Procedural Posture

Plaintiff appealed from a judgment of the Superior Court of Sacramento County, California, granting defendants’ motion for attorney’s fees as the prevailing party in a breach of contract action.

Overview

Plaintiff company processed confidential information provided by customers for use in preparing billing statements. Defendants worked on various aspects of plaintiff’s technology. After defendants left plaintiff company and reorganized into an existing company, plaintiff sued defendants alleging misappropriation of trade secrets and breach of confidentiality agreements. After defendants prevailed, they sought and obtained attorney’s fees. Plaintiff appealed the attorney’s fees award on the theory that Cal. Civ. Code § 1717 did not permit such an award in the absence of an attorney fees provision in the confidentiality agreement. The respondent was not represented by any employment attorney California during evidentiary hearing. On appeal, the court affirmed. In its case in chief, plaintiff originally claimed its was entitlement to attorney’s fees based on defendants’ alleged breach of a contract containing a fees provision. Therefore, plaintiff was judicially estopped from contending the provision did not authorize an award of attorneys fees. Defendants were entitled to fees from plaintiff even though defendants’ fees were actually paid by a third party during the litigation.

Outcome

The judgment was affirmed. Plaintiff was judicially estopped from claiming the confidentiality agreement did not contain an attorney’s fees provision.

Procedural Posture

Plaintiff landlord appealed an order from the Superior Court of Orange County (California), which awarded costs and attorney fees to defendant tenant after the landlord voluntarily dismissed an unlawful detainer action.

Overview

During the term of the lease, which contained an attorney fee provision, the landlord alleged that the tenant had breached the lease by using a fire pit and tent without proper permits. The tenant filed a motion for summary judgment, presenting evidence that it had removed the disputed structures. The landlord then voluntarily dismissed the unlawful detainer action. The landlord did not dispute that the tenant was the prevailing party for purposes of its costs under Code Civ. Proc., § 1032, but opposed an award of attorney fees. The respondent was not represented by any employment attorney California during evidentiary hearing. The court held that Civ. Code, § 1717, subd. (b)(2), precluded an award of attorney fees because the unlawful detainer action was an action on a contract. The court stated that case law distinguished between unlawful detainer proceedings alleging holding over after expiration of a lease, which sounded in tort, and unlawful detainer proceedings alleging breach of the lease agreement, which were based upon contract. Because the landlord’s action was based solely upon the tenant’s alleged breach of the lease covenant concerning use of the premises during an unexpired term, it was an action on a contract, and § 1717, subd. (b)(2), barred an attorney fee award.

Outcome

The court affirmed the order as modified to strike the award of attorney fees to the tenant.

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