news 2017

Appellate court sides with firm in class action dispute

October 20, 2017 – A California state appellate court today dismissed the appeal by defendants Willmark Communities, Inc., a large owner and manager of apartment complexes in Southern California, and its related entities, of a trial court order arising from a 2015 class action alleging Willmark's widespread practice of mishandling tenant security deposits.  Following extensive hearings in the trial court over settlement communications the landlord had with putative class members, San Diego County Superior Court Judge Joel M. Pressman entered an order requiring defendants to obtain court approval before initiating further settlement communications and to send a curative notice to those class members to whom they had previously made settlement offers. Firm partner Randy Erlewine together with associate Brian Conlon led a team of lawyers in researching and drafting plaintiffs' appellate brief, large sections of which were relied upon by the court of appeals in its opinion. The appellate court agreed with the firm's position that the order was not appealable and the appeal should be dismissed on those grounds. Further proceedings in the trial court remain pending. A motion for class certification is expected soon. 

Jury returns unanimous verdict in firm client’s favor

October 5, 2017 – A state court jury in Los Angeles returned its verdict today, voting 12-0 in favor of firm client Francine Sutton-Williams, following a week-long trial over injuries she sustained at an auto repair shop in Culver City.  Firm partner Nick Carlin led the trial team (which included associate Anna G. Wald and paralegal Diana Buck) in representing the client, a retired acting coach who worked in Hollywood for many years.  In November 2015, Ms. Sutton-Williams tripped and fell over a dangerously high doorway threshold and broke her hip, requiring a total hip replacement.  The recovery from that injury further aggravated a pre-existing condition, requiring a knee replacement about a year later.  The jury unanimously found the property owner and the business operator liable for negligence and awarded almost $400,000 in damages.  Post-trial proceedings, including the client’s cost and fee requests, are pending.

Firm concludes successful infringement defense of Supreme

September 29, 2017 – Firm partners David Given and Nick Carlin recently concluded the successful defense of popular skate-culture brand Supreme.  In a hotly-contested case brought in the federal district court in Los Angeles, Supreme was accused of using certain artwork on its merchandise without permission and in violation of copyright law.  In resolving the case in its client’s favor before trial, the firm obtained plaintiff artist’s acknowledgment on the record of Supreme’s “factual and legal innocence” with respect to “any of the matters giving rise to this lawsuit.”  Further, by the parties’ settlement, Supreme was not required to make any payment to plaintiff on his claim.

Court grants preliminary approval to settlement in wage theft class action

September 21, 2017 – Alameda County Superior Court judge Brad Seligman today granted preliminary approval of the settlement in the firm’s wage theft class action against Digirad Corporation and its related entities.  Led by firm partner Nick Carlin, the firm negotiated an exceptional settlement, the culmination of a year of hard fought litigation.  By that settlement, Digirad has agreed to pay $1.3 million to approximately 70 current and former employees of the medical diagnostic services company. The settlement is a victory for the firm’s clients, who often worked 10-14 hour shifts while being deprived meal and rest breaks and premium pay.  Judge Seligman has set a final approval hearing on the settlement for December 5, 2017.  Notice to the class is pending. 

Firm launches data breach class action against Equifax

September 8, 2017 – Firm partners Nick Carlin and David Given today filed a class action complaint against Equifax for the data breach announced on September 7, 2017. Equifax announced that beginning in May, 2017, highly sensitive and extremely valuable personal information of approximately 143 million American consumers was obtained by hackers through an Equifax based web application. The information obtained in the breach included social security numbers, birth dates, home addresses, driver license numbers, and credit card numbers. Consumers are subject to real risk of identity theft because Equifax failed to implement adequate security measures and technological safeguards despite knowing the credit services industry is increasingly facing data breach attacks. The complaint asks for a minimum of $5 million in damages for the California and Nationwide classes. Any consumer who may have been affected by the breach is encouraged to consult our firm’s investigative website and contact us.  

