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Loeffel Steel Products, Inc. v. Delta Brands, Inc.

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

December 2, 2013

LOEFFEL STEEL PRODUCTS, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
DELTA BRANDS, INC., d/b/a DBI; and SAMUEL F. SAVARIEGO, individually, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JEFFREY COLE, Magistrate Judge.

Loeffel Steel Products, Inc. ("Loeffel"), has moved to reinstate the lawsuit it filed against Delta Brands Inc. ("Delta") a dozen years ago on December 7, 2001, and to allow it to amend its complaint to add a count for breach of contract for non-compliance with the settlement agreement. Delta opposes the motion, arguing it comes far too late, and the court no longer has jurisdiction over this matter.

INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

"Defer no time, delays have dangerous ends." Henry VI, Part I, Act III, sc. ii 1.33[1]

More than thirteen years ago, Loeffel purchased a sheet steel cutting and stacking machine - called a rotary shear multi-blanking line - from Delta Brands Inc. ("Delta"). Delta had made some impressive claims about the speed and accuracy of the machine. Loeffel would contend those claims were extravagant and exaggerated. The machine was installed at Loeffel's facility in August 2000. It never worked properly. Engineers worked on the machine on a continuous basis, dealing with a variety of mechanical, electrical, and software problems. Finally, Loeffel had had enough and filed suit on December 1, 2001.[2]

The parties spent the next five years in litigation. At one point, at the parties' invitation, the court observed the machine in operation at Loeffel's plant. On that day at least, Delta's highly touted rotary shear multi-blanking line performed rather badly, and the test had to be stopped.[3] Litigation continued until finally the parties reached a settlement. It called for Delta to make a substantial payment to Loeffel in monthly installments over a period of sixteen months, from April 2006 to July 2007. Delta also had to design, build, and install a host of modifications to the machine in order to get it working up to specifications set forth in the settlement agreement. (Dkt. # 180, Ex. B, ¶¶ 1, 2; Ex. A). The period in which work had to be completed was about 9½ months, with an additional 21 days of run time before final testing of the modified machine. (Dkt. # 180, Ex. B, ¶¶ 1, 2; Ex. A, III-C(1), (2); V). The failure to complete the modifications would be a default, and Loeffel would then be allowed to reinstate its suit against Delta if the default was not cured within thirty days. (Dkt. # 180, Ex. B, ¶ 3(b)). Once Delta made its first installment payment on April 20, 2006, the parties would seek a dismissal order from the court. (Dkt. # 180, Ex. B, ¶ 4(a)).

The following order was entered on April 27, 2006:

The parties report that the case is settled subject to various contingencies. At the request of the parties, the case is dismissed without prejudice with leave to reinstate within one year of the draft order to follow. The settlement agreement is incorporated herein by reference and the parties shall abide by their respective obligations. The court shall retain jurisdiction to enforce the settlement agreement.

(Dkt. #166).[4]

The parties' draft order titled Order of Dismissal was entered a week later on May 3rd. It echoed the earlier order, again incorporated the terms of the settlement agreement by reference, and effectively started the one year clock:

The Court has been apprised that the parties have executed a Settlement Agreement, the terms of which are incorporated in this Order by reference. The above captioned case is thus dismissed without prejudice, and the Court shall retain jurisdiction to enforce the terms of the Settlement Agreement. (Dkt. #169).

If Loeffel's version of events is to be credited, it was painfully apparent early on in the one year period that things were not going well. Thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours were being sunk into the rotary shear multi-blanking line without improvement. Loeffel had a punch list of problems that needed to be addressed, and Delta was not reimbursing it for the costs as it had promised. About a year and a half after the parties executed their settlement agreement, Loeffel had had enough - again. Its counsel informed Delta by letter on October 9, 2007, that:

[Loeffel's] frustration has reached a critical juncture. He is asking me to prepare the matter to reinstate the proceedings. I have counseled him that this should be our last resort, and that we should try to see if the parties can come to a final conclusion on the testing and remediation efforts by [Delta].... I believe we are at the end of our rope...

(Dkt. # 180, Ex. F). Counsel demanded a meeting within 21 days and demanded reimbursement within 7 days. (Dkt. # 180, Ex. F). Apparently, that meeting resulted in Loeffel allowing Delta more time to ...


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