Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Business Law
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Hong, the president of ENA, sought to open a restaurant with a license to serve beer and wine in a building owned by 524 Union, which had housed restaurants for many years. After leasing the premises, ENA was unable to open because the San Francisco Planning Department determined that an existing conditional use authorization for the property was no longer effective and a new one could not be granted. ENA sued the lessors, claiming false representations and failure to disclose material facts regarding the problems with the conditional use authorization. A jury awarded ENA compensatory and punitive damages. The court of appeal held that the jury’s verdict on liability, including liability for punitive damages, is supported by substantial evidence. Hong’s testimony was substantial evidence supporting the jury’s verdict. Additional support was provided by evidence of email correspondence around the time Hong entered the lease. The trial court employed an improper procedural mechanism in reducing the amount of the punitive damages award but the jury award was unsupported and Hong effectively stipulated to the reduced amount. View "ENA North Beach, Inc. v. 524 Union Street" on Justia Law

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CalFire filed suit against PCCC to recover costs arising from a fire started by a PCCC employee. PCCC demurred, arguing that the Third Appellate District's opinion in Department of Forestry & Fire Protection v. Howell (2017) 18 Cal.App.5th 154, precluded liability. The trial court disagreed and overruled. The Court of Appeal denied PCCC's petitioner for writ of mandate, holding that Health and Safety Code sections 13009 and 13009.1 include principles of vicarious corporate liability. The court agreed with the dissenting opinion in Howell, and held that sections 13009 and 13009.1 expressly permit the recovery of fire suppression and investigation costs from a corporation, like PCCC, when one of its agents or employees negligently, or in violation of the law, sets a fire, allows a fire to be set, or allows a fire kindled or attended by them to escape onto any public or private property. Therefore, the trial court correctly overruled PCCC's demurrer to CalFire's complaint. View "Presbyterian Camp & Conference Centers, Inc. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

Posted in: Business Law
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Handoush, a store owner, sued LFG regarding a lease for credit card processing equipment. The complaint alleges fraud, rescission, and violation of Business and Professions Code section 17200. The lease agreement states that it “shall be governed by the laws of the State of New York,” that any disputes shall be litigated in New York, and that the parties waived their rights to a jury trial. California precedent (Grafton), forbids pre-dispute jury trial waivers; under New York law such waivers are enforceable. The court dismissed, finding that Handoush did not meet his heavy burden of demonstrating that the forum selection clause is unreasonable and that “the right to trial by jury is not unwaivable” under Code of Civil Procedure section 631. The court of appeal reversed. The trial court erred in enforcing the forum selection clause in favor of a New York forum where the clause includes a pre-dispute jury trial waiver, which Grafton instructs is unenforceable under California law. LFG failed to show that enforcement of the forum selection clause would not substantially diminish the rights of California residents in a way that violates California's public policy. View "Handoush v. Lease Finance Group, LLC" on Justia Law

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This lawsuit stemmed from MGA and Mattel's dispute over ownership of the Bratz line of dolls and claims of copyright infringement. The Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court that, under California law, the same suspicions that allowed MGA to request discovery and plead the unclean hands defense in the federal court in 2007 were sufficient to trigger the statute of limitation on its misappropriation of trade secrets claim which was filed in federal court in 2010. Accordingly, the court affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment on the complaint because it was barred by the statute of limitations. View "MGA Entertainment, Inc. v. Mattel, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs challenged the Board of Optometry's denial of an application for a statement of licensure submitted by Rudick, a licensed optometrist (Business and Professions Code section 3041.2), Rudick is a 49% owner of Ridge, a medical corporation, and works at one of Ridge’s four locations. Ridge employs both ophthalmologists and optometrists at each location. The Board denied Rudick’s application, stating: “you list yourself as the principal employer at the location ... you state that you are 49% shareholder in the business. Per BPC 3077 you need to submit a Branch Office License application if you have a financial interest in that location.” The trial court denied the petition, finding that the Board properly determined Rudick must comply with the branch office licensing requirements for his practice at Ridge’s Magalia office since his principal place of practice was in Paradise. The court of appeal affirmed, upholding the Board’s decision that Rudick must obtain a branch office license for each Ridge location aside from his principal place of practice; for purposes of section 3077, “office” means any place where optometry is practiced notwithstanding the fact that ophthalmology is also practiced at the location, or that the practicing optometrist is merely a minority owner of the medical corporation where he is practicing. View "Rudick v. State Board of Optometry" on Justia Law

