Justia Commercial Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
West Pueblo Partners, LLC v. Stone Brewing Co., LLC
The landlord is a four-member LLC with a single asset--a building in downtown Napa. The tenant, Stone Brewing, a large beer brewing and retail corporation, operates a brewpub in the building. Stone Brewing did not pay rent for several months during the pandemic. The landlord sued for unlawful detainer. Stone argued it was excused from paying rent because COVID-19 regulations and business interruptions triggered a force majeure provision in its lease.The trial court granted the landlord summary judgment, finding that the force majeure provision only excused performance if the claiming party was unable to meet its obligations due to factors outside its control; the tenant admitted during discovery it had the financial resources to pay rent during the period of the COVID-19 regulations but simply refused to do so. The court of appeal affirmed. The force majeure provision does not apply where the tenant had the ability to meet its contractual obligations but chooses not to perform due to financial constraints. The plain meaning of the force majeure provision does not support an interpretation that ties a party’s obligation to pay rent to its profitability or revenue stream instead of a delay or interruption caused by the force majeure event itself. View "West Pueblo Partners, LLC v. Stone Brewing Co., LLC" on Justia Law
Turo v. Superior Court of the City and County of San Francisco
Turo, an Internet-based platform, allows vehicle owners to list, and customers to rent, specific passenger vehicles, processes reservations and payments and retains a percentage of the proceeds of each rental transaction. Turo provides a liability insurance policy through a third-party insurer. Turo competes with traditional on-airport and off-airport rental car companies and has used phrases like “rent” and “rental car” in its advertisements.The government sued Turo under the Unfair Competition Law (Bus. & Prof. Code 17200) for operating a rental car business at SFO without the required permit, engaging in prohibited curbside transactions at SFO, and using airport roadways and offering services on airport property without permission. Turo sought a declaratory judgment that it is not a rental car company and alleged that SFO had unlawfully demanded that Turo obtain an off-airport rental car company permit, and pay fees that SFO is authorized to charge only “rental car companies” under Government Code 50474.1(a).The court of appeal held that Turo is not a rental car company. That term is not defined in the Government Code but is defined in nearly identical language in three separate California statutes to mean a person or entity in the business of renting passenger vehicles to the public. A rental car company has control over the vehicles in its fleet in a way Turo does not View "Turo v. Superior Court of the City and County of San Francisco" on Justia Law
Melendez v. Westlake Services, Inc.
Melendez purchased a used 2015 Toyota from Southgate under a retail installment sales contract. Southgate assigned the contract to Westlake. Weeks later, Melendez sent a notice alleging Southgate violated the Consumer Legal Remedies Act (CLRA) and demanded rescission, restitution, and an injunction. Melendez later sued Southgate and Westlake, alleging violations of the CLRA, the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, Civil Code 1632 (requiring translation of contracts negotiated primarily in Spanish), the unfair competition law, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation. Westlake assigned the contract back to Southgate. Default was entered against Southgate. Westlake agreed to pay $6,204.68 ($2,500 down payment and $3,704.68 Melendez paid in monthly payments). Melendez would have no further obligations under the contract.The parties agreed Melendez could seek attorney fees, costs, expenses, and prejudgment interest. Westlake was entitled to assert all available defenses, “including the defense that no fees at all should be awarded against it as a Holder” The FTC’s “holder rule” makes the holder of a consumer credit contract subject to all claims the debtor could assert against the seller of the goods or services but caps the debtor’s recovery from the holder to the amount paid by the debtor under the contract. The trial court awarded attorney fees ($115,987.50), prejudgment interest ($2,956.62), and costs ($14,295.63) jointly and severally against Westlake, Southgate, and other defendants. The court of appeal affirmed. The limitation does not preclude the recovery of attorney fees, costs, nonstatutory costs, or prejudgment interest. View "Melendez v. Westlake Services, Inc." on Justia Law
Rice v. Downs
Glaser Weil, former counsel of plaintiff William Rice, appeals from an order disgorging a $450,000 payment to Glaser Weil by Triton, an entity owned and controlled by Rice. The trial court concluded that the payment should instead have gone to Defendant Gary Downs, who had obtained an order charging Rice's interest in Triton to satisfy an earlier judgment entered in Downs' favor.In the published portion of the opinion, the Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court that when Rice, as sole managing member of Triton, directed the company to disburse funds to pay his legal bills, it constituted a distribution to him subject to the charging order. However, the court disagreed with the trial court on the lien priority question and held that Glaser Weil's security agreement, perfected by the filing of a financing statement, has priority over the later charging order. The court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Rice v. Downs" on Justia Law
Bacoka v. Best Buy Stores, L.P.
