Update on Del Arroz Suit Against Worldcon 76

There are three new filings in the case of “Jonathan Del Arroz vs San Francisco Science Fiction Conventions, Inc. (‘SFSFC’) aka ‘Worldcon76’ David W. Gallaher (2019), President et al.,’” — the first new entries to the court’s online status system since Del Arroz’ attorney filed the complaint on April 16.

The most significant development is a change of venue. Kevin Roche, Chair of Worldcon 76, confirms that both sides have agreed to move the case from San Joaquin County to Santa Clara County.

The three new filings entered on June 27 were:

(1) Payment by SFSFC of the $435.00 court fee required (on first paper filing) by any party to a civil lawsuit seeking over $25,000. This is where SFSFC acknowledges being a defendant and files its response.

(2) Naming of Ann A. P. Nguyen as attorney of record representing SFSFC. Ms. Nguyen appears to be a partner at the law firm of Messner Reeves LLP, which has offices in several cities including San Jose. Her practice has included issues of wrongful discrimination, retaliation, breach of noncompete covenants, misappropriation of trade secret, unfair competition, trademark infringement, fraud, misrepresentation, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and intentional interference with contractual relations.

(3) “Stipulation to Transfer Venue; [Proposed] Order filed by San Francisco Science Fiction Conventions, Inc.” This is the response motion: a motion to move the case to a different venue, rather than San Joaquin County Superior Court in Stockton.

Jon Del Arroz did not immediately answer a request for comment.

[Thanks to Rick Moen for the story.]

Update 06/29/2018: Corrected name of law firm Nguyen works with.

37 thoughts on “Update on Del Arroz Suit Against Worldcon 76

  1. @laura: In comments on our previous episode, Rick Moen wrote:

    Venue: The lawsuit was filed in San Joaquin County (town of Stockton), which serendipitously would permit attorney Peter Sean Bradley to afford bus fare between his Fresno location and the court. (Fresno’s the county just south of San Joaquin County.) SFSFC, the lead defendant (California corporation #C1683187), is in Santa Clara County. Plaintiff del Arroz is in Contra Costa County. The complaint alleges some specific defendants are residents of San Joaquin County, but I’m reasonably sure that isn’t true of most or all, that they live much closer to San Jose. So, I hope defendants are looking into filing for a change of venue (removal) to Santa Clara County Superior Court in San Jose.

    So Rick’s first wish has been granted, and JDA’s lawyer will need a GoFundMe for the extra bus fare.

  2. In nearby comments, JJ says: The California Rules of Court require you to serve the defendants within 60 days of filing, and to file a proof of service of summons within 90 days of filing. Those comments are more than 90 days ago.

    I am going to go out on a limb and guess that JDA and his lawyer never even identified the people he said he was suing in this filing, and certainly never served, for example, members of the NZ 2020 bid committee. Even serving the people named in the suit who are reasonably nearby would have been a significant expense.

  3. I should update my above-quoted speculation about ‘most or all’ from back in April: Some discreet inquiries found one named defendant out of the 14 whose residence is in San Joaquin County, one whose convention role’s relevance to a tort complaint about Worldcon 76 management seems… open to question. (Of course, I didn’t go around chasing down individuals’ residential addresses. FWIW, the lead defendant corporation is domiciled in Santa Clara County.) The question of defendants’ residence in San Joaquin County seems no longer of legal interest, though, since the lawsuit’s being transferred.

    A note for anyone who, like me, tries to follow these cases via online court records: I’ve been advised that not all actions in the case may display online, and not necessarily very quickly if they do. I am not sure, for example, when (and if) proof of timely service of process would be displayed in such an online case record. To see a full case record, my understanding is that one must visit the court clerk’s office, and read filed paperwork. (Now that it’ll be heard at Superior Court in downtown San Jose, rather than in Stockton, I may consider doing so, as that’s much closer to Chez Moen.)

    For the record, the California Rules of Court, section 3.110(f) covers possible sanctions if a plaintiff doesn’t file timely proof of process-serving against all named defendants, so see the wording there. In cases where that occurs, I’m unclear on how and when that might happen.

