TRIAL CALL

JAMES D. CROSBY – Complex and General Business Litigation – Business Trial Attorney – San Diego, CA. – jcrosby@hcesq.com – Office: (858) 755-3000 – Cell: (858) 705-0083

Featured Image -- 2955

Trademark Refresher:  What is a Family of Marks?

James D. Crosby - Complex and General Business and Commercial Litigation and Trial Representation - Henderson, Caverly, Pum & Charney, LLP - San Diego, California

Another interesting IP post from my partner Doug Lytle – What is a “family of marks?”

Takes On Law

A family of marks is a group of marks (e.g., MCNUGGETS, MCSKILLET, MCCAFE, MCGRIDDLES) having a recognizable formative common characteristic (e.g., MC), wherein the marks are composed and used in such a way that the public associates not only the individual marks, but the common characteristic of the family, with the trademark owner (e.g., McDonalds Corp).

Simply using a series of similar marks, however, does not of itself establish the existence of a family of marks.  Courts and the USPTO consider the use, advertisement, and distinctiveness of the marks, as well as how the common feature contributes to the purchasing public’s recognition of the marks as being of common origin.  To demonstrate such recognition, an owner must show that the marks comprising the family have been advertised or used in everyday sales activities in such a way so as to create common exposure and recognition of common…

View original post 330 more words

California Shareholder Demanding to Inspect Corporate Records? You May Be Taking an Out of State Trip! – Innes v. Diablo Controls.

James D. Crosby - Complex and General Business and Commercial Litigation and Trial Representation - Henderson, Caverly, Pum & Charney, LLP - San Diego, California

Under California Corporations Code Section 1601, a shareholder may, upon written demand, inspect the accounting books and records and minutes of a California corporation or a foreign corporation doing business in California. Shareholder inspection demands are regularly used by California shareholders, often times in connection with ongoing, or anticipated, shareholder or shareholder derivative litigation. In Innes v. Diablo Controls (2016), Case No. A145528, the First District Court of Appeal addressed where that inspection may take place, and it may not be in California!

In the Innes v. Diablo Controls case, Diablo Controls was a California corporation whose corporate books and records were kept in Illinois. The issue on appeal was whether, under Section 1601, the corporation had to produce the records for shareholder inspection in California or could do so in Illinois where they were maintained. Relying on what can only be characterized as dicta in a 2004 case, Jara v. Suprema Meat (2004) 121 Cal.App.4th 1238, and noting that the statute makes no provision that the requested records be brought in state, the Court held there was no obligation on the part of the corporation to bring the requested records to California for inspection. It need only make the records available for inspection “at the office where the records are kept”; in that case, Illinois.

So, under Innes v. Diablo Controls, if you are a shareholder making a section 1601 demand to inspect corporate records, and those records are “kept” by the corporation at a location outside of California, you could be buying an out-of-state plane ticket. The corporation has no obligation to produce the records for inspection at any location other than where they are “kept”. If that “kept” location is out-of-state, tough luck, you can be forced to go there to make the inspection.

Takeaways:

First, isn’t this a bit old school? Aren’t most business records maintained electronically these days, especially financial and accounting records? Aren’t most business records maintained in cloud storage? Where are such records “kept” within the meaning of section 1601? Isn’t focusing on where records are physically kept as the controlling factor for shareholder inspections a bit contrived and, frankly, silly in this day and age?

Second, this opinion could place substantial financial and logistical burdens on shareholders seeking basic corporate information. One could see California corporations seeking to avoid shareholder scrutiny setting up “corporate records” offices in far away, difficult to get to, locations. “We received your demand to inspect the company’s minute book and accounting records. Those records are kept in our “corporate records” office in Nome, Alaska. They will be made available there for your inspection on reasonable notice.”

