Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Business Law
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Granny Purps grows and provides medical marijuana to its 20,000 members, in compliance with state laws governing the production and distribution of marijuana for medical purposes. Santa Cruz County’s ordinance prohibits any medical cannabis operation from cultivating more than 99 plants; Granny’s dispensary was growing thousands of marijuana plants. The sheriff’s office went to the dispensary in June 2015, seized about 1,800 plants, and issued a notice of ordinance violation. Several months later, officers again went to the dispensary and took about 400 more marijuana plants. Granny sued, alleging conversion, trespass, and inverse condemnation and sought an order requiring the county to return the seized cannabis plants, The trial court dismissed.The court of appeal reversed. A government entity does not have to return seized property if the property itself is illegal but the Santa Cruz ordinance ultimately regulates land use within the county; it does not (nor could it) render illegal a substance that is legal under state law. View "Granny Purps, Inc. v. County of Santa Cruz" on Justia Law

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Defendants-tenants John and Rosa Castro (the tenants) leased a residential property from plaintiff-landlord Fred Graylee. The landlord brought an unlawful detainer action against the tenants, alleging they owed him $27,100 in unpaid rent. The day of trial, the parties entered into a stipulated judgment in which the tenants agreed to vacate the property by a certain date and time. If they failed to do so, the landlord would be entitled to enter a $28,970 judgment against them. The tenants missed their move-out deadline by a few hours and the landlord filed a motion seeking entry of judgment. The trial court granted the motion and entered a $28,970 judgment against the tenants under the terms of the stipulation. The tenants appealed, arguing the judgment constituted an unenforceable penalty because it bore no reasonable relationship to the range of actual damages the parties could have anticipated would flow from a breach of the stipulation. To this, the Court of Appeal agreed, and reversed and remanded this matter for further proceedings. View "Graylee v. Castro" on Justia Law

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Paul Copenbarger and Kent McNaughton formed Newport Harbor Offices & Marina, LLC (NHOM) in 2003 to acquire an office building in Newport Beach. McNaughton and Copenbarger were equal owners and the sole members of NHOM. Copenbarger delegated to McNaughton “management of the day-to-day operations of the commercial real property owned by the Company,” and McNaughton delegated to Copenbarger “management and handling of all legal affairs of the Company.” These delegations were “[s]ubject to revocation” by the delegating members. McNaughton later leased several office suites in NHOM’s building for his separate real estate business. McNaughton signed the rental agreement on behalf of both himself and NHOM. In early 2008, after learning McNaughton had unilaterally increased his monthly NHOM management payments to himself, Copenbarger revoked McNaughton’s delegated authority to manage NHOM’s day-to-day operations. In response, McNaughton stopped paying rent to NHOM. NHOM hired attorney Elaine Alston and her firm, Alston, Alston & Diebold (collectively, Alston), to file unlawful detainer actions against McNaughton. In June 2008, while the unlawful detainer actions and arbitration were pending, McNaughton formally revoked Copenbarger’s delegated right to manage NHOM’s legal affairs. He also filed a motion to compel arbitration of the lease dispute. The arbitrator issued an interim award in 2011, finding largely in Copenbarger’s favor. He further found McNaughton had breached his leases with NHOM by improperly withholding rent. Copenbarger petitioned to confirm the arbitration award with the trial court, and McNaughton filed a motion to disqualify Alston. The court denied McNaughton’s disqualification motion, granted Copenbarger’s petition to confirm the arbitration award, and confirmed the award in all respects. McNaughton filed an action seeking declaratory relief against Alston, "vaguely alleging" Alston was impermissibly representing NHOM in litigation matters now adverse to McNaughton. The trial court sustained Alston's demurrer without leave and granted her anti-SLAPP motion, citing the collateral estoppel effect of the first case. Alston then filed the underlying malicious prosecution action against McNaughton and his attorneys, who each filed anti-SLAPP motions. The Court of Appeal affirmed that portion of the trial court's order granting McNaughton's anti-SLAPP motion as to Alston's fraud claim; the portion of the order granting McNaughton’s and his attorney's anti-SLAPP motions as to Alston’s malicious prosecution claim was reversed. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Alston v. Dawe" on Justia Law

