his damages. See,
e.g. , Sherk v. Daisy-Heddon, a Div. of Victor Comptometer Corp. , 498 Pa. 594, 602 (1982)
(" It is well established that [p]roof of injury alone , without more , or of the existence of the
negligent condition without showing that it caused the injury complained of, is insufficient
to establish a case of liability." (internal alterations omitted)); Grain Dealers Mut. Ins. Co.
v. Porterfield, 287 Ark. 27 , 31 (1985) ("A mere possibility of causation is not enough ; and
when the matter remains one of pure speculation or conjecture, or the probabilities are at
best evenly balanced , it becomes the duty of the court to direct a verdict for the
However, with regard to breach of contract, the picture is less clear. Thus, for the
sake of simplicity the Court will first discuss whether there is any material dispute of fact
as to whether Mr. Campigli 's email proximately caused damage to Leonetti 's. Then the
Court will turn to the issue of what implications this has for the contract claim.
A. Proximate Cause
There is powerful evidence in the record that Mr. Campigli 's email did not cause
Sam's Club not to purchase frozen food from Leonetti's. In his deposition , Mr. Hawthorne
testified that he decided not to purchase Leonetti 's products for Sam's Club cafes
because "[w]e could never get to the quality that we needed it to be." (Doc. 30-3, p. 13).
He further testified that he did not "for a moment take [Mr. Campigli 's] email as being
serious. " See id. at 17. The email he sent Ms. Towler informing her of his decision stated ,
in its entirety:
We have tried and tried several revisions of this product. And to be honest,
the very fi rst version was the best. We did , as you know, have several
temperature problems from day one . Cindy, you and your team are well
aware of the efforts put forth. We battled cold pockets several times and a
change in cheese (which lowered quality) and then finally get the
temperature consistent. We tested on January 14 here in our kitchens and
the bottoms burned. It would be an unacceptable product to put in front of
the Members . Most importantly, we have not yet had a version of the
Stromboli that I have found acceptable to take to a taste panel.
I would like to put this product on the shelf. We sincerely appreciate all your
efforts and hard work to try and make this work.
Thank you , Cindy. Please let me know if you have any questions.
(Doc. 30-5 , p. 1).
Leonetti 's, on the other hand , has not pointed to any evidence that the decision
was actually caused by Mr. Campigli 's email.
It argues that Ms. Towler's deposition
testimony "contradicted " Mr. Hawthorne's on this point, see Doc. 35 , pp. 13-14, but in
fact Ms. Towler testified that on the day after Mr. Campigli 's email was sent, Mr.
Hawthorne told her "that he knew it was not intentional and that it was just cooking
instructions. It was not the best in the world , but it wasn 't the worst. We're all human ; it's
not a big deal , and it would not affect how we moved forward. " (Doc. 34-1 , p. 68)
Leonetti's also argues that "there is substantial evidence showing the Leonetti 's
[products] passed ever[y] test leading up to the Campigli email ," (Doc. 35 , p. 13), but this
characterization of the record is only correct if "ever[y] test leading up to" is construed as
meaning "the one test immediately preceding ." All three deponents from Sam 's Club,
Crew, and Leonetti 's consistently testified that Leonetti's struggled mightily with meeting
Sam 's Club 's temperature requirements , though as one might expect, they had different
recollections of the finer details and different perspectives on why the difficulties occurred.
See, e.g. , Doc. 30-3 , pp. 8-10 (Mr. Hawthorne testifying about the specific temperature
problems he was referring to in his email to Ms. Towler); Doc. 34-1 , p. 60 (Ms. Towler
testifying that the products passed one "hold test" out of ten) ; id. at 80-81 (Leonetti's coowner Robert lppaso , testifying that the difficulties occurred because Sam 's Club 's
temperature specifications were unreasonable and the testers were not chilling the
products correctly). And there is undisputed evidence in the record that one of the
products being tested burned only two days before Mr. Campigli 's email was sent. See
id. at 107.
Ultimately, the only evidence in the record to support the contention that Mr.
Campigli 's email caused Sam's Club not to purchase the products, is the bare fact that
the decision not to purchase was made only a few weeks after Mr. Campigli 's email was
sent. There is no documentary or testimonial evidence anywhere in the record that any
person in the decision-making process based the decision in any way on Mr. Campigli 's
email , and there is evidence that they did not. To permit the issue of causation to reach
a jury on this record would be to invite pure speculation from the finder of fact. "While the
question of proximate cause is usually a question for the jury" under Arkansas law,
nevertheless , "conjecture and speculation cannot be permitted to replace proof." Skinner
v. R.J. Griffin & Co. , 313 Ark. 430 , 433-34 (1993). Even viewing the record in the light
most favorable to Leonetti's, there is no material factual dispute that Mr. Campigli 's email
did not cause Sam 's Club not to purchase Leonetti 's products. Accordingly, the Court will
grant summary judgment in favor of Crew on Counts I, Ill , and IV of the First Amended
B. Breach of Contract
The Court turns now to the question of what impact this finding has on the sole
remaining claim for breach of contract. The parties both appear to be operating under
the assumption that under both Arkansas and Pennsylvania law, the party bringing a
claim for breach of contract must prove causation ; at least, neither party has contended
otherwise . But if this is their belief, then they are incorrect.
Under Arkansas law, "causation is not an element of a claim for breach of contract. "
Crumpacker v. Gary Reed Const. , Inc. , 2010 Ark. App. 179, at *3 & n.2; see also Clark v.
