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SAN FRANCISCO PRINT MEDIA COMPANY, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. The HEARST CORPORATION et al., Defendants and Respondents.
Plaintiff San Francisco Print Media Co., owner of the San Francisco Examiner (the Examiner), sued the corporate owner, a subsidiary, and employees of the San Francisco Chronicle (the Chronicle), claiming, in sum, that defendants sold a certain type of print advertising in the Chronicle at prices that violated California's Unfair Practices Act (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17000 et seq.1 ) and unfair competition law (UCL, § 17200 et seq.). Plaintiff now appeals from judgment after the trial court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment.
This case turns in part on the application of Sargon Enterprises, Inc. v. University of Southern California (2012) 55 Cal.4th 747, 149 Cal.Rptr.3d 614, 288 P.3d 1237 (Sargon), which sets out standards concerning the admissibility of expert opinion testimony. In the published portion of this decision, we conclude the trial court properly granted summary judgment as to plaintiff's cause of action for below-cost sales under the Unfair Practices Act (§ 17043) after granting defendants’ Sargon motion and excluding the opinion of plaintiff's expert on costs. Among other things, plaintiff had disclaimed reliance on specific transactions to prove the Chronicle's alleged underpricing of its print advertising, leaving only the aggregate cost analysis prepared by that expert to establish the occurrence of alleged below-cost sales. As the trial court correctly determined, however, the record established that plaintiff's expert lacked the foundational knowledge to conduct the requisite cost analysis and that he based his analysis on another individual's non-Unfair Practices Act-related pricing analysis without understanding its foundations, such as some of the included cost components.
In the unpublished portion of this decision, we conclude summary judgment was properly granted as to plaintiff's cause of action for unlawful use or sale of loss leaders under the Unfair Practices Act (§ 17044) because plaintiff failed to identify the loss leader sales on which this claim was based. We further conclude in the unpublished portion that the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment on plaintiff's cause of action for secret and unearned discounts under the Unfair Practices Act (§ 17045) and its UCL cause of action.
The judgment is affirmed.
Factual and Procedural Background
A. Plaintiff's Lawsuit
In June 2013, plaintiff filed its original complaint against the Chronicle's corporate owner and a subsidiary, Hearst Corporation and Hearst Communications, Inc., and three Chronicle employees. The operative third amended complaint alleged three causes of action under the Unfair Practices Act: below-cost sales (§ 17043); unlawful use or sale of loss leaders (§ 17044); and secret and unearned discounts (§ 17045). The complaint also alleged defendants violated the UCL (§ 17200) by its conduct violating the Unfair Practices Act. Plaintiff sought damages and injunctive relief.
The conduct underlying all these causes of action was, in essence, the Chronicle's alleged underpricing of its full-run run-of-press print advertising 2 beginning in 2011, when plaintiff bought the Examiner. During the course of the litigation, defendants had a protracted discovery dispute with plaintiff, trying to ascertain the specific advertisers at issue in the case. Then, in a December 2016 joint case management statement, plaintiff asserted its expert, Richard Eichmann, would testify about “costs, causation, and damages” by analyzing all of the Chronicle's print advertising transactions, not just particular transactions, to show the Chronicle sold below cost, and by conducting a statistical analysis to show the economic injury caused by the Chronicle's below-cost pricing and to calculate the Examiner's estimated lost profits. In light of Eichmann's methodology, plaintiff represented that defendants’ proposed depositions of particular advertisers were unnecessary and irrelevant. In the same joint case management statement, defendants responded, based on plaintiff's representations, that they did not intend to depose the hundreds of advertisers they initially thought they would. Defendants said that after completing expert discovery, they would file a Sargon motion challenging the admissibility of Eichmann's expert opinion testimony and a summary judgment motion. Before discussing these motions, we summarize Eichmann's expert evidence.
B. Plaintiff's Expert, Richard Eichmann
Plaintiff's expert, Eichmann, an economist and economic consultant, authored his initial report in November 2016. As relevant here, Eichmann first calculated the Chronicle's “fully allocated cost”3 for print advertising. Then comparing that amount to what he calculated was the average price paid for print advertising in the Chronicle, he concluded that a majority of the Chronicle's advertising customers paid below cost for a majority of advertising between 2011 and 2015. Second, Eichmann conducted a regression analysis using information about print advertising sales from the two newspapers, devising an equation to statistically estimate the relationship between the Examiner's advertising revenue with its own print advertising prices and the Chronicle's print advertising prices (also referred to as the own-price elasticity of demand and cross-price elasticity of demand, respectively). With these elasticity estimates derived from the regression analysis, Eichmann opined that the Examiner lost millions of dollars in profits from 2012 onward due to the Chronicle's below-cost pricing. Third, Eichmann purported to corroborate the results of his regression analysis with a “yardstick” analysis that estimated what the Examiner's print advertising revenue would have been had it realized nationwide industry growth rates for newspaper advertising revenue.
