Justia Business Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
by
A "subtle" question concerning entitlement to attorney fees raised by this appeal was one of first impression for the Court of Appeal. In a separate lawsuit filed at Superior Court, plaintiffs obtained a judgment for breach of contract, including an award of attorney fees, against certain entities not parties to the present suit. Plaintiffs filed the present enforcement action against defendants, seeking to hold them liable on the judgment as alter egos of the judgment debtors. Plaintiffs lost against one of the defendants, Steve Saleen (Steve). Steve moved for attorney fees under the contract; the court granted the motion and plaintiffs appeals. Plaintiffs contended this was not an action on the contract and, therefore, fees were unavailable under Civil Code section 1717. Instead, it was an enforcement action. They cited caselaw for the proposition that a judgment on the contract subsumes and extinguishes contractual rights. On the other hand, had plaintiffs included Steve as a defendant in the Superior Court suit, making the exact same alter ego allegations they made to the Court of Appeal, undoubtedly Steve would have been entitled to contractual attorney fees under the doctrine of reciprocity established by Civil Code section 1717 and Reynolds Metals Co. v. Alperson, 25 Cal.3d 124 (1979), even though he was not a signatory on the contract. The Court of Appeal concluded the timing of an alter ego claim (either pre- or postjudgment) was too arbitrary a consideration on which to base the right to attorney fees. "When a judgment creditor attempts to add a party to a breach of contract judgment that includes a contractual fee award, the suit is essentially 'on the contract' for purposes of Civil Code section 1717." The Court therefore agreed with Steve and affirmed judgment. View "MSY Trading Inc. v. Saleen Automotive, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed suit against defendant, alleging a common count claim for "money lent." The trial court found that plaintiff loaned defendant $874,708.44, which defendant never repaid. Defendant argued that the money came from entities controlled by plaintiff rather than from plaintiff himself. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment against defendant because defendant waived his defense of lack of capacity by failing to assert it at the earliest opportunity. The court also held that the trial court properly concluded that proof of an implied promise to repay was legally sufficient for plaintiff's common count claim. In this case, substantial evidence supported the trial court's finding that defendant made such an implied promise. Finally, defendant's statute of frauds argument is meritless. View "Rubinstein v. Fakheri" on Justia Law

by
Under a 2008 consignment agreement, Eloquence would consign jewelry and loose diamonds to HCC for resale. HCC was to send a monthly sales report of each item sold. Upon receipt of that report, Eloquence would prepare an invoice setting forth the payment due from HCC. The Agreement required HCC to pay the invoices within 30 days and provided for a bi-annual reconciliation of the inventory of consigned goods. Following a reconciliation, two invoices dated November 10, 2009, identified “items reported as missing” from an HCC store: 16 pieces of jewelry ($64085). Eloquence gave HCC a five-month extension for payment. Delivery of consigned goods to HCC continued for seven years, totaling $616,633.30 in sales invoices. In 2017, Eloquence sued HCC and its general partners, asserting “breach of written agreement” and “open book account” by failing to pay the November 2009 invoices, in the total amount of $64,085 and that it “furnished to HCC, at its request, on an open book account, merchandise of the agreed value of $64,085. The court of appeal affirmed summary judgment. Eloquence’s breach of contract cause of action time-barred because the agreement contemplated a series of discrete transactions each evidenced by a separate invoice. The doctrine of continuous accrual applies; the statute of limitations expired in May 2014. There was no agreement by the parties to enter into an open book accountt. View "Eloquence Corp. v. Home Consignment Center" on Justia Law

