Payne & Fears LLP offers a full range of business and litigation services to its clients in three primary practice groups: Labor and Employment, Business Litigation, and Insurance Coverage. Across these practice areas, we represent all types of clients, from multi-national corporations to emerging tech startups to individual insurance policyholders.

Practice Areas



  • The attorneys at Payne & Fears have the unique ability to size up complex matters and provide well-reasoned solutions. Their knowledge of the law and depth of experience, coupled with the responsive and personal service they provide, all contribute to a strong and valued relationship with our organization.

    - Vice-President of Labor, Publically Traded Silicon Valley Technology Company
  • Your support at Payne and Fears is top rate and it is such a pleasure to work with someone who understands business and offers a conservative, yet aggressive approach – not very easy but something that you seem to demonstrate well!  You are always my first choice of outside counsel.

    - Senior Vice President, Human Resources, International Consumer Goods Company
  • Payne & Fears LLP has represented me and my company for many years. It is an excellent law firm with the highest standards. I have worked with hundreds of attorneys in my career. I get results with Payne & Fears LLP.

    - Small Business Owner
  • I hire Payne & Fears LLP because of certainty--certainty in my receipt of value, in its strategic approach to problem solving, in its integrity of billing, in its candor when evaluating my cases, in its creativity while searching for an economical and fair resolution and in its attorneys’ tenacity throughout the ensuing battle. In a world of unknowns, I value constancy in characteristics that matter most. Payne & Fears LLP delivers that constancy.

    - Chief Litigation Officer, Fortune 500 Company


Jul 10

Court Denies De Novo Review in Favor of Request for Abuse of Discretion Standard

In a case brought in federal court under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) against our client, a national retailer, and its group health insurance plan for denial of an expensive surgery as not medically necessary, the court ordered briefing on the appropriate standard of court review. In ERISA cases, the standard of review is very important to determine whether the court will defer to the plan’s determination. Plaintiff filed a motion arguing for de novo review based on a California Insurance Code section he claimed negated the plan’s language requiring abuse of discretion review, citing two Central District court decisions in support. In opposition, Payne & Fears argued that the Insurance Code section was preempted with respect to the self-funded plan, distinguishing the two district court decisions and citing a conflicting decision from another Central District court.

On this issue which is undecided in the Ninth Circuit, the district court rejected plaintiff’s request for de novo review of the plan’s decision to deny coverage for his surgery. Instead, the court adopted the abuse of discretion standard requested by the plan, holding that the Insurance Code section was preempted with respect to the self-funded plan. The court also sided with the one case in the Central District so holding, and distinguished the two other Central District cases that decided otherwise.

Eric C. Sohlgren is defending the case on behalf of the plan and prepared the opposition briefing.

Practice areas: Labor and Employment Litigation, ERISA Litigation

Attorneys: Andrew K. Haeffele, Eric C. Sohlgren

Jun 30

Payne & Fears LLP Obtains Victory for Client SpaceX

Ben Nix, Scott Luskin, and Robert Matsuishi of Payne & Fears LLP recently obtained a victory in favor of their client, SpaceX, before the California Court of Appeal which upheld the dismissal of certain claims against SpaceX by an unlicensed contractor. 

In Phoenix Mechanical Pipeline, Inc. v. Space Exploration Technologies Corp., No. B269186 (2017 WL 2544856) (Cal. Ct. App. June 13, 2017), a published opinion, the Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District ruled that plaintiff’s claims for contracting services were barred by California Business & Professions Code section 7031(a). That section requires a party to have license in order to maintain an action for compensation for contracting-related services. SpaceX prevailed in demonstrating that plaintiff did not have a license and that it was not sufficient for plaintiff to merely allege that it had a licensed “responsible managing officer.”

The published decision is important because it reinforces the strong public policy of section 7031 that contractors hold a valid license to receive compensation for their services. It also underscores that a contractor may not evade the strict licensing laws by “borrowing” a license from a licensed person.

Practice areas: Business Litigation, Appellate Law (Business)

Attorneys: Benjamin A. Nix, Robert T. Matsuishi, Scott O. Luskin