Articles Posted in Commercial Law

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Plaintiff, a provider of short term loans to automobile dealers, who still retained the title certificates for the vehicles and believed it had a perfected security interest, filed suit against defendant for the amounts that plaintiff should have been paid by the dealerships (i.e., the loan amounts due) upon the sale of the subject vehicles. The Court of Appeal held that the trial court prejudicially erred by finding in defendant's favor, because the circumstances of this case were sufficiently close and/or analogous to those in Quartz of Southern California, Inc. v. Mullen Bros., Inc. (2007) 151 Cal.App.4th 901, to warrant its application here. The court explained that, here, as in Quartz, plaintiff was in rightful possession of the title certificates to the vehicles that were sold by the dealerships to consumers under conditional sales contracts; the dealerships went out of business without paying what was owed to plaintiff concerning said vehicles; and defendant as finance lender took assignment of the conditional sales contracts without requiring production of the title certificates or ascertaining who held title and how much was owed to obtain it. The court reversed and remanded to the trial court to determine the precise amount of money defendant must pay plaintiff for the title certificates to the vehicles in question, after which a new judgment shall be entered in favor of plaintiff. View "Ron Miller Enterprises, Inc. v. Lobel Financial Corp." on Justia Law

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The four plaintiffs in this interpleader action (MDQ entities) are limited liability companies that hold production rights or are producers in different territories of a Tony-award winning Broadway musical, "Million Dollar Quartet." MDQ entities filed a complaint in interpleader, alleging conflicting claims by Cleopatra and Gilbert Kelly for those portions of distributions owed to Mutrux that had not otherwise been assigned to Katell Productions. MDQ entities deposited the distributions and undertook to add any future distributions not owed and remitted to Katell Productions to the interpleaded funds. At issue on appeal was which adverse claimant was entitled to the interpleaded funds: a judgment creditor with a properly recorded judgment lien, or an assignee who did not file a financing statement with respect to distributions irrevocably assigned to it by the judgment debtor before the judgment lien was recorded. The court held that, although the assignment created a security interest, the judgment creditor was entitled to the interpleaded funds because its recorded judgment lien had priority over the unperfected security interest. In this case, there was no error in the trial court's judgment releasing the interpleaded funds to Cleopatra and ordering the MDQ entities to pay all subsequent monies otherwise payable to Mutrux, except those allocated to Katell Productions, to Cleopatra, until the judgment was satisfied. The court also held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in ordering Gilbert Kelly to pay attorney fees and costs. View "MDQ, LLC v. Gilbert, Kelly, Crowley & Jennett LLP" on Justia Law

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Huber, a member of the Wiyot Band of Indians, owns and operates a tobacco smoke shop on the Table Bluff Rancheria, near Crescent City. Huber “sold huge quantities of noncompliant cigarettes and transported at least 14,727,290 packs to other stores within the state but beyond her reservation; she invoiced over $30 million for these sales. Her employees delivered the cigarettes using her vehicles on state roads. The Attorney General sued, alleging violation of the Unfair Competition Law, Business and Professions Code section 17200 (UCL), citing as predicate “unlawful acts” violations the Tax Stamp Act (Rev. & Tax. Code 30161), the Directory Act (Rev. & Tax. Code 30165.1(e)(2)), and the Fire Safety Act (Health & Saf. Code, 14951(a)). The trial court granted summary adjudication and entered a permanent injunction on all three claims. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting Huber’s arguments that, under a federal statute granting California courts plenary criminal jurisdiction but limited civil jurisdiction over cases arising on Indian reservations, the trial court lacked authority to proceed on any of the claims, and that, under the doctrine of Indian preemption, which limits the reach of state law to conduct by Indians on Indian reservations, all the statutes were preempted by paramount federal authority. To the extent enforcement occurs off-reservation, the Wiyot right to self-governance is not implicated. View "People v. Huber" on Justia Law

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1st Century was a Delaware corporation headquartered in Los Angeles; its shares were publicly traded on the NASDAQ. 1st Century and Midland announced merger plans. Midland was to acquire 1st Century for $11.22 in cash per share, a 36.3 percent premium over 1st Century’s closing share price on March 10, 2016. The merger was subject to approval by the holders of a majority of 1st Century’s outstanding shares. A shareholder vote on the proposed merger was scheduled. 1st Century’s certificate of incorporation authorized its directors “to adopt, alter, amend or repeal” the company’s bylaws, “subject to the power of the stockholders of the Corporation to alter or repeal any Bylaws whether adopted by them or otherwise.” 1st Century’s board of directors exercised that power when it approved the merger agreement, adding a forum selection bylaw providing that, absent the corporation’s written consent, Delaware is “the sole and exclusive forum for” intra-corporate disputes, including any action asserting a breach of fiduciary duty claim. The trial court stayed a putative shareholder class action, concluding that the bylaw’s forum selection clause was enforceable. The court of appeal affirmed, holding that a forum selection bylaw adopted by a Delaware corporation without stockholder consent is enforceable in California. View "Drulias v. 1st Century Bancshares, Inc." on Justia Law

