Smart Strategies For High-Stakes Situations

Case Results

Munoz V. Welch

A collective sued a number of individuals for conversion, fraud, intentional interference with prospective economic relations, and related claims for the fraudulent assumption of the collective’s identity. The trial court found that the complaint was barred by the statute of limitations, because the individuals had filed a fraudulent merger agreement with secretary of state more than 3-years before the lawsuit was filed. The collective retained our firm, and we filed an appeal, arguing the trial court erred in finding that the lawsuit was time-barred. On appeal, the appellate court agreed and reversed the trial court’s order dismissing the case. The appellate court remanded the action back to the trial court for the case to proceed.

The case is Munoz v. Welch, No. B301717, 2020 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 8662 (Dec. 29, 2020).

Chavez V. Lifetech Resources, LLC

An employee sued her former employer, alleging that the employer discriminated against her because of her physical disability in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) (Gov. Code, §12940 et seq.). In essence, the employee claimed that the employer failed to engage with her to determine reasonable accommodations that would allow her to do her job as an assembly-line worker, failed to provide such accommodations, and then terminated her because of her disability. At trial, the jury agreed with the employee that she was disabled and the employee knew of her disability but found that her disability was not a substantial motivating reason for the termination. The jury further found in the employer’s favor on the employee’s reasonable accommodation and interactive process claims. As such, the court entered judgment in favor of the employer on all claims.

Our office filed the appeal from the adverse judgement against the employee. We argued that the jury’s verdict was not supported by substantial evidence and that several of the jury’s findings on the special verdict form were fatally inconsistent. The appellate court agreed, reversed the judgment against the employee, and remanded the action back to the trial court for a new trial.

The case is Chavez v. Lifetech Res., No. B282417, 2019 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1008 (Feb. 11, 2019).

Anabi Oil Corporation V. IFuel Inc.

A gas station owner (the tenants) entered into a settlement agreement with its landlord, after they sued one another for breach of contract and related claims. After the settlement, the oil distributor filed suit against the tenants and the landlord, asserting breach of contract and related claims. The agreement with the oil distributor had a right of first refusal with respect to the tenants’ leasehold interest in the gas station, providing that if the tenants received an acceptable offer from a third party to buy the leasehold interest, the tenants could not accept the third-party offer until it had provided the oil distributor an opportunity to buy the interest on identical terms.

Our office recognized that the oil distributor’s complaint  was strategic lawsuit against public participation (“SLAPP”). A SLAPP suit seeks to chill or punish a party’s exercise of constitutional rights to free speech and to petition the government for redress of grievances. As such, the Legislature enacted Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16—known as the anti-SLAPP statute—to provide a procedural remedy to quickly dispose of lawsuits that are brought to chill the valid exercise of constitutional rights. Our office filed an anti-SLAPP motion to strike, asking the trial court to strike the oil distributor’s complaint, because it arose from protected activity (entering into a settlement agreement) and the oil distributor could not prevail on his claim that the right of first refusal was breached. The trial court agreed and struck the portion of the complaint related to the right of first refusal. The trial court also granted our motion for attorney’s fees, awarding the tenants a substantial sum of attorney’s fees related to the motion. The oil distributor the appealed, but the appellate court upheld the trial court’s ruling.

The case is Anabi Oil Corp. v. IFuel, Inc., No. B301899, 2021 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 4407 (July 6, 2021).

Tenant V. Real Estate Investor

A real estate investor was interested in purchasing a property which had several tenants. Before the close of escrow, the real estate investor had all the tenants sign estoppel certificates. One of the tenants signed the estoppel certificate, which did not indicate that the tenant had exercised her option to extend the lease and was therefore a month-to-month tenant. After the purchase of the property, the real estate investor sent a 30-notice to quit, and the tenant filed a lawsuit asserting that the 30-notice to quit was a breach of contract, because the tenant had exercised her option to extend the lease, and the prior owner had acknowledged the lease extension.

Our office defended the tenant’s affirmative lawsuit, based on the 30-notice to quit, and filed an unlawful detainer action to evict the tenant, as swiftly as possible. Moreover, in the tenant’s affirmative lawsuit, our office filed an anti-SLAPP motion to strike, asking the trial court to strike the tenant’s complaint, because it arose from protected activity (sending a 30-notice to quit) and the tenant could not prevail on his claim, regardless of whether the prior landlord acknowledged the option extension, given that the tenant signed the estoppel certificate and the real estate investor relied on the estoppel certificate to purchase the property. The trial court agreed and struck the portion of the complaint related to the 30-notice to quit. The trial court also granted our motion for attorney’s fees, awarding the real estate investor a substantial sum of attorney’s fees related to the motion. The real estate investor also prevailed on the eviction action, after filing summary judgment.

