Justia Business Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
Gajanan v. City and County of San Francisco
The owners and operators of six boutique hotels sued San Francisco, seeking refunds of about $1.7 million in penalties that had been assessed for failure to timely file returns and pay certain hotel taxes. The plaintiffs contended they were entitled to refunds because, exercising ordinary care, they had hired and then relied on an employee to file the returns and make the payments, only to learn after the taxes were past due that the employee was dishonest and had never filed the returns or paid the taxes. Section 6.17-4 of the ordinance required the waiver of certain penalties when “[f]ailure to make timely payment or report of tax liability . . . occurred notwithstanding the exercise of ordinary care by the taxpayer.”The court of appeal affirmed a judgment in favor of the plaintiffs. The court rejected San Francisco’s arguments that as a matter of law, reliance on an employee cannot constitute ordinary care under section 6.17-4, no matter how careful the plaintiffs were in hiring and supervising the employee, and that even if the plaintiffs were entitled to refunds of some penalties under section 6.17-4, other penalties had been assessed under section 6.11-3, a Code section to which the refund provision of section 6.17-4 does not apply. View "Gajanan v. City and County of San Francisco" on Justia Law
Hassaine v. Club Demonstration Services, Inc.
While shopping at the Carmel Mountain Ranch location of Costco in San Diego, plaintiff Lilyan Hassaine slipped and fell on a slippery substance that she believed was liquid soap. Claiming serious injuries from the fall, she sued Costco and Club Demonstration Services (CDS), an independent contractor that operated food sample tables within the store. The trial court granted a motion for summary judgment filed by CDS, concluding that the company owed Hassaine no duty of care. In the court’s view, it was dispositive that CDS’s contract with Costco limited its maintenance obligations to a 12-foot perimeter around each sample table, and that Hassaine’s fall occurred outside that boundary. The Court of Appeal reversed, finding the trial court erred in concluding CDS’s contract with Costco delineated the scope of its duty of care to business invitees under general principles of tort law. Businesses have a common law duty of ordinary care to their customers that extends to every area of the store in which they are likely to shop. "While the CDS-Costco agreement may allocate responsibility and liability as a matter of contract between those parties, it does not limit the scope of CDS’s common law duty to customers. ... Breach and causation present triable factual issues here, precluding summary judgment on those grounds." View "Hassaine v. Club Demonstration Services, Inc." on Justia Law
Musso & Frank Grill v. Mitsui Sumitomo Ins. USA
Plaintiff, a Hollywood restaurant, maintained a business interruption insurance policy through Defendant. In response to COVID-19, the Governor, Mayor of Los Angeles, and several public health agencies ordered Plaintiff to close its restaurant, resulting in the loss of all its business. Plaintiff filed a claim with Defendant insurance company, which was denied based on the grounds that the policy only covered “direct physical loss of or damage to” the property, and expressly excluded coverage for losses resulting from a government order and losses caused by or resulting from a virus. Plaintiff appealed after Defendant's demurrer was sustained without leave to amend. The California Court of Appeal affirmed the dismissal and held that Plaintiffs cannot establish a breach of contract. At issue is whether the clause’s requirement can be construed to cover the pandemic-related closure. The court held that under California law a business interruption policy that covers physical loss and damages does not provide coverage for losses incurred by reason of the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, the court explained that the fact that loss and damage requirements are sometimes found in exclusionary provisions does not change the plain meaning of the terms. The court noted that even if Plaintiff could bring itself within the coverage clause, the virus exclusion would bar coverage. View "Musso & Frank Grill v. Mitsui Sumitomo Ins. USA" on Justia Law
Tola v. Bryant
In June 2017, Google engineers alerted Intel’s management to security vulnerabilities affecting Intel’s microprocessors. Intel management formed a “Problem Response Team” but made no public disclosures. In January 2018, media reports described the security vulnerabilities. Intel acknowledged the vulnerabilities, and management’s prior knowledge of them. Intel’s stock price dropped. Tola filed a shareholder derivative complaint, alleging that certain Intel officers and directors breached fiduciary duties. After obtaining records from Intel, Tola filed a third amended complaint, alleging that certain officers “knowingly disregarded industry best practices, material risks to the Company’s reputation and customer base, and their fiduciary duties of care and loyalty … the Board of Directors willfully failed to exercise its fundamental authority and duty to govern Company management and establish standards and controls.”The trial court dismissed, concluding that Tola failed to allege, with the requisite particularity, that it was futile to make a pre-suit demand on Intel’s board of directors. The court of appeal affirmed. Tola does not support his conclusory allegations with sufficient particularized facts that support an inference of bad faith. At most, Tola alleged that two directors received a material personal benefit from alleged insider trading, which still leaves an impartial board majority to consider a demand. View "Tola v. Bryant" on Justia Law
Curtin Maritime Corp. v. Pacific Dredge etc.
