Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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George Zakk filed suit against Vin Diesel, One Race Films, Inc., and Revolution Studios for breach of an oral contract, breach of an implied-in-fact contract, intentional interference with contractual relations, quantum meruit, promissory estoppel, and declaratory relief. Plaintiff alleged that he was entitled to be paid and receive an executive producer credit for a film that was a sequel to a film he had worked on and developed. The trial court sustained defendants' demurrers and dismissed the third amended complaint. With regard to oral contracts that fall within the statute of frauds category of contracts not to be performed within a year, the Court of Appeal held that the promisee's full performance of all of his or her obligations under the contract takes the contract out of the statute of frauds, and no further showing of estoppel is required. The court distinguished cases involving other categories of contracts within the statute of frauds, such as contracts to make a will or contracts not to be performed within the promisor's lifetime, because those categories of contracts historically have been treated differently than contracts not to be performed within a year. The court held that, to the extent those cases hold that avoidance of the statute of frauds requires the promisee to satisfy the elements of estoppel--showing extraordinary services by the promisee or unjust enrichment by the promisor--they do not apply to the category of contracts not to be performed within a year. In this case, the court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that Zakk's allegation that he fully performed his obligations under the alleged oral contract at issue is enough to avoid the statute of frauds. The trial court erred in finding that Zakk's breach of contract and related claims were barred by the statute of frauds absent alleged facts showing defendants were estopped to assert the statute. Furthermore, the trial court erred by finding that the third amended complaint was a sham pleading and that the quantum meruit claim was time-barred. However, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the promissory estoppel claim. View "Zakk v. Diesel" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff, Edward Joseph Mahoney's drummer, was terminated, plaintiff filed suit against Mahoney and others for discrimination on the basis of age, disability, and medical condition. In this appeal, defendants challenged the trial court's denial of a special motion to strike under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16 (the anti-SLAPP motion). The Court of Appeal held that defendants met their burden to establish that Mahoney's decision to terminate plaintiff was protected conduct. The court held that Mahoney's selection of musicians to perform with him was an act in furtherance of the exercise of the right of free speech, an act in connection with an issue of public interest, and plaintiff's first cause of action arose from Mahoney's decision to terminate him. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for the trial court to determine whether plaintiff has demonstrated a probability of prevailing on the merits of his claim. View "Symmonds v. Mahoney" on Justia Law

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Five African-American women on the basketball team at California State University at San Marcos (CSUSM) sued their head coach and the Board of Trustees of the California State University, claiming the coach engaged in race-based discrimination and retaliation: derogatorily referring to them as "the group," reduced their playing time, afforded them fewer opportunities, punished them more severely and generally singled them out for harsher treatment as compared to their non-African-American teammates. The trial court granted both motions for summary judgment filed by the Board, concluding plaintiff Danielle Cooper's claims were untimely and that the remaining plaintiffs could not show a triable issue on the merits. The Court of Appeal reversed summary judgment and directed the court to enter a new order granting summary adjudication on some, but not all, of plaintiffs' claims: plaintiffs cannot sue the Board under 42 United States Code sections 1981 and 1983 because CSUSM was not a "person" subject to suit under those statutes. With regard to the remaining claims brought by the four "freshmen plaintiffs," summary adjudication was improper as to their racial discrimination claims under title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Unruh Civil Rights Act. The Board did not meet its moving burden to show the lack of a triable issue as to whether these plaintiffs suffered a materially adverse action under circumstances suggesting a racially discriminatory motive. For similar reasons, summary adjudication was improper on title VI retaliation claims brought by three of the four freshmen plaintiffs, Lynette Mackey, Kianna Williams, and Sierra Smith: each of these women complained about the coach's discriminatory treatment and indicated how they suffered adverse consequences as a result. The Court reached a different conclusion as to plaintiff Crystal Hicks, who never made a complaint and denied facing any consequences as a result of complaints made by her peers. View "Mackey v. Bd. of Trustees of the Cal. State University" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Teresa Martine hurt her knee while skiing at Heavenly Valley Ski Resort and was being helped down the mountain by a ski patrolman when the rescue sled in which she was riding went out of control and hit a tree. Martine sued resort owner Heavenly Valley Limited Partnership (Heavenly) for negligence and for damages arising from her injuries. Heavenly moved for summary judgment arguing that there was no evidence that its employee had been negligent in taking Martine down the mountain thus causing the sled to hit the tree and that, in any event, Martine’s action was barred by the doctrine of primary assumption of risk. The trial court granted Heavenly’s motion and entered judgment accordingly. Martine argued on appeal: (1) there was evidence to support her claim that employee was negligent; (2) her action was not barred by the doctrine of primary assumption of risk; (3) the trial court erred in not allowing her to amend her complaint to allege negligence and damages arising from a second injury she incurred the same day while being taken off the mountain; and (4) the trial court erred in not granting her motion for a new trial. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Martine v. Heavenly Valley L.P." on Justia Law

