Hon. Bonnie Sabraw (Ret.)

Profile

Named “Mediator of the Year” in 2014 by the San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association, Judge Sabraw has established herself as one of the most highly sought after ADR professionals in the Bay Area. Her ability to “think outside the box” and consistently bring parties together has earned her the reputation of fully investing herself in the settlement process in order to resolve almost all types of dispute, even under the most trying and contentious circumstances. As a result of her high settlement rate and extensive experience in dispute resolution, she was selected as one of California’s Top 50 Neutrals by the Daily Journal newspaper consecutively over four years, from 2010 until 2013, at which time the Daily Journal ceased featuring the list.

During her 20 years on the Bench, Judge Sabraw presided over hundreds of settlement conferences, court and jury trials in all categories of civil litigation. Judge Sabraw has been handling complex matters since 1996 and was assigned to the complex litigation department during her last two years on the Bench. From 2001 to 2006 she presided over all California Environmental Quality Assurance (CEQA) matters filed in Alameda County. Throughout the course of her career, Judge Sabraw has handled nearly every type of dispute, including Consumer and Employee Class Actions, Unfair Business Practices Matters, Catastrophic and Mass Tort Personal Injury Cases, Insurance Coverage Claims, Real Estate Disputes, Eminent Domain Matters, Construction Defect, and Proposition 65 Environmental Claims.

Since becoming a full-time neutral in 2008, Judge Sabraw has successfully mediated, arbitrated, and presided over complex discovery disputes, in hundreds of cases with a focus on the areas of Business, Employment, Insurance Coverage, Real Estate, Professional Malpractice, Elder Abuse, Class Actions and Catastrophic Personal Injury. Judge Sabraw has been described as having an approachable demeanor and an ability to effectively assist parties in working together to reach a resolution. With an invaluable perspective stemming from her diverse experiences, Judge Sabraw views each matter as unique and important to the litigants, encouraging the parties to openly communicate their concerns, as well as providing a realistic judicial assessment of the merits of each case. Counsel have consistently praised her for her high level of empathy, ability to listen carefully to the parties and gain their confidence, while also exerting the right amount of judicial probity in the process.

Honors, Memberships, and Professional Associations

  • Mediator of the Year, San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association, 2014
  • Member, International Academy of Mediators
  • Top Neutral, Daily Journal, 2010-2013
  • Member, Alameda County Fair Board, 2007-2009
  • Faculty member, Continuing Judicial Studies Program for Experienced Judges, California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), teaching courses to judges, justices, and court research attorneys, 2005
  • Trial Judge of the Year, Alameda/Contra Costa Trial Lawyers Association, 2000
  • Member, Board of Directors, San Francisco Law School, 1997-2002

Background and Education

  • Judge, Superior Court, County of Alameda, 1993-2008
  • Judge, Municipal Court, County of Alameda, 1988-1993 (Presiding Judge 1992)
  • Private law practice, Varni, Fraser, Hartwell, McNichols & Rodgers, 1981-1988 (Partner, 1985) – Real property and business litigation
  • Deputy District Attorney, Alameda County, 1979-1981
  • J.D., San Francisco Law School, 1979

Speaking Engagements

  • Speaker on “Arbitration and Its Impact on Court Proceedings Today” at California Judges Association Annual Conference, September 2010
  • Speaker on “Understanding Mediation Dynamics” at California Employment Lawyers Association Annual Conference, October 2009
  • Prop. 65 Clearinghouse Annual Conference featured speaker on “Recovery of Attorney’s Fees: Practical Implications,” June 2009
  • Speaker on “Common Issues That Arise in Class Action Settlements” at Consumer Attorneys of California College of Trial Arts-Class Action Seminar, March 2008
  • Panelist discussing procedures in complex litigation departments in the San Francisco Bay Area, American Business Trial Lawyers, May 2007
  • Speaker on “The View From the Bench; How Condemnation Cases Are Different” at the CLE International Eminent Domain conference, 2007
  • Panelist at “Evidence” seminar, Consumer Attorneys of California convention, 2004