by
In June 2018, plaintiffs-respondents Suzanne Yang and Doc Yang Medical Corporation sued defendants-appellants Tenet Healthcare Inc. doing business as John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital (the hospital), its medical staff, and individual doctors, alleging defamation and nine other causes of action. Defendants filed a special motion to strike (anti-SLAPP motion) targeting only the defamation cause of action. Dr. Yang alleged that since March 2016, defendants conspired to drive her practice out of business in various ways, including by making defamatory statements. Defendants’ anti-SLAPP motion contended that the statements were protected activity because they were made in connection with the hospital’s peer review process, and because they were made in furtherance of the exercise of the right of free speech in connection with a public issue or an issue of public interest. Defendants also contended that Dr. Yang could not demonstrate a probability of prevailing because she consented to the peer review process that the statements were purportedly in connection with, and because the statements were privileged. Applying the California Supreme Court's recent opinion in FilmOn.com Inc. v. DoubleVerify, Inc., 7 Cal.5th 133 (2019), and concluded defendants’ conduct arose from protected activity because their allegedly defamatory statements were made in connection with an issue of public interest. Furthermore, the Court concluded Dr. Yang did not demonstrate a probability of prevailing on the merits. The Court therefore reversed the trial court, which denied the anti-SLAPP motion. View "Yang v. Tenet Healthcare Inc." on Justia Law

by
Freelance bookkeeper Elizabeth Mulder perpetrated a nearly five-year fraud against her client, plaintiff Kurtz-Ahlers. Both Kurtz-Ahlers and Mulder coincidentally had their checking accounts at defendant Bank of America (the Bank). Mulder ran her scam through her account at the Bank. After discovering the fraud, Kurtz-Ahlers notified the Bank and made a claim for its losses. The Bank denied the claim and Kurtz-Ahlers sued the Bank for negligence. After a two-week jury trial, the trial court granted the Bank’s motion for nonsuit, essentially holding the Bank owed Kurtz-Ahlers no duty to investigate or monitor Mulder’s account. Finding no reversible error in that conclusion, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Kurtz-Ahlers, LLC v. Bank of America N.A." on Justia Law

by
In petitioning the trial court to amend a judgment to add an alter ego defendant, the plaintiff may proceed by either a motion in the original action, or by complaint in an independent action on the judgment. In a previous action, plaintiff recovered a judgment for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and breach of fiduciary duty against Magnolia Home Loans. In this case, plaintiff filed suit against defendant, alleging that defendant incorporated Magnolia Home Loans. The trial court granted defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings based on the theory that the only proper procedure for naming a person an alter ego is by motion in the original action. The Fifth Circuit reversed and held that it does not matter whether the petition alleging defendant is an alter ego of the corporation is labeled a complaint or a motion, or whether the petition is assigned a case number different from the underlying action. Rather, the substantive question is whether defendant is, in fact, an alter ego. Furthermore, the court held that the complaint is not barred by the statute of limitations. View "Lopez v. Escamilla" on Justia Law

by
T-Mobile USA, Inc. (T-Mobile) appeals a judgment entered on a $5 million jury verdict in favor of former employee Stephen Colucci in a workplace retaliation case. T-Mobile primarily challenged the punitive damages award, arguing insufficient evidence was presented at trial that a T-Mobile agent engaged in retaliatory conduct, or that the agent's actions were malicious or oppressive. Alternatively, T-Mobile argued the $4 million punitive damages award was constitutionally excessive. Stephen Colucci worked for T-Mobile from 2007 until 2014 as the manager of a store in Ontario, California. A series of incidents ranging from a medical accommodation request, defamatory comments made by co-workers, and an allegation that Colucci was running a side business while on duty for his T-Mobile store. On day, complaining of back pain, Colucci was permitted to leave work for the day; while away, Robson recommended to HR that T-Mobile terminate Colucci for "cause" (conflict of interest), notwithstanding no loss prevention investigator interviewed Colucci or any co-workers about Colucci's alleged side-dealings while on T-Mobile time. In making this decision, Robson admittedly bypassed T-Mobile's progressive discipline policy, which might have included a warning or less severe consequence before resorting to termination. Information about the alleged conflict of interest had come almost entirely from the associate; at no point did anyone speak to Colucci about a purported conflict. Unaware of any pending termination, Colucci submitted a formal request to HR for a medical leave of absence. Colucci also lodged a second complaint to T-Mobile's integrity line, reporting that Robson was discriminating against him and neglecting to resolve the defamation incident. Undeterred, Robson proceeded with processing Colucci's termination. Ultimately, a jury returned a unanimous verdict in Colucci's favor on his claim of retaliation, awarding $1,020,042 in total compensatory damages for past and future economic losses, and past and future noneconomic damages and/or emotional distress. After review, the Court of Appeal reduced the punitive damages award to an amount one and one-half times the amount of compensatory damages, but otherwise affirmed the judgment. View "Colucci v. T-Mobile USA, Inc." on Justia Law

