Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Antitrust & Trade Regulation
Citizens of Humanity, LLC v. Hass
John H. Donboli, JL Sean Slattery, and Del Mar Law Group LLP (collectively the Del Mar Attorneys) filed a mislabeling lawsuit on behalf of a putative class of consumers who claimed they were misled by "Made in the U.S.A." labels on designer jeans manufactured by Citizens of Humanity (Citizens). Citizens's jeans were allegedly made with imported fabrics and other components. The focus of the purported class action was that the "Made in the U.S.A." labels violated former Business and Professions Code section 17533.7. However, a new law was passed after the complaint was filed that relaxed the previous restrictions and, ultimately, the lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice. Citizens then filed this malicious prosecution action against the named plaintiff in the prior case (Coni Hass), a predecessor plaintiff (Louise Clark), and the Del Mar Attorneys. Each defendant filed a motion to strike the complaint under the anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute, Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16. Finding that Citizens met its burden to establish a probability of prevailing on the merits, the trial court denied defendants' motions. Appellants Hass and the Del Mar Attorneys appealed, contending Citizens failed to make a prima facie showing that it would prevail on its claims. The Court of Appeal disagreed, finding: (1) there were no undisputed fact on which it could determine, as a matter of law, whether the Del Mar Attorneys and Clark had probable cause to pursue the underlying actions; (2) there was evidence which would have supported a reasonable inference the Appellants were pursuing the litigation against Citizens with an improper purpose; and (3) the district court's dismissal of the underlying action, with prejudice, constituted a favorable termination in the context of a malicious prosecution suit. View "Citizens of Humanity, LLC v. Hass" on Justia Law
Wanke, Industrial, Commercial, etc. v. AV Builder Corp.
Wanke, Industrial, Commercial, Residential, Inc. (Wanke) was a company that installed waterproofing systems. It sued Scott Keck and another of its former employees in 2008 for trade secret misappropriation after they left Wanke to form a competing business, WP Solutions. The parties entered into a stipulated settlement and later litigated Keck's alleged breach of that settlement agreement. To collect, Wanke filed a creditor's suit against third party AV Builder Corp. (AVB) to recover $109,327 that AVB owed WP Solutions in relation to five construction subcontracts. Following a bench trial, the court entered judgment in Wanke's favor for $83,418.94 after largely rejecting AVB's setoff claims. Invoking assignment principles, AVB contended: (1) Wanke lacked the ability to sue given judgment debtor WP Solutions's corporate suspension; (2) Wanke's suit was untimely under section 708.230 of the Code of Civil Procedure; and (3) the trial court erred in denying its request for warranty setoffs under section 431.70. Rejecting each of these contentions, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment View "Wanke, Industrial, Commercial, etc. v. AV Builder Corp." on Justia Law
San Francisco Print Media Co. v. The Hearst Corp.
The San Francisco Examiner sued the San Francisco Chronicle, claiming that the defendant sold a certain type of print advertising in the Chronicle at prices that violated California’s Unfair Practices Act (UPA, Bus. & Prof. Code, 17000) and Unfair Competition Law (UCL, 17200). The trial court granted the defendant summary judgment. The court of appeal affirmed. The trial court properly rejected the claim of below-cost sales under the UPA after excluding the opinion of the plaintiff’s expert on costs. The plaintiff had disclaimed reliance on specific transactions to prove the Chronicle’s alleged underpricing of its print advertising, leaving only the aggregate cost analysis prepared by that expert to establish the occurrence of alleged below-cost sales. The plaintiff’s expert lacked the foundational knowledge to conduct the requisite cost analysis and based his analysis on another individual’s non-UPA-related pricing analysis without understanding its foundations, such as some of the included cost components. Summary judgment was proper as to the claim for unlawful use or sale of loss leaders under the UPA because the plaintiff failed to identify the loss leader sales on which this claim was based. The trial court did not err in granting summary judgment on the causes of action for secret and unearned discounts under the UPA. View "San Francisco Print Media Co. v. The Hearst Corp." on Justia Law
California v. Native Wholesale Supply Co.