Representative Cases

Anti-Slapp

  • Judge Sabraw has had the unique opportunity of presiding over several anti-slapp motions, a few of which are set forth below.
  • Briggs v. Eden Council for Hope and Opportunity. Case No. H-180743-5. Plaintiffs brought a defamation action against Defendant based on negative comments and notations in defendant’s files. Defendant brought an anti-slapp motion seeking dismissal. The motion was granted and the action dismissed. The Court of Appeal reversed. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeal, reinstating the dismissal. (1999) 19 Calk. 4th 1106.
  • Kipperman v. Sheppard Mullin. Case No. RG03 087483. Defendant law firm brought an anti-slapp motion, challenging a professional malpractice claim.
  • Stewart, et al. v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and Rolling Stone. Case No. RG07 361627. Individual rock bands allege that their names were used for unauthorized commercial purposes as part of a Camel cigarette advertising layout in Rolling Stone Magazine. Defendant Rolling Stone’s anti-slapp motion was denied.

Business/Commercial

  • Judge Sabraw’s law practice was primarily in the areas of real property and business litigation. She has handled hundreds of business disputes during her 20 years on the bench and 7 years as a private mediator and arbitrator. Listed below are a few examples of cases she has handled.
  • The world’s largest semiconductor manufacturing company brought suit against the largest semiconductor manufacturing company in mainland China alleging misappropriation of in excess of 1,000 trade secrets and other information. The case was aggressively managed to resolve discovery disputes, preliminary injunction issues, summary judgment and other matters.
  • Commercial landlord/tenant dispute about responsibility for condition of premises when Plaintiff vacated the premises.
  • Action by employees of a corporation that became a wholly owned subsidiary of another company after merger. Plaintiffs claimed their stock option rights were illegally cancelled.
  • Corporation’s action against former employee alleging violation of a non-compete provision of the parties’ separation agreement.
  • Breach of contract and allegations of trade secret violations.
  • Business dispute between an automobile dealer and the manufacturer regarding contract terms and unfair competition issues.
  • International business dispute over investments in China, involving American and Chinese courts.
  • Contract dispute over the design and fabrication of solar equipment.
  • Disputes over dissolution of medical and dental practices.
  • Public works contract disputes over payment and quality of work performed.
  • Dispute between petroleum provider and gas station owner over right to sell branded gasoline.
  • Homeowner Association dispute over CC&R’s challenging Board’s decision to do earthquake retrofit work on over 100 units.
  • Disputes among multiple members of a low-income homeowner association regarding the Board’s management.
  • Shareholder buy-out disputes.
  • Disputes regarding franchise ownership interests involving high-tech companies and investors.
  • Breach of contract dispute between a hospital billing preparer and the hospital over the billing practices and billings for a four-year period, complicated by insurance company denials and appeals, write-offs, and uninsured patients.
  • Acrimonious dispute brought by buyer of a shopping center against the seller and the broker representing both buyers and seller. The matter was further complicated by the personal relationships between the parties.

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CEQA

  • Judge Sabraw was the designated CEQA judge for Alameda County from 2001 to 2006. During that time she heard numerous writ petitions alleging all type of CEQA violations related to quarry development, construction projects, water preservation, endangered species, historical structures, disputes among governmental agencies, park and recreation use, transit matters, and waste management. Some illustrative matters are set forth below:
  • Plaintiff Association filed petition for writ of mandamus against City alleging that City’s failure to require preparation of an environmental impact report (EIR) for a theater project violated CEQA.
  • Judge Sabraw granted, on due process grounds, vacation of the City’s initial approval of construction of a housing complex, but ultimately denied Writ of Mandate challenging the project after construction was reapproved. Plaintiffs sought fees and costs incurred in setting aside approval on due process grounds.
  • CEQA challenge to the UC Regents Long Range Development Plan involving 225 acres of UC property planned for a new on-campus neighborhood at the UC Davis campus.
  • CEQA challenge by the owner of a competing facility for the construction of a health and wellness facility and medical office building in the City of Livermore.
  • CEQA challenge to the City’s issuance of a Conditional Use Permit to operate a private club in the City of Alameda, alleging that the City improperly found the project to fall within a categorical exemption under CEQA.
  • CEQA action challenging the Department’s issuance of suction dredge mining permits to miners and its impact on Coho salmon and other fish. Judge Sabraw assisted in the parties reaching a stipulated judgment.
  • Citizens group’s CEQA challenge to large development projects in Hayward.
  • CEQA challenge to the development of the Leona Quarry site in Oakland for residential use, alleging lack of substantial evidence to support approval of the project. The matter thereafter settled.
  • CEQA challenge by the Park and Recreation District to the City of Dublin’s Development Plan and annexation of 1,120 acres of open space for residential, commercial, and industrial use.
  • Complex multi-party CEQA action involving a reclamation plan for waste water disposal for the City of Healdsburg.
  • CEQA challenge to the City of Berkeley’s approval of the demolition of the John M. Doyle House, a building Plaintiff maintained was designated as a historically significant structure.
  • Land use issues, including CEQA, challenging the annexation and development of rural lands for the construction and operation of a golf course by the City of Pleasanton.
  • CEQA challenge to the Regents’ approval of the UC Davis Conference Center, Hotel, and Graduate School of Management Building.
  • CEQA challenge by labor union to the construction of a Wal-Mart store in the City of Fremont.
  • CEQA challenge to City’s approval of a mixed use project based on alleged impacts to historic resources, soil and water contamination, noise, and parking.