Defense expert Daniel Rubinfeld filed a report criticizing Eichmann's analyses on numerous grounds. Conceding the validity of Rubinfeld's criticism that he used incorrect data in his regression analysis, Eichmann submitted a supplemental report in April 2017 in which he updated his regression analysis and re-evaluated damages. Eichmann concluded his updated analysis supported his earlier conclusions regarding the effect of the Chronicle's below-cost pricing on the Examiner's revenue. Rubinfeld filed a supplemental report that again raised numerous criticisms of Eichmann's analyses.
C. Defendants’ Motion to Exclude Eichmann's Testimony and Motion for Summary Judgment or Summary Adjudication
Over defense opposition, the trial court granted defendants’ motion to exclude Eichmann's cost, regression, and yardstick analyses pursuant to Sargon, supra, 55 Cal.4th 747, 149 Cal.Rptr.3d 614, 288 P.3d 1237, then granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment. We summarize the latter ruling here.
With regard to the section 17043 (below-cost sales) cause of action, the trial court found that plaintiff failed to show a triable issue as to the element of below-cost sales. In particular, the court found plaintiff had disclaimed reliance on specific transactions (citing to plaintiff's separate statement responses and December 2016 joint case management statement), leaving only Eichmann's excluded cost analysis to support the element. The court also found that plaintiff failed to present evidence supporting a triable issue as to the element of injurious purpose. Finally, the court determined that Eichmann's excluded testimony provided the only evidence of causation and damages, but also indicated that plaintiff need not demonstrate harm for the section 17043 cause of action to survive summary judgment.
With regard to the section 17044 (loss leader sales) cause of action, the trial court explained that although plaintiff had committed itself to trying this action on an aggregate basis, plaintiff made no attempt to aggregate the Chronicle's prices with regard to loss leader sales and instead provided only a few anecdotal examples of such sales. Further, plaintiff presented no evidence that the Chronicle made such unspecified loss leader sales with the requisite intent to harm competition.
As for the section 17045 (secret unearned discounts) cause of action, the trial court determined that, even accepting plaintiff's contention that all of the Chronicle's sales below rate card rates could properly be treated as secret unearned discounts, plaintiff's aggregate proof of harm hinged on Eichmann's regression analysis, which was not only inadmissible but not even directed at secret unearned discounts.
Finally, regarding the UCL cause of action, the trial court determined that, although plaintiff implied it could proceed even if the three Unfair Practices Act claims failed, plaintiff failed to suggest or refer to evidence supporting that claim.
Plaintiff appealed from judgment entered in defendants’ favor.
Plaintiff challenges the trial court's grant of summary judgment. The rules governing our review of plaintiff's contentions are well established. A “motion for summary judgment shall be granted if all the papers submitted show that there is no triable issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subd. (c).) A defendant carries the initial burden of showing that a cause of action has no merit by demonstrating that one or more elements of the cause of action cannot be established or a complete defense to it exists. (Id., § 437c, subd. (p)(2).) Once the defendant has met that burden, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to show a triable issue exists. (Ibid.) The evidence in favor of the party opposing the motion must be liberally construed, and all doubts concerning the evidence must be resolved in favor of that party. (Fisherman's Wharf Bay Cruise Corp. v. Superior Court of San Francisco (2003) 114 Cal.App.4th 309, 320–321, 7 Cal.Rptr.3d 628.) We review an order granting summary judgment de novo. (Id. at p. 320, 7 Cal.Rptr.3d 628.)
A. The Unfair Practices Act Cause of Action for Below-cost Sales (§ 17043)
Section 17043 makes it unlawful “for any person ․ to sell any article or product at less than the cost thereof ․ for the purpose of injuring competitors or destroying competition.” “ ‘Article or product’ includes any article, product, commodity, thing of value, service or output of a service trade.” (§ 17024.) Violation of this section requires two elements: (1) a below-cost sale (2) undertaken for the purpose of injuring competitors or destroying competition. (Bay Guardian Co. v. New Times Media LLC (2010) 187 Cal.App.4th 438, 454 & 456–457, 114 Cal.Rptr.3d 392.)
