Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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The state brought a civil enforcement action against Uber and Lyft, alleging that the companies improperly misclassify drivers using their ride-hailing platforms as independent contractors rather than employees, depriving them of benefits to which employees are entitled. This misclassification, the state alleged, also gives the defendants an unfair advantage against competitors, while costing the public significant sums in lost tax revenues and increased social-safety-net expenditures.The court of appeal affirmed the entry of a preliminary injunction that restrains the companies from classifying their drivers as independent contractors. Based on the breadth of the term “hiring entity” and the absence of an exemption for ride-sharing companies in Labor Code section 2775, there is little doubt the Legislature contemplated that rideshare drivers would be treated as employees. While the defendants’ business models are different from traditional employment, particularly with regard to drivers’ freedom to work as many hours as they wish, when and where they choose, and their ability to work on multiple apps at the same time, the mode in which the drivers are used met the elements of employment. The companies solicit riders, screen drivers, set standards for drivers' vehicles, track information on drivers using the apps, and may use negative ratings to deactivate drivers. Riders request rides and pay for them through defendants’ apps. The remuneration may be seen as flowing from riders to the defendants, then from defendants to drivers, less any fee associated with the ride. View "People v. Uber Technologies, Inc." on Justia Law

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Baratang used the debit card belonging to the sister of his father’s wife. The victim suffers from dementia. An officer testified that the total amount taken from her bank account as a result of the transactions was $8,710.44. A jury convicted Baratang of felony theft from an elder under Penal Code section 368(d).Baratang contends that the court prejudicially erred by instructing the jury it could convict him of felony elder theft based on an identity theft theory regardless of the value of the property taken or obtained. The court of appeal reversed. The jury instruction contradicts the plain language and legislative history of section 368, and the error cannot be deemed harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The $950 requirement in section 368(d)(1) applies to a felony violation of section 368(d) based on identity theft. The court could not rule out a reasonable possibility that the jury relied on the identity theft theory to support a felony violation of section 368(d). It is reasonably possible that one or more jurors found Baratang guilty of felony theft from an elder under the identity theft theory based solely on two ATM withdrawals totaling $700. View "People v. Baratang" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In 2014, a jury convicted Lizarraga of second-degree murder and found that he personally used a firearm in connection with the shooting of a rival gang member. Lizarraga was 17 years old when he committed the crime. He was sentenced to 40 years to life in state prison. After his first appeal, Lizarraga filed a “Franklin” habeas corpus petition, requesting an opportunity to make a record relevant to his eventual youth offender parole hearing. The court granted the petition and set a hearing date. Lizarraga next moved for a transfer hearing in juvenile court under the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016 (Proposition 57). The trial court denied the motion.The court of appeal affirmed, concluding that Lizarraga’s case was final when he requested the transfer hearing. Proposition 57 does not apply to final judgments. The Franklin hearing aside, Lizarraga’s case was final in June 2016, upon expiration of the time to seek U.S. Supreme Court review. The court rejected an argument that whenever a Franklin hearing is scheduled, finality is undone and all intervening changes in the law are in play. Lizarraga’s equal protection challenge is without merit. No “equal protection violation aris[es] from the timing of the effective date of a statute lessening the punishment for a particular offense.” View "People v. Lizarraga" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's order dismissing, for lack of jurisdiction, appellant's request for a civil harassment restraining order. The court held that appellant is not permitted to use the civil harassment order process to collaterally attack a confidential child dependency and adoption proceeding concerning her biological daughter.In this case, appellant's parental rights were terminated in a child dependency proceeding after appellant refused cancer treatment for her daughter and threatened the caregiver and case worker. The juvenile court then denied appellant's petition to reinstate service, freed the daughter for adoption, and placed her with a confidential caregiver. After the court affirmed the dependency order, appellant tried to intervene in the adoption proceeding by requesting a civil harassment restraining order. The court held that appellant may not use the civil harassment order process to mount a collateral attack on the Welfare & Institution Code section 366.26 order terminating parental rights, the selection of a confidential caregiver, or the adoptive placement. View "Leah B. v. Michael V." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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After plaintiff missed the statutory deadline to file a claim against a public entity, he applied to submit a late claim. Then plaintiff filed his complaint the same day, not waiting for the public entity to respond to his application.The Court of Appeal held that the Government Claims Act, Gov. Code, 810, is not satisfied by filing a complaint before rejection of a claim. In this case, plaintiff filed suit against the District for injuries he suffered while attempting to board one of the District's boats. The court held that section 946.6, which allows a petition to seek relief from the failure to comply with the claim requirement after denial of an application for leave to present a claim, did not apply here. Furthermore, the complaint plaintiff filed the same day was premature. In this case, the lawsuit is precluded because it was not preceded by rejection of a claim, and plaintiff's noncompliance with the Act cannot be cured by amending the complaint to allege he complied. Finally, the court held that there was no abuse of discretion in awarding costs. View "Lowry v. Port San Luis Harbor District" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure
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Epstein, an optometrist, entered into a VSP “Network Doctor Agreement.” VSP audited of Epstein’s claims for reimbursement, concluded he was knowingly purchasing lenses from an unapproved supplier, and terminated the provider agreement. The agreement included a two-step dispute resolution procedure: the “Fair Hearing” step provided for an internal “VSP Peer Review.” If the dispute remained unresolved, the agreement required binding arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), under procedures set forth in the policy. A “Fair Hearing” panel upheld the termination.Instead of invoking the arbitration provision, Epstein filed an administrative mandamus proceeding, alleging the second step of the process was contrary to California law requiring certain network provider contracts to include a procedure for prompt resolution of disputes and expressly stating arbitration “shall not be deemed” such a mechanism. (28 Cal. Code Regs 1300.71.38.) He claimed that state law was not preempted by the FAA, citing the McCarran-Ferguson Act, which generally exempts from federal law, state laws enacted to regulate the business of insurance.The court of appeal affirmed the rejection of those challenges. State regulatory law requiring certain network provider agreements to include a dispute resolution process that is not arbitration pertains only to the first step of the dispute resolution process and does not foreclose the parties from agreeing to arbitration in lieu of subsequent judicial review. While the arbitration provision is procedurally unconscionable in minor respects, Epstein failed to establish that it is substantively unconscionable. View "Epstein v. Vision Service Plan" on Justia Law

