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Podwall v. Robinson

United States District Court, C.D. California

October 30, 2019

ERIC PODWALL, Plaintiff,




         In this breach of contract action, Plaintiff Eric Podwall (“Podwall”) seeks to recover unpaid commissions from Defendant William “Smokey” Robinson (“Robinson”) pursuant to a written agreement. (See First Am Compl. (“FAC”), ECF No. 52.) Pending before the Court is Robinson's Motion for Summary Judgment (“Motion”). (Mot. Summ. J. (“MSJ”), ECF No. 87.) For the reasons that follow, the Court DENIES Robinson's Motion without prejudice and STAYS the case.[1]


         Robinson is a well-known musician who has been in the music business for decades. (FAC ¶ 1.) Podwall is a personal manager who has also worked in the entertainment industry for decades. (Pl's Additional Material Facts (“AMF”) 12, ECF No. 91.) In September 2012, Podwall and Robinson entered into a written letter agreement, which Podwall refers to as a “Management Agreement.” (AMF 15; see also FAC ¶ 8, Ex. 1 (“Agreement”).) The Agreement provides, among other things, that Podwall would receive “[t]en percent of gross compensation derived from all products of [Robinson's] services” for the period of the Agreement. (Agreement ¶ 2.) The Agreement includes commission on Robinson's live performances booked after the date of the Agreement and performed after June 1, 2013. (Agreement ¶ 2.) Podwall alleges that Robinson sent him a letter terminating the Management Agreement in December 2015. (FAC ¶ 22.)

         A. Initial Complaint

         On July 15, 2016, Podwall filed the Complaint in this action seeking to recover unpaid commissions on Robinson's “recording, performing and touring activities as well as from the [Global Music Rights (“GMR”) royalties] deal.” (Compl. ¶ 27, ECF No. 1.) On October 20, 2016, the Court denied Robinson's motion to dismiss and stayed the case to allow Podwall to petition the California Labor Commissioner (“CLC”) for a determination on whether Podwall violated the Talent Agency Act (“TAA”) by acting as Robinson's personal manager without a talent agency license. (Order Den. Mot. to Dismiss and Staying Case (“Stay Order”), ECF No. 19.)

         B. Labor Commissioner Determination of Controversy

         On June 22, 2018, the Labor Commissioner issued its Determination of Controversy (“CLC Det.”).[2] The Labor Commissioner found that Podwall was not required to obtain a talent agency license for certain agreements, including the GMR royalties deal, but that Podwall's involvement in procuring four specific performance events violated the TAA because Podwall had acted as a talent agent without a license. (CLC Det. 11-16, 19.) In determining whether to void the Agreement because of the violations, the Labor Commissioner concluded that severance served the interests of justice, in part because the four violations “are not representative of the hundreds of events [Robinsons' talent agency], not [Podwall], secured for [Robinson] during the three years [Podwall] served as personal manager.” (CLC Det. 17, 19.)

         C. First Amended Complaint

         Following the Labor Commissioner's Determination, the Court lifted the stay. (Order on Req. to Lift Stay, ECF No. 35.) The Court granted in part Robinson's renewed motion to dismiss as to Podwall's claim for commissions on “touring revenue” but granted Podwall thirty days to amend his Complaint, which he did on December 11, 2018. (See Order on Mot. to Dismiss Compl. 6-7, ECF No. 50; FAC.) In his FAC, Podwall brings causes of action for breach of contract, quantum meruit, and accounting. (FAC ¶¶ 23-38.) He seeks to recover commissions on more than one hundred newly-identified performances. (FAC ¶ 14.) Robinson moved to dismiss the FAC, arguing the Labor Commissioner had not considered the newly-listed performances. (Mot. to Dismiss FAC 6, ECF No. 53.) The Court denied Robinson's motion in part, finding it plausible at the pleading stage that the newly-identified performances were those the Labor Commissioner referenced in her severance analysis. (Order Den. MTD FAC 8.) Robinson now moves for summary judgment on Podwall's FAC. (See MSJ 1-4.)


         A court “shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Courts must view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007); Addisu v. Fred Meyer, Inc., 198 F.3d 1130, 1134 (9th Cir. 2000). A disputed fact is “material” where the resolution of that fact might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, and the dispute is “genuine” where “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Conclusory or speculative testimony in affidavits is insufficient to raise genuine issues of fact and defeat summary judgment. Thornhill Publ'g Co. v. GTE Corp., 594 F.2d 730, 738 (9th Cir. 1979). Moreover, though the Court may not weigh conflicting evidence or make credibility determinations, there must be more than a mere scintilla of contradictory evidence to survive summary judgment. Addisu, 198 F.3d 1134.

         Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the nonmoving party cannot simply rest on the pleadings or argue that any disagreement or “metaphysical doubt” about a material issue of fact precludes summary judgment. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); Cal. Architectural Bldg. Prods., Inc. v. Franciscan Ceramics, Inc., 818 F.2d 1466, 1468 (9th Cir. 1987). A “non-moving party must show that there are ‘genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.'” Cal. Architectural Bldg. Prods., 818 F.2d at 1468 (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250). “[I]f the factual context makes the non-moving party's claim implausible, that party must come forward with more persuasive evidence than would otherwise be necessary to show that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus., 475 U.S. at 586-87). “[U]ncorroborated and self-serving” testimony will not create a genuine issue of material fact. Villiarimo v. ...

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