The case does seem to leave a little wiggle room on this issue of the burden placed upon shareholders seeking to inspect corporate records. Appellants argued that under a “no required in-state inspection” interpretation of the statute a corporation could avoid a section 1601 inspection by simply sending the records far away. The Court addressed this concern as follows:

We agree that maintaining the records in a remote location to intentionally impede inspection would be contrary to the purpose of section 1601. However, there is no evidence of such obstruction here. To the contrary, Diablo Controls voluntarily and at its own expense transported many of the requested documents to California for appellants’ inspection.  In addition, appellants have not alleged that requiring them to inspect the records in Illinois will preclude their ability to exercise their section 1601 inspection rights.

This language seems to leave open the possibility that a demanding shareholder could compel production of the corporate records in state by showing that the corporation maintains records in a remote location to intentionally impede section 1601 inspections or that remote production would preclude shareholders the ability to exercise their section 1601 inspection rights. But, these may be difficult, and expensive, burdens to meet to compel an in-state section 1601 inspection.

Third, the California legislature should amend section 1601 to require California corporations, and out-of-state corporations doing business in California, to maintain current accounting books and records and minutes in state for inspection by shareholders. The legislature should also amend the statute to allow, as an acceptable alternative to in state production of physical records for inspection, electronic production of corporate records requested under section 1601. Corporate rights should not trump shareholder rights when it comes to the inspection of basic corporate records. It should be made easier, and not harder, for California shareholders to inspect corporate records.

Fourth, I just don’t see this result holding up for long. It seems demonstrably unfair to generally less-powerful shareholders simply seeking to see corporate records. I suspect the California legislature will address this. It certainly should! And I suspect that subsequent decisions will open up broad judicial exceptions to a section 1601 “no required in-state inspection” rule.

But, for the time being, section 1601 inspections could require significant money and  travel time to complete!

       

“The law, like boxing, prohibits hitting below the belt.” – Martinez v. State.

James D. Crosby - Complex and General Business and Commercial Litigation and Trial Representation - Henderson, Caverly, Pum & Charney, LLP - San Diego, California

In an interesting and, in a warped kind of way, entertaining new opinion, Martinez v. State  (2016) 238 Cal. App.4th 559, the Fourth District Court of Appeal tore into defense counsel for misconduct in the trial of a motorcycle injury case and into the trial judge who condoned such misconduct. The described acts of attorney misconduct include repeated violations of in limine orders, improper allusions to the defendants’ financial status, repeated character attacks and, get this, inflammatory references to Nazis. Though noting that “attorney misconduct is more common than reversal for attorney misconduct”, the Fourth District reversed and remanded the case for new trial based solely on attorney misconduct.     

What I find interesting about the case is not so much its analysis or its holding. Rather, I find the case interesting and worthy of note because of the way it is written. The opinion is exceptionally well-written – pointed, biting, persuasive, and highly quotable. We will be seeing the boxing passage from the opinion used as the title of this piece– “The law, like boxing, prohibits hitting below the belt.” – in many motions, briefs, and opinions in the future. It’s a great line. I’m sure I will use it when the need arises.

The following passage from the opinion is an artful, nuanced, but devastating, comment on the conduct of the trial judge in the case:

While Judge Di Cesare showed the patience of Job—usually a virtue in a judge—that patience here had the effect of favoring one side over the other. He allowed Bilotti to emphasize irrelevant and inflammatory points concerning plaintiff’s character so often that he effectively gave Caltrans an unfair advantage. Imagine a football game in which the referee continually flagged one team for rule violations, but never actually imposed any yardage penalties on it. That happened here and requires reversal.

Brutal.

Or this,

In forensics there is what has become known as “Godwin’s Law.” Broadly speaking, Godwin’s Law is that the first side in an argument to compare the other side to Hitler or the Nazis loses. Apparently unaware of this rule, Bilotti used Martinez’s damaged motorcycle to make a gratuitous, out-of-the-blue attempt to link Martinez to the Nazis.

