Call & Jensen is pleased to announce that it has added two litigators to its roster of trial and complex litigation attorneys. Lisa Sandoval joins the firm from Steptoe & Johnson, where her practice encompassed high-stakes litigation and white collar defense. She holds a J.D. from Columbia University and practiced law in New York and Washington D.C. before joining Call & Jensen. Chris Dalton joins the firm after practicing at Morrison & Foerster, where he represented aviation, pharmaceutical, and medical device manufacturers in product liability and commercial litigation matters in state and federal court. He holds a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center, and served in the U.S. Marine Corps prior to practicing law. Call & Jensen welcomes its new attorneys.
Conventional wisdom instructs defense counsel, when dealing with “hide-the-ball” plaintiffs, to file all necessary motions to compel compliance with the area of law or discovery that is not being fearfully obeyed. The theory, of course, is that diligent defense counsel must not leave a stone unturned and must also bring its adversary’s improper tactics to the court’s attention at each and every instance.
In trade secret litigation, the conventional wisdom is no different. California Code of Civil Procedure section 2019.210 requires that “before commencing discovery . . . the party alleging the misappropriation [of trade secrets] shall identify the trade secret with reasonable particularity.” (Emphasis added). Accordingly, diligent defense counsel will refuse to move forward with discovery until the plaintiff has fully complied with this requirement. In the event defense counsel is not satisfied with the plaintiff’s description, it will bring a motion to compel so that the Court will issue an order that the plaintiff provide the requisite particularity of the trade secret’s description.
This strategy makes sense. After all, one of the purposes behind Section 2019.210 is to “enable defendants to form complete and well-reasoned defenses, ensuring that they need not wait until the eve of trial to effectively defend against charges of trade secret misappropriation.” Computer Economics, Inc. v. Gartner Group, Inc., 50 F. Supp. 2d 980, 985 (S.D. Cal. 1999).
Of course, employing the above strategies generally results in nothing more than compliance with Section 2019.210. In some fortunate cases, monetary sanctions may be awarded. Meanwhile, the plaintiff’s counsel has been given a primer as to what must be alleged and proven once discovery actually commences to prevail in its claims that a trade secret actually exists and was misappropriated.
One alternative strategy that strays from the conventional wisdom can do much more damage to a plaintiff’s trade secret case. As explained in greater detail below, Section 2019.210 can be used as a weapon to devastate a plaintiff’s case. However, as with all powerful weapons, patience and deliberation must be used before it is employed. As explained below, in the litigation context, it must be briefly showcased at the outset of the case and then kept hidden until it is time for summary judgment.
STEP ONE: LAY THE FOUNDATION
In order to set the case up for summary judgment, it is imperative that defense counsel put the plaintiff on notice of its obligations according to Section 2019.210. Rather than bring a motion, or even threaten to bring a motion, a non-threatening letter advising opposing counsel of Section 2019.210’s requirements is sufficient. For example, a letter that innocuously states the following is effective: “I wanted to highlight your attention to California Code of Civil Procedure Section 2019.210, which requires that in any action alleging the misappropriation of a trade secret, the party alleging the misappropriation shall identify the trade secret with reasonable particularity before commencing discovery. While Plaintiff’s Complaint describes in general some information relating to trade secrets, this description is insufficient. Therefore, before next week’s depositions begin, please forward to me Plaintiff’s Section 2019.210 statement.” Plaintiff’s counsel will either comply or, more likely, rely on its “hide-the-ball” tactics and respond with the argument that its description in the complaint was sufficient.
In the latter scenario, it is tempting for defense counsel to file a motion and have the Court admonish the plaintiff’s counsel for its shenanigans. Since admonitions do not win lawsuits, wise counsel must exercise one of the most underutilized skills in modern advocacy: patience.
STEP TWO: BUILD THE TRAP
Without mentioning the plaintiff’s counsel’s failure to comply with Section 2019.210, the next step is to move forward with discovery. Specifically, taking the depositions of various plaintiff witnesses is necessary to have each witness describe “in their own words,” the information that the plaintiff contends is a protected trade secret. Even the most prepared witnesses will be inconsistent in their descriptions of the allegedly proprietary information. Inconsistent testimony is especially common when the plaintiff’s counsel has already failed to describe the trade secret with reasonable particularity because the witnesses will have nothing to read andmemorize.
STEP THREE: WIELD THE SWORD
Once the depositions are complete, the plaintiff’s case is extremely vulnerable to summary judgment on the grounds that the plaintiff failed to comply with Section 2019.210. Specifically, the defendant can argue that the plaintiff, not only failed to describe the alleged trade secret with any particularity, but that the plaintiff also (per the deposition testimony) failed to describe the alleged trade secret with any consistency.
As recent case law makes clear, a plaintiff’s failure to adequately designate an alleged trade secret constitutes a failure to carry their burden on this necessary element of their claim and is grounds for summary judgment. See Imax Corp. v. Cinema Technologies, Inc., 152 F.3d 1161, 1164-65 (9th Cir. 1998) (affirming summary judgment against plaintiff who failed to identify its alleged trade secrets with particularity); Universal Analytics, Inc. v. MacNeal-Schwendler Corp., 707 F.Supp. 1170, 1177 (C.D. Cal. 1989) (granting summary judgment in trade secrets case where defendant established that plaintiff failed to describe allegedly misappropriated trade secrets).
