Developments of Interest

New Cases of Interest - June 13, 2011

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Lawrence v. Hartnell Community College District (2011) 194 Cal.App.4th 687.  This is a case in which permanent classified employees contended that they had been subject to disciplinary action when they were reassigned to what they described as being inferior positions.  The case, however, I think turns on a unique set of facts which the court takes pains to point out at the very beginning of the opinion, stressing that the College District employer was in “imminent danger” of losing its accreditation and that a number of emergency changes were required.  In this case, the court found that the two reassignments given to the plaintiffs were temporary in nature, were justified under the circumstances, and that the plaintiffs did not show that they involved significantly less responsibility.  In addition, the compensation provided to the employees was unchanged.

Digerati Holdings, LLC v. Young Money Entertainment, LLC (2011) 194 Cal.App.4th 873.  This is another SLAPP case.  In this instance, the plaintiff sued defendant for breach of contract and other counts and the defendant then cross-complained.  The plaintiff filed a SLAPP motion with respect to the cross-complaint.  The motion was granted in part and denied in part by the trial court which was affirmed on appeal.  The portion of the cross-complaint that alleged breach of contract was not a cause of action that arose from protected activity, and therefore the SLAPP statute did not apply to it.  However, the SLAPP motion was properly granted on a cause of action for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing which relied on statements made by an attorney in anticipation of the lawsuit, and that claim fell within the scope of the SLAPP statute.

Mendoza v. Wichmann (2011) 194 Cal.App.4th 1430.  This is another SLAPP case.  Plaintiffs had filed an action against defendants for malicious prosecution of a defamation action and the defendant filed a SLAPP motion.  In this case, the court of appeal reversed in order of the trial court and directed that the SLAPP motion be granted.  The court found that there was sufficient evidence of probable cause for initially prosecuting the defamation action on which the malicious prosecution action was based, and probable cause therefore existed for that claim as a matter of law and plaintiff could not demonstrate that she was likely to succeed on the merits of her malicious prosecution action.

Jones v. Jacobson (2011) 195 Cal.App.4th 1.  This is a case in which two investment companies and others sought to compel arbitration of claims asserted against them by investors.  The investment company sought to compel arbitration pursuant to an arbitration clause contained in an affiliated company’s account agreement as to which the investment companies though themselves were not signatories.  The investors did not sue the company which had the account agreement, although the complaint alleged allegations of wrong doing by two of its employees, but these two employees were also not named as defendants.  The court found that the non-signatory investment companies could not enforce the arbitration provision because the evidence did not show that the parties to the agreement had any mutual intent to allow them to enforce those arbitration provisions.  The language in the arbitration provision relating to agents and employees applied only when enforcement was sought against a non-signatory agent or employee of the company and that wasn’t the case on the facts alleged.

Benjamin, Weil & Mazer v. Kors (2011) 190 Cal.App.4th 40.  In this case the court found that an arbitration provision contained in a fee agreement between a law firm and its clients did not meet the requirements of CCP §1281.9.  The case seems to also strongly suggest that much like a jury trial waiver provision, a mandatory arbitration provision in an attorney-client contract cannot be enforced by the attorney unless the parties agree to arbitration after a dispute arises. 

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