Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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In this case, a law firm (HFM) appealed a trial court's judgment denying its third-party claim to $585,000 held in its client trust account. The funds were received from HFM's client, Mann, under a flat fee agreement for future legal services. Mann's judgment creditor, Dickson, served HFM with a notice of levy, asserting that the funds belonged to Mann. HFM contended that the funds belonged to it under the flat fee agreement.The Superior Court of San Diego County denied HFM's third-party claim, concluding that the funds belonged to Mann because HFM had not yet earned the fee by providing legal services. The court also denied HFM's motion for reconsideration, which sought to retain $53,457.95 of the funds based on a prior agreement with Mann. The court found that HFM failed to present this evidence initially and did not act with reasonable diligence.The Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One, State of California, affirmed the trial court's judgment. The appellate court held that under the Rules of Professional Conduct, a flat fee is not earned until legal services are provided, and HFM presented no evidence that it had performed any services under the agreement. The court also found that the location of the funds in the client trust account was not dispositive of ownership. Additionally, the appellate court upheld the trial court's denial of the motion for reconsideration, noting that HFM failed to provide a satisfactory explanation for not presenting the evidence earlier.The main holding is that a flat fee paid in advance for legal services is not earned until the services are provided, and funds in a client trust account are presumed to belong to the client unless the law firm can prove otherwise. The judgment denying HFM's third-party claim was affirmed. View "Dickson v. Mann" on Justia Law

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Jill and Grant Wiese were married for nearly 30 years before their marriage was dissolved in 2016. They had a premarital agreement (PMA) that kept their assets and earnings separate, with Grant responsible for reasonable support. Jill worked as an independent agent for Grant’s real estate brokerage, receiving 100% of her commissions after deductions for business expenses and estimated taxes. Grant deducted amounts for taxes and personal expenses he believed exceeded his support obligations, but the tax deductions did not match the actual taxes paid, and he did not refund the excess to Jill.The Superior Court of Orange County found the PMA valid and enforceable. Jill then brought claims against Grant for breach of fiduciary duty, arguing that his deductions from her commissions were excessive and impaired her separate property. Grant countered that Jill’s claims were time-barred and meritless. The trial court ruled in Jill’s favor on the tax-withholding claims, awarding her over $1.3 million, but rejected her other claims. Both parties appealed.The California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, reviewed the case. It held that Jill’s fiduciary duty claims were subject to a four-year statute of limitations and that most were time-barred. For the surviving claims, the court found Grant breached his fiduciary duty by withholding excessive amounts for taxes but erred in awarding Jill the entire amount withheld rather than the excess. The court also found that Grant’s deductions for personal expenses required reconsideration. It affirmed that Grant was solely liable for the mortgage debt on their jointly owned property but reversed the order requiring Jill to reimburse Grant for housing during their separation. The court remanded for further proceedings, including recalculating damages and reconsidering attorney fees. View "Marriage of Wiese" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a dispute over a public contract for services to be rendered to the state. The plaintiffs, Talley Amusements, Inc. and others, alleged that the 32nd District Agricultural Association and others violated the Public Contract Code section 10339 when they solicited proposals for a master carnival operator contract for the county fair. The plaintiffs claimed that the request for proposal (RFP) was written in such a way that only one carnival operator in the United States could qualify, thereby limiting the bidding process.The Superior Court of Orange County initially reviewed the case. The court found that section 10339, which prohibits a state agency from drafting an RFP in a way that directly or indirectly limits bidding to any one bidder, did not apply to this particular contract. As a result, the court denied the plaintiffs' request for a temporary injunction under section 10421, which allows a court to issue a temporary injunction preventing further dealings on a public contract awarded in violation of section 10339.The case was then brought before the Court of Appeal of the State of California Fourth Appellate District Division Three. The main issue on appeal was whether the competitive bidding requirements of section 10339 apply to a district agricultural association’s RFP on a master carnival contract. After reviewing the matter de novo, the court held that section 10339 did not apply to the contract at issue because it was not a contract for services to be rendered to the state. Therefore, the court affirmed the trial court’s order denying injunctive relief under section 10421. View "Talley Amusements v. The 32nd District Agricultural Association" on Justia Law