Turning to the first element, a fully allocated cost standard is employed for purposes of the Unfair Practices Act. (Turnbull, supra, 219 Cal.App.3d at pp. 819–820, 268 Cal.Rptr. 856.) Under this standard, “cost” is “a fair allocation of all fixed or variable costs associated with production of the article or product.” (Pan Asia Venture Capital Corp. v. Hearst Corp. (1999) 74 Cal.App.4th 424, 432, 88 Cal.Rptr.2d 118 (Pan Asia).) “Thus, cost has been described as the initial expense of producing the article together with ‘its share of the load of carrying on the business through which it is sold.’ ” (Ibid.) “[T]here are many ways of fully allocating costs, [but] the possibilities are not without limitation. To be legally acceptable, the allocation of indirect or fixed overhead costs to a particular product or service must be reasonably related to the burden such product or service imposes on the overall cost of doing business.” (Turnbull, supra, 219 Cal.App.3d at p. 822, 268 Cal.Rptr. 856.)
Plaintiff contends it raised a triable issue of fact in presenting evidence of cost and below-cost sales through its expert, Eichmann, whose cost analysis was wrongly excluded. We examine that evidentiary ruling now.
1. Additional Background
Before discussing Eichmann's cost analysis, we briefly discuss a 2010 report by John Sillers,4 then the Chronicle's Director of Finance. Sillers put together an “analysis of costs” to support his view that the Chronicle “needed to exercise greater rate discipline when selling advertisements.” By “rate discipline,” Sillers meant a rate floor below which the company would not go in a declining market garnering progressively lower rates. Sillers did his analysis by taking various levels of expenses related to “a print product,” compared that to an average rate per page the Chronicle was garnering, then determined what the Chronicle needed to charge on average to break even, meaning revenue would cover production and newsprint expenses. One of Sillers's spreadsheets was headed with the words, “Breakeven Pricing.” (Boldface omitted.) Sillers submitted a sworn declaration and deposition testimony that his analysis had nothing to do with the Unfair Practices Act, with which he was unfamiliar. Sillers explained his analysis was based partially on budget figures as opposed to actual results, and he did not recall his methodology or reasons for some of his decisions. He asserted he did not create or know how he obtained the average prices he used in the analysis, and his analysis was not a template but would require an updated evaluation for addressing subsequent years.
We now turn to plaintiff's expert, Eichmann, who claimed to calculate the Chronicle's “fully allocated cost” for print advertising. Eichmann's methodology for this calculation included five main components. First, he allocated 100 percent of the following seven categories of expenses as direct costs of print advertising: production payroll, newsprint handlers payroll, production and newsprint and ink (N&I), N&I handlers payroll, supplements, editorial payroll, and editorial expense. Eichmann testified he did not know what some of these expenses were for and did no independent work to determine how they should be allocated, but instead relied solely on Sillers's analysis to allocate them.5 Eichmann admitted he did not know Sillers's purpose for his analysis and was unaware of Sillers's testimony that he had never heard of the Unfair Practices Act. Eichmann allocated these categories as he did despite acknowledging that 75 percent of the Chronicle's newspaper pages are editorial, and 25 percent are advertising.
Second, Eichmann amortized a $200 million dollar contract renegotiation expense with the Chronicle's printer over 11.5 years and allocated 100 percent of the amounts as direct costs.
Third, Eichmann treated advertising payroll, advertising, general and administrative (G&A) payroll, G&A benefits, G&A other, postage, occupancy costs, and depreciation as indirect expenses and allocated them using two alternative “attribution percentages.”6
Fourth, Eichmann deemed $1.2 billion that Hearst Corporation had spent to purchase the Chronicle and fund operations to be a “loan,” then calculated the annual costs of servicing that “loan,” and allocated these servicing costs as an indirect cost using the aforementioned two attribution percentages.
Finally, Eichmann used historic averages to estimate numerous categories of expenses in 2014 and 2015 for which he was not provided detailed income statements.
In the end, Eichmann opined the Chronicle's fully allocated cost of producing a page of print advertising from 2011 to 2015 ranged from $13,134 to $25,030 “depending on the year, calculation of indirect and direct expenses, and inclusion of costs associated with loan servicing.” Eichmann then calculated the average price paid for print advertising in the Chronicle, compared it to the foregoing cost estimate, and concluded that between 2011 and 2015, a majority of the Chronicle's advertising customers paid below cost for a majority of advertising.