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Littlejohn sought to sue Costco, the California Board of Equalization, and Abbott to recover sales tax on purchases of Abbott’s product Ensure. Littlejohn alleged that Ensure is properly categorized as a food; no sales tax was actually due on his purchases; Costco was under no obligation to pay and should not have paid sales tax on its sales of Ensure. The complaint alleged that during the period in question Ensure was classified as a food product exempt from sales tax, not a nutritional supplement. Littlejohn based his claim on a 1974 California Supreme Court decision, Javor. The trial court concluded that the judicially noticed documents in the record showed the Board had not resolved the question of whether Ensure was nontaxable during the relevant period.. The court held that the documents were entitled to deference, but did not have the same force of law as Board regulations and were not binding. The court of appeal affirmed, reasoning that the case does not involve allegations of unique circumstances showing the Board has concluded consumers are owed refunds for taxes paid on sales of Ensure. A Javor remedy should be limited to the unique circumstances where the plaintiff shows that the state has been unjustly enriched by the overpayment of sales tax, and the Board concurs that the circumstances warrant refunds. View "Littlejohn v. Costco Wholesale Corp." on Justia Law

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If a municipality imposes a sales tax, the State Board of Equalization (now the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration) has the authority to collect and then remit the tax back to the municipality under the Bradley-Burns Uniform Local Sales and Use Tax Law (Stats. 1955, ch. 1311; 7200 et seq.). The Board is authorized to determine where sales of personal property occur and to designate the municipality that will receive the local sales tax it collects. After an internal reorganization of an existing seller, the Board decided that local sales tax which had been remitted to Fontana and Lathrop, where the seller had warehouses, would be “reallocated” to Ontario, the site of the seller’s new marketing operation. The trial court set aside that decision. The court of appeal reversed, finding that the Board’s decision was supported by substantial evidence. The manner in which the Board determined where the taxable event occurred was well within its administrative expertise and its discretionary authority to make such a determination. Customers believed they were ordering goods from the Ontario facility, which became the retailer when it purchased goods for shipment to customers. View "City of Fontana v. California Department of Tax and Fee Administration" on Justia Law

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If a municipality imposes a sales tax, the State Board of Equalization (now the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration) has the authority to collect and then remit the tax back to the municipality under the Bradley-Burns Uniform Local Sales and Use Tax Law (Stats. 1955, ch. 1311; 7200 et seq.). The Board is authorized to determine where sales of personal property occur and to designate the municipality that will receive the local sales tax it collects. After an internal reorganization of an existing seller, the Board decided that local sales tax which had been remitted to Fontana and Lathrop, where the seller had warehouses, would be “reallocated” to Ontario, the site of the seller’s new marketing operation. The trial court set aside that decision. The court of appeal reversed, finding that the Board’s decision was supported by substantial evidence. The manner in which the Board determined where the taxable event occurred was well within its administrative expertise and its discretionary authority to make such a determination. Customers believed they were ordering goods from the Ontario facility, which became the retailer when it purchased goods for shipment to customers. View "City of Fontana v. California Department of Tax and Fee Administration" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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The manufacturer sells telecommunications equipment to telephone companies, which pay for the equipment, written instructions on using the equipment, a copy of the computer software that makes the equipment work, and the right to copy that software onto the equipment’s hard drive and use the software to operate the equipment. An almost identical transaction was previously found to satisfy the requirements of California’s technology transfer agreement statutes (Rev. & Tax. Code 6011(c)(10) & 6012(c)(10)), so that the manufacturer was responsible for paying sales taxes only on tangible portions of the transaction (equipment and instructions), but not the intangible portions (software and rights to copy and use it). The State Board of Equalization nonetheless assessed a sales tax. The manufacturer paid the taxes and sought a refund. The court of appeal held that the Board’s assessment of the sales tax was erroneous. The manufacturer’s decision to give the telephone companies copies of the software on magnetic tapes and compact discs (rather than over the Internet) does not turn the software or the rights to use it into “tangible personal property” subject to the sales tax. View "Lucent Techs., Inc. v. State Bd. of Equalization" on Justia Law