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Defendants challenged an order of the superior court partially denying their motion to strike under the anti-SLAPP statute in a putative class action brought by plaintiffs against defendants and others for marketing a posthumous Michael Jackson album. The Court of Appeal held that the challenged representation―that Michael Jackson was the lead singer on the three Disputed Tracks―did not simply promote sale of the album, but also stated a position on a disputed issue of public interest. In this case, the identity of the artist on the three Disputed Tracks was a controversial issue of interest to Michael Jackson fans and others who care about his musical legacy. Therefore, defendants' statements about the identity of the artist were not simply commercial speech but were subject to full First Amendment protection. Furthermore, they were outside the scope of an actionable unfair competition or consumer protection claim. Accordingly, the court reversed the trial court's order as to this issue. View "Serova v. Sony Music Entertainment" on Justia Law

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After crossing the finish line at the 2011 Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon, Hass suffered a cardiac arrest and died. Hass’s wife and his minor children filed a wrongful death action, alleging that race-affiliated individuals and entities, including the organizer, were negligent in the organization and management of the race, particularly with respect to the provision of emergency medical services. After initially concluding that the action was barred under theories of primary assumption of the risk and express waiver, the trial court reversed itself, finding that primary assumption of the risk was inapplicable and that the plaintiffs should have been allowed to amend their complaint to plead gross negligence, which was outside of the scope of the written waiver and release. The court of appeal affirmed in part, agreeing that summary judgment was not warranted. The release at issue is not void on public policy grounds and was intended to be, and was accepted as, a comprehensive assumption of all risks associated with race participation and constituted a complete defense to a wrongful death action based on ordinary negligence. However, the trial court erred in requiring amendment of the complaint to plead gross negligence because a triable issue of material fact exists on this issue. View "Hass v. RhodyCo Productions" on Justia Law

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As a high school student in North Dakota, Dagny Knutson was an internationally ranked swimmer. She committed to Auburn University because one of its coaches, Paul Yetter. In March 2010, Mark Schubert, USA Swimming’s head coach, told Knutson that Yetter was leaving Auburn University. Schubert advised Knutson to swim professionally rather than at Auburn or another university. He orally promised her support to train at a “Center for Excellence” formed by USA Swimming in Fullerton, California, including room, board, tuition, and a stipend until she earned her degree. At Schubert’s suggestion, Knutson retained a sports agent, and shortly thereafter, she turned professional, accepted prize money, and signed an endorsement agreement. A few months after Knutson moved to Fullerton, Schubert’s employment was terminated by USA Swimming. Schubert told Knutson not to worry, and assured her that USA Swimming would keep the promises he had made to her. However, Knutson became concerned because she was not receiving any money from USA Swimming. Knutson retained attorney Foster to represent her in an attempt to get USA Swimming to honor the oral agreement made by Schubert. Foster did not disclose to Knutson his close personal ties to the aquatics world, or that he had long-time relationships with USA Swimming, and other swimming organizations. Knutson testified that Foster never told her that he represented Schubert or that he declined to represent Schubert against USA Swimming because he felt there was a conflict of interest due to his relationships with people within USA Swimming. In September 2014, Knutson sued Foster for fraudulent concealment and breach of fiduciary duty. After a three-week trial, the jury found in favor of Knutson and awarded her economic and noneconomic damages. The trial court granted Foster’s motion for a new trial on the grounds that Knutson did not prove Foster’s conduct was the cause of Knutson’s damages and that Knutson had failed to offer substantial evidence of her emotional distress damages. The Court of Appeal reversed and reinstated the jury's verdict because the motion for a new trial was granted on erroneous legal theories. The Court held: (1) claims of fraudulent concealment and intentional breach of fiduciary duty by a client against his or her attorney are subject to the substantial factor causation standard, not the “but for” or “trial within a trial” causation standard employed in cases of legal malpractice based on negligence; and (2) where the plaintiff’s emotional distress consisted of anxiety, shame, a sense of betrayal, and a continuing impact on personal relationships, the testimony of the plaintiff alone was sufficient to support emotional distress damages. View "Knutson v. Foster" on Justia Law