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Construction Defect

  • Judge Sabraw has had extensive experience with construction defect litigation, both as a litigator and as a judge. A few illustrative cases are listed below:
  • Complex multi-party action involving $55 to $62 million performance bond dispute and construction defect issues brought in connection with the large Oakland City Walk Project.
  • General Contractor’s action alleging breach of contract and mechanic’s lien issues against owner, construction manager, and lender on multi-million dollar construction project.
  • Public works contract dispute over construction scheduling and costs for the retrofit work at Highland Hospital in Oakland, California.
  • General contractor’s cross-claim against subcontractors alleging defects related to flooring installation.
  • Homeowner association action against developer alleging construction defects to 123 condominium units and appurtenant common areas. Judge Sabraw conducted extensive case management conferences.
  • Homeowner Association’s action alleging multiple construction defects. This matter was assigned to Judge Sabraw for jury trial. After ruling on in limine motions, settlement conferences were conducted and the matter was settled.
  • Homeowner Association’s action against developer alleging construction defects in 32 single family homes.

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Consumer Class Action

  • Judge Sabraw has presided over in excess of 100 consumer class actions which have included settlement conferences, motions for class certification, motions for approval of settlements and attorneys’ fees and costs, and jury trials. Illustrative cases are listed below.
  • High-profile coordinated consumer class action lawsuits against all major wireless cell phone carriers regarding the validity of early termination fees and handset locking. Judge Sabraw handled numerous motions involving class certification issues, summary judgment, and two jury trials.
  • Nationwide consumer class action seeking recovery of travel-related insurance premiums. Judge Sabraw rendered numerous rulings regarding discovery, summary judgment, and case management.
  • Coordinated action assigned by the Judicial Counsel alleging damages resulting from claims of unfair business practices related to contracts for dating services.
  • Coordinated action assigned by the Judicial Council alleging injury resulting from use of Defendant laser hair removal spa’s hair removal equipment.
  • Plaintiffs, current and former tenants of a 61-unit apartment complex, brought claims for negligence, premises liability, retaliation, nuisance and violations of the UCL (B&P Code 17200). Motion for class certification denied based on concerns with commonality and manageability.
  • Class actions alleging failure to deliver and misdelivery of Yellow Pages as contracted.
  • Class claims alleging improper check cashing fees. Preliminary approval of settlement granted.

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Discovery Reference

  • Since 2008, Judge Sabraw has been appointed as discovery referee in more than twenty (20) matters. She has issued recommendations to the Court setting up ESI protocol, written discovery motions, handled in camera review of voluminous documents, and monitored depositions. These cases have involved employment matters, insurance coverage cases, class action e-discovery disputes, class action mortgage claims involving a major mortgage company, asbestos, and corporate disputes between directors and shareholders.

