Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts
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In an appeal related to a California insurance insolvency proceeding, the New York Plaintiffs requested clarification from the San Francisco Superior Court as to whether its orders "prohibit or stay" their New York claims. In the insolvency case, the trial court appointed the California Insurance Commissioner (Commissioner) as conservator, and later as liquidator, of CastlePoint. The trial court, as part of the process, issued injunctions and approved releases pertaining to claims filed against or on behalf of CastlePoint or its assets.The Court of Appeal concluded that some of the causes of action in the New York lawsuit are not barred. These causes of action relate to: (i) the alleged breach of so-called "successor obligor provisions"; and (ii) an alleged $143 million payment from ACP to shareholders of TGIL. The court explained that these causes of action are not asserted against CastlePoint or the insurance companies that were merged into it, and there is no indication the Commissioner could have asserted these causes of action on behalf of the insolvent insurance companies. Therefore, the court reasoned that permitting them to proceed in New York will not interfere in any meaningful way with the plan for CastlePoint's liquidation, especially given the New York Plaintiffs' agreement not to assert any judgment against the insolvent insurance companies' estate or assets.However, prior to entering into releases, the Commissioner could have asserted fraudulent conveyance causes of action and a cause of action for unjust enrichment because they are based on alleged improper transfers of assets of the insolvent insurance companies. Accordingly, the court concluded that these causes of action are barred by the injunctions and releases in the liquidation proceeding. The court affirmed in part and reversed in part. View "Lara v. Castlepoint National Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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RECON filed suit against AECOM for damages related to AECOM's alleged failure to properly manage the construction project on which RECON worked as one of AECOM's subcontractors. After AECOM moved to compel arbitration based on an arbitration clause contained in a separate contract (the Prime Agreement) between AECOM and the property owner, Shell, the trial court denied AECOM's motion.The Court of Appeal affirmed and concluded that, in the absence of a clear agreement to submit a dispute to arbitration, the court will not infer a waiver of a party's jury trial rights. The court explained that the subcontractor's incorporation of a voluminous contract containing an arbitration agreement between other parties was insufficient to subject RECON to arbitration of its claims against AECOM. Accordingly, AECOM has failed to establish the existence of an agreement to arbitrate RECON's claims. View "Remedial Construction Services, LP v. Aecom, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2010, after decades of cooperation in selling their hardware and software, HP and Oracle had a disagreement over Oracle’s decision to hire HP’s former CEO. The companies negotiated a confidential settlement agreement, including a “reaffirmation clause,” stating each company’s commitment to their strategic relationship and support of their shared customer base. Six months later, Oracle announced it would discontinue software development on one of HP’s server platforms.The trial judge held that the reaffirmation clause requires Oracle to continue to offer its product suite on certain HP server platforms until HP discontinues their sale. A jury subsequently found that Oracle had breached both the express terms of the settlement agreement and the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; it awarded HP $3.014 billion in damages. The court denied HP’s request for prejudgment interest. The court of appeal affirmed. The reaffirmation clause requires Oracle to continue to offer its product suite on certain HP server platforms. The trial court did not err in submitting to the jury the breach of contract and implied covenant claims. The court rejected Oracle’s argument that the judgment must be reversed based on violations of its constitutional right to petition and because HP’s expert’s testimony on damages was impermissibly speculative under California law and should have been excluded. View "Hewlett-Packard Co. v. Oracle Corp." on Justia Law

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Residential Fund entered a contract with RMR for RMR to supply Residential Funds' mobile home park with drinking water beyond what the wells could produce. The trial court subsequently found that the park breached the contract in 2015 but limited RMR's damages to three months, reasoning that the contract was terminable at will. RMR requested damages be calculated from breach to the date of trial, which was about four years.The Court of Appeal concluded that the trial court erred by awarding damages for three months only where the contract between the parties was a requirements contract that was not terminable at will. In this case, the contract had an express termination clause that the court must respect, and thus the trial court should have awarded damages for roughly four years. Accordingly, the court remanded for a calculation of an award based on this interval. View "RMR Equipment Rental, Inc. v. Residential Fund 1347, LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts
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In August 2018, Surety posted a $100,000 bond for Lee's release from the San Mateo Jail. On September 13, Lee failed to appear at a scheduled preliminary hearing. The court issued a bench warrant and ordered the bail forfeited. On September 21, the clerk of the court mailed a “Notice of Order Forfeiting Bail” to Surety. On March 25, 2019, Surety moved to vacate the forfeiture and exonerate the bail. Supporting exhibits indicated that Lee was in custody in Alameda County on federal charges and that the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office had been notified of that detention. Surety argued that the court was required to vacate the forfeiture and exonerate the bail under Penal Code 1305(c)(3) because Lee had been surrendered by the bail agent to local law enforcement agencies; if the district attorney were to choose not to extradite, exoneration of bail was required under section 1305(f); and if the district attorney were to place a hold on Lee, the court should exonerate bail under section 1305(i) and (c)(3). As alternative relief, Surety requested tolling urging that Lee was disabled from appearing in court. The District Attorney elected to extradite Lee.The trial court denied Surety’s motions. The court of appeal ordered the trial court to exonerate the bond, noting that it failed to timely enter summary judgment and now lacks jurisdiction to enforce the forfeiture. View "People