Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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Sargent began working for the University in 1991 as an environmental health-and-safety technician. Sargent was the campus’s licensed asbestos consultant. Sargent sued, presenting abundant evidence about retaliation after he raised concerns about environmental hazards. A jury found in his favor on claims alleging unlawful retaliation and on a claim under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act (Labor Code 2698, PAGA), which was premised almost entirely on violations of the California Occupational Safety and Health Act (Labor Code 6300, CalOSHA). He was awarded more than $2.9 million in PAGA penalties and more than $7.8 million in attorney fees.The court of appeal affirmed the award of attorney fees but reversed the award of PAGA penalties. Education Code 66606.2 does not bar PAGA claims against the California State University (CSU) system; CSU is not categorically immune from PAGA penalties because it is a public entity. Viable PAGA claims can be asserted against CSU only when the statutes upon which the claims are premised themselves provide for penalties. Here, Sargent brought some viable PAGA claims but ultimately failed to establish CSU’s liability for them because the jury found that he was not personally affected by the underlying statutory violations. View "Sargent v. Board of Trustees of the California State University" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's order denying Altamed's motion to compel arbitration of respondent's claims. The court held that the arbitration agreement is valid where respondent knowingly waived her right to a jury trial and the signature of Altamed's CEO was not required on the arbitration agreement. The court also held that any unconscionability in the arbitration agreement does not provide grounds for revocation or non-enforcement. Rather, the provision giving rising to substantive unconscionability is severable. In this case, the second review provision appears entirely severable from the remainder of the agreement and removing it would remove the only instance of substantive unconscionability. Furthermore, the arbitration agreement contains a severability provision. Therefore, the court ordered the provision severed. View "Cisneros Alvarez v. Altamed Health Services Corp." on Justia Law

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A trial court denied defendant-appellant Anthony Williams’s motion to substitute retained counsel for his appointed counsel. After the jury found Williams guilty of first degree murder, and found true a special allegation, the trial court sentenced him to life without the possibility of parole. On appeal, Williams claimed the trial court violated his constitutional right to counsel by denying his request to be represented by counsel of his choice and that this error requires reversal without regard to prejudice. To this, the Court of Appeal agreed, and reversed the trial court's judgment. View "California v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Rabineau served MLG with a statutory offer to compromise, but the offer did not specify how MLG could accept it. MLG's counsel hand-wrote MLG's acceptance onto the offer itself and filed a notice of acceptance with the trial court. The trial court then entered judgment in favor of MLG pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure 998, subdivision (b)(1). The Legislature enacted section 998 to encourage and expedite settlement of lawsuits before trial. At issue is whether the purported acceptance of a section 998 offer lacking an acceptance provision gives rise to a valid judgment.The Court of Appeal concluded that the trial court correctly found the judgment was void and affirmed the trial court's grant of Rabineau's motion to vacate the judgment. The court explained that California appellate courts have consistently followed Puerta v. Torres (2011) 195 Cal.App.4th 1267, to hold that a section 998 offer lacking an acceptance provision is invalid, and therefore an offeree's failure to accept it does not trigger any of section 998's cost-shifting provisions. Furthermore, application of general contract principles to conclude a section 998 offer is valid, even if it does not have an acceptance provision, would conflict with the language of section 998, which clearly provides otherwise. Finally, the court rejected arguments based on equity. View "Mostafavi Law Group, APC v. Larry Rabineau, APC" on Justia Law

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After entering a plea of no contest to attempted driving with a blood alcohol-level of 0.08 percent or more within 10 years of a felony conviction for driving under the influence (DUI) and admitting two prior DUI convictions, defendant Tanya Cummings was granted five years of formal probation. She appealed, contending that : (1) attempted DUI, even with two prior felony DUI convictions, was a misdemeanor under the plain terms of Penal Code section 23550.5; and (2) the trial court erred by ordering her to pay for the cost of her court appointed counsel without a finding of ability to pay or a showing of the actual costs incurred. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "California v. Cummings" on Justia Law

