Attorney Stanley P. Lieber has been in practice since 1973 and is a partner at Lieber Williams & Labin. Stan has extensive experience experience representing manufacturing corporations, construction companies, developers, technology companies, security organizations, and individuals.
Stan has represented clients in thousands of business disputes, has handled over 500 trials, and is a member of the Los Angeles County Bar Civil Litigation Qualified Expert Referral Panel.
Our firm regularly handles all types of business and civil litigation, including contractual disputes, real estate matters, collection litigation, insurance disputes, shareholder and partner disputes, and civil appeals. Having an experienced and qualified civil litigation attorney advocating for you or your corporation can make a significant difference in the outcome of a case. Having an experienced attorney can also reduce the fees clients pay (less experienced litigators regularly bill clients for time spent researching an issue or procedure that is new to them, where an attorney in practice for many years has often handled similar matters in the past and does not need to spend time familiarizing himself or herself with every new issue).
Stan has represented clients in thousands of business disputes, has handled over 500 trials, and is a member of the Los Angeles County Bar Civil Litigation Qualified Expert Referral Panel.Contractual Disputes and is a member of the Los Angeles County Bar Civil Litigation Qualified Expert Referral Panel.
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Contractual disputes or allegations of a breach of a contract are common in business transactions. A breach of contract occurs when one side to a contract only partially performs a contract, fails to perform a contract in the time required by the agreement, or when one side fails to perform at all.
When one side fails in its obligations, the remedies (solutions) usually fall into one of three categories: specific performance (performing the terms of the contract, such as delivering a promised item), monetary damages (the payment of money to compensate the other side, including restitution and/or future damages). and rescission (the cancellation of a contract).
Real Estate and Construction Disputes
Real estate and construction disputes arise in most large commercial construction projects and often occur in non-commercial projects. These disputes arise between any and/or all participants in new construction projects or renovations. Contractors, sub-contractors, owners, investors, and real estate agents are all often the defendants in various claims or the initiators of lawsuits.
Insurance claims litigation arises in a variety of dispute contexts including property, commercial, and professional liability. It covers first-party coverage suits, complex litigation, routine coverage, arbitration, and appeals.
An insurance policy is essentially a promise from an insurance company to protect you, the insured. Insurance companies owe a duty of good faith and fair dealing to every person or company they insure which means you can bring a claim against your insurance company if they act in bad faith—when an insurance company fails to treat one of its insured fairly under the law. Common acts of bad faith include failing to quickly process a legitimate insurance claim, demanding unreasonable documentation from a policyholder to back up their claim, and claiming to have lost or never received important documentation from the policyholder.
If your insurance claim is being delayed or denied, you may need an experienced insurance litigation attorney to handle your case.
Collection litigation encompasses the process by which debt collection agencies or corporations collect accrued debt from various individuals or corporate entities. This includes enforcing obligations that arise from ongoing business relationships in a creditor-debtor context as well as the purchase and sale of goods or services under the Uniform Commercial Code. The most common actions in collection litigation are breach of contract and common counts (usually an account stated in writing or goods sold and delivered).
Experienced collection litigators use a wide variety of strategies and tools including foreclosure, suit against guarantors, garnishing wages, seizing bank accounts, freezing assets, and filing liens on individual or corporate property. Additionally, collection litigators often use private investigators, conduct online asset searches, and search client files to determine if a collection judgment will be enforceable. Collection judgments are most commonly executed against the following:
- Personal property
- Real property
- Stock shares
- Money orders
- Debts due to the debtor
- Interests in property from the estate of a decedent
One of the most important concerns when dealing with a collection dispute is determining why the non-paying party failed to meet its financial obligations. If the non-paying party (commonly called the debtor) simply lacks the ability to pay, a collection judgment may not even be enforceable. To properly asses the enforceability of a collection judgment, you should consult an experienced collection litigator who will know and understand the appropriate state laws, like Chapter 9 of the California Commercial Code which determines the enforceability against collateral other than personal property in a retail installment sale or conditional sales contract.