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In this case, plaintiffs Brandi Stiles and Abel Gorgita purchased a 2011 Kia Optima in April 2013. The car, manufactured and distributed by Kia Motors America, Inc., was sold with express warranties still in effect from the original sale. However, the car had serious defects, including issues with the transmission, electrical system, brakes, engine, suspension, and steering. Despite multiple attempts, Kia was unable to repair these defects. The plaintiffs argued that Kia failed to replace the car or make restitution as required under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act.The trial court sustained Kia's demurrer, arguing that the remedies sought by the plaintiffs under the Song-Beverly Act only apply to new motor vehicles. The court relied on a previous case, Rodriguez v. FCA US, LLC, which held that a used motor vehicle with an unexpired warranty is not a "new motor vehicle" under the Song-Beverly Act. The court rejected another case, Jensen v. BMW of North America, Inc., which held that a previously owned motor vehicle with an unexpired warranty qualifies as a "new motor vehicle" under the Song-Beverly Act.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District Division Six reversed the trial court's decision. The court held that a previously owned motor vehicle purchased with the manufacturer’s new car warranty still in effect is a “new motor vehicle” as defined by section 1793.22, subdivision (e)(2) of the Song-Beverly Act. Thus, the replace or refund remedy of section 1793.2, subdivision (d)(2) applies. The court rejected Kia's arguments and affirmed the interpretation of the Song-Beverly Act in Jensen v. BMW of North America, Inc. The court also modified the opinion to clarify the interpretation of the implied warranty provisions. View "Stiles v. Kia Motors America, Inc." on Justia Law

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Five diabetic patients, Henry J. Hebert, Traci Moore, Aliya Campbell Pierre, Tiffanie Tsakiris, and Brenda Bottiglier, were prescribed the Dexcom G6 Continuous Glucose Monitoring System (Dexcom G6) to manage their diabetes. The device allegedly malfunctioned, failing to alert them of dangerous glucose levels, resulting in serious injuries and, in Hebert's case, death. The patients and Hebert's daughters filed separate product liability actions against Dexcom, Inc., the manufacturer. Dexcom moved to compel arbitration, arguing that each patient had agreed to arbitrate disputes when they installed the G6 App on their devices and clicked "I agree to Terms of Use."The trial court granted Dexcom's motions to compel arbitration in all five cases. The plaintiffs petitioned the appellate court for a writ of mandate directing the trial court to vacate its orders compelling them to arbitrate. The appellate court consolidated the cases and issued an order directing Dexcom to show cause why the relief sought should not be granted.The appellate court concluded that the trial court erred. Although a clickwrap agreement, where an internet user accepts a website’s terms of use by clicking an “I agree” or “I accept” button, is generally enforceable, Dexcom’s G6 App clickwrap agreement was not. The court found that Dexcom undid whatever notice it might have provided of the contractual terms by explicitly telling the user that clicking the box constituted authorization for Dexcom to collect and store the user’s sensitive, personal health information. For this reason, Dexcom could not meet its burden of demonstrating that the same click constituted unambiguous acceptance of the Terms of Use, including the arbitration provision. Consequently, arbitration agreements were not formed with any of the plaintiffs. The court granted the petitions and directed the trial court to vacate its orders granting Dexcom’s motions to compel arbitration and to enter new orders denying the motions. View "Herzog v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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In April 2013, Brandi Stiles and Abel Gorgita purchased a 2011 Kia Optima, which was manufactured and distributed by Kia Motors America, Inc. At the time of purchase, some of Kia's original warranties were still in effect, including the basic and drivetrain warranties. The car developed serious defects covered by the warranties, including issues with the transmission, electrical system, brakes, engine, suspension, and steering. Despite multiple attempts, Kia was unable to repair the defects. Stiles and Gorgita alleged that Kia failed to replace the car or make restitution as required under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act.Kia demurred to the first amended complaint, arguing that the remedies sought under the Song-Beverly Act apply only to new motor vehicles, and the car purchased by Stiles and Gorgita was not a "new motor vehicle" as defined in the Act. The trial court sustained Kia's demurrer, relying on a previous case, Rodriguez v. FCA US, LLC, which held that a used motor vehicle with an unexpired warranty is not a "new motor vehicle" under the Song-Beverly Act.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District Division Six reversed the trial court's decision. The court held that a previously owned motor vehicle purchased with the manufacturer’s new car warranty still in effect is a “new motor vehicle” as defined by the Song-Beverly Act. Therefore, the replace or refund remedy of the Act applies. The court rejected Kia's argument that the Act's definition of a "new motor vehicle" should be limited to vehicles that have never been previously sold to a consumer and come with full express warranties. The court also rejected Kia's argument that Stiles and Gorgita's interpretation of the Act conflicts with its implied warranty provisions. View "Stiles v. Kia Motors America, Inc." on Justia Law

