Willis v. Superior Court

Decision Date19 November 1980
Citation169 Cal.Rptr. 301,112 Cal.App.3d 277
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
PartiesJack R. WILLIS, Petitioner, v. SUPERIOR COURT OF the State of California, COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, Respondent, Ken WILLIS, Real Party in Interest. Civ. 59215.

Law Offices of Jack R. Willis and Mark S. Pollock, Los Angeles, for petitioner.

Green, Pollon & Smith and Ronald S. Smith, Beverly Hills, for real party in interest.

AUERBACH, * Associate Justice.

This is a petition for a writ of prohibition by Jack R. Willis against enforcement of an order made by respondent court directing the petitioner to answer certain interrogatories propounded by the defendant and real party in interest Ken Willis. 1

Petitioner (plaintiff) has presented us with an incomplete record. He has provided us with no copies of the at-issue pleadings in the case, nor with any of the minute orders made by the trial court, nor with any of his moving papers in opposition to the defendant's motion to compel answers to the interrogatories. Defendant's answer to the plaintiff's application for a writ of prohibition has been helpful in rectifying some of these deficiencies.

From the sparse record, we are able to distill that plaintiff Jack R. Willis and defendant Ken Willis are brothers, that each is an attorney and that they became associated in the practice of law in 1973. This relationship terminated in about mid-December of 1976, with acrimony over the financial claims each was making against the other. On March 15, 1977, after settlement negotiations had proven fruitless, plaintiff filed this action. By April 1978, plaintiff's third amended complaint proved viable. It includes actions for breach of contract, accounting, interference with contractual relationships, and unfair competition. In connection with his answer, defendant interposed a cross-complaint alleging interference with business relations, interference with prospective advantage, breach of contract, a common count for money had and received, a statutory cause of action under Labor Code section 1054, and for punitive damages. The respective pleadings allege conflicting versions of the nature and character of the law association between the Willis brothers. In his cause of action for an accounting, plaintiff recited the arrangement as follows:

"4. On or about January 1, 1973, plaintiff and defendant made and entered into an oral agreement of association for carrying on the business of practicing law. Said agreement was made in the County of Los Angeles and was to be performed in that county under the name and style aforesaid. It was part of said agreement that defendant would be paid a monthly association fee in money, United States currency, in the amount of approximately $750.00 per month, and said sum was increased from time to time by oral agreement of the parties to the amount of approximately $1,200.00 per month; that defendant would work on such matters and cases as were assigned to him by mutual agreement of plaintiff and defendant; that defendant would be paid one-third of the fees received on those cases and matters generated by defendant as to which no portion of the fee was payable to any other attorney; that defendant would be paid monthly amounts as advances against said one-third interest in fee (hereinafter referred to as defendant's drawing account); that in the event that from time to time the total amount of money paid to defendant as part of his drawing account should exceed the amount of money payable to defendant by reason of said interest in fees, defendant would pay to plaintiff amounts of money equal to said excess.

"5. The contract aforesaid was terminated by the parties on December 15, 1976, and their association thereupon ended.

"6. During the period from January 1, 1973, to December 15, 1976, plaintiff did wholly perform all covenants and conditions of said contract to be performed by him. In the course thereof, plaintiff paid to defendant, monthly, his association fees in said amounts as the parties did from time to time agree, and plaintiff did pay to defendant monthly amounts as advances on defendant's drawing account, in amounts from time to time agreed to by the parties. As of December 15, 1976, plaintiff had paid to defendant, as advances, an amount which exceeded defendant's one-third interest in fees actually received. Plaintiff is unable to state the full amount of such excess but plaintiff knows that excess consists in part of Fifteen Thousand Two Hundred Sixty-Four ($15,264.00) Dollars. Plaintiff, on or about December 15, 1976, and continuously thereafter, has requested defendant to account for the amounts actually paid to defendant as and for his drawing account during the period of the contract aforesaid, and for the amounts payable to defendant on account of his one-third interest under said contract, and to pay the full and true amount by which the sums actually paid to defendant as and for his drawing account exceed the amounts payable to him by reason of his interest in fees aforesaid. Defendant on or about December 15, 1976, and continuously thereafter, has refused and failed to make such accounting and payment, or any accounting or payment whatever, or at all."

