International Kidnapping Case Ends With Demurrer

Partner Mary Watson Fisher recently obtained an order from the Los Angeles County Superior Court sustaining a demurrer without leave to amend for a WFBM client.  This was an unusual case where WFBM defended a travel agency in connection with plaintiff's claim that his ex-wife kidnapped their son and took him to Japan.  The plaintiff alleged that the travel agency conspired with the ex-wife and assisted her in obtaining one-way plane tickets to Japan for her and her son using Japanese passports issued under false names.  The plaintiff attempted to allege causes of action for conspiracy to interfere with the parent-child relationship, kidnapping and violation of the International Parental Kidnapping Crimes Act ; intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligent interference with the parent-child relationship; and unfair business practices in violation of Business and Professions Code section 17200.  WFBM demurred to the complaint, arguing that a travel agency could not have conspired with the ex-wife to commit these illegal acts.  Further, the demurrer argued that a travel agency has no duty to investigate and/or conduct a background check on each passenger to determine if there are outstanding custody orders that preclude the passenger from taking a child out of the country, if government consulates have issued passports without requiring proper identification and/or if the other parent gave proper authorization for the international travel, etc.  After allowing plaintiff two attempts to amend his complaint to state a claim against WFBM's client, the Los Angeles County Superior Court ultimately agreed with WFBM's third demurrer and sustained it as to all causes of action without leave to amend.

Motion To Dismiss Granted Based On Lack Of Personal Jurisdiction

Associate Vernon Phillip Hill IV, and partners Ferdie Franklin and Karen M. Johnson of WFBM's Los Angeles and Orange offices, obtained dismissal for the firm's client, a laboratory based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in a professional negligence and breach of contract action venued in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California.

The plaintiff was a non-profit corporation incorporated in California with its principal place of business in California.  The plaintiff hired WFBM's client to test various consumer products for trace amounts of lead and arsenic so that the plaintiff could bring private "bounty hunter" suits against the products manufacturers under California's Proposition 65.  The plaintiff non-profit corporation was formed by an individual residing in Georgia, who lived only a few miles from the firm's client in Tennessee.  The plaintiff initiated contact with WFBM's client in Tennessee, the alleged oral contract was entered into in Tennessee, all products to be tested were personally delivered to the firm's client in Tennessee, and all product testing occurred in Tennessee.  Plaintiff sued the firm's client in San Diego Superior Court.  WFBM removed the case to the United States District Court for the Southern District of California based on diversity of citizenship. 

WFBM filed a motion to dismiss based on lack of personal jurisdiction on the grounds that the firm's client did not have sufficient minimum contacts with California to justify hauling the firm's client to court in California.  Plaintiff's opposition focused almost exclusively on the fact that the lab test results were mailed to plaintiff at its California address and that these mailings were sufficient to justify the exercise of personal jurisdiction of the firm's client in California.  In reply, WFBM argued that the mailings to California were solely the result of the plaintiff initiating contact with the firm's client in Tennessee.  Further, plaintiff unilaterally instructed WFBM's client to mail the lab results to California, which strongly weighed against the assertion of personal jurisdiction.  Moreover, it was brought to the Court's attention that the plaintiff's California address was nothing more than a rented private mail box and that the plaintiff had no offices or employees in California.  The court declined to hear oral argument and granted summary dismissal based on the briefing alone.  The Court ruled that all evidence in the case strongly weighed against the exercise of personal jurisdiction, dismissed the action and awarded WFBM's client costs as the prevailing party.

Defense Wins Appeal in a Wrongful Termination Matter

On November 8, 2011, WFBM obtained a favorable appellate decision for one of the firm's clients, in a matter involving wrongful termination claims. One of the plaintiffs was a member and chief operating officer of WFBM's client, which is a limited liability company. The member plaintiff had entered into an operating agreement which specified members' relative rights and obligations. The operating agreement also contained an arbitration provision.

The lawsuit against WFBM's client alleged that the former COO was wrongfully terminated. After the plaintiff refused to arbitrate his claims, WFBM filed a petition to compel arbitration. The plaintiff argued that the operating agreement did not control his alleged employment and that WFBM's client had waived its right to arbitration. The petition was denied by the trial court. WFBM promptly appealed the decision, arguing that the claims were governed by the operating agreement and required arbitration, and that its client had not waived its right to arbitration. The Fourth Appellate District agreed that the operating agreement controlled and reversed the trial court's denial of the petition to compel arbitration and ordered the court to enforce the arbitration provision.

Partners Ferdie Franklin and Sage Knauft, and associate Reyna Macias represented the client.