Recently, in Advanced Modular Sputtering, Inc. v. Superior Court, the Court of Appeal “h[e]ld that Code of Civil Procedure section 2019.210. . . is not limited in its application to a cause of action under the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA)) . . . for misappropriation of the trade secret, but extends to any cause of action which relates to the trade secret.” 132 Cal. App. 4th 826, 830 (2005)(emphasis added). Put another way, exposing a plaintiff’s failure to comply with Section 2019.210 at the right time can be devastating the plaintiff’s case.
Opposing the motion for summary judgment is equally problematic for the plaintiff. As an initial matter, there are little (if any) factual disputes in the motion because the defendant will be relying exclusively on the plaintiff’s allegations and admissions. Moreover, the plaintiff cannot defeat summary judgment by providing further details not included in its section 2109.210 statement. See Pixion, Inc. v. Placeware, Inc., 2005 WL 88968, at *7, *11 (N.D. Cal. 2005)(granting summary judgment, in part, based on plaintiff’s failure to describe alleged web conferencing technology trade secrets with reasonable particularity in its section 2019(d) statement which identified six features of its invention).
Section 2019.210 is an available weapon that becomes even more powerful the longer defense counsel can wait before using it to expose the plaintiff’s failed compliance. Instead of using it to win a discovery battle, defendants would be well advised to wait and use it to achieve full victory.
Call & Jensen recently defended, successfully, a prominent real estate developer accused of building and selling, for $100M, a 300,000 square foot shopping center which was alleged by the buyer to have been filled with “defective tenants.” The matter was resolved by a confidential settlement favorable to Call & Jensen’s client. The case was handled by Call & Jensen attorneys Wayne Call and Scott Hatch.
Call & Jensen is proud to announce that attorneys Jacqueline Beaumont and Shirin Forootan were recently selected by the Orange County Business Journal as 2016 “Women in Business” nominees. The awards honor business and professional OC women whose accomplishments positively impact the OC business community. Ms. Beaumont is an experienced litigator who has been repeatedly recognized for her work representing employers in all aspects of employment law and legal advising. She is a leader outside the office as well, co-chairing the Orange County Bar Association’s Mommy Esquire Committee, and serving the community through involvement with Girls Inc. and student moot court competitions. Ms. Forootan’s legal practice also focuses on representing and advising employers, which she has been doing exclusively for the past five years. In addition, Ms. Forootan is dedicated to her community—currently serving as Co-Chair of Orange County United Way’s Women United and recently serving as Co-Chair of the Orange County Bar Association’s Community Outreach Committee and Mommy Esquire Committee. She also regularly presents on “teenage legal survival skills” to high-school students in Orange County.
Call & Jensen attorneys recently secured an attorney’s fees award of more than $1.6 million for their client. The award followed the complete dismissal of a $10 million lender liability action against one of the firm’s bank clients and a $4 million judgment for the bank against the plaintiff in the action. The case was litigated by Call & Jensen attorneys Wayne W. Call and Todd C. Bouton.
Call & Jensen was again named to Orange County Business Journal’s list of the Top Law Firms operating in Orange County. The firm is pleased to be recognized and ranked #34 on the list of 86 firms reported by the OCBJ. Overall, more than 1,000 law firms, composed of over 16,000 attorneys, operate in Orange County.
Call & Jensen is proud to be represented this year with firm attorneys in multiple leadership positions with the Orange County Bar Association. Joshua Simon is chair of the OCBA’s Banking & Lending section, and Mark Eisenhut is a member of the OCBA’s Judicial Selection committee. Jacqueline Beaumont co-chairs the OCBA’s Mommy Esq. committee, and Todd Bouton is an executive committee member and past chair of the OCBA’s Banking & Lending section. In addition, several of the firm’s attorneys hold leadership positions with affiliate bar associations: Wayne Call is a member of the Board of Governors for the Orange County Chapter of the Association of Business Trial Lawyers (ABTL); and Deborah Gubernick, past chair of the Orange County Chapter of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society, is currently an Assistant Area Director for the International J. Reuben Clark Law Society. The OCBA is one of the largest voluntary bar associations in California, with over 9,000 members, and provides a variety of programs, services, and opportunities for its attorney members, the judiciary, and the community.
Call & Jensen attorneys David Sugden and Jacqueline Beaumont obtained a complete arbitration victory for their client, a professional services organization, in an employment discrimination lawsuit made under California’s Fair Employment & Housing Act. The claimant had initially filed the lawsuit in civil court, but the Firm successfully compelled arbitration. Following the arbitration hearing on the merits, the arbitrator entered an award for the Firm’s client on all causes of action, including discrimination, retaliation, wrongful termination, and failure to provide reasonable accommodation. Call & Jensen obtained judgment on each issue presented, including a ruling that Call & Jensen’s client, who was alleged to be a joint employer, did not hold the requisite responsibility over the claimant’s employment to be charged with a duty to engage in the interactive process.