Elder Abuse

  • Multiple claims of injury or death of an elder while in the care of a convalescent hospital. Examples include:
  • Surviving family member claimed their mother died after choking on food when her eating was supposed to have been monitored by staff. Defendants maintained that the decedent died from natural causes by suffering a heart attack;
  • Injury to an elderly woman suffering from dementia when she went out a second story window while trying to leave the facility. Plaintiff claimed the facility was understaffed and that the woman was not monitored appropriately;
  • Allegations of sexual assault by staff at the facility against elder resident.
  • Multiple claims of financial elder abuse by family members and commercial entities. Examples include
  • Claim of improper use of a notary to assist in fraudulently taking real property from elderly woman;
  • Claim that trustee abused her fiduciary responsibilities while handling the financial affairs of her parents, for the benefit of her children and to the detriment of other family members.

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Eminent Domain

  • Judge Sabraw has extensive experience, both as a litigator and as a trial judge, in the area of land use and eminent domain issues. In 2007, she was a guest speaker at the CLE International Eminent Domain conference on “The View From the Bench – How Condemnation Cases are Different.” Illustrative cases she has handled are below.
  • Eminent domain action to acquire a PG&E easement through research and development property. Case settled at judicially supervised settlement conference.
  • Condemnation action involving properties necessary for BART expansion in southern Alameda County. Settled after several settlement conferences, which included participation of several non-party public agencies.
  • Opponents of a quarry project sued the excavation company and landowner to enjoin the expansion of a quarry in Alameda County on land owned by the City and County of San Francisco, alleging the expansion was in violation of a county initiative amending the general plan.
  • Nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting wild life brought an action against the owners and operators of energy producing wind turbines based on allegations that the turbine blades were killing birds.
  • Landslide damage claim against the park district. Case involved significant governmental immunity issues.

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Employment/Labor Class Actions

  • Judge Sabraw has handled all types of employment actions, including wrongful terminations, retaliation, whistle blower cases, sexual harassment, sexual and racial discrimination, disability discrimination, as well as numerous class actions alleging wage and hour violations, exempt versus non-exempt issues, and employer versus subcontractor matters. Some illustrative cases are listed below.
  • Claim of wrongful termination by kitchen staff worker at a convalescent hospital, claiming racial discrimination and wage and hour violations. Defendant maintained Plaintiff was fired for stealing food.
  • Claim of discrimination and wrongful termination based on pregnancy by nanny and housekeeper. Defendant maintained she was fired based on a bad attitude and rudeness.
  • Pest control worker’s claim of sexual harassment while working as pest control inspector.
  • An openly gay man sued a public agency for sexual orientation discrimination for failure to promote him, while promoting others with less seniority.
  • Pre-litigation mediation by an employee of a technology company involving Private Attorney General Act (PAGA) claims, retaliation and stock option issues.
  • Individual and class action wage and hour and meal and rest break claims against private companies such as restaurants, factory workers, farm workers, as well as governmental entities.
  • High profile discrimination case based on claims of hostile work environment brought by two elementary school teachers against a school principal.
  • Claim of wrongful termination by mentally disabled Plaintiff who worked for a religious organization for 19 years. Defendant claimed that her condition had reached a point where she was no longer able to perform her job duties.
  • Allegations of wrongful termination, retaliation, and Violation of Public Policy. Plaintiff, a hospital nurse manager at a hospital brought suit based on allegations that she was fired after complaining about possible violations of law at the hospital.
  • Employment discrimination matter. 5-week jury trial alleging harassment and racial discrimination. Judge Sabraw assisted the parties in settling for a confidential amount during the punitive damage phase.
  • Action alleging racial discrimination and free speech violations. Settled after judicially supervised settlement conference during punitive damage phase.
  • Action alleging sexual harassment, retaliation, and hostile work environment.
  • Jury trial alleging sexual harassment, retaliation and discrimination.
  • Action alleging disability discrimination.
  • Class action alleging misclassification of employees. Settlement after class certification granted. Judge Sabraw granted preliminary and final approval for class settlement.
  • Class action alleging failure to pay wages for overtime and meal and rest breaks.
  • Challenge to constitutionality and application of City ordinance regulating wages and benefits for hotel workers.
  • Class action by delivery drivers to Starbucks Coffee houses on issues of meal and rest breaks.