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Larry Tripplett, a former defensive tackle for the Indianapolis Colts, Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks, petitioned for review of the California Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board’s (WCAB) decision to deny his claim for worker’s compensation for cumulative injuries he suffered during his career. Tripplett’s primary contention was that the WCAB erred because he satisfied his evidentiary burden of proving he was hired by the Indianapolis Colts in California for purposes of Labor Code sections 3600.5(a), and 53051, and thus was eligible for workers compensation under California law. Although the workers compensation judge (WCJ) found jurisdiction was established by the fact Tripplett’s agent had “negotiated” his contract with Indianapolis while located in California, the WCAB reversed, suggesting instead the salient question in assessing whether Tripplett was “hired” in California was whether he or his agent executed the written employment agreement in this state. The California Court of Appeal agreed with the WCAB that Tripplett was hired when he executed the written employment agreement offered by Indianapolis. Tripplett thus failed to satisfy his burden of proving he was hired in California. Tripplett also claimed the WCAB erred by concluding there was no other basis for establishing subject matter jurisdiction over his cumulative injury claim. He argued his residency in the state, combined with his participation in two games in California during his career, demonstrated he had a greater than de minimus contact with the State of California. The Court of Appeal found no merit to this contention: Tripplett’s residency in California provided no basis for establishing subject matter jurisdiction over his injury, and the WCAB did not err in concluding that his participation in two games in California, out of more than 100 in his career, reflected no significant connection between this state and his cumulative injury. View "Tripplett v. Workers' Compensation Appeals Bd." on Justia Law

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The First Amendment protects FX's portrayal of Olivia de Havilland in a docudrama without her permission. De Havilland filed suit against FX and the creators and producers of the television miniseries Feud: Bette and Joan, alleging causes of action for violation of the statutory right of publicity and the common law tort of misappropriation. De Havilland also alleged claims of false light invasion of privacy based on FX's portrayal in the docudrama of a fictitious interview and the de Havilland character's reference to her sister as a "bitch" when in fact the term she used was "dragon lady." The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's order denying FX's special motion to strike under California's anti-SLAPP statute. The court held that, assuming a docudrama was a "use" for purposes of the right of publicity, Feud was speech that was fully protected by the First Amendment, which safeguards the storytellers and artists who take the raw materials of life -- including the stories of real individuals, ordinary or extraordinary -- and transformed them into art, be it articles, books, movies, or plays. Furthermore, the fact that Feud's creators did not purchase or otherwise procure de Havilland's "right" to her name or likeness did not change the analysis. In this case, Feud's portrayal of de Havilland was transformative. The court also held that de Havilland failed to carry her burden of proving with admissible evidence that she will probably prevail on her false light claim, and thus de Havilland's cause of action for unjust enrichment also failed. View "De Havilland v. FX Networks, LLC" on Justia Law

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The First Amendment protects FX's portrayal of Olivia de Havilland in a docudrama without her permission. De Havilland filed suit against FX and the creators and producers of the television miniseries Feud: Bette and Joan, alleging causes of action for violation of the statutory right of publicity and the common law tort of misappropriation. De Havilland also alleged claims of false light invasion of privacy based on FX's portrayal in the docudrama of a fictitious interview and the de Havilland character's reference to her sister as a "bitch" when in fact the term she used was "dragon lady." The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's order denying FX's special motion to strike under California's anti-SLAPP statute. The court held that, assuming a docudrama was a "use" for purposes of the right of publicity, Feud was speech that was fully protected by the First Amendment, which safeguards the storytellers and artists who take the raw materials of life -- including the stories of real individuals, ordinary or extraordinary -- and transformed them into art, be it articles, books, movies, or plays. Furthermore, the fact that Feud's creators did not purchase or otherwise procure de Havilland's "right" to her name or likeness did not change the analysis. In this case, Feud's portrayal of de Havilland was transformative. The court also held that de Havilland failed to carry her burden of proving with admissible evidence that she will probably prevail on her false light claim, and thus de Havilland's cause of action for unjust enrichment also failed. View "De Havilland v. FX Networks, LLC" on Justia Law