  4. Laura Resnick asked:

    Does anyone know the relevance of moving the case to a different county and why both parties agreed to it?

    One sometimes, in a civil court case, is motivated to speculate about venue-shopping as reason for picking a specific place’s court. In general terms, a case is supposed to be filed where the matter being sued over occurred or where the defendant lives. (Del Arroz’s case is over torts supposedly committed against him by SFSFC, a Santa Clara County-domiciled corporation, and 13 named individuals who overwhelmingly appear to live nearby.)

    San Joaquin County, Del Arroz and Bradley’s initial chosen venue, is one of the California Central Valley’s agricultural counties, so a plaintiff hoping to draw a conservative-leaning judge might favour it on those grounds. It’s not overwhelmingly agricultural, though: The county seat, Stockton, is a major ocean port on account of having a deep-water channel and harbour reached from the Pacific via San Francisco Bay, the Delta, and the San Joaquin River. Probably because of that aspect, it’s also a pretty rough-edged town with an elevated crime rate, sort of an American Marseilles. For whatever it’s worth, Stockton’s Judge Carter P. Holly (handling the case up until now) was appointed by Republican Governor Pete Wilson in 1994. (That was the Pete Wilson of Prop. 187 notability.)

    By contrast, Santa Clara County Superior Court is in the middle of Northern California’s biggest city, San Jose.

    I know nothing about attorney Peter Sean Bradley’s specific motivation in stipulating to (rather than opposing) Ms. Nguyen’s motion to remove his client Del Arroz’s case to Santa Clara County, and so would certainly not claim to know them for certain. Generally speaking, a lawyer’s reasons for not fighting opposing counsel’s motion can include estimation that one is destined to lose that point of contention, anyway.

  5. Thanks. The puts it in context. Being mostly unfamiliar with court proceedings and/or California counties, I had no idea what the announcement meant or might mean.

  6. Is it customary to file for a change of venue before requesting a summary dismissal? Which I assume SFSFC will do.

  7. Laura, yr. very welcome, of course.

    It’s tempting to speculate (darkly or otherwise) about things like choice of initial venue & seemingly dubious foundation for it, reasons Mr. Bradley stipulated so readily to change of venue, reasons he and Mr. Del Arroz included certain named defendants in the first place, substantiality of Bradley & Del Arroz’s bit about John Does 1 through 30, and much else. Because, y’know, one develops suspicions. However, just marshalling what seem like telling facts has advantages, as I’m sure you’ll appreciate.

    Feel welcome to imagine those suspicions. ;->

  8. Lydy Nickerson, IANAL (TINLA), but I’m pretty sure custom plays no part in it.

    Proper legal basis for defendant petitioning the judge for transfer a civil case to a different court are of several types:

    1. You claim the court lacks personal jurisdiction.
    2. You claim the court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction.
    3. You claim it’s an inappropriate forum on grounds of where defendants live and/or where the alleged tort was committed.
    4. In the case where two US states’ jurisdiction might apply, you claim justice is better served by the one not chosen by plaintiff.

    (I’m sure there are other legal bases that aren’t occurring to me.)

    Tactical reasons for defendant requesting a specific change of venue abound, and might include belief one court (or set of judges, or set of local laws) is more sympathetic than another, greater convenience for defendants, less convenience for plaintiffs, and so on.

    You mentioned motions for summary judgement. In cases where a defendant makes such a motion, the court needs to hear all at once all of defendant’s attempt to establish facts supporting the motion. This factual case and other matters brought up in defendant’s motion mustl be construed by the judge in the favorable/advantageous most advantageous to the non-moving party (the plaintiff, here), as must inferences from that factual case. Speaking very inexactly, defendant is trying to establish all at once, usually before trial, that plaintiff just doesn’t have a case even if given the benefit of the doubt.

    Defendant obviously has an incentive to move to a sympathetic venue if possible, before attempting that feat, if he/she isn’t being heard in one already.

  9. I’m glad they are getting their requested venue change, at least. Now here’s hoping for a summary judgement against.

    @Rick Moen: Thanks for comments on this case, which helps lawsuit-newbies like myself.