v. Bankers Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal vacated and remanded the trial court's order granting respondent's anti-SLAPP motion to strike Brighton's cross-claim for fraud. The parties' dispute stemmed from a contract between respondent and Brighton where Brighton would pay respondent $3,000 for a one-day photo shoot. Respondent filed suit against Brighton, alleging that the company failed to pay her immediately upon completion of the photoshoot. Brighton cross-complained, asserting claims for declaratory relief and fraud.The court concluded that, even if it were to assume that respondent met her burden of showing that Brighton's cross-claim for fraud arose from protected conduct, reversal is required because Brighton has shown a probability that it will prevail on its claim. In this case, the evidence submitted shows that Brighton's fraud cross-claim has the requisite minimal merit where Brighton submitted evidence that respondent made a misrepresentation when she told the company to pay LA Models for her services during the photoshoot upon receipt of an invoice rather than immediately upon her "termination" as an employee when the shoot concluded; it can be inferred that plaintiff knew that misrepresentation was false based on her actions, she intended for Brighton to rely on her misrepresentation, and Brighton justifiably did so; and reliance on respondent's misrepresentation damaged Brighton by exposing it to $90,000 in waiting-time penalties plus attorney fees and costs— in addition to the costs Brighton incurred in defending itself against her lawsuit. View "Brighton Collectibles, LLC v. Hockey" on Justia Law

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Pillar hired Epiphyte to convert its cryptocurrency into Euros. Epiphyte informed Pillar that it used Payward’s online exchange to convert its clients’ cryptocurrencies. Pillar transferred its cryptocurrency into Epiphyte’s account on Payward’s platform. After Epiphyte converted the currency but before the exchanged funds were transferred to Pillar’s bank account, four million Euros belonging to Pillar were stolen from Epiphyte’s account.Pillar sued Payward, alleging Payward knew or should have known that Epiphyte was using its Payward account on Pillar's behalf, failed to use standard security measures that would have prevented the theft, and falsely advertised that it provided the best security in the business. Payward moved to compel arbitration, claiming that Epiphyte agreed to Payward’s “Terms of Service” when it created an account, as required for all users, that those Terms included an arbitration agreement, and that Pillar was bound by that agreement.The court of appeal affirmed the denial of Payward’s motion. There is no evidence Epiphyte was acting as Pillar’s agent when it agreed to the Terms two years before Pillar hired it or that the agency relationship automatically bound the principal to the agent’s prior acts. There is no evidence Pillar knew the arbitration agreements existed or had a right to rescind them. No ratification occurred. There was no intent to benefit Pillar or similar parties. Pillar’s claims are not inextricably intertwined with the Terms. View "Pillar Project AG v. Payward Ventures, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against defendant, alleging that he improperly obtained money and property from plaintiffs' deceased parents. The trial court concluded that defendant was unjustly enriched and entered judgment in plaintiffs' favor for more than $34 million. The parents had executed powers of attorney granting defendant authority to act on their behalf in reclaiming and selling properties in Iran. Plaintiffs contend that defendant conspired with another individual to steal their parents' properties and defraud them out of tens of millions of dollars.The Court of Appeal affirmed, concluding that the trial court properly denied defendant's renewed motion for inconvenient forum where the law of the case doctrine applies here; plaintiffs' claims are not barred by the statute of limitations; the trial court did not abuse its discretion by imposing discovery sanctions on defendant; and the trial court properly awarded plaintiffs equitable relief. View "Aghaian v. Minassian" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, cross-defendant and appellant Nissan Motor Acceptance Corporation (NMAC) was a subsidiary of nonparty Nissan Motors of North America. NMAC was a specialty lender that loaned money to Nissan automobile dealers. Defendants, cross-complainants and appellants, Michael A. Kahn (Kahn) and his wife Tami L. Kahn, plus a group of now defunct limited liability company auto dealerships they owned, were NMAC borrowers (collectively, “Superior”). This appeal and cross-appeal stemmed from the retrial of Superior’s cross-claims against NMAC. The jury awarded Superior $256.45 million in compensatory and punitive damages based on two promissory fraud theories: negligent misrepresentation and fraudulent concealment. The trial court granted NMAC’s motion for new trial based on juror misconduct, but denied NMAC’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV). Superior contended NMAC forfeited its right to complain about juror misconduct. It also challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to support the trial court’s discretionary decision to grant NMAC’s new trial motion. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded NMAC did not forfeit the basis for its new trial motion and substantial evidence supported the court’s juror misconduct findings. And contrary to Superior’s claim, the Court found nothing arbitrary or capricious in its prejudice ruling. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the new trial order. View "Nissan Motor Acceptance Cases" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved two lawsuits, three parties, and one contract. In the first lawsuit, three neighboring property owners incurred varying damages due to a mudslide. The three parties sued and countersued each other for negligence and other claims related to water drainage. The parties eventually settled. The owners agreed to perform mitigation and repair work on their own properties according to their own separate plans. The agreement was memorialized in a contract (the Settlement Agreement). In the second lawsuit, two owners sued the third owner (a married couple). Plaintiffs alleged defendants breached the Settlement Agreement because their work was not in substantial compliance with their plan. But in a bench trial, the court found defendants complied with the contract by providing a copy of an engineer’s report stating their work was “‘substantially completed in accordance with the approved plans.’” The court also found no evidence of bad faith, fraud, or gross negligence. On appeal, plaintiffs contended the trial court misinterpreted the Settlement Agreement. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's interpretation of the Settlement Agreement, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Coral Farms, L.P. v. Mahony" on Justia Law