As indicated, the trial court granted defendants’ motion to exclude Eichmann's cost analysis. The court explained that Eichmann, an economic consultant with no experience allocating costs for a subscription-based newspaper with paid advertising, lacked the “foundational knowledge to conduct a cost analysis” and relied on Sillers's analysis without understanding its foundations or knowing whether Sillers did an Unfair Practices Act cost analysis, which the evidence showed Sillers did not.
2. Legal Principles
“Trial judges have a substantial gatekeeping responsibility when it comes to expert testimony.” (People ex rel. Dept. of Transportation v. Dry Canyon Enterprises, LLC (2012) 211 Cal.App.4th 486, 493, 149 Cal.Rptr.3d 601.) Under Evidence Code section 801, subdivision (b), a trial court must determine whether the matter relied on is of a type on which an expert may reasonably rely, and “acts as a gatekeeper to exclude speculative or irrelevant expert opinion.” (Sargon, supra, 55 Cal.4th at p. 770, 149 Cal.Rptr.3d 614, 288 P.3d 1237.) “ ‘[T]he expert's opinion may not be based “on assumptions of fact without evidentiary support [citation], or on speculative or conjectural factors.” ’ ” (Ibid.) Additionally, Evidence Code section 802 permits a court to inquire into the expert's reasons for an opinion. (Sargon, at p. 771, 149 Cal.Rptr.3d 614, 288 P.3d 1237.) It also permits a court to find the expert is precluded by law from using the reasons or matter as a basis for the opinion. (Ibid.) “This means that a court may inquire into, not only the type of material on which an expert relies, but also whether that material actually supports the expert's reasoning. ‘A court may conclude that there is simply too great an analytical gap between the data and the opinion proffered.’ ” (Ibid.) As gatekeeper, the trial court does not choose between or weigh competing expert opinions based on persuasiveness. (Id. at p. 772, 149 Cal.Rptr.3d 614, 288 P.3d 1237.) Instead, the gatekeeper must focus on principles and methodology to determine whether the opinion is founded on sound logic, i.e., “whether the matter relied on can provide a reasonable basis for the opinion or whether that opinion is based on a leap of logic or conjecture.” (Ibid.) The gatekeeper's goal is to ensure an expert employs the same intellectual rigor in the courtroom as an expert in the field. (Ibid.) These principles apply to evidence submitted in connection with motions for summary judgment and summary adjudication. (Sanchez v. Kern Emergency Medical Transportation Corp. (2017) 8 Cal.App.5th 146, 155, 213 Cal.Rptr.3d 830 (Sanchez).)
We review a ruling excluding expert testimony for abuse of discretion.7 (Sargon, supra, 55 Cal.4th at p. 773, 149 Cal.Rptr.3d 614, 288 P.3d 1237; Property California SCJLW One Corp. v. Leamy (2018) 25 Cal.App.5th 1155, 1162, 236 Cal.Rptr.3d 500 (Property California).) An abuse of discretion is one that no reasonable person could agree with because it is so irrational or arbitrary. (Sargon, at p. 773, 149 Cal.Rptr.3d 614, 288 P.3d 1237.) The standard is a deferential one, and an appellate court may not substitute its discretion for that of the trial court, even if it disagrees. (Avant! Corp. v. Superior Court (2000) 79 Cal.App.4th 876, 881–882, 94 Cal.Rptr.2d 505.) The appellant has the burden on appeal to show an abuse of discretion. (Property California, at p. 1163, 236 Cal.Rptr.3d 500.)
In this case, there appears no basis for concluding the trial court abused its discretion in excluding Eichmann's cost analysis. That analysis suffered from a clear foundational problem. Specifically, Eichmann's methodology included allocating 100 percent of seven categories of expenses as direct costs of print advertising. While Eichmann had credentials as an economic consultant, he acknowledged he had no understanding of several of the cost categories and did no independent work to determine how those categories should be allocated. Instead, he relied solely on Sillers's 2010 analysis to allocate these costs, without knowing the purpose of Sillers's analysis or having any awareness that Sillers testified his analysis had nothing to do with the Unfair Practices Act. The evidence additionally showed that Sillers himself did not recall the methodology he used or the reasons for some of his decisions.