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In 2014, a single Riverside County, California Superior Court judge signed 602 orders authorizing wiretaps, which was approximately 17 percent of all wiretaps authorized by all the state and federal courts in the nation. In 2015, the same judge and one other authorized 640 wiretaps, approximately 15 percent of all wiretaps in the country. Plaintiff-appellant Miguel Guerrero was targeted by a wiretap that a Riverside County judge authorized in 2015. Guerrero, who had never been arrested or charged with a crime in connection with the wiretap, wanted to know why he was targeted, and he believed the sheer number of wiretaps in those years raised significant doubts about whether the wiretaps complied with constitutional requirements. Relying on California's wiretap statutes and the First Amendment, he asked a trial court to allow him to inspect the wiretap order, application and intercepted communications. The trial court denied this request. After review, the Court of Appeal determined the trial court applied the wrong standard in considering Plaintiff's application under wiretap statutes, which closely paralleled statutes under federal law. The matter was remanded so that the trial court could properly exercise its discretion, and the Court provided guidance on the appropriate standard. Given this holding on the statutory issue, the Court declined to address the contention, advanced by Guerrero and an amicus brief, that the public had a First Amendment right of access to the wiretap materials. View "Guerrero v. Hestrin" on Justia Law

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People v. Gallardo (2017) 4 Cal.5th 120 (Gallardo), which limited a sentencing court's factfinding abilities with respect to prior conviction enhancement allegations, does not apply retroactively on collateral review of final convictions. In this case, the Court of Appeal denied the petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to Gallardo.The court also held that petitioner is not entitled to relief even if Gallardo is retroactive, because it is readily apparent that petitioner's statement of his own conduct contained in the "Motion for Order Accepting Plea of Guilty" constituted the factual basis for his guilty plea. Therefore, it could properly be considered by the sentencing court — even under Gallardo — in determining the nature of the Oregon convictions. Finally, the court held that petitioner's remaining claims are barred because they were not raised on direct appeal. View "In re Nelson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The state filed an unverified complaint against the entities and one of their principals, asserting unfair practices and false advertising. The defendants filed an unverified “Answer” with a general denial of the complaint’s allegations and affirmative defenses. The judge struck the answer as to the entities because they failed to verify the answer as required by Code of Civil Procedure section 446 and asserted only a general denial in contravention of section 431.30(d). The court concluded that section 446(a)'s exception to the verification requirement was coextensive with the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and a corporation may not invoke that privilege. In response to a “show cause order” following the defendants’ petition for extraordinary writ relief, the court issued an order noting that the case had been reassigned. After a hearing, a new judge vacated the previous order.The court of appeal agreed that the exception applies to corporations and that the defendants could file a general denial under section 431.30(d), which requires a defendant to answer each material allegation of a verified complaint with specific admissions or denials, but allows a defendant to file a general denial if the complaint is not verified. There is no reason for deeming the state’s complaint verified. The court also noted that an order to show cause, unlike an alternative writ, does not invite the trial court to change the challenged order and that superior court judges generally may not overturn the order of another judge unless the other judge is unavailable. View "Paul Blanco's Good Car Co. Auto Group v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Luke Wilson was convicted by jury on one count of oral copulation of a child 10 years or younger and and three counts of committing a lewd act upon a child. The court sentenced Wilson to an indeterminate prison term of 45 years to life. Wilson appealed, contending: (1) the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress; (2) the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions under Penal Code section 288(a); (3) he was denied his due process right to notice of the nature of the charges against him; (4) the prosecution knowingly introduced false evidence at trial; (5) the prosecution failed to produce exculpatory evidence before trial in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963); (6) the trial court’s jury instructions and answers to jury questions were incomplete, misstated the law, and were unduly prejudicial; (7) prosecutorial misconduct and the court’s failure to address the misconduct denied him his right to a fair trial; (8) the mandatory sentence was cruel and/or unusual as applied to Wilson; and (9) cumulative error. Finding no merit to any of these contentions, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "California v. Wilson" on Justia Law