Sunline Commercial Carriers, Inc. v. Citgo Petroleum CorporationAnnotate this Case
In early 2013, CITGO Petroleum Corp. Sunline Commercial Carriers, Inc., to ship its product through a Master Agreement, which was to be implemented by another agreement, a Term Agreement. The Master was set to expire on December 31, 2014, but could be terminated by either party on 60 days’ notice. The Term “remain[ed] in effect until the Master Agreement is expired or terminated” but also contained another sentence stating that it was a “1 Year agreement with a start date of April 1, 2013.” The Term required that CITGO ship a monthly minimum to Sunline, or compensate Sunline for failing to do so. Not long into their relationship, CITGO breached the agreement by failing to ship the monthly minimum, creating a “shortfall.” After breaching, CITGO used its leverage to obtain concessions that allowed it to make up the shortfall at the end of the parties’ contractual relationship. On March 31, 2014, CITGO sent Sunline a termination notice. Over the next two months, all of the Term Agreement’s specific provisions seemed to govern the parties’ relationship. During this time, CITGO shipped enough product to Sunline to meet its previously accrued shortfalls. But if the Term Agreement’s minimum monthly requirement remained in place, CITGO failed meet the minimum and generated additional shortfalls. At the end of May, CITGO stopped using Sunline to ship oil. Sunline sued and eventually moved for summary judgment, arguing that the Term Agreement remained in effect until May 31, 2014; CITGO was therefore still liable for the shortfalls generated before the termination notice; and CITGO generated shortfalls in April and May. In response, CITGO argued that the Term Agreement ended on March 31, 2014, the day CITGO sent its termination notice; that only the Master Agreement continued through May 31, 2014; and as a result, CITGO had no obligation to meet the Term Agreement’s minimum barrel requirements. The Superior Court held, as a matter of law, that the Term Agreement ended on March 31, 2014. Sunline appealed, arguing that the Superior Court’s contractual interpretation was inconsistent with the Term Agreement’s text, and that, in the alternative, the Term Agreement was ambiguous and parol evidence had to be considered. The Delaware Supreme Court reversed, finding the Term Agreement was meant to continue in force as long as the Master Agreement did. The Term Agreement contained conceivably conflicting terms, which could not be indisputably reconciled on the face of the contract, and was therefore ambiguous. The Court also reversed the Superior Court holding the oil shipped in April and May satisfied CITGO’s shortfall liability. The Superior Court failed to consider parol evidence because of its earlier finding that the Term Agreement expired, as a matter of law, on March 31, 2014. The parol evidence made summary judgment inappropriate as it supported the reasonableness of Sunline’s interpretation.