Plaintiffs alleged that they own an apartment complex and that their tenant purchased a washing machine from Best Buy, which was negligently installed. A resulting water leak resulted in significant damage to the property, rendering several units uninhabitable.Best Buy argued that its subsidiary had a contract with Penn Ridge, under which Penn Ridge “shall provide services . . . as a duly licensed broker of property by the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration … utilizing the services of independent motor carriers to effectuate the pick-up, delivery, and in-home installation of Merchandise” from Best Buy. Carriers are defined under the Agreement as “any independently owned and operated motor carrier under contract with [Penn Ridge] who may also provide Installation Services.” The carriers’ trucks did not display the Best Buy name or logo. Delivery teams did not wear any Best Buy branded clothing. The equipment used by the delivery teams varied among carriers. Penn Ridge alone determined if the carriers were qualified to provide necessary delivery and installation services. The contracts stated the carriers were providing services as independent contractors, Best Buy gave Penn Ridge access to its routing system and required that contractors comply with certain Best Buy policies and procedures.The court of appeal affirmed summary judgment in favor of Best Buy. There is no material dispute that the washing machine was installed by an independent contractor. View "Bacoka v. Best Buy Stores, L.P." on Justia Law
Hewlett-Packard Co. v. Oracle Corp.
In 2010, after decades of cooperation in selling their hardware and software, HP and Oracle had a disagreement over Oracle’s decision to hire HP’s former CEO. The companies negotiated a confidential settlement agreement, including a “reaffirmation clause,” stating each company’s commitment to their strategic relationship and support of their shared customer base. Six months later, Oracle announced it would discontinue software development on one of HP’s server platforms.The trial judge held that the reaffirmation clause requires Oracle to continue to offer its product suite on certain HP server platforms until HP discontinues their sale. A jury subsequently found that Oracle had breached both the express terms of the settlement agreement and the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; it awarded HP $3.014 billion in damages. The court denied HP’s request for prejudgment interest. The court of appeal affirmed. The reaffirmation clause requires Oracle to continue to offer its product suite on certain HP server platforms. The trial court did not err in submitting to the jury the breach of contract and implied covenant claims. The court rejected Oracle’s argument that the judgment must be reversed based on violations of its constitutional right to petition and because HP’s expert’s testimony on damages was impermissibly speculative under California law and should have been excluded. View "Hewlett-Packard Co. v. Oracle Corp." on Justia Law
Chen v. Paypal, Inc.
California residents who sell goods on eBay, an online marketplace, as part of their online businesses and use PayPal to receive payments for many of their sales filed a putative class action. The suit challenged provisions of the user agreements, including PayPal’s policy of placing a temporary hold on funds in a user’s account when PayPal believes there is a high level of risk associated with a transaction or a user’s account; PayPal’s retention of interest on users’ funds that are placed in pooled accounts when users maintain a balance in their PayPal accounts; PayPal’s buyer’s protection policy, which allows buyers, under certain circumstances, to dispute transactions up to 180 days after the date of purchase; and a claim that PayPal aids and abets buyers in defrauding sellers by the manner in which it resolves disputes. The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of the claims against PayPal, without leave to amend. The challenged practices are not unconscionable. The degree of procedural unconscionability that arises from the fact that a contract is one of adhesion is ‘minimal.” View "Chen v. Paypal, Inc." on Justia Law
Subaru of America, Inc. v. Putnam Automotive, Inc.
