Justia Contracts Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of California
Davis v. Fresno Unified School District
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeal in this action alleging that Defendants entered into a lease-leaseback construction agreement in violation of various statutes and common law rules, holding that the specific lease-leaseback arrangement at issue in this case was not a "contract" within the meaning of Cal. Gov. Code 53511.Plaintiff brought this action alleging that the Fresno Unified School District and Harris Construction Co. entered into an unlawful lease-leaseback construction agreement. At issue before the Supreme Court was whether a lease-leaseback arrangement in which construction is financed through bond proceeds, rather than through the builder, is a "contract" within the meaning of section 53511. The Supreme Court held that the lease-leaseback arrangement in this case was not a "contract" under the statute because (1) the underlying project was fully funded by a prior sale of general obligation bonds and payment of the debt service on the bonds was from ad valorem property taxes; and (2) therefore, payment did not dependent on the lease-leaseback arrangement or on completion of the project. View "Davis v. Fresno Unified School District" on Justia Law
Pulliam v. HNL Automotive, Inc.
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeal affirming the judgment of the trial court granting Plaintiff's postural motion seeking attorney's fees in the amount of $169,602 under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, Cal. Civ. Code 1795, subd. (d), after awarding her $21,957.25 in damages on her claim for breach of the implied warranty of merchantability, holding that there was no error.Plaintiff purchased a used vehicle from a dealership pursuant to an installment sales contract that was later assigned to TD Auto Finance (TDAF). Plaintiff filed suit against the dealership and TDAF, alleging misconduct in the sale of the car. A jury found that Defendants breached the implied warranty of merchantability under the Song-Beverly Act and awarded damages and attorney's fees under the Song-Beverly Act. The court of appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that recovery under the Federal Trade Commission's Holder Rule does not limit the award of attorney's fees where, as a here, a buyer seeks fees from a holder under a state prevailing party statute. View "Pulliam v. HNL Automotive, Inc." on Justia Law
Olson v. Doe
The Supreme Court held that Curtis Olson failed to show the requisite "minimal merit" on a critical element of his breach of contract claim and thus could not defeat Jane Doe's anti-SLAPP motion.Doe and Olson each owned units in the same condominium building. Doe brought a civil harassment restraining order against Olson, and as a result of court-ordered mediation, the parties agreed if they encountered each other in a public or common place "not to disparage one another." Doe later filed a civil lawsuit against Olson seeking damages. Olson cross-complained for breach of contract and specific performance, and Doe moved to strike Olson's cross-complaint under the anti-SLAPP statute. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeal's judgment insofar as it reversed the trial court's order granting Doe's special motion to strike the breach of contract clause of action with respect to statements in Doe's civil complaint, holding that Doe had no obligation under the contract to refrain from making disparaging statements in litigation, and therefore, Olson could not defeat Doe's anti-SLAPP motion. View "Olson v. Doe" on Justia Law
Sass v. Cohen
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeal ruling that a plaintiff seeking an accounting is not excused from the requirement set out in Cal. Code Civ. Proc. 580(a) to state a specific dollar amount to support a default judgment granting monetary relief, holding that the mere fact that plaintiffs have pleaded an accounting action does not insulate them from the obligation to notify defendants of the dollar amounts sought before such relief may be granted in default.At issue was the fact that in an accounting action a plaintiff does not know the sum certain owed by the defendant and, as such, the fact that a complaint seeking an accounting cannot state the exact amount of damages sought. The Supreme Court concluded that the most reasonable interpretation of section 580 is that the statute requires plaintiffs to have alleged their relief in terms of dollars if they are to receive monetary recovery. The Court expressed no view on the proper method for comparing the amount granted in default with the amount demanded in the complaint. View "Sass v. Cohen" on Justia Law
Ixchel Pharma, LLC v. Biogen, Inc.
The Supreme Court held that tortious interference with at-will contracts requires independent wrongfulness and that a rule of reason applies to determine the validity of a settlement provision requiring Forward Pharma to terminate its agreement with Ixchel Pharma, LLC under Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code 16600.Ixchel, a biotechnology company, entered into an agreement with Forward jointly to develop a drug for the treatment of Friedreich's ataxia. Forward later withdrew from the agreement, which was allowed by the agreement's terms. Pursuant to a settlement with Biogen, Inc., another biotechnology company, Forward agreed to terminate its contract with Ixchel. Ixchel sued Biogen in federal court for tortiously interfering with Ixchel's contractual and prospective economic relationship with Forward in violation of section 16600. On appeal, the federal appeals court certified two questions to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held (1) tortious interference with at-will contracts requires independent wrongfulness, and therefore, Ixchel must allege that Biogen interfered with its at-will contract through wrongful means; and (2) the validity of the settlement provision at issue must be evaluated based on a rule of reason. View "Ixchel Pharma, LLC v. Biogen, Inc." on Justia Law
Alameda County Deputy Sheriff’s Ass’n v. Alameda County Employees’ Retirement Ass’n
The Supreme Court held that the California Public Employees' Pension Reform Act's (PEPRA), Stats. 2012, ch. 296, 1, amendment of the County Employees Retirement Law (CERL), Cal. Gov. Code 31450 et seq., did not violate the contract clause under a proper application of the California Rule and declined to reexamine and revise the California Rule.At issue was whether a provision of PEPRA amending CERL's definition of "compensation earnable," which affected the pensions of persons who were first employed by a county prior to the effective date of PEPRA, violated the contract clause. The Supreme Court held (1) county employees have no express contractual right to the calculation of their pension benefits in a manner inconsistent with the terms of the PEPRA amendment; (2) the challenged provisions added by PEPRA met contract clause requirements; and (3) the test announced in Allen v. City of Long Beach, 45 Cal.2d 128 (1955), as explained and applied in this case, remains the law of California. View "Alameda County Deputy Sheriff's Ass'n v. Alameda County Employees' Retirement Ass'n" on Justia Law
Rockefeller Technology Investments (Asia VII) v. Changzhou SinoType Technology Co.
The Supreme Court held that the Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters (Convention) does not apply when parties have agreed to waive formal service of process in favor of a specified type of notification.Defendant, a company based in China, and Plaintiff entered into a contract providing that the parties would submit to the jurisdiction of California courts and to resolve disputes between them through California arbitration. The parties further agreed to provide notice and service of process to each other through Federal Express or a similar courier. Plaintiff later sought arbitration. Defendant neither responded nor appeared for the arbitration, and the arbitrator awarded Plaintiff $414,601,200. Defendant moved to set aside default judgment for insufficiency of service of process, arguing that Plaintiff's failure to comply with the Convention rendered the judgment confirming the arbitration award void. The motion was denied. The court of appeal reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the Convention applies only when the law of the forum state requires formal service of process to be sent abroad; and (2) because the parties' contract constituted a waiver of formal service under California law in favor of an alternative form of notification, the Convention does not apply. View "Rockefeller Technology Investments (Asia VII) v. Changzhou SinoType Technology Co." on Justia Law
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