I may be wrong, but I suspect there has never been a California appellate court decision that references “Godwin’s Law” on Nazi references!

While the case does include a nice summary of the factors to be considered in determining whether attorney misconduct is prejudicial so as to warrant reversal and a concise analysis of those factors, something that might be useful should attorney misconduct become an issue in one of your cases, that’s not why I like the opinion. I like it simply because of the way it is written!

Takeaways:

None, really. Martinez v. State is just a fun opinion to read.

Take a few minutes – give it a read – I suspect your reaction will be similar to mine:

Ouch!

It Just Got Easier To Get Sanctions Under California Code of Civil Procedure Section 128.5 – San Diegans for Open Government v. City of San Diego.

James D. Crosby - Complex and General Business and Commercial Litigation and Trial Representation - Henderson, Caverly, Pum & Charney, LLP - San Diego, California

In San Diegans for Open Government v. City of San Diego, 2016 WL 3162818, 16 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 5941, the Fourth District Court of Appeal addressed 2014 revisions to California Code of Civil Procedure Section 128.5.  Principal amongst the Fourth District’s holdings in the San Diegans for Open Government case is that under revised C.C.P. §128.5 an objective standard alone is to be applied to determine whether the actions or tactics at issue were frivolous or solely intended to cause unnecessary delay. This holding in San Diegans for Open Government will make it demonstrably easier to get C.C.P. §128.5 sanctions.

The Case

The case arose from a dispute between San Diegans for Open Government (“SDOG”), a non-profit organization acting as a “government watchdog” and the San Diego City Attorneys Office (“City Attorney”). SDOG submitted a public records request to the City Attorney seeking certain emails. The City Attorney refused to produce the requested emails claiming they were not public records.

SDOG sued the City of San Diego and the City Attorney for violation of the California Public Records Act (the”Act”) and sought a declaratory judgment compelling disclosure of the emails. SDOG also included a cause of action for waste. SDOG ultimately dismissed the waste claim, but secured a judgment against the City of San Diego and the City Attorney for violation of the Act and declaratory relief. The trial court awarded SDOG prevailing party attorney fees under the Act. The trial court also denied a request by the City for C.C.P. §128.5 sanctions from SDOG for filing the dismissed waste claim.

The City appealed claiming, in part, that the trial court erred by concluding the lack of evidence of subjective bad faith by SDOG required denial of the sanctions motion.

The Opinion

In its San Diegans for Open Government opinion, the Fourth District considered the legislative history of the 2014 revisions to section 128.5 and concluded that one purpose of the revisions was to eliminate the subjective standard and impose an objective standard.

Former section 128.5 is silent on whether an objective or subjective standard applies to determine whether actions or tactics are frivolous or solely intended to cause unnecessary delay. The subjective standard evaluates the motives of a party or counsel and the objective standard looks at the merits from a reasonable person’s perspective. (In re Marriage of Flaherty (1982) 31 Cal.3d 637, 649, 183 Cal.Rptr. 508, 646 P.2d 179.) Many courts interpreting former section 128.5 required a showing of subjective bad faith in addition to frivolousness. (Shelton v. Rancho Mortgage & Investment Corp. (2002) 94 Cal.App.4th 1337, 1346, 115 Cal.Rptr.2d 82 [listing cases].)

Section 128.5 is similarly silent on whether an objective or subjective standard applies. The question presented is whether the Legislature intended section 128.5 to be interpreted similar to former section 128.5. Our review of the legislative history shows one purpose of section 128.5 was to eliminate the subjective standard and impose an objective standard.

The court remanded to the trial court to reevaluate the sanctions motion under the legal standard of “objective unreasonableness”.

