Justia Contracts Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of California
Pitzer College v. Indian Harbor Insurance Co.
The Supreme Court considered two questions from the federal court of appeals regarding California's common-law notice-prejudice rule and held (1) the notice-prejudice rule is a fundamental public policy of the state in the insurance context, and (2) the rule generally applies to consent provisions in the context of first party liability policy coverage and not to consent provisions in third party liability policies. The insurance policy in this case contained a choice of law provision designating that New York law should govern all matters arising under the policy. Under section 187 of the Restatement Second of Conflict of Laws the parties' choice of law generally governs unless it conflicts with a state's fundamental public policy. The party opposing the application of the choice of law provision sought to establish that California's notice-prejudice rule was a fundamental public policy for the purpose of choice-of-law analysis. The federal court of appeals issued certified questions to the Supreme Court, which answered as set forth above. The Court left it to the federal court of appeals to decide whether the consent provision at issue in this case was a consent provision contemplated first party or third party coverage. View "Pitzer College v. Indian Harbor Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Monster Energy Co. v. Schechter
The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeal reversing the ruling of the trial court denying Defendants' motion for dismiss this breach of contract suit under the anti-SLAPP statutes, holding that Plaintiff met its burden of showing its breach of contract claim had "minimal merit" sufficient to defeat an anti-SLAPP motion. The parties to a tort action agreed to settle their lawsuit. The agreement, which was reduced to writing, included provisions purporting to impose confidentiality obligations on the parties and their counsel. All parties signed the agreement, and the parties' lawyers signed under a notation that they approved the agreement. Plaintiff brought this suit against Defendants, counsel in the tort action, alleging that Defendants violated the agreement by making public statements about the settlement. Defendants moved to dismiss the suit under the anti-SLAPP statutes. The trial court denied the motion. The court of appeal reversed, concluding that the notation meant only that counsel recommended their clients sign the document. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that it would be reasonable to argue that Defendants' signature on the agreement evinced a willingness to be bound by its terms. View "Monster Energy Co. v. Schechter" on Justia Law
Rand Resources, LLC v. City of Carson
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part the judgment of the appellate court reversing the judgment of the trial court granted Defendants’ special motions to strike the second through sixth causes of action advanced by Plaintiffs in Plaintiffs’ dispute with the City of Carson and other defendants, holding that some of Plaintiffs’ causes of action were based on protected activities under Cal. Code Civ. Proc. 425.26(e)(2) and (e)(4) but others were not. After Plaintiffs brought this lawsuit Defendants responded by making a motion under the anti-SLAPP statute. The Supreme Court held that the causes of action asserted in Plaintiffs’ dispute with Defendants did not arise from Defendants’ acts in furtherance of their right of free speech in connection with a public issue with the exception of two discrete claims, which were within the scope of subdivision (e)(2) and (e)(4) of the anti-SLAPP statute, thus affirming in part and reversing in part the appellate court’s judgment. View "Rand Resources, LLC v. City of Carson" on Justia Law
Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, LLP v. J-M Manufacturing Co.
In this dispute between a law firm and the party it previously represented, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeal insofar as it reversed the superior court’s judgment entered on an arbitration award but reversed the Court of Appeal’s judgment insofar as it ordered disgorgement of all fees collected, holding that the law firm's conduct rendered the parties' arbitration agreement unenforceable but that the ethical violation did not categorically disentitle the law firm from recovering the value of services it rendered to the opposing party. A law firm agreed to represent a manufacturing company in a federal qui tam action. The law firm was later disqualified, and the parties disagreed as to the manufacturer’s outstanding law firm bills. The dispute was sent to arbitration in accordance with the arbitration clause in the parties’ engagement agreement, and the arbitrators ruled in favor of the law firm. The superior court confirmed the award. The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding (1) the law firm committed an ethical violation that rendered the parties’ agreement, including the arbitration clause, unenforceable in its entirety; and (2) the law firm was disentitled from receiving any compensation for the work it performed for the manufacturer. The Supreme Court agreed that the law firm’s conduct rendered the parties’ agreement unenforceable but concluded that the ethical violation did not categorically disentitle the law firm from recovering the value of the services it rendered to the manufacturer. View "Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, LLP v. J-M Manufacturing Co." on Justia Law
Heckart v. A-1 Self Storage, Inc.