Ultimately, Eichmann's uninformed reliance on Sillers's analysis is not the mark of an opinion rooted in sound logic. (Sargon, supra, 55 Cal.4th at p. 772, 149 Cal.Rptr.3d 614, 288 P.3d 1237; Taylor v. Trimble (2017) 13 Cal.App.5th 934, 945, fn. 15, 220 Cal.Rptr.3d 741 [“An expert opinion that does not contain ‘a reasoned explanation illuminating why the facts have convinced the expert’ need not be relied on”].) And because the record does not reflect the foundations of Sillers's analysis, it is unclear whether his analysis is “of a type that reasonably may be relied upon by an expert in forming an opinion” about fully allocated costs (Evid. Code, § 801, subd. (b)) or whether it even supports Eichmann's opinion about fully allocated costs. (Sargon, at p. 771, 149 Cal.Rptr.3d 614, 288 P.3d 1237.)
Plaintiffs’ insistence that Sillers performed a fully allocated cost analysis under the Unfair Practices Act is unsupported. As the trial court noted in its statement of decision, the evidence in the record militates against that conclusion. Specifically, a relevant part of Sillers's report is headed with the words “Breakeven Pricing.” (Boldface omitted.) Sillers himself said he did an analysis of costs, but he also said he had never heard of the Unfair Practices Act and did not do an Unfair Practices Act cost analysis. Rather, he determined what the Chronicle needed to charge on average to “break-even,” meaning print product would “cover production and newsprint expenses.” Defense expert Rubinfeld offered reasons why Sillers's analysis was not an Unfair Practices Act cost analysis, but instead an analysis to determine how much revenue the Chronicle would need to generate per page of print advertising to break even (i.e., generate enough print advertising revenue to arrive at zero profit before income tax), assuming all its other revenue sources stayed the same. (See, e.g., Sanchez, supra, 8 Cal.App.5th at p. 162, 213 Cal.Rptr.3d 830 [plaintiff's expert opinion properly excluded where material accompanying defendant's expert declaration showed plaintiff's expert based opinions on unfounded assumptions, or on speculative or conjectural factors].) Although Eichmann stated his opinion that Sillers was doing a “cost analysis,” Eichmann's statement is conclusory and had no evidentiary value. (Jennings v. Palomar Pomerado Health Systems, Inc. (2003) 114 Cal.App.4th 1108, 1117, 8 Cal.Rptr.3d 363.)
Plaintiff next contends that “allocating the full amount of several categories of costs to advertising, as Sillers did, accorded with the practice in the newspaper industry generally, and at the Chronicle specifically, of burdening the advertising revenue with direct and indirect expenses of producing the newspaper.” This argument fails to persuade. The plain language of Sargon dictates that a trial court exercise its gatekeeping function by considering the matter or information an expert actually relied on in reaching an opinion. (Sargon, supra, 55 Cal.4th at p. 772, 149 Cal.Rptr.3d 614, 288 P.3d 1237.) Here, there was no evidence that Eichmann knew about—much less relied on—the information plaintiff relies on making this argument to justify his reliance on Sillers's analysis or to explain his own allocation decisions.8
In arguing that Eichmann's model satisfied the minimal quantum of evidence necessary to put the issue of cost before a jury, plaintiff relies on the Pan Asia decision, which involved a lawsuit between two San Francisco newspapers, the Examiner and the Independent. (Pan Asia, supra, 74 Cal.App.4th at p. 427, 88 Cal.Rptr.2d 118.) There, the Independent alleged that the Examiner bid below cost in violation of section 17043 to win an annual contract from the City and County of San Francisco to publish public notices required by state and municipal law. (Pan Asia, at p. 427, 88 Cal.Rptr.2d 118.) The Independent's expert determined cost by recognizing the existence of two products produced by Examiner—physical newspapers and advertising space—and allocating costs between them (called a “revenue allocation” model). (Id. at pp. 428–429, 88 Cal.Rptr.2d 118.) Taking a different approach, the Examiner's expert allocated costs “according to the amount of space dedicated to advertising, as opposed to news or editorial coverage” (called a “physical unit allocation” model). (Id. at pp. 429–430, 88 Cal.Rptr.2d 118.) Midtrial, the court excluded the Examiner's expert, believing that his model was not a fully allocated cost model and was inappropriate in that case, calling it “irrational.” (Id. at p. 430, 88 Cal.Rptr.2d 118.) The Pan Asia court concluded this was error. Observing that the determination of cost is generally an issue of fact, Pan Asia reasoned that while one could pick out flaws in the models of both parties’ experts, “both approaches [were] sufficiently reasonable that both ought to have been put before the jury” and “[n]either [was] entitled to prevail as a matter of law.” (Id. at pp. 432, 437, 88 Cal.Rptr.2d 118.)