  10. Kendall: I’m hoping the immediate next step is some serious sanctioning of plaintiff, if California Rules of Court section 3.110(f) applies.

    I’m not going to go around making loose, unverified claims about Mr. Bradley and Mr. Del Arroz’s managing or not to prove to the court, no later than June 15th, service of process against all 14 named defendants — Mom didn’t raise no fools — but (speaking in generalities) the courts are supposed to come down hard on Potemkin village lawsuit filings, and many have noted that Del Arroz’s list of defendants was… ambitious, especially for what seems to me like a scantily funded litigation effort. I look forward to finding out.

    And then, I hope the next step is a thorough delving through Mr. Del Arroz’s records as part of the discovery process. This is where many too-hasty plaintiffs first learn to regret going to court at all, depending of course on any skeletal components within their closets. (One might say: When you gaze into the litigation abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.)

    I’m still predicting that this entire action will fizzle out, one way or the other, long before even the case management conference (which of course will now be rescheduled at the new court venue). I’ve seen serious lawsuits, and IMO this doesn’t look like one. (Serious suits don’t depend on GoFundMe tin-cup shaking, for starters.)

    FWIW, searching at Santa Clara County Superior Court doesn’t yet find a case record.

  11. @Rick Moen: Of your reasons for transfer of court location, ISTM that #3 is rather manifestly it — both where the majority of defendants live and the actual, no-foolin’, 100% fact that that is where alleged tort is/will occur.

    Thanks for being our Law-Twister Shorty.

  12. Lurkertype: I sure wouldn’t bet money against you on reasons why plaintiff’s choice of San Joaquin County was… open to question in this case.

    As the motion was stipulated, maybe we’ll probably never get to see the nice, deft evisceration by Ms. Nguyen that I imagine was ready to fly.

    (ETA: Rather more bracing than Motions for Summary Judgement are Motions to Dismiss, that could be filed for parts of the complaint that are excessively legally hilarious.)

  13. Lurkertype: Also, thank you for the delightful Gordy Dickson reference. I’m honoured to have been implicitly compared to Malcolm O’Keefe.

    Part of what I’m getting at in all this is: Most fen lack the background in this area to know what is humbug, and react with some reflexive alarm and a tendency to take seriously alleged legal threats and alleged legal actions that the well informed can see are preposterous. Meanwhile, the well informed are either staying silent (as all of the named defendants are, for good reasons) or being scrupulously careful to make no factual claims that could be legally actionable even in the eyes of a deranged opponent, and who therefore tend to sound oddly indirect and general bordering on delphic, in any critical comments they make.

    I won’t claim expertise (when I need legal expertise, I hire it), but an attentive look at the Del Arroz action finds both obvious attempts to make a very weak case look threatening and numerous points of inadvertent comedy. Re-read the complaint, and you spot more and more of the latter. For example, in conversation this morning, I was reminded of yet another: Del Arroz’s legal complaint’s ludicrous assertion about Worldcon 76 having denied his rights to ‘public facilities’. It strains credulity that Mr. Del Arroz, a longtime (but possible ex-, at this point) member of Bay Area fandom, would be unaware that Worldcon 76 will occur entirely in private space secured from McEnery Convention Center and two attached hotels under contract.

    The inadvertent comedy aspect is sharpened when you remember that Del Arroz bills himself as a ‘libertarian conservative’. It’s an odd sort of libertarian conservative who suddenly turns out to not believe in private property and contractual rights, don’t’cha think? But perhaps moral consistency is for other people.

  14. Rick Moen: For example, in conversation this morning, I was reminded of yet another: Del Arroz’s legal complaint’s ludicrous assertion about Worldcon 76 having denied his rights to ‘public facilities’. It strains credulity that Mr. Del Arroz, a longtime (but possible ex-, at this point) member of Bay Area fandom, would be unaware that Worldcon 76 will occur entirely in private space secured from McEnery Convention Center and two attached hotels under contract.

    This analysis sounds overreaching to me.

    It has been undisputed that Worldcon 76 sent Del Arroz a communication that said: “…If you are found on the premises of the convention center or any of the official convention hotels you will be removed….”

