Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts
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Oakland entered into agreements with OBOT for the development of the former Oakland Army Base. The project was to include a bulk commodity shipping terminal for products, including coal. When the subject of coal became public, it activated interest groups, ultimately leading to an ordinance banning coal handling and storage in the city and a resolution applying the ordinance to the terminal. A federal court held that the resolution was a breach of the OBOT agreements, and enjoined Oakland from relying on the resolution. Friction between OBOT and Oakland continued. OBOT sued, alleging breach of contract and tort claims.The city filed a demurrer, then a special motion to strike (SLAPP motion, Code of Civil Procedure 425.16) that sought to strike “in part” the complaint. The SLAPP motion was heard with other matters. The hearing dealt primarily with the demurrer, which the court overruled in most part, and sustained in part with leave to amend. Days later, the court “denied without prejudice” the SLAPP motion, describing it as “premature” in light of the amended complaint to come.The court of appeal determined that the SLAPP motion has no merit because the complaint is not based on protected activity and remanded with instructions to deny the motion on the merits. The essence of the complaint arose from Oaklands’s acts or omissions in breach of its agreements, its refusal to cooperate, and its tortious conduct. View "Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal, LLC v. City of Oakland" on Justia Law

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Porter Scott, P.C. (hereafter, “Porter Scott”) defended The Johnson Group Staffing Company, Inc. (hereafter, “TJG” or “Johnson Group”) through two rounds of litigation with its chief competitor, Aerotek, Inc. (hereafter, “Aerotek”). Aerotek first sued TJG after TJG’s founder, Chris Johnson, left Aerotek to form TJG. In the lawsuit, Aerotek alleged that TJG and Johnson, among other things, misappropriated trade secrets by soliciting Aerotek’s customers. TJG and Johnson settled with Aerotek a little over a year later. The issue presented for the Court of Appeal's review concerned the ownership of fees awarded under Civil Code 3426.4, and whether the prevailing litigant (here, The Johnson Group Staffing Company, Inc.) or the prevailing litigant’s attorney (here, Porter Scott, P.C.) were entitled to the fees awarded to the “prevailing party.” The Court concluded that, absent an enforceable agreement to the contrary, these fees belonged to the attorney to the extent they exceeded the fees the litigant already paid. Furthermore, the Court concluded that, although the parties here entered into a fee agreement, that agreement did not alter the default disposition of fees in favor of the attorney. Because the trial court reached the same conclusion, the Court of Appeal affirmed its judgment. View "Aerotek v. Johnson Group Staffing Co." on Justia Law

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The lawsuit underlying this appeal involves a "spin-off" of the Fast & Furious franchise, a project ultimately released as Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (the film), on which Moritz allegedly worked as a producer pursuant to an oral agreement with Universal. After Moritz filed suit for breach of a binding oral agreement regarding Moritz's work on the film, appellants moved to compel arbitration based on arbitration agreements in the written producer contracts regarding Moritz's work for Universal on the Fast & Furious franchise.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of appellants' motion to arbitrate, holding that the arbitration agreements from the Fast & Furious movies did not apply to the Hobbs & Shaw spin-off dispute. The court stated that not only is it not clear and unmistakable here that the parties agreed to delegate arbitrability questions concerning Hobbs & Shaw to an arbitrator, no reasonable person in their position would have understood the arbitration provisions in the Fast & Furious contracts to require arbitration of any future claim of whatever nature or type, no matter how unrelated to the agreements nor how distant in the future the claim arose. The court explained that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) requires no enforcement of an arbitration provision with respect to disputes unrelated to the contract in which the provision appears. In this case, appellants' argument that an arbitration provision creates a perpetual obligation to arbitrate any conceivable claim that Moritz might ever have against them is plainly inconsistent with the FAA's explicit relatedness requirement. View "Moritz v. Universal City Studios LLC" on Justia Law

