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F&F, LLC v. East West Bank

BC462714, Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles

FBBC obtains $38,914,610 jury verdict for family owned business against East West Bank

In what can be considered a David and Goliath lender liability battle, Foley Bezek Behle & Curtis, LLP (“FBBC”) on behalf of developer, F&F, obtained a $38,914,610 jury verdict against East West Bank (“EWB”).   FBBC charted a strategy that was designed to organize and simplify the complicated facts so that the “heart” of the case was immediately apparent in trial. However, to get to the trial, FBBC navigated through a myriad of obstacles designed by EWB to avoid that trial.

EWB counter sued F&F alleging its own damages in the approximate amount of $12 million dollars. FBBC successfully eliminated the Bank’s counterclaim and after a three week trial, it prevailed on behalf of F&F, obtaining a convincing jury award.

Before trial, EWB refused to settle for any amount greater than $1.2 million. The principal owners of F&F are Cambodian refugees who successfully escaped the Khmer Rouge with virtually no money or assets and through hard work in the United States, began to build a family nest egg. They developed a small retail shopping center, only to have it all taken away as a result of the actions of EWB.

Specifically, on June 14, 2007, F&F, obtained a $34,850,000.00 construction loan from East West Bank to help finance construction of the Victoria Promenade Project, a retail center located in Rancho Cucamonga. Thereafter, F&F contended, among other things, that East West Bank failed to honor its obligations and commitments to them by wrongfully siding with the contractor, making false representations, and committing other wrongful acts. F&F claimed that East West Bank’s wrongful conduct caused it to lose its property and years of hard work. F&F prevailed at trial, obtaining a jury verdict in the amount of $38,914,610. This verdict was comprised of $16,914,610 in compensatory damages plus $22,000,000 in punitive damages. Thereafter, FBBC assisted F&F in obtaining an additional award from EWB of over $2 million in attorneys’ fees and other litigation expenses.

LA TIMES: Loan Dispute: East West Bank socked $39 million jury verdict click here for a link

ABC Eyewitness News: East West Bank of Pasadena to pay family $39 million in loan lawsuit click here for a link

MONTECITO, Calif. – It’s been over two years since the Thomas Fire and Montecito Mudflow devastated our local community. But some of the victims will soon get their day in court.

More than 13 law firms are suing Southern California Edison for playing a part in the cause of the Thomas Fire and Montecito Mudslides.

Local law firm Foley Bezek Behle & Curtis is representing nearly 300 Montecito families.

To this day, victims still carry scars from those fateful events.

“The trauma that this community has experienced is still very real,” managing partner Robert Curtis said. “People on a daily basis when I’m meeting with them in my office come to tears thinking about those events from those nights.”

At this point in time, Edison has not fully admitted to causing the Thomas Fire. The utility has also not accepted responsibly for the mudslides which followed less than a month later.

“We think our experts and the evidence will show that the fire did cause the Montecito Mudflow,” Curtis said.

On June 15th, a bellwether trial is scheduled for eight randomly selected plaintiffs. This will take place over seven weeks in the complex division of the Superior Court of California County of Los Angeles.

The monetary stakes remain sky-high for both sides.

“The total damages in the Thomas Fire and the Montecito Mudflow is upwards of $3 billion,” Curtis said.

This past November, Edison settled public-entity fire claims with the Santa Barbara City and County for $360 million. Overall, the settlement incorporated lawsuits filed by 23 public agencies for the two local disasters as well as the Woolsey and Koenigstein fires.

“To me, that showed that Edison realized they had done something wrong,” Curtis said. “They were willing to settle with those municipalities.”

Soon will come the day in court for those who experienced the disaster.

”Our lawsuit is trying to bring some level of closure to those people through trying to compensate them for some of those losses,” Curtis concluded.

Based on previous cases, it typically takes 3.5 years for lawsuits of this magnitude to completely settle. It’s been over two years since the mudslide on January 9th, so it’ll most likely take another year before this lawsuit will wrap up.

Local law firm prepares for trial against SoCal Edison in wake of Montecito Mudslide

Southern California Edison has come under legal scrutiny following the Woolsey Fire, from both victims and investors. The attorneys who sued Edison over the Thomas Fire filed suit recently on behalf of victims of the Woolsey Fire, which has claimed three lives and destroyed more than 1,500 structures. At about the same time, stock prices fell dramatically for SoCal Edison’s parent company, Edison International, prompting an investor class action.