A-1 Self Storage Inc.’s alternative indemnity agreement was not subject to regulation under the Insurance Code because (1) A-1 was not acting as an agent for an insurer, and (2) the indemnification agreement was incidental to the principal object and purpose of renting storage space. See Cal. Ins. Code 1758.7 et seq. In its rental agreements with tenants, A-1 required the tenant to obtain insurance for loss of or damage to a tenant’s stored property, stating that A-1 shall not be liable for such losses. A-1 also offered an alternative to the requirement that the tenant obtain insurance. In exchange for an additional amount in rent per month, A-1 provided that it would reassume the risk of such losses, up to $2,500. Plaintiff brought this putative class action arguing that the alternative constituted an insurance policy, which A-1 was not licensed to sell, and therefore, A-1’s sale of this indemnity agreement violated the Insurance Code. The trial court concluded that the alternative indemnity agreement was not insurance and entered judgment for Defendants. The court of appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the alternative indemnity agreement did not constitute insurance subject to regulation under the Insurance Code. View "Heckart v. A-1 Self Storage, Inc." on Justia Law
Mountain Air Enterprises, LLC v. Sundowner Towers, LLC
In this real estate purchase transaction the Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeal’s judgment reversing the trial court’s denial of an award of attorney fees. Here Seller brought a breach of contract action against Buyers for failing to purchase the subject property. The trial court concluded that Buyers were not liable under the purchase agreement because it had been superseded by the parties’ option agreement that granted Buyers the exclusive right, but not the obligation, to purchase the property. At issue before the Supreme Court was whether Buyers were entitled to attorney fees under the attorney fees provision in the option agreement. The Supreme Court held (1) Buyers’ assertion of the option agreement as an affirmative defense did not trigger the attorney fees provision in that agreement; but (2) under the circumstances of this case Buyers were nevertheless entitled to attorney fees under the attorney fees provision in the option agreement. View "Mountain Air Enterprises, LLC v. Sundowner Towers, LLC" on Justia Law
DisputeSuite.com, LLC v. Scoreinc.com
Plaintiff and Defendants entered into a business relationship embodied in a series of oral and written agreements. Two of the written agreements contained clauses subjecting disputes arising out of the agreements to the sole jurisdiction of Florida courts. Plaintiff later brought this action for breach of contract, fraud, and related causes of action. Citing the two Florida forum selection clauses, Defendants moved to dismiss the action on grounds of forum non conveniens. The trial court granted the motion. Defendants then moved to recover $84,640 in attorney fees incurred in connection with the motion to dismiss, relying on an attorney fee clause in the agreements. The trial court denied the motion, ruling that Defendants were not the prevailing party for purposes of Cal. Civ. Code 1717 because the merits of the contract issues were still under litigation. The Court of Appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court acted within its discretion in denying Defendants’ motion for attorney fees because Defendants’ success in moving the litigation to Florida did not make them the prevailing party as a matter of law under section 1717. View "DisputeSuite.com, LLC v. Scoreinc.com" on Justia Law
McGill v. Citibank, N.A.
Plaintiff opened a credit card account with Defendant Citibank, N.A. and purchased a credit protector plan. Defendant later amended the original agreement by adding an arbitration provision. The provision waived the right to seek public injunctive relief in any forum. The arbitration provision became effective in 2001. In 2011, Plaintiff filed this class action based on Defendant’s marketing of the Plan and the handling of a claim she made under it when she lost her job, alleging claims under the Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA), the unfair competition law (UCL), and the false advertising law. Defendant petitioned to compel Plaintiff to arbitrate her claims on an individual basis pursuant to the arbitration provision. Based on the Broughton-Cruz rule, the trial court ordered Plaintiff to arbitrate all claims other than those for injunctive relief under the UCL, the CLRA, and the false advertising law. The Court of Appeal reversed and remanded for the trial court to order all of Plaintiff’s claims to arbitration, concluding that the Federal Arbitration Act preempts the Broughton-Cruz rule. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the arbitration provision was invalid and unenforceable because it waived Plaintiff’s right to seek public injunctive relief in any forum. Remanded. View "McGill v. Citibank, N.A." on Justia Law
Centinela Freeman Emergency Medical Associates v. Health Net of California
If a patient who receives emergency medical services is an enrollee in a health care service plan, the plan is required to reimburse the emergency service provider for essential emergency medical services and care. Plans are statutorily permitted to delegate this financial responsibility to their contracting medical providers. Here the defendants - health care service plans - delegated their emergency services financial responsibility to their contractor medical providers, three individual practice associations (“IPAs”). The IPAs failed to reimburse the plaintiff noncontracting service providers for the emergency care that they provided to enrollees of the defendant health plans. When the IPAs went out of business, the plaintiff providers brought actions seeking reimbursement from the defendants. The Supreme Court held (1) a health care service plan may be liable to noncontracting emergency service providers for negligently delegating its financial responsibility to an IPA or other contracting medical provider group that it knew or should have known would not be able to pay for emergency service and care provided to the health plan’s enrollees; and (2) a health care service plan has a narrow continuing common law tort duty to protect noncontracting emergency service providers once it makes an initial delegation of its financial responsibility. View "Centinela Freeman Emergency Medical Associates v. Health Net of California" on Justia Law
City of Montebello v. Vasquez
The City of Montebello filed a complaint against three of its former council members and a former city administrator for conflict of interest, seeking a declaration that Defendants violated Cal. Gov't Code 1090 by voting on a waste hauling contract in which Defendants held a financial interest. After the contract was voided in a separate action, Defendants moved to strike the City’s complaint under the anti-SLAPP statute. The trial court denied the motion to strike. The court of appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the statutory anti-SLAPP exemption for public enforcement actions did not apply in this case; but (2) the votes cast in favor of the contract were protected activity under section 425.16, and because the court of appeal did not reach the issue of whether the City could establish a likelihood of the lawsuit succeeding, the case must be remanded. View "City of Montebello v. Vasquez" on Justia Law