Federal judge orders BAE to pay firm’s client's attorney fees

September 5, 2017 – In a short order issued today, federal district court judge William H. Alsup granted firm client Puglia Engineering’s motion for attorney’s fees incurred in connection with removal to the federal court of its state court lawsuit for fraud against BAE Systems and others.  Today’s decision follows Judge Alsup’s June 16th remand order, returning Puglia’s lawsuit to state court.  Firm partner Randy Erlewine argued that BAE’s removal was not only improper but “objectively unreasonable” under settled law.  Judge Alsup agreed, and set a further briefing schedule to determine the amount of the award to the firm’s client.

Court grants preliminary approval of settlement in data privacy class action

July 6, 2017 – Federal district court judge Jon S. Tigar today granted the firm’s motion for preliminary approval of a proposed class action settlement made on behalf of several named plaintiffs in their long-running breach of privacy case against eight mobile application developers and Apple, Inc.  Led by firm partner David Given, the settlement agreement is the product of several years of extensive discovery and vigorous negotiations.  The settling app developers – Foodspotting, Foursquare, Gowalla, Instagram, Kik, Path, Twitter, and Yelp – will pay $5.3 million to establish a non-reversionary common fund for class members, who consist of anyone in the U.S. who activated the applicable versions of the apps on their Apple devices during the relevant time period.  Plaintiffs’ case against Apple for misrepresentation and false advertising in connection with its security and privacy promises relating to iDevices remains ongoing; Judge Tigar heard and took under submission a motion for certification of that class, and an order is expected soon.  A hearing for final approval of the app developer settlement is set for December 14, 2017 at 2:00 p.m. For more information about the settlement and the claims process, click here.

Firm announces $7.35 million settlement of class actions against The Honest Company

June 30, 2017 – The Honest Company has agreed to settle a number of related consumer class actions brought by the firm.  A $7.35 million fund will be established to compensate shoppers who said the company, co-founded by actress Jessica Alba, fraudulently labeled dozens of home and personal care products as natural, plant-based or chemical-free, and sold ineffective sunscreen.  Firm partner Nicholas Carlin said “This is an excellent settlement, providing consumers with meaningful monetary relief and it requires Honest to be more honest in its marketing and labeling practices.”  Under the agreement, which is subject to approval by the New York Federal Court judge overseeing the litigation, shoppers would receive a $2.50 payment or credit per eligible product, up to a maximum of 10 without proof of purchase and with no maximum if they have such proof.  In addition, Honest will not be able to refer to its products as “all natural” or “100% natural,” and if it uses the term “natural,” it will be required to disclose whether the product meets certain regulatory definitions and testing standards.  Honest also will no longer be allowed to say “no harsh chemicals, ever!” if the products contain certain specified ingredients. This settlement only involves false labeling, not personal injury. Anyone injured by severe sunburns or rashes or other reactions to Honest products will preserve their right to continue to pursue such claims. The cases are Michael v. The Honest Company, Inc. (filed Sept. 7, 2015), Buonasera v. The Honest Company, Inc. (filed Feb. 12, 2016), Kellman v. The Honest Company, Inc. (filed Apr. 27, 2016), and Hiddlestone v. The Honest Company, Inc. (Sept. 20, 2016).

UPDATE – July 10, 2017 – Federal district court judge Victor Marrero today granted the firm’s motion for preliminary approval of the settlement, setting a fairness hearing to determine whether the settlement should be finally approved for December 8, 2017 at 10:00 a.m.  Notice to class members is pending.  

Court grants preliminary approval of second DCH class case

June 21, 2017 – Firm partner Nicholas Carlin announced today that Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kenneth R. Freeman has conditionally granted the firm’s motion for preliminary approval of the settlement agreement reached in the firm’s second wage theft class action against DCH Auto Group and its parent entity Lithia Motors, Inc., the eighth largest automotive retailer in the U.S.  The court's ruling allows the settlement of $6.5 million for a class of clerical and other employees to proceed to class notice pending a further order, expected shortly, setting a calendar of events leading to a hearing on final approval of the settlement.  Judge Freeman set the final approval hearing for October 24th. This is the second settlement the firm has concluded on behalf of DCH employees; the first, for just over $4 million dollars on behalf of a class of approximately 400 auto mechanics, was given final approval last month.