Pan Asia predates Sargon by over a decade. Because Pan Asia did not consider the issue of admissibility of expert testimony under the gatekeeping principles set out in Sargon, that case is not particularly useful in analyzing the situation here. As explained, the trial court properly excluded Eichmann's cost analysis as lacking in foundation under the principles set out in Sargon, and not because it believed that Eichmann's model (which plaintiff claims is a “variation on both of the cost models in Pan Asia”) was unworkable or inappropriate in this case.
Relying on Western Union Financial Services, Inc. v. First Data Corp. (1993) 20 Cal.App.4th 1530, 25 Cal.Rptr.2d 341, plaintiff contends it was reasonable for Eichmann to rely on Sillers's analysis. We are not convinced. Western Union also predates Sargon and did not assess the admissibility of the subject expert evidence under Sargon’s gatekeeping principles. More to the point, plaintiff merely relies on a reference in the decision's statement of facts that Western Union's expert determined First Data's costs by relying only on a document created by a nonmanagement First Data employee. (Western Union, at pp. 1533–1534, 25 Cal.Rptr.2d 341.) Because the propriety of that reliance was not examined on appeal, the reference is clearly dictum with no persuasive value.
Finally, plaintiff contends that even if Eichmann's reliance on Sillers's analysis was improper, exclusion of Eichmann's entire cost analysis was erroneous. In this regard, plaintiff argues the court should have looked at Eichmann's assessment of the Chronicle's indirect costs to support a cost figure and at evidence in the record concerning specific transactions, such as a specific transaction in 2013. Had the court done so, plaintiff claims, it would have found that the Chronicle sold below that indirect cost figure. Plaintiff also suggests that, had the court liberally construed the expert testimony, the court could have, on its own, ascertained a new aggregate cost model that would have shown below-cost sales on an aggregate basis.
Because plaintiff posits these claims for the first time on appeal, we decline to consider them. (Expansion Pointe Properties Limited Partnership v. Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch, LLP (2007) 152 Cal.App.4th 42, 54–55, 61 Cal.Rptr.3d 166 (Expansion Pointe Properties) [“ ‘Generally, the rules relating to the scope of appellate review apply to appellate review of summary judgments․ Thus, possible theories that were not fully developed or factually presented to the trial court cannot create a ‘triable issue’ on appeal’ ” (citation omitted)].) Further, to the extent plaintiff is trying to rely on specific transactions to prove its claims, we observe the trial court correctly found—based on the previously mentioned December 2016 joint case management statement and plaintiff's separate statement responses—that plaintiff disclaimed reliance on specific transactions to prove the occurrence of below-cost sales. Considering the entirety of the 2016 joint case management statement 9 (not just the select portions plaintiff quotes) and plaintiff's separate statement response (discussed more below) that it would “not be proving its below-cost claim on a transaction-by-transaction basis,” we reject plaintiff's assertion that its disclaimer applied only to proof of damages.
We are not persuaded by plaintiff's contention that the trial court was required to consider its evidence of specific transactions because defendants did not object. In its response to defendant's separate statement, plaintiff did not identify the particular below-cost sales that it now claims its section 17043 claim is based on, and instead unambiguously represented: “Plaintiff will not be proving its below-cost claim on a transaction-by-transaction basis, but has identified numerous examples of specific below-cost sales in support of its arguments.” (Italics added.) Also, defendants did in fact object in their reply papers and orally at the hearing to plaintiff's reliance on specific transactions in opposing the motion. Plaintiff contends that, in any event, the trial court should not have excluded the evidence, citing to a portion of People ex rel. City of Dana Point v. Holistic Health (2013) 213 Cal.App.4th 1016, 153 Cal.Rptr.3d 810 indicating it would be error to exclude evidence from a summary judgment record based on discovery enforcement provisions in Code of Civil Procedure section 2023.030, which had specific procedural requirements that the proponent of exclusion did not comply with. (People ex rel. City of Dana Point v. Holistic Health, at pp. 1029–1032, 153 Cal.Rptr.3d 810.) Here, in contrast, there was no known discovery violation that implicated Code of Civil Procedure section 2023.030.
For the reasons stated, we conclude the trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding Eichmann's entire cost analysis.