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This case involves Stewart Johnston who was the defendant, cross-complainant, and appellant, against BTHHM Berkeley, LLC, PNG Berkeley, LLC, Michail Family 2004 Living Trust, Bianca Blesching, Scot Hawkins (collectively, BTHHM), and Holda Novelo and Landmark Real Estate Management, Inc. (collectively, Landmark). Johnston owned a property which he was to lease to BTHHM for a cannabis dispensary once permits were granted by the City of Berkeley. However, after the city approved the permit, Johnston refused to deliver possession of the property to BTHHM, leading to a lawsuit by BTHHM against Johnston.Following mediation, a two-page term sheet titled “Settlement Term Sheet Agreement” was signed by all parties. Johnston later wished to withdraw from the agreement. BTHHM and Landmark moved to enforce the term sheet pursuant to section 664.6 of the Code of Civil Procedure, which the court granted. Johnston failed to make the payments required by the enforcement orders. The court granted BTHHM's motion for entry of judgment, awarded prejudgment interest to BTHHM, entered judgment against Johnston, and dismissed his cross-complaint with prejudice.The Court of Appeal of the State of California First Appellate District Division Four reversed the trial court’s award of prejudgment interest but otherwise affirmed the decision. The court held that substantial evidence supported the trial court’s finding that the term sheet’s language evinces the parties’ mutual agreement to settle the case according to its terms. However, the court concluded that the award of prejudgment interest was unauthorized as it differed materially from the terms of the parties’ agreement. View "BTHHM Berkeley, LLC v. Johnston" on Justia Law

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In this case, Damien T. Davis and Johnetta H. Lane ("the plaintiffs") filed suit against Nissan North America, Inc. and Nissan of San Bernardino ("Nissan") after they allegedly bought a faulty Nissan vehicle with a defective transmission. Nissan attempted to compel arbitration as per the arbitration clause in the sale contract between plaintiffs and the dealership. However, the trial court denied the motion, ruling that Nissan, not being a party to the contract, could not invoke the clause based on the doctrine of equitable estoppel.Nissan appealed the decision, arguing that the trial court erred by refusing to compel arbitration based on equitable estoppel. However, the Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District Division One, State of California, agreed with the trial court's ruling reasoning that Nissan's reliance on the doctrine of equitable estoppel was misplaced. It explained that equitable estoppel applies when a party's claims against a non-signatory are dependent upon the underlying contractual obligations. Here, the plaintiffs' claims were not founded on the sale contract's terms, but rather on Nissan's statutory obligations under the Song-Beverly Act relating to manufacturer warranties. The court concluded that the plaintiffs are pursuing their statutory and tort claims in court, and there was no inequity in allowing them to do so.Therefore, Nissan's motion to compel arbitration was denied, and the trial court's order was affirmed. View "Davis v. Nissan North America, Inc." on Justia Law

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The case involves Applied Medical Distribution Corporation (Applied) suing its former employee, Stephen Jarrells, for misappropriation of trade secrets, breach of a contract governing Applied’s proprietary information, and breach of fiduciary duty. The trial court granted Applied’s posttrial motion for a permanent injunction and awarded Applied partial attorney fees, costs, and expenses.On appeal, the Court of Appeal of the State of California affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. The court concluded that Applied was the prevailing party on the misappropriation cause of action and was entitled to a permanent injunction to recover its trade secrets and prevent further misappropriation. The court also found that Applied was entitled to an award of the reasonable attorney fees, costs, and expenses it incurred to obtain injunctive relief.However, the court disagreed with the trial court's decision to mechanically award only 25 percent of the incurred attorney fees and costs because Applied prevailed on only one of four claims it asserted. The court found that the trial court erred in how it determined the amount awarded by failing to address the extent to which the facts underlying the other claims were inextricably intertwined with or dependent upon the allegations that formed the basis of the one claim on which Applied prevailed. The court also found that the trial court erred in excluding certain expert witness fees from the damages calculation presented to the jury.Finally, the court concluded that the trial court erred by granting a nonsuit on whether Jarrells’s misappropriation was willful and malicious, and remanded for a jury trial on this issue. If the jury finds the misappropriation was willful and malicious, the court shall decide whether attorney fees and costs should be awarded to Applied and, if so, in what amount. View "Applied Medical Distribution Corp. v. Jarrells" on Justia Law

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In California, VFLA Eventco, LLC (VFLA), a music festival organizer, sued Starry US Touring, Inc., Kali Uchis Touring, Inc., Big Grrrl Big Touring, Inc., and William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, LLC (WME) over the return of deposits paid to secure the performances of Ellie Goulding, Kali Uchis, and Lizzo at VFLA’s music festival scheduled for June 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and government restrictions, VFLA cancelled the festival and demanded the return of the deposits from WME, who negotiated the performance contracts and held the deposits as the artists’ agent. VFLA claimed its right to the deposits under the force majeure provision in the parties’ performance contracts. The artists refused VFLA’s demand, claiming VFLA bore the risk of a cancellation due to the pandemic. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the artists and WME.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District affirmed the judgment, holding that the trial court properly granted summary judgment in favor of the artists and WME. The court interpreted the force majeure provision as not reasonably susceptible to VFLA’s interpretation, and favoring the artists. The court also held that the artists’ interpretation did not work an invalid forfeiture or make the performance contracts unlawful. View "VFLA Eventco, LLC v. William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, LLC" on Justia Law