Federal judge returns fraud action against BAE Systems to state court

June 16, 2017 – In a victory for firm client Puglia Engineering in its ongoing litigation against multinational defense contractor BAE Systems and its related entities, federal district court judge William H. Alsup entered an order today remanding Puglia’s case against BAE to state court where it was first filed.  Firm partner Randy Erlewine successfully argued that BAE failed to meet its burden to establish that its removal of Puglia’s lawsuit to federal court was proper.  The firm has since filed a motion for Puglia requesting it be awarded attorneys’ fees caused by BAE’s improper removal.  The state court has set a case management conference in the case for August 30th.

Court grants final approval for $4 million DCH mechanics settlement

May 18, 2017 – Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ann Jones today granted the firm’s request for final approval of a wage and hour class action settlement for a class of 434 auto mechanics against DCH Auto Group and its parent entity Lithia Motors, Inc., the eighth largest automotive retailer in the U.S.  The settlement followed years of litigation and months of exhaustive mediation before a retired state court judge.  The total monetary recovery for the class exceeded $4 million.  Led by firm partners Nicholas Carlin and Randy Erlewine, the firm’s case against DCH Auto Group arose out of DCH’s labor practices in the State of California, and included allegations of the company’s repeated failure to provide statutorily-mandated breaks, falsifying of time records, failure to pay minimum wage, and failure to pay all earned wages.  The firm’s case against DCH for non-mechanic employees who number in the thousands remains pending.  For more information about the case, click here.  For more information on the settlement and claims process, visit the claims administrator’s website by clicking here

Firm adds music industry veteran

May 8, 2017 – The firm announced today that veteran music industry lawyer Elliot Cahn has agreed to join the firm beginning next month.  Elliot has had a long and storied career in the music business, starting while still in college as a founding member of the band Sha-Na-Na, with whom he performed at the original Woodstock Festival and toured and recorded for four album cycles.  Following completion of his college and law school education, Elliot continued to work in the music business, going on to manage the careers of Green Day (through the Dookie album, which sold 15 million albums worldwide and won a Grammy for best rock album), Testament and R&B songstress Goapele, as well as to serve as CEO of (510 Records), a joint venture label with the Universal Music Group.  Elliot has also had a private law practice, centered for many years in the East Bay and subsequently in Marin County, representing acts like Papa Roach, Rancid, and The Offspring.  Elliot will be of counsel to the firm, and will work from the firm’s location in the Presidio of San Francisco. 

Plaintiffs reply to Apple, urge class certification

May 5, 2017 – Plaintiffs filed papers today replying to App Store proprietor Apple, urging that their claims of false advertising be certified for class treatment on behalf of several million consumers nationwide who bought various versions of the iPhone and iPad whose operating systems allowed the surreptitious upload of address book data from those users’ iDevices.  Plaintiffs contend that Apple’s insistent messaging of concern for users’ “privacy” and “security” in their personal contact data was false, that its products were tainted, and that consumers were misled and as a result overpaid for those devices.  Federal district court judge Jon S. Tigar has set a July 6th hearing on the matter. For more information about the case, click here.

Firm launches breach of contract and fraud action against PopSugar and Ebates

April 11, 2017 – Firm client Pop Middle East, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Nervora, Inc., a Dubai-based publisher specializing in premier digital content and advertising experiences in the fashion and lifestyle sectors, today filed a six-plus million dollar lawsuit against Bay Area online lifestyle platform PopSugar and leading cash-back shopping site Ebates, in connection with a multi-year license agreement for the ShopStyle brand, a popular online fashion marketplace.  In its complaint filed in the federal district court in San Francisco, Pop Middle East says that PopSugar induced it, via financial disclosures and other assurances which Pop Middle East later learned were false and inaccurate, to become the exclusive licensee of ShopStyle in the Middle East and North Africa, charged with managing and promoting the brand through an Arabic-language site that PopSugar agreed to develop and launch. PopSugar failed to develop or launch that site, however, and earlier this month purported to unilaterally terminate the parties’ agreement without cause or reason of any kind.  The latter action followed on the heels of the public announcement of ShopStyle’s acquisition by Ebates.  The firm’s client contends it has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in performing its obligations under the parties’ agreement, and has potentially lost millions of dollars as a result of its counterparties’ fraud and bad faith.