Likewise, we find no error with the grant of summary judgment on this cause of action. Eichmann's cost analysis was plaintiff's sole evidence of cost, without which it could not prove sales below cost. It was also plaintiff's only evidence concerning the occurrence of below-cost sales, given plaintiff's representations that it was not going to be proving its below-cost claim on a transaction-by-transaction basis. Once Eichmann's cost analysis was excluded, defendants carried their burden of showing no triable issue as to the occurrence of below-cost sales. (Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co. (2001) 25 Cal.4th 826, 853, 107 Cal.Rptr.2d 841, 24 P.3d 493 (Aguilar).)10
We end our analysis of this cause of action here. (Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subd. (p)(2) [“A defendant ․ has met his or her burden of showing that a cause of action has no merit if the party has shown that one or more elements of the cause of action ․ cannot be established”].) We express no opinion concerning the trial court's ruling as to the injurious purpose element of this cause of action. Briefly, however, we address plaintiff's claim the court “incorrectly granted summary judgment on [its] claim for damages” which contains the argument that the court improperly excluded Eichmann's regression and yardstick analyses. Suffice it to say the court did not rely on lack of evidence concerning causation and damages to support the grant of summary judgment as to the section 17043 cause of action. The court said Eichmann's evidence regarding causation and damages should be excluded, but it also said harm to plaintiff is not necessary to establish liability under section 17043 so plaintiff need not make any showing on these elements to survive summary judgment. We thus see no need to address the propriety of the exclusion of Eichmann's regression and yardstick analyses.
The judgment is affirmed. Defendants are entitled to recover their costs on appeal. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.278(a)(1), (2).)
1. Unless otherwise stated, subsequent statutory references are to the Business and Professions Code.
2. “Run-of-press” means print display advertisements in a newspaper, as opposed to newspaper inserts or classified advertisements, or advertisements in other print media (such as magazines). “Full run” means the advertisements appearing in the generally distributed newspaper, as opposed to advertisements that are “part run” or “zoned” to appear only in “zoned” editions of the newspaper. The record reflects that plaintiff asserted the only product at issue in this case was full-run run-of-press (FRROP) print advertising. For the sake of brevity, we will refer to the FRROP print advertising simply as “print advertising.”
3. This will be discussed further below, but for context we note here the occurrence of a below-cost sale is an element of the section 17043 and section 17044 causes of action (CACI Nos. 3301 & 3302), and the Unfair Practices Act employs a “fully allocated cost” standard to determine if a sale is below cost. (Turnbull & Turnbull v. ARA Transportation, Inc. (1990) 219 Cal.App.3d 811, 819–820, 268 Cal.Rptr. 856 (Turnbull).) “The concept of fully allocated cost has been equated with average total cost, which ‘reflects that portion of the firm's total costs—both fixed and variable—attributable on an average basis to each unit of output.’ ” (Id. at p. 820, 268 Cal.Rptr. 856.)
4. Sillers's “accounting education” consisted of having a general MBA degree (no focus on accounting) from University of California, Berkeley and working for Deloitte Haskins & Sells for two years. He received a CPA in 1987 but “did not stay active.” He worked for the Examiner from 1985 to 2000, then moved to the Chronicle when it was acquired by Hearst Corporation in 2000.
5. Despite his stated reliance on Sillers's analysis, Eichmann's report deviated from Sillers's methodology in some respects. For example, Eichmann's report included an alternative analysis where he treated the editorial payroll and editorial expense categories as indirect rather than direct costs, to accommodate an alternative view that editorial payroll and editorial expense affect both print advertising and circulation revenue.
6. These two percentages are the “ROP Paid Ad Percent” that represents the ratio of paid advertising pages to total pages printed in a given year, and the “print revenue as percent of total revenue” that represents the percent of an indirect cost equivalent to the print revenue as percent of total revenue for that year.