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LS, a trucking company, also operates as a broker of construction trucking services. Under a 2009 oral agreement between LS and Cheema, Cheema purchased a Super Dump Truck, with the understanding that LS would purchase the truck’s detachable box from Cheema. As the box owner, LS would give priority to Cheema in dispatching assignments to Cheema as a subhauler. The parties entered a written “Subhauler and Trailer Rental Agreement” under which Cheema would submit to LS completed freight bills for all hauling that he performed for LS; LS would prepare statements showing the amount billed payable to Cheema, less a 7.5 percent brokerage fee and, if the work was performed with a box owned by LS, a 17.5 percent rental fee. Cheema began providing hauling services. Cheema claimed that because LS failed to pay him the $32,835.09 purchase price of the box, it remained his, and LS was not entitled to deduct rental fees from the payments due him. In June 2010, LS began paying Cheema $1,000 a month for nine months, noting on the checks that the payments were repayment of a “loan.” Cheema recovered damages from L.S. for having been underpaid and untimely payments. The court of appeal affirmed but remanded for calculation of prejudgment interest and penalty interest (Civil Code 3287, 3322.1), rejecting LS’s argument that the parties’ oral agreement for Cheema to sell it the box, justifying its deductions for rental, was enforceable. View "Cheema v. L.S. Trucking, Inc." on Justia Law