A fiduciary duty is a legal or ethical relationship of trust between two or more parties. Under CA law, a party can sue for breach of fiduciary duties if four requirements are proven: (1) a fiduciary duty did indeed exist, (2) that fiduciary duty was breached, (3) proximate cause (which means you have to show that the breach was sufficiently related to the fiduciary duty), and (4) injury or damages.
Fiduciary duties arising in business require that the fiduciary (the person who owes a duty) execute due care when dealing with the money and funds entrusted to it on behalf of the principal (the person to whom a duty is owed). For example, directors and officers of businesses owe fiduciary duties such as a duty of care and a duty of loyalty to the business and its constituents. A duty of care requires that the fiduciary be adequately informed when making a decision on behalf of the interests of the principal. The duty of loyalty requires that the fiduciary act in the best interests of the business entity. Most business directors and partners, mortgage brokers, financial planners, shareholders, real estate agents, as well as escrow agents (and the list could go one) have fiduciary duties.
Civil appeals arise when one party of the dispute appeals the judgment of the court to the next level of the courts. No matter who wins at trial, one party walks away unhappy who may appeal the case. Appeals are handled very differently from a regular trial proceeding because only issues of law are brought before the court. The appellate process is a very narrow and specialized field requiring years of expertise and practice. If you plan to appeal a judgment, seek the counsel of an experienced appellate attorney right away.
The Civil Litigation Process
Not every dispute results in litigation, and not all litigation results in the all cases passing through all of the possible parts or stages. In fact, most cases never reach the trial or appellate stage – many cases settle during the discovery process or prior to the discovery process. Below is a description of the litigation process.
Pre-Litigation: Attempt to Resolve the Case
Usually, there is no legal requirement that a person or business participate in the pre-litigation process. Individuals and businesses are generally allowed to skip this first step and immediately file a lawsuit in Superior Court or in the United States District Court.
Even when the pre-litigation part of the civil litigation process is not required, people and businesses often participate in pre-litigation processes strategically and by choice. Even the filing of a lawsuit creates a hostile environment that many people and businesses try to avoid if possible. Lawsuits can also be costly to file and negotiation prior to filing can save costs.
Demand letters are often an effective way to formally request another side pay money that is owed. The tone and level of detail within a demand letter will vary depending on the relationship between the parties and the amount and complexity of the dispute.
Other types of cases do not allow the filing immediately after a dispute and instead require parties to engage in some type of pre-litigation activity. For example, before a person or business can make a claim against any state-operated agency in California, a claim form must be submitted and a period of time must pass prior to eligibility to file a lawsuit.
Complaint and Answer
A complaint is the initial document that begins a lawsuit and is served with along with a summons to appear in California Superior Courts. The complaint will contain allegations by the plaintiff describing what the defendant did to cause the plaintiff some type of harm. The complaint will also request some type of relief (in the form of money or the performance of some act).
The answer is the defendant’s response to the complaint and must be filed within 30 days of personal service (40 days in cases of substituted service). The answer contains the defendant’s responses to the allegations. It usually contains specific and general denials of the allegations and lists any affirmative defenses that would apply.
The defendant can also file a cross-complaint (a claim against the plaintiff) or a cross-claim (a claim against another defendant). The defendant’s other option is to file a demurrer, which is a response alleging the complaint’s claims, even if true, would not be provide a legal basis for the lawsuit to continue. The demurrer asks that the case be dismissed. A demurrer may also request a dismissal because of some procedural defect with the complaint. A complaint may be dismissed with or without prejudice (if a case is dismissed with prejudice, the complaint cannot be re-filed).
In most litigated cases, the discovery process takes the most amount of time. Discovery is a general term for many types of fact-finding and informational gathering methods.
During the discovery process, the parties may ask each other questions in writing under oath, called interrogatories. Parties may also ask each other to admit or deny certain facts in writing under oath, called requests for admissions. Parties may also schedule the deposition of any other party or witness. A deposition is a verbal examination where an attorney asks a witness questions under oath and while the questions and answers are recorded by a stenographer or electronically or both. Deposition witnesses can be any type of witness, including expert witnesses and eyewitnesses.