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Environmental/PROP.65

  • Action against the owners and operators of energy producing wind turbines alleging a private right of action under the public trust doctrine for the killing of birds caught in the turbine blades.
  • Challenge by individual alleging manufacturer’s failure to warn the public that its automotive touchup paint contained toluene, a reproductive toxin, in violation of Proposition 65.
  • In excess of 30 cases mediated together based on allegations that a flame retardant chemical in clothing required a Proposition 65 warning.
  • Multiple claims that plastic covers for various items of electronic equipment and floor coverings contained DFEH toxins sufficient to require a Proposition 65 warning.
  • Claim that flag-football flags contain sufficient amounts of lead to require a Proposition 65 warning.
  • Claims that products sold in large discount stores contain sufficient amounts of lead to require a Proposition 65 warning.
  • Approximately 80 coordinated cases alleging plaintiffs were injured by exposure to toxic manganese fumes. Extensive case management, law and motion and discovery issues. Several of the cases have been resolved.
  • State action against toy manufacturer alleging violations of Proposition 65 based on toxic materials in toys.
  • Plaintiff filed a complaint against computer manufacturers alleging a violation of Proposition 65. Case settled in judicially supervised settlement conference.
  • Four cases selected out of hundreds of pending cases alleging Met Life was responsible for Plaintiff’s contracting asbestos related diseases.
  • Multi-party asbestos related personal injury action. Case settled at a supervised settlement conference for a confidential amount.

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CS - Government Law

  • Judge Sabraw has handled several governmental actions involving complex constitutional and other governmental issues.
  • Constitutional challenges to Proposition 71, the State initiative granting $3 billion in funding for stem cell research. Two related cases were assigned to Judge Sabraw for all purposes, including court trial. After trial, Judge Sabraw held that the initiative was constitutional. Affirmed on appeal. Petition for rehearing before the Supreme Court was denied. (2007) 137 Cal. App. 4th 1319.
  • Challenge to constitutionality and application of City ordinance regulating wages and benefits for hotel workers.
  • Opponents of a quarry project sued the excavation company and landowner to enjoin the expansion of a quarry in Alameda County on land owned by the City and County of San Francisco. Plaintiff alleged the expansion was in violation of a county initiative amending the county’s general plan.
  • Landslide damage claim against the recreation and park district. Case involved significant governmental immunity issues.

Insurance

  • Coverage claims against multiple insurance carriers involving in excess of 20,000 current claims plus future claims for asbestos related injuries brought against Western MacArthur.
  • Four cases selected out of hundreds of pending cases alleging Met Life was responsible for Plaintiffs contracting asbestos related diseases.
  • Complex multi-party action involving $55 to $62 million performance bond dispute and construction defect issues brought in connection with the large Oakland City Walk Project.
  • Coverage dispute among carriers for a private contractor involving reimbursement to State and Federal government agencies for fire damage suffered as a result of a major forest fire.
  • Title insurance disputes based on failures by the title company to list liens, other encumbrances, and easements of record in real estate purchase and sale transactions.
  • Failure by escrow company to require necessary documents and signatures for real property purchase and sale transaction.
  • Cases involving marine insurance coverage related to dock damage at various marine facilities.
  • Multi-million dollar dispute brought by a major hotel chain against its excess carrier, claiming coverage for monies paid in settlement of underlying litigation involving claims against former employees who allegedly took employee lists and trade secret information to their new employer.
  • International arbitration involving claims by a national health care provider against its excess carrier to recover sums paid to settle class action lawsuits that alleged a scheme by the health care provider to fraudulently deny patient claims.

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Medical Malpractice

  • Judge Sabraw has handled multiple cases involving failure to diagnose and failure to properly treat. Examples of these claims include:
  • Medical Malpractice jury trial alleging that delay in treatment of jaundiced newborn by the pediatrician and hospital resulted in quadriplegia and cerebral palsy.
  • Action involving complications from epidural injection.
  • Malpractice allegations related to anesthesia awareness during heart surgery.
  • Medical Malpractice action alleging negligent surgery of cervical spine. Judge Sabraw assisted the parties in settling the entire action during jury trial.
  • Injury to 13-year old girl due to catastrophic side effects from prescribed antibiotics. In addition to medical malpractice claims, allegations also included negligence and fraud against the manufacturers of the name brand pharmaceuticals, even though the medication used by Plaintiff was a generic brand.
  • Death resulting from a heart attack that Plaintiff claimed could have been detected a few days earlier had plaintiff been properly diagnosed.
  • Claim that a failure to diagnose a blood clot allowed the clot to develop into a pulmonary embolism leaving Plaintiff seriously ill and close to death
  • Claim of severe damage to Plaintiff’s eyes due to failure to properly treat an eye condition, resulting in Claimant becoming legally blind
  • Multiple medical malpractice arbitrations involving claims against a large medical provider. Examples include a claim of failure to properly perform gall bladder surgery; treatment below the standard of care of heart conditions, resulting in death; improper monitoring of pain medication resulting in death of the patient; and claims of improper diagnosis of various types of cancer