Curtin Maritime Corp. (Curtin) filed suit against its competitor, Pacific Dredge and Construction, LLC (Pacific), asserting one cause of action for violation of the Unfair Competition Law. The parties operated dredging vessels, and competed for contracts awarded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). In its complaint, Curtin alleged Pacific was ineligible for two contracts it was awarded over Curtin because its vessel was not “entirely” built in the United States, a violation of the federal Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (commonly referred to as the Jones Act), and Pacific defrauded the Coast Guard in its successful application for certification that the vessel was U.S.-built. These allegations served as the sole basis for Curtin’s UCL claim. In response to the complaint, Pacific brought a motion under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16 to strike Curtin’s claim, asserting it arose from protected speech and that Curtin could not show a probability of prevailing on the merits of its claim. The trial court agreed with Pacific that the claim arose from protected activity, but concluded Curtin had met its burden at this early stage of litigation to show the claim had minimal merit and denied the motion. Pacific appealed the ruling, contending the trial court erred because the claim was preempted by the Jones Act. After Pacific filed its notice of appeal, Curtin dismissed the underlying lawsuit and moved to dismiss the appeal as moot. Pacific opposed the motion, asserting the appeal was viable since reversal of the trial court’s order would provide Pacific the opportunity to seek attorney fees under the anti-SLAPP statute. The Court of Appeal agreed with Pacific that the appeal was not moot, and dismissal of the appeal was not appropriate. Further, the Court concluded Curtin did not show a probability of prevailing on the merits of its claim. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court’s order denying Pacific’s motion to strike, and directed the trial court to reinstate the case and issue an order granting the anti-SLAPP motion and striking Curtin’s claim. View "Curtin Maritime Corp. v. Pacific Dredge etc." on Justia Law
CIM Urban REIT 211 Main Street (SF), L.P. v. City and County of San Francisco
Property owners (Appellants) paid nearly $12 million in transfer taxes, penalties, and interest based on a 2014 merger that changed their parent companies. Both before and after the merger, Appellants directly owned two properties; only indirect ownership changed. They sought a refund of the sums paid under the San Francisco Business and Tax Regulations Code (SFBTRC).The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of the suit, rejecting arguments that the tax exceeded San Francisco's authority under Revenue and Taxation Code section 11911 because it uses a higher tax rate and an expanded tax base. San Francisco, as a charter city and a “city and county,” is not bound by the limitations of section 11911. The purported failure to comply with notice and hearing requirements does not entitle Appellants to a refund. At the time of the merger, SFBTRC was triggered as to Appellants’ real property by the transfer of ownership interests in Appellants’ parent entity, consistent with Revenue and Taxation Code section 64(c)(1). SFBTRC 1108 applied due to the termination of Appellants’ parent, a partnership. Appellants are not entitled to a refund based on their argument that San Francisco assessed the wrong entities View "CIM Urban REIT 211 Main Street (SF), L.P. v. City and County of San Francisco" on Justia Law
Blue Mountain Enterprises, LLC v. Owen
Owen transferred his ownership interests in real estate and construction-related firms he had founded to a new entity, Blue Mountain, as part of a joint venture with Acolyte. Acolyte acquired a 50 percent ownership interest in Blue Mountain; Owen became the company’s CEO. In his employment contract, Owen agreed to a covenant barring him from soliciting Blue Mountain’s customers for a three-year period following the termination of his employment. Years later, Owen was terminated for cause. Months later, Owen established a new construction company to compete with Blue Mountain. He sent letters to building and construction companies, including Blue Mountain customers. describing this new venture. Blue Mountain obtained injunctions, prohibiting Owen from soliciting Blue Mountain’s customers, and summary adjudication of its breach of contract claim.The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting Owen’s arguments that the nonsolicitation covenant was unenforceable because it did not meet the requirements of Business and Professions Code section 16601, an exemption to section 16600’s general ban on non-competition covenants and that his communications with Blue Mountain’s customers were not solicitations as a matter of law. Under section 16601, Owen disposed of all of his ownership interest while concurrently agreeing to refrain from carrying on a similar business within a specified geographic area in which the business sold. The court upheld an award to Blue Mountain of approximately $600,000 in attorney fees as the prevailing party. View "Blue Mountain Enterprises, LLC v. Owen" on Justia Law
Multiversal Enterprises-Mammoth Properties, LLC v. Yelp, Inc.
