Lacagnina v. Comprehend Sys. Inc., 25 Cal. App. 5th 955 (2018)

David Lacagnina sued his former employer for fraud, breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing and “theft of labor by false pretenses” in violation of Cal. Pen. Code §§ 484 and 496.  The jury awarded $556,446 in damages, including $226,446 in damages for fraud and $75,000 for emotional distress.  The trial court granted the employer’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the fraud claim on the ground that Lacagnina was not damaged by the alleged fraud and entered an amended judgment in his favor in the amount of $225,000.  The trial court also dismissed Lacagnina’s “theft of labor” claim.  The Court of Appeal affirmed dismissal of this “novel” claim because he received a contractually agreed-upon salary and had a dispute with his employer about the amount of commissions and other compensation due to him on termination.  The Court noted that “if every plaintiff in an employment or contract dispute could also seek treble damages and attorneys’ fees [pursuant to Cal. Pen. Code § 496] on the ground that the defendant received ‘stolen property,’ such claims would become the rule rather than the exception.”  See also Padda v. Superior Court, 25 Cal. App. 5th 25 (2018) (trial court abused its discretion in denying employees’ request for a trial continuance based upon the illness of their expert witness).