In the Woolsey Fire, SoCal Edison disclosed to the California Public Utilities Commission on November 8 that a circuit outage near Chatsworth occurred two minutes before the fire was reported on November 7. By the following Monday, when the CPUC announced it was investigating Edison for the fire, its stock price had fallen by more than 12 percent, according to the investor lawsuit. Filed in the federal Central District Court for California, the investor suit alleges the utility failed to disclose to purchasers that its lines and equipment were neither safe nor in compliance with state law. The share price ultimately fell 32 percent, according to multiple media accounts.

The Woolsey incident is still under investigation by Cal Fire and Ventura County Fire, and the cause of the fire has not been determined. A spokesperson for Edison said the company was focused on restoring power to Malibu and helping its customers. Fire officials also have not yet stated an official cause for the Thomas Fire.

Edison admitted in October that it believed its equipment ignited one of the fires blamed for starting the 281,000-acre Thomas conflagration in December 2017. In the interval, Pacific Gas & Electric was pleading with Governor Jerry Brown and California legislators for relief from its liability in the massive Northern California fires that burned during fall 2017. The Legislature convened hearings in August on the first version of the governor’s bill, Senate Bill 901. The electrical giant, backed up by SoCal Edison, argued that drought and dead trees from climate change were partly to blame for the deadly swift spread of the fires. Legislators, however, argued the liability part of the utilities’ plea to a standstill. Claims against PG&E were estimated at $10 billion, according to media reports, in the October 2017 fires. Already NorCal attorneys are putting damages in the Camp Fire at $20 billion, E&E Energywire reported, against about $2 billion in net income.

In September, the governor signed the second iteration of SB 901, a bill written by State Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa), which allows utilities to raise bonds to pay “costs and expenses,” including wildfire victim payouts, and to charge ratepayers for those bond costs, but only if the California Public Utility Commission finds the utility acted reasonably to design, operate, and maintain its equipment to avoid a fire, and that it reasonably monitored and anticipated wildfire. The bill, which applies after January 1, 2019, specifically includes fires that started in 2017. It also directs the utility to tell the CPUC whether climate conditions affected the severity of the resulting fire, and the new provisions include a requirement for wildfire plans to be put in place by the utilities. The bill also contains numerous grant programs for forestry and wildland-urban areas.

Joseph Liebman, a Santa Barbara attorney pursuing the fire litigation for victims, along with Robertson & Associates of Westlake Village and Foley Bezek Behle & Curtis of Santa Barbara, said the implications of Dodd’s Senate Bill 901 await an interpretation by the courts, as often is the case with new laws. Talking about the red flag warning that was in effect when the Woolsey Fire began and Edison’s previous announcement that it would power down the grid if fire-weather conditions demanded it, Liebman commented, “The utilities sell a product that is inherently dangerous. They have to step up to the plate and stop this. They’re the only ones who can.”

Utility Giant Sued over Woolsey Fire

FBBC wins at Court of Appeals, arbitration agreement declared unenforceable 

In a hotly contested malpractice case, where FBBC’s clients suffered $20,000,000 in damages from the transactional representation provided by their former law firm, FBBC had its arguments tested—and validated–by the California Court of Appeals. FBBC’s clients were a family who had been represented for decades by a prominent and prestigious large law firm.  During the real estate boom, the law firm advised the clients to structure a proposed sale of large multi-family residential property in a manner that was supposed to protect the clients’ interest whether the boom continued, or whether a bust occurred.  When the clients attempted to enforce the deal, the proposed purchasers sued the clients in a class action.

When the clients were forced to settle the class action (after losing on the liability phase of the trial), they had to give up not only their property, but also became liable for millions of dollars in damages to the purchasers. In response to FBBC filing suit against the former law firm, the former law firm contended that an arbitration provision of a new fee agreement applied retroactively to all prior representation, including the transactional representation from over five years prior. On an expedited briefing scheduled, FBBC convinced the trial court that the former law firm was wrong. The former law firm appealed. In a unanimous opinion by Justice Gilbert, the Court of Appeals agreed with FBBC’s arguments, finding that the defendant law firm could not enforce the arbitration agreement retroactively.(Click here to read the Court of Appeals decision.)



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