Either side may bring different kinds of written motions during the course of the case. Motions are requests that the judge make a certain order, such as dismissing a case altogether or ordering certain pieces of evidence inadmissible.
The most common type of motion in most civil litigation and business litigation matters is the motion for summary judgment, also know as a motion for a judgment based on the pleadings. In a motion for summary judgment, one side generally asks a judge to decide the entire case without a trial. However, a summary judgment is only allowed when the side requesting the motion successfully alleges that even if all of the factual (not legal) arguments made by the other party are true and uncontroverted, the case must still be decided in the requesting side’s favor.
Trials are where the factual questions (such as eyewitnesses testimony about what he or she saw) in a case are decided. Factual questions can be decided by a judge or a jury, whereas legal questions can only be decided by a judge. Either side may request a jury trial. If neither side requests a jury trial, the judge will decide all factual issues as well as legal issues. Regardless of whether or not the facts are decided by a jury, the trial process is the same.
In a trial, each side presents an opening statement, an outline of what it believes the evidence will show. Next, the plaintiff is permitted to introduce evidence such as exhibits and witness testimony. The defendant is permitted to cross-examine all of the plaintiff’s witnesses. After the plaintiff rests, the defendant is also permitted to introduce evidence such as exhibits and witness testimony. The plaintiff is permitted to cross-examine all of the defendant’s witnesses.
After the defendant rests, the plaintiff may be permitted to introduce additional evidence to rebut the defendant’s evidence. Each side may have multiple opportunities to introduce additional evidence if the evidence rebuts the evidence the other party most recently introduced. Once the evidence has been introduced, each side receives an opportunity to present its closing arguments. The plaintiff presents its closing argument first, followed by the defendant, and followed an additional time by the plaintiff (the plaintiff goes first and last because the plaintiff is the party with the burden of proving its allegations). After closing arguments, the judge reads the jury a set of instructions. Those instructions provide the law the jury must follow and then directs the jury on the manner in which it is required to apply the law to the facts and ultimately reach a verdict.
The losing side in a trial may appeal. However, appeals only consider whether the judge made the correct legal decisions. Appeals do not consider whether the judge made incorrect decision about the facts and appeals do not consider the jury’s decision about the facts. An appellate court can deny an appeal, grant a new appeal reversing a part or all of a case, or can order a new trial.
Important Business Litigation Issues
Often, the best way to avoid many business-related disputes is to have a properly executed agreement. However, even a perfect contract that leaves no room for interpretation can be breached. When that occurs, a party will rarely be fully compensated without legal help.
While the civil litigation process does not officially begin until a lawsuit is filed, that daunting step can sometimes be avoided if the parties are proactive and work to resolve their dispute. Often, involving attorneys can save money, especially if the attorneys place their Clients’ interests first.
When a lawsuit is filed or is imminent, arbitration and mediation can be viable alternatives to the costly process of litigation and trial. Arbitration is more similar to the court process and involves a decision from an arbitrator. This decision can be binding or non-binding (the parties must agree if arbitration is to be binding). Mediation is simply a negotiation with an impartial referee or mediator who is hired by both parties to bring them closer to a resolution/settlement.
Many businesses and individuals see the litigation process as intimidating because of the rising costs of hiring qualified attorneys by the hour. Some inexperienced attorneys will accept cases for much less money than experienced business litigation attorneys. However, these new lawyers can end up charging as much or more than an experienced civil litigator because they will be forced to charge their clients to learn new concepts.
Despite the high cost of civil and litigation, there are many knowledgeable and highly experienced business litigation attorneys who do everything possible to provide excellent representation at a reasonable price. Their goal is not to charge fees, but instead is to keep costs down and assist clients. This policy can dramatically benefit their clients.
Some civil litigation attorneys also accept fees on a contingency basis, meaning that the attorney only receives a fee if the client obtains money in a settlement. However, these types of fee agreements are generally only offered in personal injury cases (such as a car accident, etc.).