Rent Stabilization Board V. L­imited Partnership

The rent stabilization board, of a tenant friendly city, filed a lawsuit against our client, a limited partnership, which owned a property within the board’s authority. The board alleged that the 1985-owners (who were not part of the limited partnership) and the board had entered into a settlement agreement, agreeing (1) to subject four of the units at the property to rent control laws, and (2) to rent one of the units to persons or families with low income. A deed restriction, which included the settlement agreement, was signed and recorded against the property. The limited partnership purchased the property in 2012.

In its lawsuit, the board alleged that the limited partnership failed to comply with the terms of the settlement and deed restriction, by (1) failing to register the units as rent controlled units and (2) failing to rent one of the units to persons or families with low income. The board’s complaint sought to compel the limited partnership’s compliance with the rent control laws and the deed restriction.

Through discovery, our office learned that the board had no evidence that the 1985-owners and the board had agreed that the settlement agreement or the deed restriction would be binding on successors. Before trial, our office filed a motion for summary judgment, requesting the Court to dispose of the board’s lawsuit because neither the settlement agreement nor the deed restriction were enforceable against the limited partnership, even though they were recorded against the property.

The Court agreed and granted judgment in favor of the limited partnership, specifically stating the limited partnership has “establish that it is not subject to the obligations created by the settlement agreement or the deed restriction.”

Individual V. Corporation and Owner

An individual sued our clients, a corporation and its owner, alleging that the owner had promised the individual an 11% stake in the corporation and a minimum monthly return of $2,500.00. Because the owner did not deliver as allegedly promised, the individual filed a lawsuit for fraud, breach of contract, and common count. In discovery, the individual claimed damages in excess of $600,000.00. After a three-day trial, our office was able to secure a complete defense judgment in favor of the corporation and its owner, because the claims were barred by the statute of limitations. While the individual claimed delayed discovery, our office was able to prove that the individual was not diligent in pursuing his claim, and the Court agreed.

State Farm V. Corporation

The employee of our client, a corporation, was allegedly involved in an auto-accident while working for the corporation. The victim of the auto-accident sued the corporation and the employee. During the lawsuit, the victim’s own insurance company, State Farm, paid the victim money, and the victim promptly dropped the victim’s lawsuit against the employee and the corporation. Then, State Farm brought a subrogation claim against the corporation and the employee, claiming that State Farm was entitled to restitution from the corporation and the employee. Our office asked the Court to grant our client judgment on the complaint, because “[i]t is the insurer’s duty to protect subrogation rights,” (Hodge v. Kirkpatrick Development, Inc. (2005) 130 Cal.App.4th 540, 550), and by not intervening in the victim’s underlying lawsuit or otherwise conditioning payment to the victim, State Farm was not entitled to subrogation from the corporation or the employee. The Court agreed and granted the corporation judgment on the pleadings.

Corporation V. Software Company

Our client, a corporation, hired a software company to develop a custom software for use in the company’s sales business. From the start the software had problems and a dispute arose between the software company and the corporation. The corporation filed suit for, among other things, breach of contract, on the basis that the computer program was not functioning properly, and the software company and its owner had negligently developed the software, with structural flaws. The software company counter-sued the corporation and one of its employees, claiming fraud and breach of contract, and demanded damages in excess of $100,000.00.

On a motion for summary adjudication, the Court summarily dismissed the software company’s fraud cause of action, for lack of evidence.

After a six-and-a-half-day trial, the Court concluded that the corporation proved that the software company and its owner breached the contract by (1) failing to meet the corporation’s timing obligations, (2) creating a program that was not working according to the agreed specifications, and (3) negligently creating the program, which, (4) had design and structural flaws. The Court also award the corporation damages in the amount of $25,108.30 for the corporation not receiving that which the corporation had contracted to receive and further awarded the corporation $122,500.00 for the time the corporation’s employees spent on working on the computer program. The Court also dismiss the software company’s cross-complaint.