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Quidel Corporation (Quidel) petitioned for a writ of mandate and/or prohibition to direct the trial court to vacate its order granting summary judgment. Quidel contended the trial court incorrectly concluded a provision in its contract with Beckman Coulter, Inc. (Beckman) was an invalid restraint on trade in violation of Business and Professions Code section 16600. In 1996, Biosite Inc. (Biosite; Quidel is the successor in interest to Biosite) licensed patent rights and know-how related to a B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP), which can be measured in a person's blood. The semi-exclusive licensing agreement allowed Biosite to develop an immunoassay to determine the level of BNP in a person's blood sample, to help diagnose congestive heart failure. After acquiring the intellectual property rights and know-how, Biosite developed and created a BNP assay for use with its point-of-care analyzer device, and it obtained regulatory approval. By 2003, Beckman had developed a laboratory analyzer, but it did not have a license for a BNP assay compatible with its analyzer. Around this same time, other companies were also pursuing BNP assays for use with their larger analyzers, which could run multiple, different immunoassays at higher volumes than the point-of-care analyzer Biosite had. Collaborating would mean Biosite could expand its customer base to those who wanted to use the larger capacity laboratory analyzers and Beckman could include the BNP assay in its menu of immunoassay offerings. Biosite and Beckman negotiated the Agreement over several months, and they exchanged numerous drafts before executing it. The Agreement prohibited Biosite from engaging other manufacturers to provide the BNP assay for their competing lab analyzers. The term of the Agreement was negotiated to coincide with the term of a related licensing agreement Biosite had with another company, Scios. Section 5.2.3 of the Agreement prohibited Beckman from researching or developing an assay that detected the presence or absence of the BNP or NT-proBNP proteins or markers for use in diagnosing cardiac disease until two years before the Agreement's expiration. Beckman sued Quidel for declaratory relief for violation of section 16600 and violation of the Cartwright Act, asking the Court to declare section 5.2.3 of the Agreement was void and unenforceable and to issue a permanent injunction preventing the enforcement of section 5.2.3 of the Agreement. Quidel argued the trial court improperly extended the holding from Edwards v. Arthur Andersen LLP, 44 Cal.4th 937 (2008) beyond the employment context to section 5.2.3 of the Agreement. The Court of Appeal determined the trial court's per se application of section 16600 to section 5.2.3 of the Agreement between Quidel and Beckman was not correct, granted Quidel’s petition and issued a writ instructing the trial court to vacate the December 7, 2018 order granting summary adjudication on the first cause of action. View "Quidel Corporation v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-relator Matthew Omlansky, by virtue of knowledge gleaned as a state employee involved with the Medi-Cal program, brought this qui tam action in the name of the State of California alleging that defendant Save Mart Supermarkets (Save Mart) had violated the False Claims Act in its billings to Medi-Cal for prescription and nonprescription medications, charging a higher price than cash customers paid in violation of 2009 statutory provisions capping Medi-Cal charges at a provider’s usual and customary price (“statutory cap”). Per the trial court, the gist of the alleged fraud upon Medi-Cal, Save Mart generally offered a lower price for medications to cash customers, and would also match a lower price that a competitor was offering (although it appears from an exhibit to the complaint that the latter applied only to prescriptions), but did not apply these discounts from its list prices in the billings it submitted to Medi-Cal. The State declined to intervene. The trial court sustained a demurrer to the original complaint because all of the alleged violations occurred during a period when the 2009 statutory cap was subject to a federal injunction. Plaintiff then filed an essentially identical amended complaint. The only significant change was an allegation in paragraph 45 that Save Mart’s billing practices favoring cash customers continued from December 2016 to March 2017 after the expiration of the injunction, specifying six examples of “illegal pricing.” The court sustained Save Mart’s demurrer to this pleading as to two of the six grounds raised, and denied leave to amend. It entered a judgment of dismissal. Plaintiff timely appealed, but the Court of Appeal concurred with the grounds for the trial court’s ruling, thereby affirming dismissal of Plaintiff’s complaint. View "Omlansky v. Save Mart Supermarkets" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Alphonso Benton (Benton) and defendant Cynthia Moreno Benton (Moreno-Benton) were married and shared a Chino Hills dental practice through late 2014, when they divorced. Benton continued to work at that practice, plaintiff Compcare Medical, Inc. Moreno-Benton, however, opened a separate practice by forming defendant Moreno Family Medical and Associates, Inc. (Moreno Family) around the time of her departure from Compcare. Defendant Kristi Diehl was a physician’s assistant at Compcare who left with Moreno-Benton for the rival practice. Benton and Compcare alleged that defendants Moreno-Benton, Diehl, and Moreno Family misappropriated trade secrets, intentionally interfered with the plaintiffs’ prospective economic advantage, defamed plaintiffs, and engaged in unfair competition. Plaintiffs also alleged Moreno-Benton violated the fiduciary duties she owed to Compcare, and that Diehl violated the duty of loyalty she owed to that company. Defendants responded to the operative complaint with a motion to strike pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, the anti-SLAPP statute, because it was designed to address so-called strategic lawsuits against public participation. The motion alleged that plaintiffs’ lawsuit arises out of two types of activity protected by the anti-SLAPP statute: (1) notices to patients and others that Moreno-Benton was leaving Compcare to start a new practice, as well as advertising Moreno-Benton’s services; and (2) the filing of the petition for the divorce of Moreno-Benton and Benton. Plaintiffs opposed the motion, arguing that the causes of action did not arise from protected activity, and that they could in any event demonstrate that their lawsuit had a probability of success on the merits. The trial court denied the defendants’ anti-SLAPP motion for two reasons, one of which was that the commercial speech exemption found in Code of Civil Procedure section 425.17 applied to the conduct underlying the operative complaint. Although most trial court orders resolving an anti-SLAPP motion were subject to interlocutory appeal, the Court of Appeal found the California Legislature precluded interlocutory appellate jurisdiction over an appeal from an order denying an anti-SLAPP motion on the ground that the commercial speech exemption applied. The Court therefore dismissed this appeal. View "Benton v. Benton" on Justia Law

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R&W appealed a judgment entered after R&W allegedly defaulted in making payments to Osteroid Parties under a settlement agreement. The Court of Appeal held that the trial court erred in entering the stipulated judgment because the additional $700,000 was an unenforceable penalty under Civil Code section 1671. However, the court held that the trial court's factual determinations regarding R&W's breach of the agreement were supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the court reversed in part and remanded with directions to reduce the judgment, with further adjustments, plus interest. The court noted that its decision to publish was to remind practitioners whose clients settle a dispute involving payments over time how to incentivize prompt payment properly, and what may happen if done incorrectly. View "Red & White Distribution v. Osteroid Enterprises" on Justia Law

Posted in: Business Law, Contracts