Peeved at Valet Parking Policy, Past Guest Sues Beverly Hilton

LAW by Amanda Bronstad

Valet parking fees too high? Try suing.

That's the tack Kathleen Riley took in an effort to get back the $48 she spent on parking after staying two nights at the Beverly Hilton two years ago.

The Nevada resident claims the hotel did not display its valet parking fees in accordance with Beverly Hills code.

Riley, in a suit filed on behalf of "tens of thousands of hotel patrons," says the hotel's signs displaying the $24 per night parking fees were too far away to see.

The action got the green light to proceed late last month after L.A. Superior Court Appellate Judge Carolyn Kuhl ruled that the hotel could have violated city codes. Kuhl's ruling overturns a lower court decision and sends the case back to lower court.

Riley is asking that her $48 in parking fees be returned, plus 10 percent annual interest. The suit against Hilton Hotels Corp. was originally filed on Sept. 14, 2000. At the same time, she also sued The Peninsula Beverly Hills over similar claims in a case pending in L.A. Superior Court.

Six months after the suits were filed, Beverly Hills amended its city code to relieve hotels and restaurants from having to display valet parking fees, the suit says.

In the suit, Riley claims the amended codes were not retroactive and that the hotel should have displayed parking fees in the period until the amendments were made.

Her attorney, Edwin Schreiber at Schreiber & Schreiber Inc. in Encino, is representing another party who sued Sajahtera Inc., former owner and operator of the Beverly Hills Hotel, over similar claims in a case pending in appellate court in L.A.

Schreiber said the Hilton suit is filed on behalf of a class of hotel guests who stayed at the Beverly Hilton during the four and a half years before the city codes were amended. Neither suit has been certified as a class.

"We must have several hundred thousand people," Schreiber said. "All the lawsuit says is you had an obligation for four and a half years to tell people in advance what they were charged for parking."

Hilton executives did not return phone calls and its outside attorney, David Smith at McNamara Spira & Smith, declined comment. In court documents, however, Hilton said, "On its face, the claims are specious because plaintiff admits that there was a sign at the valet drop-off station, but claims it just was not conspicuous enough for her. In a strained effort to find some basis for liability, plaintiff bases her entire complaint on an alleged violation of the Beverly Hills municipal code which regulates signage at 'vehicle parking facilities.'"

It also claims the amended Beverly Hills' city codes are retroactive.

A lower court judge agreed with Hilton, claiming the pre-amended and amended codes were retroactive. Kuhl's ruling found the amended codes were not retroactive.

Out of focus

SeeBeyond Technology Corp. has been sued in at least eight separate shareholder lawsuits over the past month, all claiming the Monrovia software company inflated earnings expectations as it prepared for a secondary public offering.

In announcing fourth quarter 2001 results, which met expectations, one suit said SeeBeyond claimed first quarter 2002 "results would be favorable as well."

SeeBeyond had a secondary offering of 8.5 million shares at $9.57 per share, raising about $82 million, on Feb. 20.

The company later projected revenues for the first quarter ended March 31 would be between $42 million and $42.5 million. On April 22, SeeBeyond reported revenues of $40.3 million, according to a suit filed by Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach.

After the April 22 earnings announcement, the stock fell from $6.58 per share to $3.15 per share. Shares closed July 29 at $1.24 per share.

SeeBeyond spokeswoman Elizabeth McCann said the company declined to comment.



Staff reporter Amanda Bronstad can be reached at (323) 549-5225 ext. 225, or at abronstad@labusinessjournal.com .



Regulated Firms Pay House Counsel Best

Good lawyers don't come cheap.

That's the verdict of Corporate Counsel Magazine, whose August issue ranks the 100 highest-paid general counsels in the U.S.

Eight L.A. attorneys made the list, which counted salary and bonus. Stock option exercises were provided, but not included in the ranking. Highest ranked members tended to work in highly regulated industries, such as health care, energy or utilities.

"The GCs in these companies are apparently viewed as vital members of the management team and are rewarded just like management players," said Michael Dwyer, president of the American Corporate Counsel Association's Southern California chapter.

Topping the local contingent is Thomas Geiser, general counsel of WellPoint Health Networks Inc. in Thousand Oaks. Last year, Geiser made $1.5 million in salary and bonus compensation. He ranked No. 6 on Corporate Counsel's list.

"You have regulatory confusion all the time by the nature of the industry," said Ken Ferber, a WellPoint spokesman. "You want to make sure you're doing everything to the letter and spirit of the law."

The next-highest paid in L.A. is Tenet Healthcare Corp.'s Christi Sulzbach, who made $1.2 million in compensation and ranked No. 18.

Donald de Brier at Occidental Petroleum Corp., ranked No. 24 with $1.1 million in salary and bonus pay, followed by Louis Meisinger at Walt Disney Co., who came in No. 31, pocketing $1 million in salary and bonus pay last year.

Bryant Danner at Edison International made $894,800 in salary and bonuses last year, as Southern California Edison Co. barely escaped bankruptcy. Danner jumped to No. 48 from No. 170 in 2000 on the Corporate Counsel magazine list.

Other local general counsels who made the list included C. Michael Carter of Dole Food Co. Inc. (No. 77 with $665,000 in compensation), Madeleine Kleiner of Hilton Hotels Corp. (No. 96 with $604,872), and Robert van Schoonenberg of Avery Dennison Corp. (No. 98 with 602,867). Van Schoonenberg also exercised $1.2 million in stock options last year.

Amanda Bronstad

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