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Little v. Pullman

California Court of Appeals, Second District, First Division

September 9, 2013

WILLIAM LITTLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
DAVID PULLMAN, Defendant and Appellant.

APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. No. BC395717 Mark Mooney, Judge.

David Pullman, in pro. per; and Lauren M. Greene, for Defendant and Appellant.

Law Office of Mitchel J. Ezer and Mitchel J. Ezer for Plaintiff and Respondent.

CHANEY, J.

In prior proceedings, the superior court denied defendant David Pullman’s motion to compel arbitration under an arbitration clause in a 2005 agreement. We affirmed the ruling on the ground that a later agreement between the parties, which contained no arbitration provision, superseded the 2005 agreement. (Little v. Pullman, May 19, 2011, B221565 [nonpub. opn.].) Soon after our decision was filed, Pullman ventured unilaterally to rescind the later agreement. He then moved a second time to compel arbitration under the 2005 agreement, arguing rescission of the later agreement effectively reinstated the 2005 agreement. The trial court again denied the motion.

We conclude Pullman has not perfected a rescission of the later agreement and, even if he had, unilateral rescission of that agreement would not by itself reinstate the 2005 agreement. We therefore affirm the trial court’s ruling.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

This litigation concerns a dispute over residual income rights once owned by the bankruptcy estate of Sherman A. Hemsley, a television and film actor popular for his portrayal of George Jefferson in the television show The Jeffersons. Residual income from Hemsley’s work is paid to the Screen Actors Guild, which distributes the income to whoever owns the rights to it. When ownership is disputed the guild will either retain the money pending resolution of the dispute or, if no resolution is forthcoming, file an interpleader action. In this case, each side alleges the other has made false representations to the guild concerning ownership of the Hemsley residual rights, which has caused the guild to retain certain residuals.

1. The Prior Lawsuit

In 2005, Pullman and plaintiff William J. Little entered into an agreement (the Original Agreement) pursuant to which they would jointly purchase from the Hemsley bankruptcy estate the right to receive from the Screen Actors Guild residual income resulting from Hemsley’s work. The parties agreed that Pullman would pay Little $42, 500 and Structured Asset Sales, Inc., Pullman’s company, would own the Hemsley residuals but pay 50 percent of the income to Little. They also agreed to arbitrate “any controversy or claim arising out of or relating to... any of the transactions or services contemplated” in the agreement.

A dispute arose, and on July 27, 2005, Little filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court against Pullman and Structured Asset Sales (Little v. Pullman (Super. Ct. L.A. County, 2005, No. BC337234)), alleging the Original Agreement was illegal and seeking its rescission. Pullman moved to compel arbitration in that action but the motion was taken off calendar when developments in the Hemsley bankruptcy intervened. On September 27, 2006, Little amended his complaint to seek only dissolution of a joint venture he alleged had arisen from the Original Agreement, not rescission of the agreement itself. Pullman then renewed his motion to compel arbitration.

In 2007, Pullman, Little and Structured Asset Sales entered into a Settlement Agreement and Mutual Release (the Settlement Agreement) resolving their disputes over the Hemsley residuals. The Settlement Agreement required Little to return the $42, 500 Pullman had paid him and dismiss his lawsuit in exchange for Pullman’s release of all claims against Little and all of his “right, title and interest in and to the Sherman Hemsley residuals.” Payments “already received” by Pullman and Little were to be retained by each of them.

Although the Settlement Agreement contained no direct reference to the Original Agreement, it provided: “This agreement expresses the entire agreement and understanding of the parties with respect to the subject matter hereof, and supersedes all prior oral or written agreements, commitments and understandings pertaining to the subject matter hereof.” There was no arbitration provision.

On April 9, 2007, counsel for Little and Pullman agreed in a side letter that Little would cooperate in securing payment to Structured Asset Sales on residual checks currently held by Pullman—but as yet uncashed—by sending joint letters on behalf of their clients to the holders of funds represented by the checks, advising them the funds had been assigned to Structured Asset Sales and requesting that they make payment on the checks.

In 2008, Pullman, despite having relinquished all “right, title and interest in and to the Sherman Hemsley residuals, ” informed the Screen Actors Guild he was claiming approximately $10, 000 in Hemsley residuals the guild was currently holding. Over the course of several communications, Pullman demanded that the Screen Actors Guild not release ...


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