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After the San Luis Obispo Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) denied the city and developer's application to annex a parcel of real property to the city, the city and developer filed suit challenging the action. LAFCO prevailed and brought this action to recover attorney fees under an indemnity agreement contained in the annexation application.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant to the city and developer judgment on the pleadings because LAFCO has no authority to require attorney fees. The court explained that Government Code section 56383 does not apply to post-administrative matters, such as the action that generated the fees at issue here. Therefore, LAFCO has given no consideration in exchange for the indemnity agreement. View "San Luis Obispo Local Agency Formation Commission v. City of Pismo Beach" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics
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Senate Bill No. 1421 amended Penal Code section 832.7 to allow disclosure under the California Public Records Act (CPRA) of records relating to officer-involved shootings, serious use of force and sustained findings of sexual assault or serious dishonesty. VCDSA filed suit against defendants to enjoin section 832.7’s application to records involving peace officer conduct and incidents occurring before January 1, 2019, the statute's effective date. The trial court issued a preliminary injunction.In the meantime, the First District issued Walnut Creek Police Officers' Ass'n v. City of Walnut Creek (2019) 33 Cal.App.5th 940, which rejected the assertion "that applying the 2019 amendments to compel disclosure of records created prior to 2019 constitutes an improper retroactive application of the new law." In the absence of a reason to depart from Walnut Creek, and for reasons stated in Becerra v. Superior Court (2020) 44 Cal.App.5th 897, the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment and dissolved the permanent injunction. The court agreed with Walnut Creek that section 832.7 does not attach new legal consequences to or increase a peace officer's liability for conduct that occurred before the statute's effective date. The court explained that because the statute merely broadens the public's right to access records regarding that conduct, it applies retroactively. View "Ventura County Deputy Sheriffs' Ass'n. v. County of Ventura" on Justia Law

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California residents who sell goods on eBay, an online marketplace, as part of their online businesses and use PayPal to receive payments for many of their sales filed a putative class action. The suit challenged provisions of the user agreements, including PayPal’s policy of placing a temporary hold on funds in a user’s account when PayPal believes there is a high level of risk associated with a transaction or a user’s account; PayPal’s retention of interest on users’ funds that are placed in pooled accounts when users maintain a balance in their PayPal accounts; PayPal’s buyer’s protection policy, which allows buyers, under certain circumstances, to dispute transactions up to 180 days after the date of purchase; and a claim that PayPal aids and abets buyers in defrauding sellers by the manner in which it resolves disputes. The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of the claims against PayPal, without leave to amend. The challenged practices are not unconscionable. The degree of procedural unconscionability that arises from the fact that a contract is one of adhesion is ‘minimal.” View "Chen v. Paypal, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff alleged that defendant transferred his ownership in the LLC, a medical marijuana dispensary, to her in April 2015. Unbeknownst to plaintiff and despite that alleged transfer, defendant later converted the LLC from a limited liability company to a corporation and then a mutual benefit corporation in his name called Holistic Supplements Inc. (the corporation) and changed the business address. Defendant also claimed rights to a Business Tax Registration Certificate, a city-issued tax document that enabled the dispensary to operate. Plaintiff and the LLC filed suit against defendant and the corporation for conversion, unfair competition, and declaratory relief, among other claims.The Court of Appeal concluded that nonsuit was erroneous on plaintiff's individual claims because she has standing to sue for conversion of her personal property membership interest in the LLC; nonsuit was erroneous on claims against defendant in his individual capacity, since he can be held liable for personally participating in the tortious conduct of the corporation; nonsuit was erroneous on the unfair competition law claims because the court rejected the only two grounds for nonsuit defendants raise on appeal; and the Business Tax Registration Certificate is property subject to conversion, so the trial court prejudicially erred when it instructed the jury it was not. The court also rejected defendant's contention that plaintiff lacked standing because she failed to file a petition for reinstatement of the LLC pursuant to Government Code section 12261. The court explained that plaintiff and the LLC permissibly sought reinstatement as part of this lawsuit, so they did not need to file a separate petition in the superior court. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "Holistic Supplements, LLC v. Stark" on Justia Law

Posted in: Business Law
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Plaintiff filed suit against Quicken, on behalf of himself and others similarly situated, alleging causes of action for breach of fiduciary duty and violations of Civil Code section 2954.8 and Business and Professions Code section 17200, contending that section 2954.8 requires a lender to pay interest on insurance proceeds held in escrow following the partial or total destruction of the insured's residence or other structure. In this case, plaintiff's home was destroyed by Ventura's Thomas Fire and his hazard insurance policy jointly paid him and his mortgage lender, Quicken, a total of $1,342,740. The Deed of Trust allowed Quicken to hold the insurance proceeds in escrow and to disburse the funds as repairs to the home were being made.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's decision sustaining Quicken's demurrer to the complaint without leave to amend, concluding that neither section 2954.8 nor the parties' loan agreement required the payment of interest. Based upon the statutory and contractual language, the court agreed with Lippitt v. Nationstar Mortgage, LLC (C.D.Cal. Apr. 16, 2020, No. SA CV 19-1115-DOC-DFM) 2020 U.S. Dist. Lexis 122881, that section 2954.8 "applies to common escrows maintained to pay taxes, assessments, and insurance premiums -- not to the comparatively unique example of hazard insurance proceeds held by a lender pending property rebuilding." Therefore, the court concluded that the insurance proceeds held by Quicken pursuant to section 5 of the Deed of Trust fall outside the scope of section 2954.8. Furthermore, plaintiff's secondary reliance on the purported purposes of section 2954.8 does not and cannot circumvent the statute's plain language. View "Gray v. Quicken Loans, Inc." on Justia Law