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Pulte, a residential developer, was sued for construction defects by the owners of 38 homes. Many subcontractors worked on the projects, under contracts requiring each subcontractor to indemnify Pulte and to name it as an additional insured on the subcontractor’s commercial general liability insurance. Pulte cross-complained against subcontractors who worked on the homes. Travelers, the insurer for four subcontractors, provided a defense. The “Blanket Additional Insured Endorsements” to Travelers’s named insureds’ policies stated that the “person or organization is only an additional insured with respect to liability caused by ‘your work’ for that additional insured.Travelers filed a complaint in intervention against the insurers for seven subcontractors (respondents), who declined to provide a defense, seeking equitable subrogation. Pulte settled the homeowners’ claims and its claims against all the subcontractors. The court concluded that it “would not be just” to find respondents jointly and severally liable for the costs Travelers sought to recover. There was considerable variation in the number of homes each respondent worked on. The homeowners’ complaints did not indicate which subcontractor worked on which home, and no evidence was presented as to whether the work of any subcontractor was defective.The court of appeal affirmed. Pulte was entitled to indemnity and defense from each respondent only with respect to its own scope of work. Travelers was "not seeking to stand in Pulte’s shoes. It is seeking to stand in a different, more advantageous" shoes. View "Carter v. Pulte Home Corp." on Justia Law

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Ben-E-Lect, a third-party insurance claim administrator, developed a medical expense reimbursement plan; employers could buy a group policy of medical insurance with a high deductible and self-fund to pay for the healthcare expenses employees incurred within the annual deductible or any copay requirement. The practice of employers’ using such plans in conjunction with a high-deductible health plan is called “wrapping.” Ben-E-Lect was the state’s largest third-party administrator for small group employers who wrapped their employee medical policies. Anthem provides fully insured health plans to the California small group employer market. Beginning in 2006, Anthem announced a series of policies that limited wrapping. In 2014, Anthem prohibited wrapping all Anthem plans. Employer groups who used Anthem plans certified they would not wrap Anthem policies, and agents certified they would not advise employers to enter into any employer-sponsored wrapping plan. Ben-E-Lect sued Anthem.The court of appeal affirmed that Anthem’s policy to prohibit wrapping its health insurance products violated the Cartwright Act (Bus. & Prof. Code, 16700); interfered with Ben-E-Lect’s prospective business relationships; and was an illegal, coercive, vertical group boycott under the antitrust rule of reason (Bus. & Prof. Code, 17200), because Anthem told its insurance agents that if they wrapped any Anthem policies they would be subject to termination loss of sales commissions. The court affirmed an award of $7.38 million and an injunction. The trial court considered sufficient evidence of market power and market injury. View "Ben-E-Lect v. Anthem Blue Cross Life and Health Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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In 2006, Ram’s Gate purchased a Sonoma County winery from the Roches. Ram’s Gate later sued the Roches for breach of contract, fraud, and negligent nondisclosure, claiming they withheld seismic information about the property and made misstatements concerning the ability to build on an existing building pad. Protracted litigation ultimately ended with Ram’s Gate dismissing the action, Roche paying nothing to Ram’s Gate, and Ram’s Gate paying most but not all of Roche’s attorney fees. Roche then brought a malicious prosecution suit against Ram’s Gate, two of its members, and their attorney, Hyde, alleging they withheld documents in discovery that would have proved they knew or should have known the seismic information they claimed was kept from them when they bought the property from Roche. The defendants filed unsuccessful special motions to strike the complaint as a strategic lawsuit against public participation (anti-SLAPP motions). The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the motion under Code Civ. Proc., 425.16(b)(1). A cause of action for malicious prosecution fits by definition into the scope of the anti-SLAPP statute but Roche is likely to succeed on the merits and is now entitled to proceed to trial. View "Roche v. Hyde" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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