Elation Sys., Inc. v. Fenn Bridge LLC, 71 Cal. App. 5th 958 (2021)

Elation Systems sued one of its former software developers, Tiebiao “Joe” Shi, for breach of a nondisclosure agreement and a settlement agreement after he quit his employment and formed a new business entity called Efen Bridge (which became Fenn Bridge). At trial, the jury concluded that Shi had breached the NDA and awarded $10,000 in damages to Elation on that claim and also that Shi had breached the settlement agreement, but awarded no damages to Elation on that claim. Shi and Fenn Bridge filed a JNOV motion, challenging the jury’s findings of harm and damages on the NDA claim and the jury’s finding of breach on the settlement agreement claim. The trial court granted the JNOV motion and awarded Shi and Fenn Bridge $719,000 in attorney’s fees as the prevailing parties in defending against Elation’s claims. The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that the trial court erred in granting the JNOV motion on the NDA claim and that Elation was entitled to nominal damages (though not $10,000) after the jury determined the NDA had been breached; however, the Court affirmed the grant of JNOV as to Elation’s claim for breach of the settlement agreement.