United States V. Doe (In Re Grand Jury Investigation)

A government agency started an investigation into our client’s business. The agency sent letters to the business, and the business’s attorneys responded. The government claimed that the attorney drafted letters made false and fraudulent statements, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001, which makes is a crime to knowingly and willfully make materially false statements to the government. The government sought to pierce the attorney client privilege between the business and the attorneys who drafted the response letters. The government claimed that, because the response letters were in furtherance of an alleged crime-fraud, the attorney client privilege did not apply, and, on that basis, the government issued grand jury subpoenas to the attorneys. The attorneys objected, and the government filed an ex parte application to compel compliance with the grand jury subpoenas. The district court granted the government’s ex parte application, without conducting a review of the documents to be turned over to the government. Our office filed an appeal, and, in a case of first impression, the Ninth Circuit published an opinion holding that the district court erred by not conducting a review of the documents, before ordering disclosure. The Ninth Circuit laid down a new rule for district courts within its jurisdiction. The Ninth Circuit held that, before disclosing attorney-client information, based on a crime-fraud exception, a district court must examine each individual document to determine that the specific attorney-client communications for which production is sought are “sufficiently related to” and were made “in furtherance of the intended, or present, continuing illegality.”

The case is United States v. Doe (In re Grand Jury Investigation), 810 F.3d 1110 (9th Cir. 2016).

Competitor V. Corporation And Owner

A competitor of our client, a corporation, sued the corporation and its owner alleging that the owner defamed the competitor by telling the competitor’s customers that the competitor was “a thief in the way [the competitor] transacts his business with his customers.” We objected to the complaint, by way of demurrer, arguing that, even if the allegations in the lawsuit were true, the competitor was not entitled to any damages, as a matter of law, because the alleged defamatory statement did “not imply an objective fact that can be proved to be true or false,” (Savage v. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (1993) 21 Cal.App.4th 434, 454 (Savage)), and, therefore, the alleged defamatory was not cognizable as a legal claim. We compared the competitor’s case to Savage, supra, where the California Court of Appeals held that, as a matter of law, the defendant’s statement that plaintiff “had a conflict of interest” was not capable of being proven true or false and was, thus, not actionable, because “[t]he determination of a conflict of interest involves instead an application of an ethical standard to facts, reflecting the exercise of judgment,” and because “the expressed belief in the existence of a conflict of interest does not imply an objective fact that can be proved to be true or false.” (Savage, supra, 21 Cal.App.4th at pp. 444-45.)

The Court agreed with us and dismissed the lawsuit, on the basis of our purely legal objection (formally referred to as a “demurrer”) before our client had to file an official answer to the lawsuit admitting or denying the allegations in the lawsuit.

Mingzi Jin V. Eric H. Holder Jr.

The Ninth Circuit appointed our office as counsel to handle an appeal from an immigration judge’s order denying an immigrant asylum and withholding, which the board of immigration and appeals affirmed. Our office reviewed the record and identified the fact that the immigration judge’s adverse credibility finding was not supported by substantial evidence, as it was based on a generalized demeanor finding. The Ninth Circuit agreed and reversed the order denying withholding. The Ninth Circuit recognized that although and immigration judge’s “determination regarding demeanor is given special deference,” the immigration judge in this case did not give “specific examples of non-verbal communication to support an adverse credibility finding based on demeanor.”

The case is Jin v. Holder, 585 F.App’x 625 (9th Cir. 2014).

Solid 21, Inc. V. Breitling USA, Inc.

Our client, Solid 21, had a registered trademark for RED GOLD in conjunction with the sale of jewelry made of a special alloying of gold. Solid 21 sued Breitling USA, and several other watch manufacturers, asserting that trademark infringement for the watch manufacturer’s unauthorized use of RED GOLD. Breitling USA filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on the basis that the RED GOLD mark was generic, and the district court agreed. Our office filed an appeal, arguing that the district court improperly engaged in premature fact finding. The Ninth Circuit agreed and reversed the district court’s order. The Ninth Circuit specifically held that Breitling USA’s “contention that the mark is, in fact, generic is an attempt to introduce evidence to rebut the complaint, which is impermissible at the motion to dismiss stage.”

The case is Solid 21, Inc. v. Breitling USA, Inc., 512 F. App’x 685 (9th Cir. 2013).

Laurence Joachim V. Pangolin Pictures Inc Et Al

Our client, Laurence Joachim, had a copyright for a clip of Bruce Lee practicing on the set of the movie “The Green Hornet”. Fox Cable Networks used the clip without obtaining permission from Mr. Joachim on the TV show “Bruce Lee Lives.” Our firm on behalf of Mr. Joachim filed an action in federal court against the Fox Cable Networks, and others, alleging copyright infringement and unfair competition. After months of litigation, the parties entered into a confidential settlement.