Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Plaintiff-respondent Sarah Coughenour worked for defendant-appellant Del Taco, LLC, starting when she was 16 years old. When she was first employed by Del Taco, she signed a “Mutual Agreement to Arbitrate” (Agreement). After Coughenour reached the age of 18, she continued working for Del Taco for four months. Coughenour quit and filed a lawsuit against Del Taco for sexual harassment committed by one of their employees, wage and hour claims brought pursuant to the Labor Code, and other claims under the Fair Housing and Employment Housing Act. Del Taco moved to compel arbitration. The trial court denied the Motion, finding that Coughenour’s filing of the lawsuit was a disaffirmance of the Agreement within the meaning of Family Code section 6710, which allowed a person upon reaching majority age to disaffirm a contract entered into while a minor. Del Taco appealed the denial of its motion, arguing that by working for Del Taco for four months after she reached the age of majority, Coughenour ratified the Agreement, which estopped her power to disaffirm the Agreement. In the alternative, Del Taco argued that Coughenour did not disaffirm the Agreement within a “reasonable time” after reaching the age of 18 as required by Family Code section 6710. The Court of Appeal affirmed denial of Del Taco's motion: [t]he filing of the lawsuit was notice that [Coughenour] disaffirmed the Agreement." The trial court did not abuse its discretion by concluding that Coughenour disaffirmed the Agreement within a reasonable time. View "Coughenour v. Del Taco" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Hillarie and Keith Levy appealed the dismissal of their lawsuit filed against defendant, Only Cremations for Pets, Inc. Plaintiffs alleged it agreed to cremate individually two of their dogs, but then intentionally sent them random ashes instead. Plaintiffs sought recovery of emotional distress damages under contract and tort law. The Court of Appeal determined: the complaint failed to state a cause of action under any contract theory; and there were no factual allegations showing the existence of any contract between plaintiffs and defendant. Plaintiffs’ veterinarian, not plaintiffs, contracted with defendant. However, the complaint adequately pled two tort theories: trespass to chattel and negligence. The Court found allegations here "fit comfortably" in a cause of action for trespass to chattel claim, which permitted recovery of emotional distress damages. The allegations also supported a negligence cause of action because defendant advertised its services as providing emotional solace, and thus it was foreseeable that a failure to use reasonable care with the ashes would result in emotional distress. The Court reversed and remanded, giving plaintiffs an opportunity to plead more fully a third-party beneficiary cause of action. View "Levy v. Only Cremations for Pets, Inc." on Justia Law

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Auburn Woods I Homeowners Association (HOA) and its property manager Frei Real Estate Services (FRES), tendered the defense of two lawsuits filed against them by a member of HOA under HOA’s condominium/association policy. HOA’s insurer, State Farm Insurance Company (State Farm), denied the tender for the first lawsuit, but accepted defense of the second lawsuit as to HOA only. HOA and Al Frei, individually and doing business as FRES, sued State Farm and its agent Frank Lewis for, among other things, breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The trial court entered judgment in favor of State Farm and Lewis after a bench trial. HOA and Frei appealed, contending: (1) the trial court erred in concluding that State Farm did not owe a duty to defend HOA and FRES against the first lawsuit; (2) HOA had a reasonable expectation that FRES would be covered under the directors and officers liability provision of its policy; (3) State Farm failed to reimburse HOA for post-tender expenses related to the second lawsuit; (4) Lewis breached his contract with HOA by failing to include FRES as an additional insured and failing to alert HOA and Frei that itwas not possible to include FRES under the directors and officers liability provision; (5) State Farm breached the covenant of good faith and fair dealing implied in HOA’s policy; and (6) the trial court erred in denying HOA and Frei’s motion to tax the expert witness fees State Farm and Lewis sought to recover under Code of Civil Procedure section 998. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded: (1) State Farm did not have a duty to defend HOA and FRES against the first lawsuit; (2) HOA and Frei failed to establish that FRES should have been deemed an insured under the directors and officers liability provision; (3) substantial evidence supported the trial court’s finding that HOA did not present State Farm with a clear statement of the amount of attorney’s fees and costs HOA incurred in defending against the second lawsuit; (4) HOA and Frei did not establish the alleged contract between Lewis and HOA; (5) HOA and Frei failed to demonstrate error with regard to their breach of implied covenant cause of action; and (6) State Farm and Lewis’s pretrial offer to compromise was effective to trigger cost shifting under section 998. View "Auburn Woods I Homeowners Assn. v. State Farm General Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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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