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Beaumont-Jacques v. Farmers Group, Inc.

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Third Division

June 12, 2013

ERIN BEAUMONT-JACQUES, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
FARMERS GROUP, INC., et al., Defendants and Respondents.

Ordered Date 7/11/13

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Super. Ct. No. BC438608 Barbara M. Scheper, Judge.

Law Offices of William B. Hanley and William B. Hanley for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Barger & Wolen, Royal F. Oaks and Michael A. S. Newman for Defendants and Respondents.

HEESEMAN, J. [*]

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff and Appellant Erin Beaumont-Jacques (Appellant) sued various entities. After demurrers below, the remaining defendants are five affiliated insurers (Signatory Defendants) and Farmers Group, Inc. (collectively, Respondents).

This appeal challenges the granting of Respondents’ motion for summary judgment. Appellant claims the trial court erred in concluding as a matter of law that she was an independent contractor, and that she presented no triable issues of fact regarding her causes of action. Appellant also claims that her district manager classification was a “scheme” to avoid tax and Labor Code obligations.

The record below demonstrates that Appellant exercised meaningful discretion with reference to her efforts. While Respondents had input over the quality and direction of those efforts, they did not have sufficient “control of the details” with respect to those efforts. Appellant was thus an independent contractor and all of her claims must fail. We accordingly affirm.

FACTUAL SUMMARY

After several years working for the Signatory Defendants, in September 2005, Appellant became one of their district managers by executing the District Manager Appointment Agreement (DMAA). Appellant thereafter recruited and recommended persons to become agents solely for the Signatory Defendants; if the latter accepted such a person, Appellant trained and motivated that agent to market only the Signatory Defendants’ insurance products. While she herself did not sell those products, Appellant could represent Respondents, but no other insurers. According to Appellant, she received many accolades from Respondents. In October 2009, Appellant voluntarily terminated this relationship, receiving, in two payments, $196, 085.20 from the Signatory Defendants pursuant to the DMAA.

In May 2010, Appellant filed this lawsuit. Appellant later filed the operative pleading, the Third Amended Complaint, containing causes of action for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant, sex discrimination and Business and Professions Code section 17200 violations. After discovery, Respondents filed a motion for summary judgment which the trial court granted. This appeal followed.

Among other things, the DMAA addresses certain subjects, which form the contractual framework for this dispute. For instance, paragraph H states: “Nothing contained herein is intended or shall be construed to create a relationship of employer and employee. The time to be expended by District Manager is solely within his/her discretion, and the persons to be solicited and the area within the district involved wherein solicitation shall be conducted is at the election of the District Manger. No control is to be exercised by the Companies over the time when, the place where, or the manner in which the District Manager shall operate in carrying out the objectives of this Agreement provided only that they conform to normal business practice” and to applicable law. Appellant testified at her deposition that, when she signed the DMAA, she understood she was an independent contractor and the Signatory Defendants thought so too.

According to paragraph B.1 of the DMAA, Appellant will “recruit for appointment and train as many agents acceptable” to the Signatory Defendants. Appellant received commission “overwrites” based upon the sales subsequently produced by those agents, with Respondents overseeing the amount of such compensation. In connection with those and related efforts, the DMAA prescribed that the Signatory Defendants could establish “goals and objectives” with respect to the sales of their products. Appellant was required to conform to Respondents’ “regulations, operating principles and standards” and engage in “normal good business practice.” The Signatory Defendants could verify Appellant’s efforts by, for instance, examining her records. ...


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