Appellate court sides with firm client FAITH NO MORE in anti-SLAPP spat

April 4, 2017 – The state Court of Appeal in Los Angeles today affirmed a trial court’s rejection of an anti-SLAPP (“Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation”) motion made in a case brought by the firm for cult-rock band FAITH NO MORE against defendants Manifesto Records and its principal, Evan Cohen.  The parties’ dispute centers on Manifesto and Cohen’s alleged interference with the band’s 1989 settlement agreement with a former member that covered rights in and to the band’s seminal 1985 debut album, “We Care A Lot,” which Manifesto rereleased on its label in 2014 without the band’s knowledge or consent.  In a thorough 22-page opinion, a three-judge panel of the court unanimously rejected defendants’ arguments that the band’s claim that Manifesto and Cohen deliberately interfered with that agreement lacked merit, finding that the band “stated and substantiated a legally sufficient claim for intentional inference with contractual relations” against them.  The court also disposed of Manifesto and Cohen’s lone legal defense to that claim, holding that the federal Copyright Act did not preempt the band’s interference claim.  The court’s decision clears the way for the case to proceed.  A further case management conference in the trial court is scheduled for May 3rd.  In August of last year, the band authorized a remastered version of “We Care A Lot”, released on Koolarrow Records and including nine bonus tracks of original demos, new mixes and old live recordings.

Court will hear class certification motion against Apple for false advertising claim

March 8, 2017 – Federal district court judge Jon S. Tigar today ordered Apple, Inc., to respond to the motion against it, first made in August of last year, seeking to certify a class of iDevice users who overpaid for Apple products as a result of Apple’s allegedly false and deceptive assurances to consumers of security and privacy in the personal data they stored on those devices.  The case against Apple arose in the context of widespread data harvesting from iDevices by several technology companies developing apps for Apple devices like the iPhone and iPad.  (The parties in that case recently announced a settlement of those claims.  A motion to approve that settlement and to begin the process of notice to the class is expected shortly.)  Tens of millions of Apple consumers are potentially covered by the proposed class.  Judge Tigar has set a hearing on the matter for May 31st at 9:30 a.m.  The firm serves as co-lead counsel in the case.  For more information about the case, click here.

Court preliminarily approves DCH mechanics settlement  

February 24, 2017 – Firm partner Nicholas Carlin announced today that Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ann I. Jones granted the firm's motion for preliminary approval of the settlement agreement reached in the firm's wage theft class action against DCH Auto Group and its parent entity Lithia Motors, Inc., the eighth largest automotive retailer in the U.S.  The court's ruling found that the settlement of over $4 million or about $10,000 per class member – a result of years of litigation and months of exhaustive mediation – was reasonable.  The Court also granted conditional class certification for the class of approximately 400 California based auto mechanics, and appointed the firm class counsel.  

UPDATE – March 9, 2017 – The court entered its order granting preliminary approval of this settlement today.  The class administrator has begun the process of giving notice to the class.  For more information about the settlement, click here.  For more information about the DCH case, click here

Firm files fraud action for client against BAE Systems in Port of SF dispute

February 15, 2017 – Firm client Puglia Engineering today filed a $10+ million dollar lawsuit against multinational defense contractor BAE Systems and various of its related entities.  The claims arise over Puglia’s agreement to take control of the BAE Systems dry dock facility located at Pier 70, which is leased from the Port of San Francisco. As recounted in its complaint for fraud and securities law violations, Puglia agreed to acquire the facility by purchasing all of the stock of a BAE subsidiary; however, when Puglia began providing services to the site in January of this year, Puglia discovered that, contrary to BAE’s representations, BAE had failed to maintain, repair and dredge the facility in accordance with its lease obligations to the Port, rendering large portions of it unusable.  Based on these discoveries, Puglia seeks to rescind the transaction.  When the Port discovered these circumstances, it put the parties on notice that the Port had “suffered a loss of revenue due to the decline of its assets resulting from the tenant’s failure to perform the repair and maintenance obligations” of its lease.  BAE disclaimed any responsibility to the Port for this loss.  The Pier 70 facility, the oldest continuously operating private shipyard in the country, currently employs roughly 240 workers.  The lawsuit also names the Port of San Francisco as a defendant, solely on a declaratory relief claim. Puglia is represented by firm partner Randy Erlewine. 

