Justia Business Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of California
Ixchel Pharma, LLC v. Biogen, Inc.
The Supreme Court held that tortious interference with at-will contracts requires independent wrongfulness and that a rule of reason applies to determine the validity of a settlement provision requiring Forward Pharma to terminate its agreement with Ixchel Pharma, LLC under Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code 16600.Ixchel, a biotechnology company, entered into an agreement with Forward jointly to develop a drug for the treatment of Friedreich's ataxia. Forward later withdrew from the agreement, which was allowed by the agreement's terms. Pursuant to a settlement with Biogen, Inc., another biotechnology company, Forward agreed to terminate its contract with Ixchel. Ixchel sued Biogen in federal court for tortiously interfering with Ixchel's contractual and prospective economic relationship with Forward in violation of section 16600. On appeal, the federal appeals court certified two questions to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held (1) tortious interference with at-will contracts requires independent wrongfulness, and therefore, Ixchel must allege that Biogen interfered with its at-will contract through wrongful means; and (2) the validity of the settlement provision at issue must be evaluated based on a rule of reason. View "Ixchel Pharma, LLC v. Biogen, Inc." on Justia Law
Voris v. Lampert
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeal affirming in part and reversing in part the judgment of the trial court granting Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings on certain stock and wage conversion claims, holding that Plaintiff's stock conversion claims should be permitted to proceed but that Plaintiff did not plead a cognizable claim for conversion of wages.Plaintiff worked alongside Defendant to launch three start-up ventures in return for a promise of later payment of wages. Later, Plaintiff was fired and never paid. Plaintiff successfully sued the companies invoking both contract-based and statutory remedies for the nonpayment of wages. In this lawsuit, Plaintiff sought to hold Defendant personally responsible for the unpaid wages on a theory of common law conversion. The trial court granted Defendant's motion for summary judgment. The court of appeal reversed in part but concluded that extending the tort of conversion to the wage context was not warranted. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that a conversion claim was not an appropriate remedy for the wrong alleged in this case. View "Voris v. Lampert" on Justia Law
White v. Square, Inc.
The Supreme Court answered a question regarding California's Unruh Civil Rights Act, Cal. Civ. Code 51 et seq., by holding that a plaintiff has standing to bring a claim under the Act when the plaintiff visits a business's website with the intent of using its services and encounters terms and conditions that allegedly deny the plaintiff full and equal access to the website's services and then leaves the website without entering into an agreement with the service provider.Plaintiff sued Defendant, alleging that Defendant's seller agreement discriminated against him in violation of the Act. The district court dismissed the complaint on the ground that Plaintiff lacked standing under the Act to sue Defendant because Plaintiff had not attempted to use Defendant's services. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued the certification order at issue in this case. The Supreme Court held that, under the rule announced today, Plaintiff sufficiently alleged injury for Unruh Civil Rights Act standing because entering into an agreement with the business is not required for standing under the Act. View "White v. Square, Inc." on Justia Law
Southern California Gas Leak Co. v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County
In this case concerning a massive, four-month-long leak from a natural gas storage facility located outside Los Angeles the Supreme Court held that local businesses, none of which alleged they suffered personal injury or property damage, may not recover in negligence for income lost because of the leak.Plaintiffs were businesses seeking to represent a class of persons and entities conducting businesses within the area of the leak, arguing that by depriving local businesses of customers the environmental disaster cost local businesses considerable earnings. Defendant demurred, arguing that Plaintiffs' negligence claims failed as a matter of law because Plaintiffs were seeking to recover for purely economic losses. The trial court overruled the demurrer. The court of appeal reversed, holding that California law did not permit recovery for the purely economic losses sought by Plaintiffs. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant did not have a tort duty to guard against purely economic losses. View "Southern California Gas Leak Co. v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County" on Justia Law
FilmOn.com Inc. v. DoubleVerify Inc.