Defendant Native Wholesale Supply Company (NWS), an Indian-chartered corporation headquartered on a reservation in New York, sold over a billion contraband cigarettes to an Indian tribe in California, which then sold the cigarettes to the general public in California. The cigarettes were imported from Canada, stored at various places in the United States (not including California), and then shipped to California after they were ordered from the reservation in New York. The California Attorney General succeeded on his motion for summary judgment holding NWS liable for civil penalties in violation of two California cigarette distribution and sale laws and Business and Professions Code section 17200 (the unfair competition law), and obtained a permanent injunction precluding NWS from making future sales. The Attorney General further obtained an award of attorney fees and expert expenses. NWS appealed the judgment and the attorney fee order. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "California v. Native Wholesale Supply Co." on Justia Law
Richmond Compassionate Care Collective v. 7 Stars Holistic Foundation
Richmond issued its first medical marijuana collective permit to RCCC. Three other permits were later issued. The ordinance was amended to reduce the number of dispensary permits from six to three; if a permitted dispensary did not open within six months after the issuance of a permit, the permit would expire. RCCC lost its permit. RCCC filed an antitrust complaint under the Cartwright Act, alleging that the other dispensaries paid for community opposition to RCCC’s applications and also purchased a favorably zoned property. Defendants filed a joint anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) motion to strike (Code of Civil Procedure 425.16), which was granted as to allegations related to protected activity--statements made before the city council and defendants’ actions in opposing RCCC’s application. Allegations related to the property purchase were not stricken. Some defendants sought attorney fees. The trial judge determined that “defendants prevailed on their” anti-SLAPP motions and awarded 7 Stars $23,120 plus costs of $688.12. The court of appeal affirmed. There is no conflict between the anti-SLAPP statute, which permits an award of attorneys’ fees to a defendant and the Cartwright Act, which permits only a plaintiff to be “awarded a reasonable attorneys’ fee together with the costs of the suit” (Bus. & Prof. Code 16750(a)). View "Richmond Compassionate Care Collective v. 7 Stars Holistic Foundation" on Justia Law
Brady v. Bayer Corp.
Bayer AG, maker and marketer of One A Day brand vitamins, was sued in California Superior Court for alleged violations of California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act, Unfair Competition Law and express warranty law. Plaintiff William Brady’s theory was that Bayer’s packaging of its “Vitacraves Adult Multivitamin” line of gummies was misleading. Brady argued that despite the One A Day brand name, these particular vitamins require a daily dosage of two gummies to get the recommended daily values. Thus buyers end up receiving only half the daily vitamin coverage they think they are getting. The initial complaint was filed as a class action in March 2016, followed by an amended complaint in April, followed by a demurrer in May. The trial court, relying on the unpublished Howard v. Bayer Corp., E. D. Ark. July 22, 2011 (2011 U. S. Dist. LEXIS 161583) involving the supposedly misleading packaging of Bayer’s One A Day gummies, sustained Bayer’s demurrer without leave to amend. The Court of Appeal concluded Bayer failed to appreciate the degree to which their trade name One a Day has inspired reliance in consumers, and held an action alleging they violated California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act, Unfair Competition Law and express warranty law should have survived demurrer. View "Brady v. Bayer Corp." on Justia Law
Police Retirement System of St. Louis v. Page
Google agreed with competitors, such as Apple, not to initiate contact to recruit each others' employees. In 2010, the Department of Justice filed a civil antitrust action, alleging that the agreements illegally diminished competition for tech employees, denying them job opportunities and suppressing wages. On the same day, the companies entered into a stipulated judgment, admitting no liability but agreeing to an injunction prohibiting the "no cold call" arrangements. Google posted a statement online announcing the settlement and denying any wrongdoing, with a link to a Department of Justice press release, describing the settlement terms. There was widespread media coverage. In 2011, class action lawsuits were filed against the companies by employees who alleged that the cold calling restrictions had caused them wage losses. A consolidated action sought over $3 billion in damages on behalf of more than 100,000 employees. A derivative suit, filed by shareholders in 2014, claimed that the company suffered financial losses resulting from the antitrust and class action suits and that the agreements harmed the company’s reputation and stifled innovation. Based on a three-year statute of limitations, the trial court dismissed. The court of appeal affirmed, finding the suit untimely because plaintiffs should have been aware of the facts giving rise to their claims by at least the time of the Department of Justice antitrust action in 2010. View "Police Retirement System of St. Louis v. Page" on Justia Law
Robinson v. U-Haul Co. of Cal.