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Personal Injury

  • Judge Sabraw has presided over hundreds of jury trials involving claims for personal injury. She has also successfully brought the parties to settlement in an even greater number of cases. Illustrative cases are set forth below.
  • Ford van rollover accident with 14 young adult occupants. Five of the passengers died in the accident and the other nine occupants were all seriously injured. Confidential settlement during trial.
  • Plaintiff, a dentist, suffered injury after being assaulted by a K-mart security guard and brought an action alleging claims of negligence, battery and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
  • Wrongful death action. Decedent, a truck driver responsible for loading and unloading propane gas from tanker trucks suffered a horrific death when his clothing became entangled in a part of the truck crank mechanism and he could not disentangle himself. Case settled after several settlement conferences involving very emotional issues.
  • Chain reaction freeway accident with serious injuries to three family members.
  • Multiple actions arising out of two buses colliding. Cases settled after extensive settlement conferences.
  • Approximately 80 coordinated cases alleging plaintiffs were injured by exposure to toxic manganese fumes. Extensive case management, law and motion and discovery issues.
  • Wrongful death. Decedent’s parents alleged defendant wrestling school was reckless in requesting that their 27-year-old son, a beginner wrestling student, volunteer to be subjected to wrestling throws from a 7-foot tall, 400 pound semi-pro wrestler that the school was promoting.
  • Personal injury action alleging serious injury resulting from a dangerous condition at work.
  • Catastrophic injuries resulting in claims of severe RSD/CRPS.
  • Claim by passenger against a major airline when a suitcase fell on Plaintiff’s shoulder out of an overhead bin when flight attendant was assisting in storing the suitcase.
  • Neighbors claiming damages when three dogs were terrorizing a neighborhood, creating a dangerous nuisance.
  • Wrongful death action against a city when Plaintiff’s mother fell on a grate on the sidewalk, hit her head on a parked car, and died.
  • Twelve-year old boy’s claim of negligent hiring against a school district alleging molestation by a teacher.
  • Catastrophic injury to a 10-year old girl struck by a metal pole after a taxi driver knocked over the pole. The injuries were witnessed by her father and brother resulting in Dillon v. Legg claims.
  • Plaintiff injured when kicked by a horse while volunteering at a ranch devoted to providing horse activities to physically and emotionally challenged children.
  • Product liability claim alleging injury to Plaintiff when using eyelash glue.
  • Injury to 13-year old girl due to catastrophic side effects from prescribed antibiotics. In addition to medical malpractice claims, allegations also included negligence and fraud against the manufacturers of the name brand pharmaceuticals, even though the medication used by Plaintiff was a generic brand.

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Real Estate

  • Condemnation action involving properties necessary for BART extension. Settled after extensive settlement conferences which included participation of several non-party public agencies.
  • Multiple eminent domain matters involving condemnation by cities, counties, transportation agencies and public utilities. These claims involved issues of highest and best use, appraisals disputes, improvements pertaining to realty, and business goodwill.
  • Landlord/tenant disputes, including class action and individual disputes, involving claims of wrongful eviction, mold contamination, habitability issues, and rent control violations, as well as discrimination claims.
  • Shopping center dispute between landlord and major tenant which settled by a reduction in lease payments for several years remaining on the lease.
  • Breach of contract claims involving purchase and sale agreements for single family residences, condominium developments, apartment buildings, and large commercial buildings. Breaches involved claims of failure to act timely, failure to fund, misrepresentation/fraud, and failure to disclose defects in the property.