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Ralph J. Swanson

Ralph J. Swanson

Of Counsel

San Jose Office 408.286.5800 Vcard Email

Areas of Focus:

Mr. Swanson has been practicing law since 1975. During his many years of experience in commercial and environmental litigation, he has represented a variety of clients, from individuals to large, publicly-traded corporations, in business disputes, environmental and toxic contamination litigation, real estate matters, trusts and estates, trade secrets, and closely held and family-owned business disputes. He also serves as a mediator and arbitrator in both private and court settings.

He is also an arbitrator for the Northern California business litigation panel of the American Arbitration Association.

In 2011, Mr. Swanson was recognized as a Northern California Super Lawyer in Business Litigation.

Mr. Swanson’s primary focus of late has been on serving as a mediator and arbitrator of business disputes, including, but not limited to, environmental contamination of real property and other real property and contract disputes. He also represents a variety of property owners with toxic contamination problems, particularly landowners whose commercial property is or was leased to owners of dry-cleaning businesses or former gasoline stations and auto repair shops. In this regard, Mr. Swanson represents these clients in litigation of, and advice concerning, cost recovery suits against third parties and in matters brought by local, state and federal regulatory enforcement agencies.

Representative Cases

  • Represented ground lessor under 99-year lease in environmental liability action against former subtenants. Case settled with defendants agreeing to complete remediation activities satisfactory to client and government enforcement agency
  • Defended Fortune 100 company in soil and groundwater contamination cost recovery action involving complex state and local statutes and regulations relating to responsibility for contamination and remediation. Achieved settlement satisfactory to client after private mediation
  • Defended former tenant of industrial property in federal superfund cost recovery action brought by property owner against tenant, former tenants and neighboring property owners. Case involved soil and groundwater contamination by chlorinated solvents and was settled to satisfaction of client after lengthy mediation before U.S. Magistrate
  • Defended major retail vendor against claim of software copyright infringement in sale of PDA computing device brought by manufacturer of a competing device. Prior to court’s ruling on defense motion for summary judgment, plaintiff agreed to settlement on terms favorable to defendants
  • Successfully defended international distributor of wood pallets in breach of contract action brought by pallet builder seeking $4 million in damages. Jury returned defense verdict after a two-week trial
  • Successfully defended commercial real estate broker against claim of negligent misrepresentation in connection with the sale of a commercial parcel in Palo Alto, CA. Case was tried to the bench, which ruled in favor of the defendant broker after a two-week trial
  • Represented plaintiff, a local incorporated city in suit against architect to recover costs of settling construction dispute with general contractor. Client alleged cause of cost overruns was poor quality of architectural drawings. Settled case favorably to client
  • Defended major national bank in its capacity of former trustee of a family trust, where the principal asset of the trust was a shopping center that had been contaminated by leaking hazardous chemicals from a tenant dry cleaning facility. Won case for client on summary judgment
  • Resolved in mediation and later obtained judgment against defendants for failure to pay settlement of complex suit involving charges of fraud and breach of contract in multiple real estate transactions
  • Mediator in private mediation and court-appointed settlement judge in dozens of cases from 1985 to date
  • Arbitrator of numerous commercial and real estate litigation matters as member of Northern California Panel on Business and Commercial Litigation, American Arbitration Association


  • Born in Iowa City, Iowa
  • Married, two children, two grandchildren
  • Avid tennis player, golfer, skier

Professional Admissions

  • State Bar of California, 1975 - present
  • United States District Court, Northern, Southern, Central & Eastern Districts of California
  • United States District Court of Appeal, Ninth Circuit


  • "The Trustee and the Hazards of Hazardous Chemicals," Professional Fiduciary Association of California, 2013
  • "A View from the Trenches: Trying Environmental Law Cases," Santa Clara County Bar Association
  • "The Need to Know: Ethical Issues in Environmental Reporting Requirements," Santa Clara County Bar Association
  • "Minimizing Environmental Liability," National Business Institute
  • "Proving the Technical Case: Soil and Groundwater Contamination," University of Wisconsin Dept. of Engineering

Activities / Memberships

  • American Bar Association, 1976 - present
  • Santa Clara County Bar Association, 1980 – present, Executive Committee; Environmental Law Section, Chair, 1996
  • Santa Clara County Superior Court, Arbitration Administration Committee
  • Symphony Silicon Valley, Member, Board of Trustees, 2008 - present
  • Cystic Fibrosis Research, Inc. (Palo Alto), President, Board of Directors, 1996 – 1998; Member, Board of Directors, 1992 - 1998, 2002 - 2003
  • University Club of Palo Alto, President, Board of Directors, 2006 – 2008; Member, Board of Directors, 2003 - 2009


  • Santa Clara University School of Law, J.D., summa cum laude, 1975
    •  Editor-in-Chief, Santa Clara Law Review, 1974 - 1975
  • Yale University, B.A., 1969
  • Phillips Academy, Andover, MA, 1961-1965