    The word “premises” would encompass the entire area of these facilities. Nonmembers of the Worldcon are going to be allowed in any areas of the convention center they have to traverse to reach the place where they can purchases daily or at-the-door full memberships, or pick up any other kinds of admissions (press passes?). In the hotels, people will be allowed access to restaurants and bars that are open to the general public, and the main lobby.

    Your argument that they have a contractual right to bar him from the premises is faulty, I think, because they have not contracted for exclusive use of the entire premises. And while his suit is about being denied the opportunity to attend the convention, that was communicated to him in terms not just of denying a membership, but saying to him they would prevent him from being in parts of the facilities where the general public will be allowed to go.

    It’s not as if I would miss him if they did it, but I still expect to see his smiling mug wandering wherever he can get in.

  15. @Mike: All true. He’s probably perfectly free to hang out in the restaurants and bars and coffee shops on the premises of the hotels and center. Of course, then said comestible purveyors are well within their rights to also and separately ban him should he start getting stroppy with other patrons for any reason. As could the hotels themselves or the convention center if they feel he’s being disruptive to their business.

    Sitting there quietly and ordering a steady supply of product, they won’t mind. (Though that’s liable to get expensive) Causing a ruckus, well — “we reserve the right to refuse service, etc. etc” is a well-established point of law, upon which bar/nighclub bouncers, velvet-rope “are you on the list?” types, and ushers/managers of theaters removing those jerks who won’t shut up and let us watch the movie operate.

    I do not know what the rules are for sitting in hotel lobbies; my knowledge of this is quite outdated and possibly fictional, being exclusively formed by noir novels where the house dick has to roust dem guys outta dere, leading to the inevitable murders and femme fatales. This probably doesn’t apply to nice chain hotels today.

  16. Mike: I have no inside knowledge at Worldcon 76 whatsoever, but am guessing that the convention has contractual rights to exclusive use during the convention of the entirety of the two hotels plus the portion of McEnery Convention Center that the Worldcon will be using, less obvious exceptions that really shouldn’t need elaboration, such as the hotel lobbies. (Like other large-scale convention facilities, McEnery is vast enough that I’m sure at least one other event will be using other halls and rooms. The Internet-published calendar is so far updated only through July, otherwise I’d recite them here.)

    Having not seen the communication in question, I think the intended meaning is fairly obvious, referring to convention space within McEnery Convention Center and convention space within the two hotels, e.g., not the Safety, Security and Parking Service office down in the basement (or wherever it is), or the outside loading dock, or the concierge desk and reception desk at the Marriott or the Hilton. I think obvious that the intended meaning was ‘As you will now be a supporting member, not attending, please do not attempt to enter exclusive convention space at the convention centre or at the official convention hotels, or you will be removed.’

    If Mr. Del Arroz, based on that communication, actually had concerns or confusion about his ongoing right to visit non-convention space at McEnery, the Marriott, or the Hilton — and I don’t really buy assumption that at all — then the reasonable remedy would have been to either seek clarification, or assert his self-evident right to visit non-convention space, or both. Which of course (unless accounts are wildly mistaken) is not at all what he did.

    How much of the two hotels the convention has exclusive rights to is actually a factual question I have no data about. But one would expect exclusively reserved areas to be marked by signage, wouldn’t one? Call me reckless if you will, but I’d consider myself free to visit any part of a hotel or convention centre that isn’t signed off (or otherwise marked) as staff-only or used by, hence by implication reserved to, some event, and, to my knowledge, the laws regulating private property follow suit.

  17. but am guessing that the convention has contractual rights to exclusive use during the convention of the entirety of the two hotels

    I doubt that pretty strongly.

  18. Kurt Busiek, I hear rumour that the contracted room block is all hotel rooms in both hotels. (I am not WorldCon 76 staff, speak as an outsider, and voice nobody’s view but my own.) Of course, the hotels might end up with some exceptions to the reserved room blocks; I would be in no position to know. And, yes, there’s more to a hotel than the rentable rooms. Do we really need to go into that? Seriously? I guess we do.