In this case involving application of the "catchall" provision of the anti-SLAPP statute, Cal. Code Civ. Proc. 425.16, the Supreme Court held (1) the context of a defendant's statement is relevant, though not dispositive, in analyzing whether the statement was made "in furtherance of" free speech "in connection with" a public issue; and (2) Defendant's confidential reports to its paying clients, which were generated for profit and exchanged confidentially, did not qualify for anti-SLAPP protection under the catchall provision.Plaintiff, a for-profit business entity that distributes web-based entertainment programming, sued Defendant, a for-profit business entity that offers online trafficking and brand safety services to Internet advertisers, alleging that Defendant disparaged its digital distribution network in confidential reports to its paying clients. Defendant filed an anti-SLAPP motion to strike. The court of appeal ruled that Defendant's reports were protected under the anti-SLAPP statute and that context was irrelevant to the anti-SLAPP analysis under subdivision (e)(4). The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) even where the topic discussed in Defendant's reports was one of public interest the reports did not qualify for anti-SLAPP protection under the catchall provision because Defendant did not issue the reports in furtherance of free speech "in connection with" an issue of public interest. View "FilmOn.com Inc. v. DoubleVerify Inc." on Justia Law
De La Torre v. CashCall, Inc.
The Supreme Court held that the interest rate on consumer loans of $2,500 or more may render the loans unconscionable under section 22302 of the Financial Code.Defendant, a lender of consumer loans to high-risk borrowers, had as one of its signature products an unsecured $2,600 loan carrying an annual percentage rate (APR) of either ninety-six percent or, later in the class period, 135 percent. Plaintiffs alleged that CashCall violated California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL), Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code 17200 because its lending practice was unlawful where it violated section 22302, the section that applies the unconscionability doctrine to consumer loans. The district court certified Plaintiffs’ lawsuit as a class action and then granted CashCall’s motion for summary judgment. On appeal, the federal court of appeals certified to the Supreme Court a question of law. The Supreme Court answered in the positive, holding that an interest rate on consumer loans of $2,500 or more may be deemed unconscionable under section 22302. View "De La Torre v. CashCall, Inc." on Justia Law
Heller Ehrman LLP v. Davis Wright Tremaine LLP
Under California law, a dissolved law firm has no property interest in legal matters handled on an hourly basis and therefore no property interest in the profits generated by the law firm’s former partners’ work on hourly fee matters pending at the time of the firm’s dissolution.The district court held that the law firm in this case did not have a property interest in the hourly fee matters pending at dissolution. The law firm appealed to the Ninth Circuit, which asked the Supreme Court to provide guidance. The Supreme Court held that, under California partnership law, a dissolved law firm does not have a property interest in legal matters handled on an hourly basis, or in the profits generated by former partners who continue to work not the hourly fee matters after they are transferred to the partners’ new firms. View "Heller Ehrman LLP v. Davis Wright Tremaine LLP" on Justia Law
Parrish v. Latham & Watkins
The interim adverse judgment rule applies when a trial court had initially denied summary judgment on the basis that a lawsuit had sufficient potential merit to proceed to trial but concluded after trial that the suit had been brought in bad faith because the claim lacked evidentiary support.In the underlying case, Plaintiffs were sued for misappropriation of trade secrets. Plaintiffs moved for summary judgment, which the trial court denied. The trial court subsequently granted judgment in favor of Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs later brought a malicious prosecution against the opposing parties’ lawyers in the trade secrets case. Defendants filed an anti-SLAPP motion, arguing that Plaintiffs could not establish a probability of success because the order denying summary judgment in the underlying trade secrets action established probable cause to prosecute that action. The trial court granted the motion to strike, concluding that the action was untimely. The court of appeal concluded that the action was timely but that the interim adverse judgment rule applied, thus barring the malicious prosecution suit. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the denial of summary judgment in the trade secrets action established probable cause to bring that action, and therefore, Plaintiffs could not establish a probability of success on their malicious prosecution claim. View "Parrish v. Latham & Watkins" on Justia Law