Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts
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In 2005, Protective Life Insurance Company (Protective Life) issued William McHugh a 60-year term life policy (the policy) that provided for a 31-day grace period before it could be terminated for failure to pay the premium. McHugh failed to pay the premium due on January 9, 2013, and his policy lapsed 31 days later. McHugh passed away in June 2013. This appeal raised one fundamental issue: whether Insurance Code sections 10113.71 and 10113.72 ("the statutes"), which came into effect on January 1, 2013, applied to term life insurance policies issued before the statutes' effective date. Mchugh's daughter, Blakely McHugh, the designated beneficiary under the policy, and Trysta Henselmeier (appellants) sued Protective Life for breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, claiming Protective Life failed to comply with the statutes' requirement that it provide a 60-day grace period before it terminated the policy for nonpayment of premium. The parties filed various trial court motions, and Protective Life, relying largely on interpretations of the Department of Insurance (the Department) argued that the statutes did not apply retroactively to McHugh's policy and the claim. The court rejected Protective Life's arguments and ruled that the statutes applied to the claim. The matter proceeded to jury trial and Protective Life prevailed. Appellants appealed both a special verdict in favor of Protective Life and an order denying their motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV). Pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 906, Protective Life requested that the Court of Appeal affirm the verdict on the additional ground that the statutes did not apply to the policy and the trial court erred by ruling to the contrary when it denied Protective Life's motion for a directed verdict. The Court of Appeal concurred with Protective Life, finding the trial court should have granted the company’s motion for a directed verdict. View "McHugh v. Protective Life Insurance" 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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Defendant, a 24-hour skilled nursing facility, appealed an order denying its petition to compel arbitration of claims asserting negligent or willful misconduct, elder abuse, and wrongful death filed against it by decedent’s daughter as successor in interest and individually. The trial court found the successor claims were not arbitrable because no arbitration agreement existed between decedent and defendant, given defendant’s failure to prove daughter had authority to sign the agreement on decedent’s behalf. The court further found the arbitration agreement was unenforceable against daughter individually on grounds of unconscionability. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court order. View "Lopez v. Bartlett Care Center, LLC" 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
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Plaintiff-borrowers Thaddeus Potocki and Kelly Davenport sued Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. and several other defendants (collectively, “Wells Fargo”) arising out of plaintiffs’ attempts to get a loan modification. The trial court sustained Wells Fargo’s demurrer to the third amended complaint without leave to amend. On appeal, plaintiffs argued: (1) a forbearance agreement obligated Wells Fargo to modify their loan; (2) the trial court erred in finding Wells Fargo owed no duty of care; (3) Wells Fargo’s denial of a loan modification was not sufficiently detailed to satisfy Civil Code section 2923.61; and (4) a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress was sufficiently pled. The Court of Appeal determined plaintiffs’ third contention had merit, and reversed judgment of dismissal, vacated the order sustaining the demurrer insofar as it dismissed the claim for a violation of section 2923.6, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Potocki v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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After defendant Randal Tyson’s first failed attempt at removing the case to federal court, his codefendant, Dulany Hill, filed a second notice of removal. Hill’s notice of removal was identical to the one Tyson had filed, merely substituting Hill’s name in the place of Tyson's. During this second removal period, the court denied defendant’s untimely motion to strike, which was fully briefed before the second notice of removal was filed. Less than a month later, the federal court again remanded the case. Thereafter, defendant failed to respond to the complaint or to appear for a case management conference. The court entered defendant’s default. Defendant took no further action in the case until eight months after the remand, when he moved to set aside the default. The court denied the motion and entered a default judgment against defendant. Defendant appealed the default judgment, contending the court did not have jurisdiction to rule on his motion to strike while the case was removed to federal court. He claimed the court’s ruling on the motion to strike, while it purportedly lacked jurisdiction, commenced an inappropriate responsive pleading timeline and resulted in a default judgment that the Court of Appeal should set aside. The Court of Appeal concluded the second notice of removal was untimely, frivolous, and duplicative. Under these unique circumstances, the trial court retained jurisdiction to rule on the motion to strike. View "ClipperJet Inc. v. Tyson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Wells Fargo in tort for negligent mortgage modification and other claims. The trial court sustained Wells Fargo's demurrer, partly because Wells Fargo did not owe plaintiff a duty in tort during contract negotiation. The Court of Appeal held that no tort duty exists during contract negotiations for mortgage modification. Therefore, the court affirmed the trial court's judgment, finding that the majority of other states are against it, and the most recent Restatement counsels against this extension because other bodies of law—breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation, promissory estoppel, fraud, and so forth—are better suited to handle contract negotiation issues. View "Sheen v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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The owners and operators of a skilled nursing facility contended the trial court erred when it denied their petition to compel arbitration. They attempted to enforce arbitration in this action for elder abuse and wrongful death brought by a decedent through her husband as successor in interest, her husband individually, and their children. Appellants claimed the successor had signed the arbitration agreements as the decedent’s authorized agent. The trial court determined that although the successor did not sign the agreements as the decedent’s agent, he expressly bound himself to arbitrate all claims he held individually and as the successor in interest. As a result, the decedent’s claim for elder abuse and the husband’s individual claim for wrongful death were subject to arbitration. However, the court denied the petition because the children’s claims were not subject to arbitration, and allowing the arbitration and the litigation to proceed concurrently could result in inconsistent findings of fact and law. Finding no reversible error in the trial court’s judgment, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Valentine v. Plum Healthcare Group, LLC" on Justia Law

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The case arose from a landlord’s repeated refusal to consent to the proposed assignment of a ground lease for the anchor space in a shopping center. The plaintiffs were the entities that wished to assign the leasehold interest and the entities that agreed to take the assignment; the defendants were the landlord and its parent company. In their original and first amended complaints, plaintiffs alleged the landlord unreasonably withheld consent to the plaintiffs’ lease assignment request. While the litigation was pending, plaintiffs made an amended lease assignment request, which the landlord similarly rejected. In their second amended complaint, plaintiffs asserted the same five causes of action as before, but added allegations about the landlord’s refusal to consent to their amended assignment request. The landlord filed an anti-SLAPP motion to strike the second amended complaint, contending plaintiffs’ amended assignment request and the landlord’s response to that request were settlement communications and statements made in litigation, and therefore constituted protected activity. The trial court denied the motion, finding the landlord’s rejection of the amended assignment request was not a settlement communication or litigation-related conduct, but rather an ordinary business decision. The Court of Appeal agreed and affirmed the order denying the anti-SLAPP motion. View "ValueRock TN Prop. v. PK II Larwin Square" on Justia Law