Putnam purchased a service-only (satellite) Subaru facility in San Francisco. Putnam entered into a temporary “Dealer Candidate Satellite Service Facility Agreement.” Subaru and Putnam subsequently executed a Subaru Dealer Agreement for the sale and service of vehicles at a Burlingame dealership and a five-year (renewable) Satellite Service Facility Agreement, which contained an arbitration provision. In 2017, Subaru stated that it would not approve Putnam’s proposed relocation of the satellite facility and would not renew the Satellite Agreement in 2019. Putnam filed protests with the New Motor Vehicle Board. Subaru moved to compel arbitration.The trial court found that the Satellite Agreement did not come within the Motor Vehicle Franchise Contract Arbitration Fairness Act, an exception to the Federal Arbitration Act. Putnam was compelled to arbitrate claims arising from that agreement. The court denied Subaru’s request to compel Putnam to dismiss its Board protests, which were stayed pending arbitration. An arbitrator found that the Satellite Agreement was a franchise, that Subaru was required to show good cause, and that Subaru had established good cause for terminating the Satellite Agreement.The court of appeal affirmed the confirmation of the arbitration award, rejecting arguments that the arbitrator lacked jurisdiction to make a good cause determination; enforcement of the arbitration provision was illegal under the Vehicle Code; public policy underlying California’s New Motor Vehicle Board Act precluded the arbitrator from making a good cause determination; and that Putnam’s due process rights were violated when Subaru failed to provide the required notice of the reasons for termination. View "Subaru of America, Inc. v. Putnam Automotive, Inc." on Justia Law
Murray v. UPS Capital Ins. Agency, Inc.
David Murray purchased used computer equipment worth nearly $40,000, which was damaged by the United Postal Service (UPS) while it was being transported from California to Texas. Murray believed he purchased appropriate insurance to cover this loss, but the insurance company denied his claim. Murray sued his insurance broker, UPS Capital Insurance Agency (UPS Capital), for breach of contract and negligence, claiming UPS Capital owed him a special duty to make the insurance policy language understandable to an ordinary person and to explain the scope of coverage. The court granted UPS Capital’s motion for summary judgment after concluding there was no heightened duty of care and dismissed Murray’s lawsuit. On appeal, Murray asked the Court of Appeal to create a new rule that brokers/agents, specializing in a specific field of insurance, hold themselves out as experts, and are subject to a heightened duty of care towards clients seeking that particular kind of insurance. While the Court declined the invitation to create a per se rule, it concluded Murray raised triable issues of fact as to whether UPS Capital undertook a special duty by holding itself out as having expertise in inland marine insurance, and Murray reasonably relied on its expertise. Therefore, the Court reversed the judgment of dismissal and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "Murray v. UPS Capital Ins. Agency, Inc." on Justia Law
Eloquence Corp. v. Home Consignment Center
Under a 2008 consignment agreement, Eloquence would consign jewelry and loose diamonds to HCC for resale. HCC was to send a monthly sales report of each item sold. Upon receipt of that report, Eloquence would prepare an invoice setting forth the payment due from HCC. The Agreement required HCC to pay the invoices within 30 days and provided for a bi-annual reconciliation of the inventory of consigned goods. Following a reconciliation, two invoices dated November 10, 2009, identified “items reported as missing” from an HCC store: 16 pieces of jewelry ($64085). Eloquence gave HCC a five-month extension for payment. Delivery of consigned goods to HCC continued for seven years, totaling $616,633.30 in sales invoices. In 2017, Eloquence sued HCC and its general partners, asserting “breach of written agreement” and “open book account” by failing to pay the November 2009 invoices, in the total amount of $64,085 and that it “furnished to HCC, at its request, on an open book account, merchandise of the agreed value of $64,085.The court of appeal affirmed summary judgment. Eloquence’s breach of contract cause of action time-barred because the agreement contemplated a series of discrete transactions each evidenced by a separate invoice. The doctrine of continuous accrual applies; the statute of limitations expired in May 2014. There was no agreement by the parties to enter into an open book accountt. View "Eloquence Corp. v. Home Consignment Center" on Justia Law