Nearly ten years ago, U-Haul Co. of California (UHC) sued Robinson, one of UHC’s independent dealers, for breach of contract and unfair competition after he terminated their contract and began renting Budget trucks from the former UHC dealership. UHC alleged a covenant not to compete in its dealer contract prohibited Robinson from offering the products of UHC’s competitors while a Yellow Pages ad, running at UHC’s expense, was still promoting Robinson’s business. Robinson sought a judicial declaration that the covenant was void due to fraud in the inducement. After UHC lost its request for a preliminary injunction and dismissed its complaint, Robinson filed a separate action alleging malicious prosecution by UHC in the prior lawsuit and violation of Business and Professions Code section 17200, the unfair competition law (UCL). A jury awarded Robinson $195,000 in compensatory damages for malicious prosecution. The trial court issued a permanent injunction prohibiting U-Haul from initiating or threatening judicial proceedings to enforce the noncompetition covenant. It awarded Robinson $800,000 in attorney’s fees as a private attorney general on his UCL cause of action. The court of appeal affirmed, holding that the injunction was proper and the court did not abuse its discretion in allowing Robinson to file a late motion for attorney’s fees. View "Robinson v. U-Haul Co. of Cal." on Justia Law
Duran v. Obesity Research Institute
Fred Duran filed a putative class action complaint against Obesity Research Institute, LLC (ORI) and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (Wal-Mart) (collectively, defendants). Duran alleged defendants falsely claimed that ORI's products, Lipozene and MetaboUp, had weight loss benefits. The court approved a claims-made settlement providing that class members submitting a claim without proof of purchase would receive $15, and those submitting receipt(s) would receive one refund of double the unit price paid. The settlement also provided that ORI would cease making certain assertions in product advertising. Defendants also agreed to not oppose a motion seeking $100,000 in attorney fees to class counsel. Objectors, class members DeMarie Fernandez, Alfonso Mendoza, and Brian Horowitz appealed, contending the settlement was the product of collusion. Objectors claimed the class did not receive sufficient notice of settlement, and the settlement was unreasonable and inadequate. They also contended the attorney fee award was excessive. The Court of Appeal reviewed the case and concluded that the trial court's judgment had to be reversed because the class notice failed in its fundamental purpose, to apprise class members of the terms of the proposed settlement. "The erroneous notice injected a fatal flaw into the entire settlement process and undermines the court's analysis of the settlement's fairness." View "Duran v. Obesity Research Institute" on Justia Law
In re: Auto. Antitrust Cases I and II
In 2003, several class action lawsuits were filed against automobile manufacturers and trade associations, alleging antitrust conspiracy, Bus. & Prof. Code, 167201, and unfair business practices, Bus. & Prof. Code, 17200, on behalf of individuals who purchased or leased new vehicles in California within a certain time period. The lawsuits, which were eventually coordinated, alleged conspiracy to restrict the movement of lower-priced Canadian vehicles into the U.S. market, to avoid downward pressure on U.S. new vehicle prices. After years of litigation, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the two remaining defendants, Ford U.S. and Ford Canada, concluding that there was not sufficient evidence of an actual agreement among Ford and the other manufacturers to restrict the export of new vehicles from Canada to the U.S. The court of appeal affirmed with respect to Ford U.S., but concluded that the admissible evidence was sufficient to demonstrate a material factual issue as to whether Ford Canada participated in an illegal agreement to restrict the export of automobiles. The court noted an expert economic analysis indicating that the manufacturers would not have continued to restrict exports during the alleged conspiracy period absent an agreement that none of them would break ranks and reap the profits available in the export market; parallel conduct by the manufactures during the same period; and deposition testimony. View "In re: Auto. Antitrust Cases I and II" on Justia Law