    I have no idea why you snipped the necessary qualifier I included about ‘obvious exceptions’. I didn’t feel it necessary at the time to elaborate. The point about that, and about the fuzzy and somewhat problematic way many people including OGH use the word ‘public’, struck me as pretty obvious at the time. But maybe not? Is this actually difficult?

    We think of city, county (etc.)-owned parks as ‘public’, yet we’re not outraged or convinced our sacred rights have been infringed if we’re expected to vacate the park by twilight and urged to the exit by a kindly public employee. We think of the sidewalks and tarmac of West San Carlos Street in front of McEnery Convention Center as ‘public’, even though if we try to dance with 100 of our friends down the roadway (or sidewalk) without a parade permit, we’re going to be in trouble. We think of not-obviously-signed-off parts of the city-owned McEnery Convention Center as ‘public’ even though, if we assert our Gnu-given right to remain in parts of it (or at times such as after 10pm) that the San Jose Convention Center & Visitors Bureau doesn’t permit, then we’re going to end up facing the sharp, pointy end of the trespassing laws. And, if we linger in any part of Hilton San Jose including the lobby, restaurants, etc. much past when a nice soft-spoken member of Hilton Hotels and Resorts, Inc. middle management asks us to please leave, including, but not limited to, at the behest of events that have reserved space in the hotel, the same applies.

    Is Worldcon 76 contracting to reserve the hotel restaurants? Don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. If so, as I already mentioned, I expect there would be signs or at least nice soft-spoken members of hotel middle-management. Because that’s the way these things work. Obviously.

    Anyway, I think, as I said to Mike, that the intended meaning of the communication he quoted from, as obviously applying to convention-private spaces, should have been obvious from context, or easily figured out or cleared up by, say, Mr. Del Arroz inquiring, or just assuming that the totally obvious applies absent strong evidence. I really don’t think his problem was not getting said intended context, and don’t think it’s particularly sensible to assume otherwise.

  19. Is this actually difficult?

    That’s a pretty long answer to “I doubt that pretty strongly.”

    I continue to doubt pretty strongly that the convention has contractual rights to exclusive use during the convention of the entirety of the two hotels, even with exceptions like “the lobbies” noted.

    I didn’t say anything about public parks or Del Arroz’s argument. Just that I doubt the convention has the kind of sweeping contractual exclusivity you’re guessing at.

    I guess we’ll find out.

    Is Worldcon 76 contracting to reserve the hotel restaurants? Don’t know. Maybe, maybe not.

    I doubt it.

  20. Rick Moen: A filibuster isn’t adding anything. Instead of writing 500 words about all the possibilities that may or may not exist, if there’s something about Worldcon 76’s contractual arrangements you don’t know — like if they exclusively reserved hotel restaurants — you can ask them and find out.

  21. Query: if someone is banned from a cons exclusive spaces, is it typical to ask the venue to cooperate in also banning them from the rest of the venue, or do venues typically take a “not our problem” approach?

  22. Kurt wrote:

    I continue to doubt pretty strongly that the convention has contractual rights to exclusive use during the convention of the entirety of the two hotels, even with exceptions like “the lobbies” noted.

    Exceptions that might, for all I know, include the restaurants. Maybe other things. The laundromat. The staff smoking area. It’s not like I purported to give a comprehensive list of hotel spaces.

    In any event, this conjured-up controversy rather misses the larger point that, IMO, the quoted communication was clearly intended to advise Del Arroz he’d need to stay out of convention space, not that SFSFC had become somehow magically empowered to order him out of every square inch of two hotels and a convention centre.

    Anyway, yes I could ask SFSFC staff about details of their hotel contracts, if I really cared whether, e.g., they had the right to limit the hotel Jacuzzi only to Worldcon members, but I personally don’t see that as even an interesting question, sorry.

  23. There’s one other interesting bit to the premises thing. The WSFS Business Meeting takes place on those premises (I presume; I suppose it’s possible the Chair has requested or decided they be held elsewhere). As part of banning him, Worldcon 76 specifically changed Del Arroz’s WSFS membership status. The only possible avenue of appeal for that would seem to be the WSFS Business Meeting…which he’s being denied access to. If you think about it a bit, especially if you notice one public piece of information that I’m not going to mention, there’s a potential problem there…(note: Yes, other people can bring things up on Del Arroz’s behalf at the Business Meeting, but he himself is denied the opportunity to speak in his own behalf).