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Caliber Paving Company, Inc. (Caliber) sued Rexford Industrial Realty and Management, Inc. (Rexford) for intentional interference with a contract between Caliber and Steve Fodor Construction (SFC). The trial court granted Rexford’s motion for summary judgment on the ground that Rexford, although not a party to the contract, had an economic interest in it and therefore could not be liable in tort for intentional interference with contract. Caliber appealed. In a case of first impression, the Court of Appeal held that under Applied Equipment Corp. v. Litton Saudi Arabia Ltd., 7 Cal.4th 503 (1994), a defendant who is not a party to the contract or an agent of a party to the contract is a noncontracting party or stranger to the contract and, regardless whether the defendant claims a social or economic interest in the contractual relationship, may be liable in tort for intentional interference with contract. Applied Equipment did not confer immunity for intentional interference with contract on noncontracting parties having a social or economic interest in the contractual relationship from liability. The Court also concluded Caliber submitted admissible evidence sufficient to meet its burden of raising a triable issue of fact as to whether Rexford interfered with the contract between SFC and Caliber. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Caliber Paving Co. v. Rexford Industrial Realty and Management" on Justia Law

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Since 1986, the GSW NBA basketball team has played their home games at the Authority's Oakland arena. A 1996 License Agreement gave GSW certain obligations to pay the debt incurred in renovating the arena if GSW “terminates” the agreement. In 2012, GSW announced its intention to construct a new arena in San Francisco. GSW did not exercise the renewal option in the Agreement, and, on June 30, 2017, its initial term expired. GSW initiated arbitration proceedings, seeking a declaration that it was no longer obliged to make debt payments if it allowed the License Agreement to expire rather than terminating it.The arbitrator ruled in favor of the Authority and against GSW, awarding the Authority attorney fees. The court of appeal affirmed. Based on extrinsic evidence, the arbitrator found the parties intended to adhere to the terms of a pre-agreement Memorandum of Understanding, which required the team to continue making debt payments after the initial term. The 1996 License Agreement is reasonably susceptible to the parties’ competing interpretations, so parol evidence was admissible to prove what the parties intended. Even assuming that the arbitrator addressed a question of law when she interpreted the Agreement, the parties intended to include a termination of the agreement upon GSW’s failure to exercise the first two options to renew. View "Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority v. Golden State Warriors, LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Brembo, an Italian joint-stock corporation, headquartered in Italy, and TAW, a California LLC with its principal office in North Carolina, entered into an “Exclusive Distribution Agreement” covering brake systems manufactured by Brembo. The parties consented “to the exclusive jurisdiction of the state and federal courts of the State of New York.” In 2016, Brembo sent a termination notice to TAW in North Carolina. TAW filed suit in New York federal court but voluntarily dismissed its lawsuit. Brembo filed a New York state lawsuit seeking damages for TAW’s alleged failure to pay for products shipped to TAW in North Carolina. TAW filed a counterclaim seeking damages based on Brembo’s alleged failure to enforce the agreement’s exclusivity provisions and its termination of the agreement without explanation.While Brembo’s New York lawsuit was pending, TAW filed this California lawsuit, alleging wrongful termination of the agreement. The court of appeal affirmed the trial court in granting Brembo’s motion to quash service of the summons for lack of personal jurisdiction. Brembo’s contacts with the U.S. were already directed away from California before the parties entered into the agreement. The agreement’s choice of law and forum selection clauses reinforce that Brembo did not have fair warning and could not have reasonably anticipated being brought into a California court to defend against TAW’s lawsuit. View "T.A.W. Performance, LLC v. Brembo, S.P.A." on Justia Law

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Jarboe was hired by DKD. Shortly after he began working, Jarboe was transferred to Leehan. Following his termination at Leehan, Jarboe brought this wage and hour action individually and on behalf of a putative class against the Hanlees Auto Group, its 12 affiliated dealerships (each us a separate corporate entity), including DKD and Leehan, and three individuals. The defendants moved to compel arbitration based on an employment agreement between Jarboe and DKD. The trial court granted the motion as to 11 of the 12 causes of action against DKD but denied the motion as to the other defendants. The trial court allowed Jarboe’s claim under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA), Labor Code section 2698, to proceed in court against all defendants. The trial court refused to stay the litigation pending arbitration of Jarboe’s claims against DKD. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting an argument that the other defendants are entitled to enforce the arbitration agreement between Jarboe and DKD as third party beneficiaries of Jarboe’s employment agreement or under the doctrine of equitable estoppel. View "Jarboe v. Hanlees Auto Group" on Justia Law

