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Iqbal v. Ziadeh

California Court of Appeals, Third District, San Joaquin

March 24, 2017

MUHAMMAD IQBAL, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
IMRAN ZIADEH, Defendant and Respondent.

         APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of San Joaquin County No. 39-2012-00284517-CU-PO-STK, Bobby W. McNatt, Judge. Reversed with directions.

          Sodhi Law Group, Jakrun S. Sodhi and Ameet S. Birring; Arata, Swingle, Sodhi & Van Egmond, Bradley J. Swingle and Colleen F. Van Egmond for Plaintiff and Appellant.

          Hayes, Scott, Bonino, Ellingson & McLay, Mark G. Bonino, Stephen P. Ellingson, Dara M. Tang, and Tara S. Nayak; Gregory J. Goodwin for Defendant and Respondent.

          NICHOLSON, J.

         Plaintiff Muhammad Iqbal appeals from a summary judgment entered against his complaint for personal injuries. The trial court ruled the complaint was barred by a general release plaintiff had previously executed that immunized “affiliates” of the defendants in the former case, and defendant Imran Ziadeh was such an affiliate. We conclude as a matter of law defendant was not a protected “affiliate, ” as that term is commonly understood. We reverse.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In 2011, plaintiff sued Yosemite Auto Sales, Inc. (Yosemite Auto), its owner Eyad Kaid, and Alla Abuziadeh, individually and doing business as Jimmy's Tow (collectively, the former defendants), for personal injuries. He alleged Yosemite Auto retained him to determine why a vehicle it owned would not start. Unknown to plaintiff, Abuziadeh earlier towed the vehicle to Yosemite Auto and disconnected the transmission shift linkage to do so. He allegedly did not reconnect the shift linkage after towing the car.

         Plaintiff alleged he confirmed the vehicle was in “park, ” and he went underneath it to determine why it would not start. When he tested the electrical connection to the starter, the vehicle immediately ran over him and dragged him through Yosemite Auto's parking lot. Plaintiff's spine was crushed.

         Plaintiff and the former defendants reached a settlement. Kaid and Yosemite Auto tendered their insurance policy limit of $1, 000, 000. Plaintiff dismissed the action with prejudice as to Yosemite Auto and Kaid and released all former defendants from liability “including, without limitation, any and all known or unknown claims....” Of significance here, the release included within its scope the former defendants' “affiliates” and “all other persons, firms, or corporations, with whom any of the former have been, are now or may hereafter be affiliated.”

         In 2012, and more than three months after he settled the first action, plaintiff brought this action against defendant Imran Ziadeh. At the time of the accident, Kaid and Yosemite Auto leased the land for their business from defendant Ziadeh. Defendant had previously operated a used car dealership on the property. Upon leasing the property to Kaid and Yosemite Auto, defendant entered into an agreement with Yosemite Auto under which he left several vehicles from his used car dealership on the property on a consignment basis for Yosemite Auto to sell. The vehicle that injured plaintiff was one of those vehicles. Defendant was the person who recommended plaintiff to Yosemite Auto to fix that vehicle. Plaintiff based this action on the same facts as his first action, and he sued defendant for negligence and premises liability.

         Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. He claimed he was an “affiliate” of Yosemite Auto for purposes of the release in the first action's settlement agreement, and thus he could not be held liable for any claim arising out of the accident. He submitted extrinsic evidence to support his interpretation of the release. That evidence consisted in pertinent part of a declaration by defendant's counsel who also represented Yosemite Auto in the first action. Counsel stated he intended the release in the first action's settlement agreement to be a general release applicable to all persons, known and unknown, who were associated in any manner with the accident, including defendant.

         Plaintiff opposed the motion for summary judgment. He contended the release was ambiguous and there were disputed issues of material fact regarding the release's intent. He submitted extrinsic evidence to establish the parties to the release did not intend for it to apply to defendant because defendant was never a contemplated or known party. Plaintiff's counsel stated he was never aware of defendant's potential liability or that defendant and Yosemite Auto “were affiliated” because Yosemite Auto never disclosed the relationship during discovery in the first action. Nor did Yosemite Auto or its insurer disclose that defendant maintained a $1, 000, 000 insurance policy with the same insurer who insured Yosemite Auto. Counsel also submitted copies of correspondence between him and counsel representing the former defendants showing no one expressly mentioned or considered defendant during the negotiations over the release.

         The trial court granted defendant's motion for summary judgment, concluding defendant was an affiliate for purposes of the release as a matter of law. The court stated: “To me, the analysis begins and ends with whether or not [defendant] has produced evidence showing that he is an affiliate of or affiliated with the business that has already sued or been sued and tendered policy limits. [¶] Under that declaration, it appears that [defendant] owns the property at 777 East Yosemite Avenue, and pursuant to a lease agreement, Yosemite Auto Sales conducts its business on that property. [¶] He entered into an agreement. [Defendant] entered into the agreement with [Yosemite Auto] whereby his dealership consigned several vehicles to [Yosemite Auto] to sell. [¶] As such, I think that within the clear definition of ‘affiliate' found in any dictionary, he was included or contemplated within the language of the release.”

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff contends the trial court erred in granting summary judgment. He argues (1) the extrinsic evidence he submitted established a disputed issue of material fact regarding the meaning of the words “affiliates” and “affiliated” as used in the release; (2) the court erred in admitting defendant's extrinsic evidence; and (3) the court erred in concluding as a matter of law that defendant was a third party beneficiary of, and immunized by, the release.

         We conclude the undisputed evidence demonstrates defendant was not Yosemite Auto's “affiliate, ” as that term is commonly understood, and thus was not ...


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