Having curiously truncated his cause of action for accounting, petitioner resumes a second cause of action for accounting in the following language:

"8. On or about December 15, 1976, in connection with the termination of the Agreement, aforesaid, plaintiff and defendant made a further oral agreement with reference to the division of fees on cases and matters from the Law Offices of Jack R. Willis which defendant would thereafter handle in accordance with the wishes of the respective clients therein. Said further agreement was that as to all cases and matters which had not been completed and the fee earned as of December 15, 1976, the fee payable to the Law Offices of Jack R. Willis would be determined by prorating the time spent on each such case or matter on and prior to December 15, 1976, to the total time spent thereon, and the portion of the fee so prorated would be paid to plaintiff. Said further agreement was also that as to such matters on which all or substantially all of the work had been completed, as of December 15, 1976, and the fee all or substantially earned by that date, the fee, less any amount payable to defendant pursuant to the Agreement alleged in the First Cause of Action hereof, would be paid to plaintiff.

"9. Plaintiff has requested defendant to account for the fees received and payable to plaintiff pursuant to the Agreement alleged in paragraph 8 hereof, and to pay to plaintiff the portions of said fees, payable to plaintiff in accordance with the Agreement alleged in said paragraph 8. Defendant has in his possession all files and records from which the fees payable to plaintiff, on cases and matters can be determined. Defendant has at all times herein material refused and failed to make such accounting and payment and has refused and failed to discuss such matters with plaintiff, either personally or through counsel."

In connection with his third cause of action for interference with contractual relations, the following allegations appear:

"11. By reason of the Agreement alleged in paragraph 4 of the First Cause of Action and the professional relationship between plaintiff and defendant created thereby defendant had full and unrestricted access to all of the files and records of the Law Offices of Jack R. Willis. The information contained in said files was confidential and unique in that it was not available to the general public, was compiled by the Law Offices of Jack R. Willis in the course of its business, was available to defendant only by reason of said Agreement and his relationship with plaintiff aforesaid. Said information has been compiled by the Law Offices of Jack R. Willis through large and substantial expenditures of time, effort and money.

"12. Beginning on or before December 15, 1976 and continuing down to the day hereof defendant has engaged in a course of conduct wilfully and knowingly calculated to induce clients of plaintiff to terminate, without cause, their contracts retaining plaintiff to perform legal services."

Plaintiff's cause of action for unfair competition reads in part as follows, after incorporating prior allegations:

"16. Beginning on or before December 15, 1976 and continuing down to the date hereof defendant has used said records and files for his own benefit, and not for the benefit of plaintiff, and has intentionally and wilfully solicited the business and patronage of plaintiff's clients and diverted and induced many of said clients to enter into contracts of the same or similar nature as those offered by plaintiff to said clients for the performance of legal services. The names, addresses and telephone numbers of said clients were known to defendant only through plaintiff's files and the association of defendant with plaintiff as aforesaid. But for the intentional and wilful interference by defendant in plaintiff's relationships with said clients, they would have continued to use the legal services of plaintiff."

So far as is material to the resolution of this case, the following allegations are extracted from the fourth cause of action of defendant's cross-complaint concerning the nature of the contract that he alleges petitioner breached:

"23. On or about December 14, 1972, cross-complainant, Ken Willis and cross-defendant Jack R. Willis entered into an oral agreement whereby Jack R. Willis agreed to pay Ken Willis a guaranteed salary of $1,000 per month on and after that date and 1/3rd of the gross fees of all business brought into the office after that date by Ken Willis over and above his guarantee. On or about December 14, 1973, Ken Willis and Jack R. Willis entered into an oral agreement whereby in addition to all other sums Ken...

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