by
In 2003, jury found E*Trade liable for trade secret misappropriation and for breach of a mutual nondisclosure agreement with Ajaxo. The jury awarded damages only for the breach of contract after the court granted a nonsuit on the issue of damages for trade secret misappropriation. On remand, in 2008, a jury found no net damages for unjust enrichment and awarded nothing. The court denied Ajaxo’s request to seek a reasonable royalty under the California Uniform Trade Secret Act (Civ. Code 3426-3426.11). On second remand, the court held a bench trial, declined to award any royalty, and awarded E*Trade its costs as the prevailing party. The court of appeal affirmed. The trial court did not abuse its discretion by declining to award any reasonable royalty despite the available evidence from which a reasonable royalty theoretically might have been derived, considering its findings on the evidence, application of apportionment principles from patent law, exclusion of expert testimony and analysis of Ajaxo’s royalty model, and treatment of the “Georgia-Pacific factors” for determining a royalty rate in intellectual property disputes. The trial court did not err in its prevailing party determination and costs award despite the practical effect of Ajaxo having already obtained full satisfaction of what became a separate, final judgment in its favor following the 2006 remittitur from the first appeal, including costs. View "Ajaxo, Inc. v. E*Trade Financial Corp." on Justia Law

by
The Project CBD defendants, ProjectCBD.com, website founder Martin Lee, and article author Aaron Cantu, appealed a trial court's order denying their special motion to strike the three causes of action asserted in the second amended complaint. The Project CBD defendants contended the trial court erred in denying their motion because the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a probability of prevailing on their claims. This case arose from the publication of an article regarding the safety of a cannabidiol (CBD) product, Real Scientific Hemp Oil (RSHO), sold by plaintiffs Medical Marijuana, Inc. (MMI) and HempMeds PX, LLC (HempMeds) (jointly the plaintiffs). The plaintiffs contended the article contained false information about RSHO and that the named defendants who were involved in the publication of the article, should be held liable for libel, false light, and unfair competition due to their publication of the article. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court erred in determining that the plaintiffs demonstrated a probability of prevailing on the merits of their claims. The Court therefore reversed the trial court's order and remanded the matter with directions to enter an order granting the Project CBD defendants' anti-SLAPP motion. View "Medical Marijuana, Inc. v. ProjectCBD.com" on Justia Law

by
The Court of Appeal affirmed the superior court's judgment in favor of the Estate, in a lawsuit brought by Moofly for actions the Estate took when attempting to collect on a judgment in a previous, related case. The Estate filed a cross-complaint, accusing Moofly and its owner of fraudulent transfers and other causes of action. The court held that Moofly was not entitled to a jury trial because the Estate's cause of action for fraudulent transfer was essentially one in equity and the relief sought depended upon the application of equitable doctrines; Moofly received adequate notice of the Estate's motion for terminating sanctions; there were sufficient grounds to justify the imposition of terminating sanctions; the superior court did not exceed its jurisdiction by awarding the return of derivative copyrighted materials; even assuming that the Estate's claim fell within the subject matter of copyright, the rights the Estate asserted are not equivalent to copyright; and there was no error in including Moofly's owner as a party liable for the judgment. View "Moofly Productions, LLC v. Favila" on Justia Law