7. With regard to the standard of review, plaintiff seems to acknowledge that the standard of review for exclusion of expert evidence is abuse of discretion, and seems to argue only that a failure to liberally construe expert testimony in opposition to a motion for summary judgment is an abuse of discretion. That said, plaintiff vaguely suggests de novo review is appropriate, citing to Kinda v. Carpenter (2016) 247 Cal.App.4th 1268, 203 Cal.Rptr.3d 183 (Kinda). Kinda is not on point. Kinda supports that when an in limine motion is used to preclude an entire cause of action at trial (i.e., as a dispositive motion) then the trial court must apply the restrictive standard of a nonsuit, i.e., it may not grant a nonsuit if the evidence would support a jury verdict in the opposing party's favor. (Kinda, at pp. 1285–1286, 203 Cal.Rptr.3d 183.) Appellate courts then review such motions de novo, interpreting the evidence most favorably to a plaintiff's case and resolving all presumptions, inferences, and doubts in favor of the plaintiff. (Id. at pp. 1279–1280, 203 Cal.Rptr.3d 183.) This case, however, does not involve an in limine motion being used as a dispositive motion; this case involves a summary judgment motion—a traditional dispositive motion—where the aforementioned standards already apply. Kinda does not support that evidentiary rulings brought alongside summary judgment motions are reviewed de novo. Cases support application of the abuse of discretion standard to rulings excluding expert evidence from the summary judgment record. (See Sargon, supra, 55 Cal.4th at p. 773, 149 Cal.Rptr.3d 614, 288 P.3d 1237; Property California, supra, 25 Cal.App.5th at p. 1162, 236 Cal.Rptr.3d 500; Duarte v. Pacific Specialty Ins. Co. (2017) 13 Cal.App.5th 45, 52, 220 Cal.Rptr.3d 170; Sanchez, supra, 8 Cal.App.5th at p. 154, 213 Cal.Rptr.3d 830.)
8. Plaintiff relied in part on generalized testimony about advertising pricing from its newspaper industry expert, James Hopson, in making this claim. We note here that there is no evidence that Hopson reviewed the Chronicle's costs specifically, or that he performed his own cost analysis regarding print advertising at the Chronicle. Nor did Eichmann claim that he relied on Hopson's testimony in forming his opinion on cost allocations.
9. As previously indicated, in the December 2016 joint case management statement, plaintiff asserted Eichmann would offer expert testimony about “costs, causation, and damages.” Plaintiff then laid out Eichmann's methodology as follows: “[W]ithout focusing on any particular advertisers or sampling of advertisers, Mr. Eichmann analyzed all of the transactions for all of the Chronicle's advertisers and determined that the Chronicle was, indeed, pricing its FRROP advertising well below cost. Taking the next step in his analysis, Mr. Eichmann then demonstrated, with scientific certainty, that the Chronicle's below-cost pricing caused economic injury to the Examiner․ Mr. Eichmann calculated that the Examiner has suffered approximately $17 million in lost profits due to the Chronicle's below-cost pricing. [¶] ․ It is worth emphasizing again that Mr. Eichmann's analyses are based on the complete transactional records of both the Chronicle and the Examiner. He has not relied on any surveys of any particular advertisers or on any ‘statistical sampling’ of the data to reach his conclusions. Instead, he has considered every relevant transaction involving FRROP advertising at both the Chronicle and the Examiner․ In short, Mr. Eichmann's methodology does not rely on any particular advertiser or group of advertisers and, thus, any individualized advertiser evidence or testimony is irrelevant to his analysis. As a result, to the extent the defendants were once worried that they would need to take the depositions of ‘hundreds and hundreds’ of advertisers, depending upon whether the plaintiff[’]s expert relied on a ‘nonstatistical’ model, that worry is now gone because no advertiser depositions are necessary or even relevant in light of Mr. Eichmann's statistical analysis.” (Italics added.)In rejecting plaintiff's attempt to prove the occurrence of below-costs sales by relying on proof of specific transactions, the trial court noted plaintiff's foregoing case management statement had a decisive impact on defendants’ discovery plans, as it resulted in defendants not taking advertiser depositions.
10. Despite identifying Sillers's analysis as evidence of the Chronicle's fully allocated costs in a separate statement response, plaintiff does not argue in its appellate briefs that Sillers's analysis independently supports the element of below-cost sales. (Paterno v. State of California (1999) 74 Cal.App.4th 68, 106, 87 Cal.Rptr.2d 754 (Paterno) [“An appellate court is not required to examine undeveloped claims, nor to make arguments for parties”].) At oral argument, plaintiff seemed to suggest Sillers's analysis was evidence of the Chronicle's fully allocated costs. We disregard this because it was not timely raised (Sunset Drive Corp. v. City of Redlands (1999) 73 Cal.App.4th 215, 226, 86 Cal.Rptr.2d 209), and in any event, plaintiff offered no competent evidence from Eichmann or any other expert countering Sillers's representation that his analysis was not an Unfair Practices Act cost analysis. Finally, we note Sillers's report is from 2010, and his declaration cuts against any conclusion that his analysis represents costs beyond that year.
Siggins, P. J., and Petrou, J., concurred.
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Docket No: A152930
Decided: January 31, 2020
Court: Court of Appeal, First District, Division 3, California.
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