Firm partner confirmed to speak at South by Southwest music conference

January 25, 2017 – David Given will appear as a panelist at the South by Southwest music conference this year.  Entitled “Death, Taxes and Legacy Management,” David’s panel will consider legal and business issues that arise in connection with estate planning and legacy management for talent in the music industry.  The panel is scheduled for Friday, March 17th beginning at 12:30 p.m. at the Austin Convention Center.  In addition to continuing to offer advice to living artists on the disposition of their creative property and royalty interests, David’s practice has included representation of significant estates or the principal beneficiaries of those estates, including those of Jerry Garcia, jazz great Vince Guaraldi, as well as famed authors Alan Watts and Maya Angelou.

Firm to defend DEAD KENNEDYS in copyright infringement dispute

January 20, 2017 – Federal district court judge George Wu today granted the motion of DEAD KENNEDYS to intervene to defend an on-going copyright infringement action over artwork made for and used by the band dating to their seminal punk rock album In God We Trust, Inc. and single Too Drunk To Fuck, both released in 1981.  Artist Winston Smith sued retailer Supreme last year, claiming the cutting-edge brand had used three copyrighted images from those recordings’ covers on apparel it manufactured and sold in 2014 without his knowledge or permission.  As it turned out, the band authorized the use of those images in written agreements, and advised Smith of that fact, at around that same time.  Moreover, Supreme promoted the apparel under the DEAD KENNEDYS moniker, and featured the name of the band and the titles of its biggest hits, on the apparel in question.  Following earlier proceedings in which the firm convinced Judge Wu that the band was a required party to the case, the firm successfully moved to include DEAD KENNEDYS as a defendant.  The band contends that it owns at least two and perhaps all three of the images in issue, which were created in collaboration with band members, and has in any event had an agreement with Smith to use the images in connection with band-related merchandise dating back 30+ years, pursuant to which the band has consistently paid Smith including on the Supreme deal.  The case is currently set for trial beginning May 30th. 

Firm forces disclosure in DCH Auto wage theft case

January 11, 2017 – Firm partner Randy Erlewine today prevailed upon a state court judge to compel DCH Auto Group and its related entities to disclose employee information in the firm’s ongoing wage theft class action against them.  In a carefully considered opinion, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Gail Ruderman Feuer sided with the firm’s clients, a putative class of approximately 2,000 of the auto dealership chain’s current and former clerical and other non-mechanic employees, ruling that the dealership chain must supplement discovery responses and provide employee contact information following an opt-out opportunity.  Judge Feuer also rejected the argument that, after a stay in discovery was vacated, objections to further discovery responses were warranted because of the pendency of other actions filed against it in the interim.  For more information on the case, click here

Firm moves for preliminary approval of DCH mechanics settlement

January 3, 2017 – In his capacity as co-lead counsel, firm partner Nicholas Carlin today filed a motion for preliminary approval of the settlement the firm concluded last year on behalf of a class of approximately 400 California-based auto mechanics with DCH Auto Group and its related corporate entities and parent, Lithia Motors, Inc. (the eighth largest automotive retailer in the U.S.), in its wage theft case against them.  The settlement agreement comes after several months of intensive mediation with a well-respected retired California state court judge, and provides for a total monetary recovery of over $4 million, or about $10,000 per class member.  The California Judicial Council has appointed Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ann I. Jones to preside over coordinated proceedings in the matter.  A hearing on the firm’s motion before Judge Jones is pending. 

Firm expands staff, adds new lawyer

January 3, 2017 – The firm has added Cornell Law graduate Manuel Rodriguez as of counsel to the firm. Manuel has worked at several large law firms in the Bay Area as a corporate and transactional lawyer, and also has experience as a litigator. Manuel will continue to concentrate his practice on representing technology-based companies as well as individual investors and investment funds on corporate, securities and intellectual property transactions.