SCHREIBER FOODS v. LEI WANG (July 5, 2011)

Cade Wang lives in China and operates Mature Sky, a trading company. Wang’s cousin, Lei Wang, operates an automotive supply company in Chicago. When Cade was looking for a dairy products supplier in the United States, he approached Lei. Lei, in turn, approached Schreiber Foods. Mature Sky placed a small order for whey protein concentrate -- the transaction was a success. A few months later, Lei Wang negotiated a much larger order -- a $600,000 order for D70, an ingredient in infant formula. Without telling anyone, Schreiber substituted RMW-2 (which it claims is materially identical) for the D70. The end customer refused to accept the product or pay for it. Schreiber did not pursue either the end customer or Mature Sky. Instead, it filed suit against Lei Wang. Schreiber alleged that Wang fraudulently represented that the end customer had promised to buy the product from Mature Sky. Judge Griesbach (E.D. Wis.) granted summary judgment to Wang on the ground that the claim was barred by the economic-loss doctrine. Schreiber appeals.

In their opinion, Judges Posner, Kanne, and Hamilton affirmed. Under the economic-loss doctrine, a plaintiff cannot pursue a tort remedy when he has a contract and an adequate remedy under contract law. Some states do not apply the doctrine where, as here, there are fraud allegations. Wisconsin's fraud exception, however, is very narrow. It requires that the fraud be extraneous to the contract. Here, the alleged fraud is "interwoven" with the contract. The Court noted that the circumstances (two foreign companies with which Schreiber was not familiar, an automobile parts supplier intermediary, the product substitution) required Schreiber to deal with these uncertainties through the contract. The Court also rejected Schreiber's contention that its claim fell within the sale of services exception to the economic-loss doctrine. The Court noted that Wisconsin applies that exception only when the contract is predominantly one for the sale of services, which this is not.