    Oh, and one other I just thought of. There was at least some talk, not from W76, that the specific reason Del Arroz was banned was due to his saying he was going to go into the SFWA suite with a body cam. While it’s traditional for Worldcons to pay for the SFWA suite (or give them use of a suite obtained via room comps), strictly speaking it’s not convention space and SFWA routinely bars non-members who are not guests of a member from entering the room. Does a banning from convention spaces accomplish banning from the SFWA suite? Admittedly, this is hypothetical since SFWA has handled it by denying Del Arroz membership, thus effectively banning him from the suite unless a member escorts him in (and perhaps SFWA has banned him period, as well as denying membership; I don’t recall if they did so as well or not).

  24. Tom Galloway: There was at least some talk, not from W76, that the specific reason Del Arroz was banned was due to his saying he was going to go into the SFWA suite with a body cam.

    Yes, there was, by people who were talking out of their ass and were not in a position to know the details behind the reasons for the banning.

     
    Tom Galloway: The only possible avenue of appeal for that would seem to be the WSFS Business Meeting…which he’s being denied access to. If you think about it a bit, especially if you notice one public piece of information that I’m not going to mention, there’s a potential problem there… he himself is denied the opportunity to speak in his own behalf.

    That’s not a problem, that is part of the consequences of his behavior. And it’s irrelevant. WSFS designates each Worldcon as the sole decision-maker for their event. The Business Meeting does not have the authority to overrule Worldcon 76’s decision on enforcement of their Code of Conduct.

  25. @Rick Moen:

    We think of the sidewalks and tarmac of West San Carlos Street in front of McEnery Convention Center as ‘public’, even though if we try to dance with 100 of our friends down the roadway (or sidewalk) without a parade permit, we’re going to be in trouble.

    I would cheefully undertake to organize a hundred-person conga line down that sidewalk without getting any convictions. Yelled at, certainly. Interfered with, at least briefly. Ticketed, possibly. Arrested, vaguely possibly but I wouldn’t worry about it. Convicted, no frckin’ way.

    Whether that qualifies as “in trouble” is a matter of opinion. I think it sounds like a real good time.

  26. Rick Moen: In any event, this conjured-up controversy rather misses the larger point that, IMO, the quoted communication was clearly intended to advise Del Arroz he’d need to stay out of convention space, not that SFSFC had become somehow magically empowered to order him out of every square inch of two hotels and a convention centre.

    It’s quite tiresome to keep seeing reformulations of an argument denying that Worldcon 76’s message to Del Arroz said what it said. What you think they intended, what they may have actually intended, is not going to supersede the wording of their message.

  27. Could he show up in a box?
    Could he show up with a fox?
    Could he show up in a noodle-poodle,
    Bottle-beetle, paddle-battle, pixle-scroodle?

  28. @John A. Arkansawyer: Your idea of a good time may involve hours or days in jail; mine does not. I have no idea how likely arrests would be for something like that hypothetical conga line–I suspect it depends on things including whether your activity blocks traffic, whether it’s perceived as political, whether the local government has decided that cash bail is a good way to fund the police department, and whether you’re white–but many of the people in jail in this country haven’t been convicted of anything.

  29. If this already addressed, my apologies.

    *What happens if all of the named defendants are not served in time?

    *Will his planned protest during the Con &/or continued crowing about his new projects and the sales rank of his new book on Amazon affect anything?

  30. Maybe with the current US President saying that he was misunderstood between the words “would and wouldn’t”, and the meaning of “no”, similarly Mr. Del Arroz has been similarly misunderstood?

    A double negative Pixel.

  31. Louise: Defendants who have not been properly served can get themselves dismissed from the case. But since they would have to pay a fee to file the motion, they may not necessarily take any action, and wait until the court reaches a stage in the proceedings where it decides it has no jurisdiction over these people.

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