Ryan Davis has already been awarded $400,000 in his seven-year-old dispute with former partner Ben Bacal, but the agent wants much more from Bacal and the pair’s former brokerage, Sotheby’s International Realty.
In this marathon case Davis claims Bacal reneged on a 50/50 commission split on a $30 million home sale consummated in 2013, a property at 1 Electra Court in Hollywood Hills bought by film producer Megan Ellison.
In December, Davis requested that his complaint be moved to state civil court instead of where it is currently — the Beverly Hills/Greater Los Angeles Association of Realtors arbitration board — so that he can sue Bacal and Sotheby’s for millions of dollars in punitive damages, plus the $325,000 he claims owed on the Ellison home buy.
Davis, in other words, is making his feud with Bacal about more than just a partnership gone wrong. It’s now largely a crusade to recoup a commission without a backing brokerage and a challenge to the system agents use to mediate such disputes.
Bacal thinks the gambit is desperate.
“There is no case here to move it out of arbitration,” said Bacal lawyer, Ronald Richards. “It’s another example of an agent who doesn’t do well and blames others.”
For years Davis and Bacal (who in October opened his own brokerage, Revel Real Estate) worked together at Sotheby’s International Realty, selling homes to the rich and famous including Matt Damon and Ellen DeGeneres.
“Ben was my best friend,” Davis said. “We would have dinner together almost every night.”
But in 2013, Bacal left Sotheby’s for Rodeo Realty and on his way out allegedly bilked Davis out of his share of five 50/50 commission splits.
That includes the Ellison buy.
Davis said the two were co-listing agents on the property. But Bacal asserted that he made the deal when he moved to Rodeo and he worked on it independent of his former partner.
Under National Association of Realtors guidelines, an arbitration panel at a local realtor’s association handles commission splits disputes.
According to documents Davis provided, a Beverly Hills arbitration panel awarded Davis $396,841 in September 2015 over his claims against Bacal on four of the commissions.
However, the panel did not rule on the Ellison home, because — unlike the other four commissions in dispute — Davis’s broker, Sotheby’s, did not corroborate his version of events.
Davis moved to have a Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge take up the matter, but the court granted Bacal’s motion in 2017 to bring the case back to an arbitration panel.
Since the case went back to arbitration, Davis said he has been bickering with the Beverly Hills panel over whether he can file punitive damages over what he said is malicious conduct by Bacal and Sotheby’s — a matter that he claims the Superior Court never addressed in moving the case back to arbitration.
Davis also said he has uncovered conflicts of interest with the arbitration process. For example, Davis’s former boss at Sotheby’s, Frank Symons, sits on the National Association of Realtors Board, the parent of the Beverly Hills panel.
The agent said that if he can’t move the dispute back to court, an arbitration forum outside the real estate industry — such as the American Arbitration Association or Judicial Arbitration Mediation Services — would be preferred to the Beverly Hills board.
“It’s a biased board,” Davis said. “It’s like a boy’s club.”
John Giardinelli, a mediator assigned to handle the Davis/Bacal dispute, said that he was not authorized to speak with the press, per National Association of Realtors guidelines.
Bacal’s lawyer, Richards, added that the entire dispute may be a moot point, since it is virtually impossible for agents to get a commission payment absent a backing brokerage.
Davis counters that a 2015 California appeals court case — ironically a ruling against Bacal — allows him to get a commission without Sotheby’s support.
The 1 Electra Court property, meanwhile, has had a notable past seven years of its own.
Ellison sold the abode three years ago to the Woodbridge Group. A year later the Woodbridge flipped the property to billionaire pharmaceutical entrepreneur Frank Binder after Woodbridge was ensnared in a Ponzi scheme.