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Jury Returns Defense Verdict for Builder – Homeowners Facing Cost Bill

June 10, 2011

In a closely watched trial, a Los Angeles jury returned a defense verdict to a prominent California home builder in a hotly contested real estate dispute arising out of the purchase of a new residential property in an Inglewood, California development. After claims for fraud and punitive damages were thrown out by the trial judge, the jury rejected all of the homebuyers’ claims for breach of contract and beach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

The Defendant, one of California’s most prominent commercial and residential developers, was represented by Victoria L. Ersoff of Wood, Smith, Henning & Berman LLP. Plaintiffs originally sued the Builder for fraud, misrepresentation and breach of contract. They alleged that the lot they had initially selected in the new development was sold to another buyer, and they were subsequently promised another lot at the same price as the original lot.  In spite of these alleged promises, they entered into a contract for the purchase of the property at the stated price, which was $145,000 more than they claim they were supposed to pay for the lot.  Plaintiffs further claimed that Builder breached the contract by not permitting them to pay all cash for the purchase of the property, not permitting them to use an outside loan officer, not allowing them to select improvements and upgrades for their home, and not resolving the horse manure smell and fly problem on their property caused by the adjacent Hollywood Park Race Track.  After extensive briefing and argument, the trial court dismissed the fraud and misrepresentation causes of action.

Plaintiffs’ case was further narrowed on the first day of trial when the Court granted all 12 of Builder’s motions in limine, leaving plaintiffs only with their claims for breach of contract and breach of the covenant of good faith
and fair dealing relating to Builder’s alleged refusal to permit Plaintiffs to select improvements and upgrades for the property. Plaintiffs’ settlement demand went from seven figures to $595,000, which was summarily rejected.  As a foundation for damage testimony, plaintiff Danny Bryant testified that he has worked as a property manager for the last 36 years and, in the last three years, has performed countless renovations on the properties he manages involving the same type of work necessary to install the improvements and upgrades to which the Bryants claim they were entitled had the Builder not breached the contract. In a pivotal moment in the trial, defense counsel Victoria L. Ersoff was able to impeach Mr. Bryant with his own deposition testimony, where he had testified that he has only worked in property management for 8 years, and has been unemployed for the last 3 years.

Ms. Ersoff won the jury over by demonstrating that the Plaintiffs were not credible witnesses through repeated impeachment and strategic cross?examination. By maintaining her theme of common sense, evidence and credibility, Ms. Ersoff skillfully navigated her way through a trial fraught with surprise and was able to reveal key pieces of evidence in misleading testimony by plaintiff’s to reveal the true facts of the case. Ms. Ersoff stated, “While Los Angeles juries are thought to be unpredictable, this case demonstrates that jurors do in fact pay close attention to the evidence and carefully evaluate it in light of the credibility of the witnesses.”


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