Ridgeway, 323 Ark . 378 , 389 (1996) ("On another point, whether sufficient facts support
proximately caused damages is no longer relevant. .. . We have held in this opinion that
Ridgeway is immune from a negligence claim . . . . The only viable claim is breach of
contract, and proximate causation is not an essential element to a finding of damages
due to contractual breach ."); cf S. Farm Bureau Gas. Ins. Co. v. Daggett, 354 Ark. 112,
136-37 (2003) (remanding "for a determination of what damages, if any," resulted from a
breach of contract that "did , in fact," occur (emphasis added)). An action for breach of
contract may be maintained where only nominal damages can be proved-though the
inability of a claimant to prove more than nominal damages is something this Court must
consider if called upon to determine what a reasonable attorney's fee should be for the
prevailing party at trial. See Dawson v. Temps Plus, Inc., 337 Ark . 247 , 258-60 (1999) ;
AMI 2401 , cmt. (2017 ed.) ("Under Arkansas law, actual damage caused by the breach
is not an essential element of a claim for breach of contract because a plaintiff is entitled
to recover nominal damages in the absence of proof of actual damages." ); AMI 2442 , cmt.
(2017 ed.) ("Causation of damages is included in this damage instruction , rather than the
issue instru.ction for breach of contract, because a plaintiff is entitled to recover nominal
damages in the absence of proof of actual damages. ").2
The Court would be remiss not to acknowledge that there are some cases that state in
passing that one of the elements for breach of contract under Arkansas law is "damages
resulting from the breach ." See, e.g. , Nat. Union Fire Ins. of Pittsburgh, PA v. Graham,
2014 WL 1316930, at *2 (E .D. Ark. Apr. 1, 2014); Smith v. Eisen , 97 Ark . App. 130, 139
(2006) ; Rabalaias v. Barnett, 284 Ark. 527, 528-29 (1985) ; Williams v. J. W. Black Lumber
Co. , 275 Ark. 144, 147 (1982). But in all of these cases , the references to a causation
element are dicta and unrelated to the issues being decided . The Court does not believe
As for Pennsylvania , it appears from this Court's independent research that there
is split intermediate appellate authority on whether proximate causation is an element of
a claim for breach of contract under that state's law. Contrast, e.g. , James Corp. v. North
Allegheny Sch. Dist., 938 A.2d 474, 498 (Pa . Commw. Ct. 2007) ("To prove breach of
contract, School District must show Architect breached a duty imposed by the contract
and such breach proximately caused Contractor's damages."), and Logan v. Mirror
Printing Co. of Altoona, Pa. , 410 Pa. Super. 446 , 448-49 (1991) ("In order to recover
damages pursuant to a breach of contract, the plaintiff must show a causal connection
between the breach and the loss."), with Grabowski v. Quigley, 454 Pa. Super. 27, 41
(1996) ("A cause of action [for breach of contract) exists even if no compensable loss can
be shown because any breach gives rise to at least nominal damages ."). This Court has
been unable to find any cases in which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court resolved the
issue, though it should be noted that the intermediate appellate split appears to
preponderate heavily towards the requirement that proximate causation be proved. See
Red Bell Brewing Co. v. Buchanan Ingersoll, P. C. , 2001 WL 1807775, at *6 n.11 (Pa. Ct.
C.P. Mar. 13, 2001 ). Given the near-uniformity of Pennsylvania intermediate appellate
authority, this Court believes that if the Pennsylvania Supreme Court were presented with
the issue , it would affirm that proximate causation is a necessary element of a contract
claim under Pennsylvania law.
Thus, since there is a "true conflict" between Arkansas and Pennsylvania law as
to whether causation is an element of a contract claim , this Court must determine which
these cases overcome, or create a split in authority between, the authorities discussed
above in the body of this opinion which specifically address whether causation is a
necessary element of a claim for breach of contract under Arkansas law.
state "has the greater interest in the application of its law to the question now before us,"
by qualitatively considering each state's contacts with the facts of this case .
McDonald v. Whitewater Challengers, Inc., 116 A.3d 99 , 109 (Pa . Super. Ct. 2015). The
Court believes that under this standard , Arkansas substantive law governs the claims in
this case ; and it would appear the parties agree so as well.
Compare Doc. 32 , p. 6
(arguing that Arkansas law controls if there is any conflict) , with Doc. 35, pp. 11-12 (citing
exclusively to Arkansas law). The only connection the state of Pennsylvania has to this
case is that Leonetti 's is headquartered in that state . But Crew and Sam's Club are both
headquartered in Arkansas , and the events giving rise to this lawsuit-namely, the receipt
of Mr. Campigli's email and the decision not to purchase the frozen food productsappear to have occurred in Bentonville. See Doc. 34-1, p. 3.
Therefore, the Court will deny Crew's Motion for Summary Judgment with respect
to Leonetti 's claim for breach of contract, since (1) Arkansas law governs the substance
of the contract claim , (2) causation is not an element of contract claims under Arkansas
law, and (3) Crew has not moved for summary judgment on any issue other than
causation . However, since the Court has found as a matter of law that Leonetti 's cannot
prove causation of damages under its theory of the case, the Court will not permit
Leonetti's to recover greater than nominal damages if it prevails at trial. In any event, the
prevailing party at trial will be entitled to recover "a reasonable attorney's fee ," Ark. Code
Ann. § 16-22-308, though as noted above , the fact that Leonetti 's may not recover more
than nominal damages will factor into any determination of reasonableness of attorney
fees that this Court ultimately makes.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that Defendant Crew, lnc.'s Motion for Summary
Judgment (Doc. 30) is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART as follows: Counts I,
111 , and IV of Plaintiff Leonetti 's Frozen Foods, lnc.'s First Amended Complaint, (Doc. 8),
for professional negligence , breach of fiduciary duty, and trade libel , respectively, are
DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. Count ~ for breach of contract, survives for trial.
so ORDERED on this ~s
day of Janu
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