Articles Posted in California Court of Appeal

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Nearly ten years ago, U-Haul Co. of California (UHC) sued Robinson, one of UHC’s independent dealers, for breach of contract and unfair competition after he terminated their contract and began renting Budget trucks from the former UHC dealership. UHC alleged a covenant not to compete in its dealer contract prohibited Robinson from offering the products of UHC’s competitors while a Yellow Pages ad, running at UHC’s expense, was still promoting Robinson’s business. Robinson sought a judicial declaration that the covenant was void due to fraud in the inducement. After UHC lost its request for a preliminary injunction and dismissed its complaint, Robinson filed a separate action alleging malicious prosecution by UHC in the prior lawsuit and violation of Business and Professions Code section 17200, the unfair competition law (UCL). A jury awarded Robinson $195,000 in compensatory damages for malicious prosecution. The trial court issued a permanent injunction prohibiting U-Haul from initiating or threatening judicial proceedings to enforce the noncompetition covenant. It awarded Robinson $800,000 in attorney’s fees as a private attorney general on his UCL cause of action. The court of appeal affirmed, holding that the injunction was proper and the court did not abuse its discretion in allowing Robinson to file a late motion for attorney’s fees. View "Robinson v. U-Haul Co. of Cal." on Justia Law

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Fred Duran filed a putative class action complaint against Obesity Research Institute, LLC (ORI) and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (Wal-Mart) (collectively, defendants). Duran alleged defendants falsely claimed that ORI's products, Lipozene and MetaboUp, had weight loss benefits. The court approved a claims-made settlement providing that class members submitting a claim without proof of purchase would receive $15, and those submitting receipt(s) would receive one refund of double the unit price paid. The settlement also provided that ORI would cease making certain assertions in product advertising. Defendants also agreed to not oppose a motion seeking $100,000 in attorney fees to class counsel. Objectors, class members DeMarie Fernandez, Alfonso Mendoza, and Brian Horowitz appealed, contending the settlement was the product of collusion. Objectors claimed the class did not receive sufficient notice of settlement, and the settlement was unreasonable and inadequate. They also contended the attorney fee award was excessive. The Court of Appeal reviewed the case and concluded that the trial court's judgment had to be reversed because the class notice failed in its fundamental purpose, to apprise class members of the terms of the proposed settlement. "The erroneous notice injected a fatal flaw into the entire settlement process and undermines the court's analysis of the settlement's fairness." View "Duran v. Obesity Research Institute" on Justia Law

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In 2003, several class action lawsuits were filed against automobile manufacturers and trade associations, alleging antitrust conspiracy, Bus. & Prof. Code, 167201, and unfair business practices, Bus. & Prof. Code, 17200, on behalf of individuals who purchased or leased new vehicles in California within a certain time period. The lawsuits, which were eventually coordinated, alleged conspiracy to restrict the movement of lower-priced Canadian vehicles into the U.S. market, to avoid downward pressure on U.S. new vehicle prices. After years of litigation, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the two remaining defendants, Ford U.S. and Ford Canada, concluding that there was not sufficient evidence of an actual agreement among Ford and the other manufacturers to restrict the export of new vehicles from Canada to the U.S. The court of appeal affirmed with respect to Ford U.S., but concluded that the admissible evidence was sufficient to demonstrate a material factual issue as to whether Ford Canada participated in an illegal agreement to restrict the export of automobiles. The court noted an expert economic analysis indicating that the manufacturers would not have continued to restrict exports during the alleged conspiracy period absent an agreement that none of them would break ranks and reap the profits available in the export market; parallel conduct by the manufactures during the same period; and deposition testimony. View "In re: Auto. Antitrust Cases I and II" on Justia Law

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Appellants in this case were Richtek Technology Corporation, a Taiwan corporation, and Richtek USA, Inc., its California subsidiary. Respondents were James Chang, H.P. Huang and J.C. Chen, Taiwan residents and former employees of Richtek Technology, and uPI Semiconductor Corporation, a California company they formed. Appellants sued Respondents for trade secret misappropriation. uPI, Chang and Huang filed a demurrer on the ground that Appellants’ claims were time-barred under Taiwan’s statute of limitations for trade secret misappropriation claims. Huang, Chang and Chen also filed a motion to dismiss based on a forum selection clause in their employment agreements mandating a Taiwanese forum for Richtek Technology’s trade secret claims. The trial court sustained the demurrer and granted Chen’s motion to dismiss. The Court of Appeals (1) reversed the order sustaining the demurrer to the complaint, holding that the trial court erred by using previous complaints filed in Taiwan to conclude that Appellants had knowledge of the misappropriation at issue in this lawsuit and the identity of the parties liable for damages; and (2) affirmed the order granting Chen’s motion to dismiss, holding that the forum selection clause in the employment agreement between Chen and Richtek Technology was mandatory. View "Richtek USA v. uPI Semiconductor Corp." on Justia Law

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A class action complaint alleged that Honeywell engaged in uncompetitive and illegal conduct to increase its market share of round thermostats and to use its dominant market position to overcharge customers. In 2013, the parties reached a settlement and asked the trial court to preliminarily approve it. The court initially declined to do so because it had concerns about the notice proposed to be sent to class members. Those concerns were subsequently addressed to the court’s satisfaction, and on February 4, 2014, the court preliminarily approved the settlement. The notice of settlement was subsequently published and distributed to class members. The long version was distributed and posted on a website, and the short version was published in various print publications. The trial court found that four objectors to the settlement failed to establish they had standing, but rejected one objection on timeliness grounds and rejected the other three on their merits. The court of appeal affirmed, except for the ruling on standing, finding that the court properly approved the distribution of residual settlement funds and awarded class counsel attorney fees that amounted to 37.5 percent of the settlement fund. View "Roos v. Honeywell Int'l, Inc." on Justia Law