Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Contracts
Jarboe v. Hanlees Auto Group
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
Felisilda v. FCA US LLC
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
Archer v. Coinbase, Inc.
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
Ghazarian v. Magellan Health
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
Graylee v. Castro
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
Reeder v. Specialized Loan Servicing LLC
After plaintiff lost an investment property to foreclosure, he filed suit against the lender and its assignee, as well as the loan servicer, alleging breach of contract, wrongful foreclosure and three fraud claims. Plaintiff's claims were based on his assertion that, before the parties executed the credit agreement and deed of trust securing it in 2005, the lender made a verbal commitment that, at the end of the 10-year term, plaintiff could refinance or re-amortize the loan with a new 20-year repayment period.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment, holding that the verbal agreement to refinance or reamortize plaintiff's loan is subject to the statute of frauds and is unenforceable on that ground. Furthermore, the oral agreement is too indefinite to be enforceable. Therefore, plaintiff's allegations are insufficient to state a breach of contract claim. The court also held that plaintiff's allegations are the very sort of general and conclusory allegations that are insufficient to support a fraud claim, promissory or otherwise; because the alleged oral agreement is not an enforceable contract, its breach cannot support a claim of wrongful foreclosure; and plaintiff has not shown how he can amend to cure the defects in the complaint. View "Reeder v. Specialized Loan Servicing LLC" on Justia Law
Saw v. Avago Technologies, Ltd.
Saw worked for Avago’s Malaysian subsidiary and could acquire ordinary shares and stock options of Avago stock under a management shareholders' agreement governed by the laws of Singapore. The agreement allowed Avago to repurchase shares and options at fair market value should an employee be terminated “for any reason whatsoever” within five years from the date of purchase. After Saw’s position was eliminated in 2009, Avago repurchased his equitable interest. Saw sued Avago’s subsidiary for wrongful termination and obtained a favorable judgment in Malaysia. Saw separately sued Avago in San Mateo County, asserting that Avago breached the shareholders' agreement by relying on an unlawful termination to repurchase his shares.The court of appeal affirmed summary judgment in favor of Avago. Saw is not entitled to any relief under Singapore law. The shareholders' agreement's choice of law provision requires the application of the substantive law of Singapore. Whether his termination was lawful or unlawful under Malaysian law has no bearing on Avago’s contractual right to repurchase shares acquired by a former employee. Saw’s breach of contract claim fails as a matter of law under the express terms of the shareholders' agreement. Saw has no viable cause of action under an implied duty of good faith. View "Saw v. Avago Technologies, Ltd." on Justia Law
Martinez v. BaronHR, Inc.
The lack of initials next to a jury waiver contained in an arbitration agreement, even though the drafter included lines for the initials, is of no legal consequence in this case.After plaintiff filed an employment-related suit against BaronHR, BaronHR moved to compel arbitration. The Court of Appeal held that the trial court erred in denying the motion to compel arbitration because the language of the agreement between the parties establishes their mutual assent to submit employment-related disputes to arbitration and to waive the right to a jury trial. Furthermore, plaintiff does not dispute that he signed the agreement and thus he is deemed to have assented to its terms. The court stated that the fact that plaintiff did not also initial the subject paragraph does not provide a basis for concluding the parties did not mutually assent to the arbitration agreement. View "Martinez v. BaronHR, Inc." on Justia Law
MSY Trading Inc. v. Saleen Automotive, Inc.
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
Olabi v. Neutron Holdings, Inc.
The Private Attorney General Act (Labor Code 2698) allows an employee, as a proxy for state enforcement agencies, to sue an employer on behalf of herself and other aggrieved employees for Labor Code violations. When the parties have an arbitration agreement, California law blocks the employer from enforcing that agreement with respect to representative PAGA claims for civil penalties; the agreement may be enforceable with respect to other claims, including claims for victim-specific relief (like unpaid wages). Lime rents electric scooters. Olabi entered into an agreement to locate, recharge, and redeploy Lime's scooters. The agreement required the parties to arbitrate “any and all disputes,” including Olabi’s classification as an independent contractor but contained an exception for PAGA representative actions.Olabi sued, alleging Lime intentionally misclassified him and others as independent contractors, resulting in Labor Code violations; he included claims under the Unfair Competition Law and PAGA. Lime petitioned to compel arbitration, arguing Olabi was required to arbitrate independent contractor classification disputes and that the PAGA exception did not cover the unfair competition claim or the PAGA claim to the extent that Olabi sought victim-specific relief. Olabi voluntarily dismissed his unfair competition claim and disavowed any claim for victim-specific relief. The trial court denied Lime’s petition and granted Olabi leave to amend. The court of appeal affirmed. The language of the arbitration agreement broadly excludes PAGA actions View "Olabi v. Neutron Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law