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After encountering problems with their used 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan, plaintiffs Dina C. and Pastor O. Felisilda brought an action against Elk Grove Auto Group, Inc., doing business as Elk Grove Dodge Chrysler Jeep (Elk Grove Dodge) and the manufacturer, FCA US LLC (FCA) for violation of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act. Relying on the retail installment sales contract signed by the Felisildas, Elk Grove Dodge moved to compel arbitration. FCA filed a notice of nonopposition to the motion to compel. The trial court ordered the Felisildas to arbitrate their claim against both Elk Grove Dodge and FCA. In response, the Felisildas dismissed Elk Grove Dodge. The matter was submitted to arbitration, and the arbitrator found in favor of FCA. The trial court confirmed the arbitrator’s decision. The Felisildas appealed, contending: (1) the trial court lacked jurisdiction to compel them to arbitrate their claim against FCA for lack of notice that the motion to compel included FCA; and (2) the trial court lacked discretion to order the Felisildas to arbitrate their claim against FCA because FCA was a nonsignatory to the sales contract. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the Felisildas forfeited their claim regarding lack of notice by arguing against FCA’s participation in arbitration. Furthermore, the Court concluded the trial court correctly determined the Felisildas’ claim against FCA was encompassed by the arbitration provision in the sales contract. View "Felisilda v. FCA US LLC" on Justia Law

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Coinbase is an online digital currency platform that allows customers to send, receive, and store certain digital currencies. Archer opened a Coinbase account to purchase, trade, and store cryptocurrency. On October 23, 2017, a third party launched a new cryptocurrency, “Bitcoin Gold,” Coinbase monitored and evaluated Bitcoin Gold’s network and informed its customers via its website: “ ‘At this time, Coinbase cannot support Bitcoin Gold because its developers have not made the code available to the public to review. This is a major security risk.’ ” In 2018, the Bitcoin Gold network was attacked by hackers who stole millions of dollars of funds from trading platforms and individuals on its network.Archer sued Coinbase, based on Coinbase’s failure and refusal to allow him to receive his Bitcoin Gold currency and Coinbase’s retention of control over his Bitcoin Gold. The trial court rejected his claims of negligence, conversion, and breach of contract on summary judgment. The court of appeal affirmed. Archer failed to establish the existence of an agreement by Coinbase to provide the Bitcoin Gold to him and failed to demonstrate Coinbase acted in any way to deprive him of his Bitcoin Gold currency. View "Archer v. Coinbase, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Rafi Ghazarian and Edna Betgovargez had a son, A.G., with autism. A.G. received applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy for his autism under a health insurance policy (the policy) plaintiffs had with defendant California Physicians’ Service dba Blue Shield of California (Blue Shield). Mental health benefits under this policy are administered by defendants Magellan Health, Inc. and Human Affairs International of California (collectively Magellan). By law, the policy had to provide A.G. with all medically necessary ABA therapy. Before A.G. turned seven years old, defendants Blue Shield and Magellan approved him for 157 hours of medically necessary ABA therapy per month. But shortly after he turned seven, defendants denied plaintiffs’ request for 157 hours of therapy on grounds only 81 hours per month were medically necessary. Plaintiffs requested the Department of Managed Health Care conduct an independent review of the denial. Two of the three independent physician reviewers disagreed with the denial, while the other agreed. As a result, the Department ordered Blue Shield to reverse the denial and authorize the requested care. Plaintiffs then filed this lawsuit against defendants, asserting breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing against Blue Shield, and claims for intentional interference with contract and violations of Business and Professions Code section 17200 (the UCL) against defendants. Defendants each successfully moved for summary judgment. As to the bad faith claim, the trial court found that since one of the independent physicians agreed with the denial, Blue Shield acted reasonably as a matter of law. As to the intentional interference with contract claim, the court found no contract existed between plaintiffs and A.G.’s treatment provider with which defendants could interfere. Finally, the court found the UCL claim was based on the same allegations as the other claims and thus also failed. After its review, the Court of Appeal concluded summary judgment was improperly granted as to the bad faith and UCL claims. "[I]t is well established that an insurer may be liable for bad faith if it unfairly evaluates a claim. Here, there are factual disputes as to the fairness of defendants’ evaluation. . . .There are questions of fact as to the reasonability of these standards. If defendants used unfair criteria to evaluate plaintiffs’ claim, they did not fairly evaluate it and may be liable for bad faith." Conversely, the Court found summary judgment proper as to the intentional interference with contract claim because plaintiffs failed to show any contract with which defendants interfered. View "Ghazarian v. Magellan Health" on Justia Law