Yelp filed suit seeking an injunction under the unfair competition law and the false advertising law to prevent Yelp from touting the accuracy and efficacy of its filter. The trial court excluded Multiversal's principal, James Demetriades, from a portion of the trial and denied Multiversal's motion to compel access to Yelp's source code.The Court of Appeal affirmed, concluding that the trial court was within its discretion to find that although Yelp's source code might be helpful in analyzing the challenged statements, it was not necessary. In this case, Multiversal offers no explanation as to why this data is relevant or would have been used to establish the falsity of the challenged statements. The court also concluded that Multiversal was represented by counsel and afforded the right to have its expert present during the portion of trial from which Demetriades was excluded, accommodations the Supreme Court has deemed sufficient in civil proceedings. Furthermore, the trial court could reasonably have found that excluding Demetriades from a limited portion of the trial while safeguarding Multiversal's right to have other representatives present, measures similar to the protective order entered during discovery, gave Multiversal notice and opportunity for hearing appropriate to the nature of the case. The court stated that due process required no more, and that Multiversal identifies no prejudice resulting from this exclusion. View "Multiversal Enterprises-Mammoth Properties, LLC v. Yelp, Inc." on Justia Law
Melendez v. Westlake Services, Inc.
Melendez purchased a used 2015 Toyota from Southgate under a retail installment sales contract. Southgate assigned the contract to Westlake. Weeks later, Melendez sent a notice alleging Southgate violated the Consumer Legal Remedies Act (CLRA) and demanded rescission, restitution, and an injunction. Melendez later sued Southgate and Westlake, alleging violations of the CLRA, the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, Civil Code 1632 (requiring translation of contracts negotiated primarily in Spanish), the unfair competition law, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation. Westlake assigned the contract back to Southgate. Default was entered against Southgate. Westlake agreed to pay $6,204.68 ($2,500 down payment and $3,704.68 Melendez paid in monthly payments). Melendez would have no further obligations under the contract.The parties agreed Melendez could seek attorney fees, costs, expenses, and prejudgment interest. Westlake was entitled to assert all available defenses, “including the defense that no fees at all should be awarded against it as a Holder” The FTC’s “holder rule” makes the holder of a consumer credit contract subject to all claims the debtor could assert against the seller of the goods or services but caps the debtor’s recovery from the holder to the amount paid by the debtor under the contract. The trial court awarded attorney fees ($115,987.50), prejudgment interest ($2,956.62), and costs ($14,295.63) jointly and severally against Westlake, Southgate, and other defendants. The court of appeal affirmed. The limitation does not preclude the recovery of attorney fees, costs, nonstatutory costs, or prejudgment interest. View "Melendez v. Westlake Services, Inc." on Justia Law
Guttman v. Guttman
Bruce, Phillip, and Judith are siblings and co-equal general partners of the Guttman Family Limited Partnership, which owns Los Angeles County real estate. Bruce sued to dissolve the partnership, Corporations Code 15908.02(a). Phillip and Judith initiated a statutory procedure to buy out Bruce’s interest in the partnership. Court-appointed appraisers submitted valuations of the partnership’s properties. One appraiser concluded that the value of the partnership properties was $37,180,000, another appraiser established the value at $38,300,000, and the third at $39,037,000. The court agreed with Bruce that the buyout procedure did not require a consensus among the appraisers, or among two of them.Bruce, believing the appraisals undervalued the properties, dismissed his complaint without prejudice. The court then granted Phillip and Judith’s motion to vacate the dismissal. The court of appeal dismissed Bruce’s petition for review. In addition to the commencement of trial limitation on a plaintiff’s right to dismiss, a plaintiff may not dismiss an action when a defendant seeks affirmative relief in the case. Because Phillip and Judith were pursuing the affirmative relief available under the buyout provision at the time Bruce filed his request to dismiss the action, the entry of dismissal was improper. View "Guttman v. Guttman" on Justia Law