The Fourth District in San Diegans for Open Government also held that current C.C.P. §128.5  applies to all cases pending as of January 1, 2015 and that the safe harbor waiting period in C.C.P. §128.7 does not apply to C.C.P. §128.5 sanction motions. The court also addressed the respective burdens on the parties to a C.C.P. §128.5 sanction motion, holding that the party seeking sanctions must first tender “some evidence showing potentially sanctionable conduct” which shifts the burden to the opposing party to refute the moving party’s prima facie showing. The court noted that the moving party may rely upon “factually devoid discovery responses” by the party opposing the motion to raise a reasonable inference the opposing party lacks facts supporting its claim and thereby shift the burden.

Takeaways

First, it is now much easier to apply for and obtain section 128.5 sanctions. No longer will the moving party be required to present evidence of the subjective intent or motive of the opposing party or counsel. The court will only look at the merits of the alleged bad faith actions or tactics from a reasonable person’s perspective. This will make C.C.P. §128.5 sanction motions a more effective tool for litigators to address frivolous actions and tactics and for the court to police such actions and tactics.

Second, litigators have to more closely scrutinize their claims, answers, actions and tactics to ensure adequate factual support. While, even under an objective standard, the burden is high on the moving party bringing a C.C.P. §128.5 sanctions motion, counsel can no longer save themselves by arguing their objectively frivolous actions were not prompted by subjective bad faith. Conversely, the court can no longer save counsel from a sanctions order by finding there was no evidence of subjective bad faith.

Third, I foresee future uncertainty about application of the San Diegans for Open Government “objectively unreasonable” standard to the parts of C.C.P. §128.5. The statute contains two separate grounds for an award of sanction – bad faith actions/tactics that are frivolous or “solely intended to cause unnecessary delay”. Further, the definition of “frivolous” in the statute is “totally and completely without merit” or “for the sole purpose of harassing an opposing party”. The objective standard enunciated in San Diegans for Open Government works well with the merit, or absence of merit, determination in consideration of a C.C.P. §128.5 motion. But, how does an objective standard apply to determining whether a party or counsel “solely intended to cause unnecessary delay” or acted “for the sole purpose of harassing an opposing party”? These determinations seem, on their face, to require some inquiry into the intent of the party or counsel to be sanctioned. Can the court properly conclude solely from an objective finding that an action was completely without merit that the party or counsel taking that action “solely intended to cause unnecessary delay” or acted “for the sole purpose of harassing an opposing party”? If that were the case, wouldn’t that render the “solely intended to cause unnecessary delay” and “for the sole purpose of harassing an opposing party” language in the statute meaningless and superfluous? The statute, even after the 2014 revisions, seems to require, by its express language, some consideration of the bad actor’s intent to cause delay or harass. It remains to be seen from future cases how a solely objective standard for consideration of C.C.P. §128.5 motions can be applied to determine the intent of the party or counsel to be sanctioned for taking the bad faith action.

A Business May Not Assign (an ITU Application), if the Assign(or) Has No Business

James D. Crosby - Complex and General Business and Commercial Litigation and Trial Representation - Henderson, Caverly, Pum & Charney, LLP - San Diego, California

Another interesting post from my partner, Doug Lytle. This time on Assignment of Intent-to-Use (ITU) Trademark Applications. Follow his blog, Takes on Law. Always interesting and timely. Jim

Takes On Law

There’s an old saying: “A business with no sign is a sign of no business.”

In a recent dismissal order, the Northern District of California provided insight into the requirements for assigning an Intent-to-Use (ITU) trademark application when the assignment occurs before proof of actual use of the mark is filed with the USPTO.

Some use of a mark, sufficient to accrue some goodwill, is required before an Intent-to-Use trademark application may be assigned to another. 

This is a very important concept, because it can arise in many contexts, including:

  • two companies develop a similar new product both seek to use the same mark, and they resolve the conflict with an assignment of a pending ITU application;
  • assignments between related companies;
  • an individual files an application in his or her personal name instead of or before forming a corporate or other entity (discussed below); and
  • M&A transactions involving IP portfolios that include…

View original post 1,059 more words

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 582 other followers

%d bloggers like this: