What is a Partition Action?

As a business law firm, we often deal with partnership disputes.  We have shared information on our blog on how to protect against partnership disputes, as well as tips for solving them such disputes.  Unfortunately, not all disputes can be prevented or solved.  In these circumstances, partnerships often dissolve. When that is the case, , and a partition action may be necessary to distribute partnership assets.

In a partition action, known as a partition of partnership property, a court is asked to divide partnership property equally between amongst interested parties. The guidelines for distributing assets in a partition action are set out in California Code of Civil Procedure section 872.010, et seq.  Although most partition actions involve real estate, but the laws of partition actions can be applied to distributing any type of partnership property, such as manufacturing equipment. Specifically, this type of action would be referred to as an action for partition of partnership property.

If a partner wants to file for a partition action, he or she will have to file a complaint with the court seeking a partition action is initiated like any other legal dispute, meaning that the partner would file a complaint in the appropriate court alleging a cause of action for partition of partnership property.  When the action involves real property, the plaintiff will shall also have to record a notice of pendency of the action, called a ““lis pendens,” in the office of with the county recorder of each county in which any real property described in the complaint is located.  Once recorded, the party should file a Notice of Lis Pendens with the court. This will prevent the other partner from selling or taking loans out on the property by putting buyers and lenders on notice of the pending action.

In general, a court will allow a partition unless it is against the interest of the parties. To determine whether the partition is in the best interest of the parties, the court will consider the character of the property and expenses associated with the partition.

If a court finds that a partition is in the best interest of the parties, it will usually order that the business or property be sold and the proceeds be divided amongst the partners. However, sometimes the parties are able to come to a partition settlement agreement, and the court will merely issue a judgment so that the agreement will be enforced.

If you have questions about partition actions or partnership disputes, consult an experienced attorney. Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business, commercial and real property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you.

Defining Conflicting Terms in a Contract

Conflicting terms in a contract exist when there are certain provisions that cannot each be complied with because performing one would violate another, or where the use and meaning of a particular term or terms varies throughout the contract. This situation can occur  when multiple parties are drafting and revising a contract without carefully reviewing the impact of each change on other portions of the contract, or when conflicting changes are made to a standard form contract that one or more parties are not entirely familiar with, and again, do not carefully review the impact of each change.  Conflicts can also occur when the terms used in the agreement are not defined and are unclear to people unfamiliar with the deal, industry, or product.

For example, sometimes other contracts or documents are alluded to in a contract but not actually defined in the agreement.  A contract could also rely heavily on terms that are defined by industry standards but which are foreign to people outside of the industry. All of these situations cold give rise to potentially conflicting terms, such as a reference to a term where the industry meaning and usage is in conflict with the meaning and use applied  in the contract.

A properly drafted contract will avoid conflicting terms and ambiguities, and, in anticipation of potential conflicts, include clauses which provide rules of interpretation. Contracts can also designate clauses in one portion of a contract to supersede conflicting provisions found in another part of the contract. Almost every contract will have a provision stating that if one provision is in conflict with another, the rest of the contract is still enforceable, and provide how the conflicting terms will be handled.

Also, a contract can very well provide a means for resolving conflicting terms and ambiguities, but still fail to resolve a conflict that arises under an unanticipated or obscure situation. In that situation, the contract parties can turn to California statutes and appellate court cases to find other rules of interpretation.

If you have any questions about conflicting terms in a contract, consult with an experienced attorney. Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business, real estate, construction and property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your business, real estate or construction law needs.

Obtaining a Variance to a Zoning Restriction

In order to build a development, home, or addition that does not comply with local zoning ordinances or restrictions, a property owner or developer must obtain a variance. The exact process of obtaining a variance will vary based on applicable city or county laws, and can vary depending on the scope of the project and the type of variance sought.

For example, there could be different processes or requirements for “residential use” variances versus “residential area” variances.  Generally speaking, there are two types of variances: an “area variance” and a “use variance.” An area variance can be requested by a property owner or developer who is seeking an exception to a regulation dealing with land configuration or physical structure improvements.  A use variance, on the other hand, seeks an exception to the type of use of land permitted by a zoning ordinance or restriction.

Similarly, the process or requirements for residential variances differ as compared to variances for agricultural, industrial, recreational, or commercial property.  Once you have determined the type of variance you will need, the next step will be to contact the local city or county government office that handles development in the area where the property is located.  The local government office will usually have an application that must be completed, and typically require copies of relevant site plans, floor plans, and elevation drawings, as well as the payment of any fees associated with application submission.  Once complete, a city board will review your application and may require public hearings on the application.  If the variance request is denied, there is generally an appeals process.

If you have questions about obtaining a variance, consult an experienced attorney. Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business, real estate, construction and property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your business, real estate or construction law needs.

Complying with the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act

Every contract in California (and across the country) must meet certain legal requirements to be considered “valid,” such as the manifestation of assent by both parties to be bound by the terms of the transaction.  For centuries parties have been “signing on the dotted line” to evidence their assent to the terms of the agreement.

In an increasingly digital economy many contracts are being consummated electronically.  The Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (the “UETA”) (found at Civil Code § 1633.1 et seq.) responds to the proliferation of contracting and business conducted by electronic means in California.  By following the guidelines of the statute the parties can complete all parts of the transaction entirely by electronic means, including through the transmission of electronic signatures.

Recently, the California Court of Appeal ruled on a case that dealt with the UETA’s provisions governing electronic signatures.  In J.B.B. Investment Partners, Ltd. v. Fair, ___ Cal.App.4th ___ (December 30, 2014) 2014 WL 7421609, the issue that the court addressed was whether the defendant’s “printed name at the end of his e-mail was enforceable under both UETA and, if not, by the law of contract.”

Interestingly, the defendant in J.B.B. Investment Partners, Ltd. at first appeared to agree via email to the settlement agreement proposed by the plaintiffs.  However, once the plaintiffs filed suit to enforce the settlement, the defendant said that there had been no agreement under the UETA because he did not intend for his printed name in his emails to be an “electronic signature.”  The trial court disagreed, ruled to enforce the settlement agreement, and the defendant appealed.

The appellate court focused in on the definitional requirement for a signature under the UETA (Civil Code § 1633.2(h)), which requires that an electronic signature have the “intent to sign the electronic record.”   The court further found that another relevant factor was the apparent lack of agreement to conduct the settlement by electronic means, while acknowledging that the statute specifically does not require an express agreement, allowing the intent to be gleaned from “the context and surrounding circumstances, including the parties’ conduct.”

In the this case, somewhat surprisingly, the appellate court found that despite the defendant’s repeated emails saying “I agree,” the plaintiff’s failed to meet their burden of showing that the parties had agreed to consummate the transaction via electronic means.  While the court acknowledged that simple “names typed at the end of emails can be electronic signatures,” the issue here was that the agreement that plaintiffs were attempting to bind defendant did not appear to be a final agreement (here, meaning that additional terms were added later).  The court also found that later versions of the settlement agreement contained specific electronic signature provisions not found in the version that the defendant said he agreed to (such provisions requiring the use of commercially available electronic signature software), and that there was no agreement between the parties that a simple printed name at the bottom of an email would constitute a signature.  These same facts also led the court to conclude that there was no agreement under “the law of contract.”

Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business and property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your business law needs.

What Constitutes a Trade Secret?

Unlike patents and trademarks, trade secrets are protected without any procedural formalities associated with the benefits of registration with a government agency. The benefit to this is that a trade secret can be protected for an unlimited period of time and requires no public disclosure. The downside is that defining and protecting a trade secret can be trickier.

There are different definitions of what constitutes a “trade secret.” California law has adopted the Uniform Trade Secrets Act definition, qualifying a trade secret as “information, including a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or process” that meets two qualifications. The first qualification is that the information must derive “independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to the public or to other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use.”  The second qualification is that the trade secret owner must take reasonable steps to maintain the secrecy of the information.

The Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement, an international agreement administered by the World Trade Organization, similarly defines a trade secret.  According to the TRIPS Agreement, trade secret information cannot be generally known among, or readily accessible to, circles that normally deal with the kind of information in question.  It must also have commercial value because it is a secret, and it must have been subject to reasonable steps by the rightful holder of the information to keep it secret.

Thus, if a company deals with third parties who are privy to a company’s trade secret, it is important to always have them sign confidentiality agreements to make sure they understand that the information is a secret.  Taking those steps not only gives the company a cause of action for breach, but also evidences reasonable steps to maintain the secrecy of the trade secret.  Information that constitutes a trade secret can include processes that make production more efficient, a formula (like the Coca-Cola soft drink formula), customer lists, and proprietary business plans.

Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business, contract, and property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your business needs.

Ridesharing Hit with More Business Lawsuits

California prohibits unlawful, unfair, and fraudulent business practices, as well as unfair, deceptive, untrue or misleading advertising. Recently, the district attorney offices for Los Angeles and San Francisco claimed that Uber, one of the the most popular ridesharing companies, violated these California business laws in recently filed actions against the company.

Uber (recently valued at $41 Billion and has backers from Wall Street to Silicon Valley), is no stranger to lawsuits, which are coming from all over the world. In California, the district attorneys’ offices are alleging that Uber misleads consumers about the service’s safety and overcharges them with unnecessary tolls in violation of California consumer protection laws.

According to the lawsuit, Uber claims to be an industry-leader in conducting background checks, but fails to fingerprint its drivers. The district attorneys’ offices claim that without fingerprinting, the company’s criminal checks are “completely worthless.”

The San Francisco district attorneys’ offices also accuse Uber of fraud for charging certain tolls. Uber charges a $4 “airport fee toll,” which is automatically added to rides to and from San Francisco International Airport, even when drivers do not pay a toll themselves. Uber also automatically adds a $1 “safe rides fee” to every ride, claiming that this fee goes to funding the company’s background checks.

The district attorneys’ offices have asked the court for an injunction that will force Uber to stop these practices immediately. They also seek restitution and civil penalties for riders who suffered economic harm from the unnecessary fees.

California law allows a $2,500 penalty to be issued for each violation of the business code. The district attorneys’ offices claim that that are “tens of thousands of violations,” meaning that Uber may be facing a very expensive lawsuit.

Lyft, a competing ridesharing company, who recently raised $700 million, chose to settle a similar lawsuit, agreeing to stop picking up passengers at airports until it obtains the necessary permits and approvals. Lyft will also submit its application to a California testing agency to measure its accuracy in calculating fares.

Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business, contract, and property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your business law needs

 

Supreme Court Rules for Amazon in Employee Searches Case

It is common practice for retailers to search their employees before they leave work. In a recent United States Supreme Court opinion,  Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, the Court ruled that workers do not have a federal right to be paid for the time spent in these post-shift employee searches. This decision will save businesses billions of dollars, including companies like Amazon, who is projected to save over $100 million.

In the opinion  the justices unanimously rejected former Amazon warehouse workers claims that Amazon and the company that staffs several Amazon facilities were not fairly compensated for their time during these employee searches, and that Amazon and the staffing company were therefore violating federal wage laws. Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, 574 U. S. ____ (2014).

The opinion of the Court centered on what constitutes a “principal activity.” Under the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, workers must be compensated for their principal activities, which the Supreme Court previously described as activities that are “integral and indispensable” to the job itself.  The Court found that the security screenings at issue did not constitute principal activities, as they were not integral and indispensable parts of the job. Therefore, there is no need for companies to compensate their employees for the time they spend waiting to be searched and the time of the employee search.

Amazon’s position was that employee searches help protect against theft, and is necessary but not part of the employees’ jobs. This ruling may shield several other companies who use employee searches from facing similar claims, including Apple, Ross Stores Inc., CVS Health Corp., and J.C. Penney Co.  If the Supreme Court had decided for the workers, Amazon and the various staffing agencies it uses could have been liable for the back wages of as many as 400,000 workers, amounting to $100 million or more.

Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business and property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your business law concerns.

Protecting Your Business from Defamation

Consumer review based websites like Yelp have grown in popularity and power. Consumer voices are often trusted, and a bad online review can have costly consequences. However, online anonymity has led to abuse, and if someone has posted an online review about your business that is false there may be legal recourse for your injuries.

Defamation is an action brought to defend reputation. It involves intentional publication of false, defamatory, and unprivileged information that has a tendency to injure or cause special damage.

One recent case involving defamation claims, mLogica, Inc., et al., v. Pankaj Karan, CA Super. Ct. No. 30-2010-00342873 (December 30, 2013), shows how defamation for online activity works.  Two companies entered into a contract for the creation of some custom software. The party purchasing the software posted numerous negative reviews about the other company on its blog, and emailed its business partners and customers alleging that the software was delivered late and that the company employees were “swindlers” who “milked many of their clients of money and time.” The emails were very damaging to the company’s reputation in the industry, caused many projects to be cut, and a resulted in a significant loss of income.

While truth is an insurmountable defense in defamation actions,  the software company was able to show at trial that the software was fully functional and delivered on time. Furthermore, at trial, the defendant could not identify one unpaid vendor or defrauded customer.

A jury in Orange County, California awarded $1.23 million  to the software company for the damage to its reputation. The decision and verdict were affirmed on appeal.  In fact, the appellate court believed that the evidence supported damages of  “about $10 million. Maybe more.”

This case shows that there is a balance between preventing people from being critical on the Internet, and limiting false speech that does not promote the “marketplace of ideas.”

Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with any business dispute concerns you may have.