A long simmering legal battle over the trademark of a real estate brokerage has picked up steam in recent weeks.

Since 2005, All Cities Realty Inc. of Costa Mesa has filed a handful of trademark lawsuits against Re/Max Marquee Partners Inc., a Manhattan Beach residential brokerage owned by Kelli Todd. One of the suits names as defendants about 1,700 present and former agents and brokers of Re/Max Marquee Partners.

Now, partially as a result of the lawsuit, Todd has placed her company in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to expedite its sale to Re/Max Sanders Group of Malibu. Her company, which has five Los Angeles County offices, filed for bankruptcy Feb. 16. In a Feb. 11 letter sent to her former brokers, Todd wrote that she decided to take those steps because of declining business and the costly legal battle, which she described as “a long, exhausting and costly drama.”

Joseph Miner, owner of All Cities Realty, has claimed Todd used the All Cities Realty name in conjunction with her residential and commercial businesses for several years despite a federal trademark he had on it. Miner contends that his business was hurt as a result of Todd’s use of the name (a practice she ended several years ago).

“It crippled us starting in 2003. We were basically a ‘21st century brokerage’ with a small brick-and-mortar office and a huge Internet presence,” he said. “In 2005 they put more than 25,000 pages on the Internet; it wiped out our company presence.”

Jeffrey Sax, the attorney representing Miner, said that the bankruptcy has resulted in a stay being placed on his client’s federal suit against Re/Max Marquee Partners. Sax will now ask that a related lawsuit in state court, which had been stayed pending the federal case, be reactivated. That state court case is against both Re/Max Marquee Partners and about 1,700 agents who worked for the company over the years.

Miner said that he and Sax have entered into talks with individual and small groups of brokers, totaling about 100, in the hopes of reaching a “reasonable” monetary settlement in the state case.

This is the second time Todd has exited from a brokerage. She closed commercial brokerage Re/Max Commercial Brokerage in 2008 citing the economy.

Todd declined comment for this article. Her company’s in-house counsel did not return calls seeking comment.

Re/Max Sanders Group also did not return calls.

New Company

There’s a new Santa Monica real estate company – that unlike some others hasn’t been started by a group of laid-off professionals.

Russ Allegrette said that he and four partners left real estate jobs with guaranteed contracts to found Ocean West Capital Partners because they wanted to start a company that could capitalize on the wave of distress in commercial real estate.

“There are a lot of opportunities for people who are creative and have the right skill sets,” said Allegrette, who previously was president of Maguire Investments, the private company of real estate mogul Robert Maguire.

Ocean West was founded in May 2009, but didn’t reach its current size until the hire of two final partners in January. The company will invest its and clients’ money in distressed real estate. It also will provide leasing advisory and property management services to landlords and loan servicers of distressed properties.

“We have access to hundreds of millions in capital,” Allegrette said.

A typical investment might involve injecting equity into a distressed project, thus allowing a borrower to restructure a loan at better terms. Ocean West has yet to make any investments, but the firm’s advisory arm has already provided services to a handful of real estate investment trusts and loan servicers, he said.

Allegrette founded the company with former Maguire Investments Vice President Phil Choi and Peter Swain, a former associate at real estate law firm Gilchrist & Rutter PC. In January, they were joined by Troy Miller, formerly of loan servicer Centerline Capital Group, and Ted Bischak, a former senior vice president at Maguire Properties Inc., a publicly traded REIT.

Industrial Sale

Industrial real estate developer Seventh Street Development has sold a building at its Mission-71 Business Park in Pomona, leaving the firm with only three remaining buildings at the 11-building property it completed in 2007.

Craig Furniss, principal of the Long Beach firm, said the $2.1 million sale to Excellence Opto Inc. was at a price about 25 percent lower than what Seventh Street had originally hoped for when planning the project. The all-cash deal for the 17,000-square-foot industrial building at 1663 W. Second St. closed Feb. 11. It breaks down to $124 per square foot.

Furniss was optimistic that the price represents the nadir of the industrial market, which has been hit hard by the recession. “The market has bottomed out,” he said.

Excellence Opto is a Taiwanese company that makes light-emitting diode lamps for traffic and street lights. The company’s U.S. arm was previously headquartered in Brea. It will use the building for offices and the warehousing of products, said Cheryl Huang of Excellence Opto.

The remaining three buildings at Mission-71 make up about 80,000 square feet of the 248,000-square-foot development.

Seventh Street’s broker, Barbara Emmons, said the project has an advantage over other nearby industrial properties because it is new construction.

“The reality is there is less product available today than ever before, because there has been no new construction,” said Emmons of CB Richard Ellis Group Inc.

Excellence Opto was represented by Ted Lin of All-Star Investments. The seller also was represented by Lynn Knox, John Privett and Lyn Eisenhower of CB Richard Ellis.

Staff reporter Daniel Miller can be reached at dmiller@labusinessjournal.com or (323) 549-5225, ext. 263.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.