Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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Ruiz-Martinez was charged with two counts of murder; among the special allegations was that each murder was committed for a criminal street gang, Pen. Code, 190.2(a)(22). Ruiz-Martinez unsuccessfully moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that the prosecutor improperly dismissed three grand jurors in violation of section 939.5, the separation of powers doctrine, and Ruiz-Martinez’s due process rights and resulting in an indictment “not found, endorsed, and presented as prescribed in” Penal Code 995(a)(1)(A)). The California Supreme Court remanded in light of its 2018 “Avitia” decision. On remand, the court of appeal concluded that the record does not show that the prosecutor’s actions reasonably might have adversely affected the grand jury’s impartiality or independence or violated the separation of powers doctrine or petitioner’s rights to due process. Although the prosecutor lacked authority to excuse grand jurors (two of whom stated that they could not be impartial because of gang connections), there is a high probability that the foreperson would have removed them upon advice from the prosecutor; their removal helped to ensure the grand jury’s impartiality. There is nothing suggesting that the grand jury as ultimately composed was not properly constituted or contained any jurors who were possibly biased. Nothing indicates that the prosecutor might have skewed the grand jury’s ultimate composition in favor of the prosecution or improperly affected the decision-making process. View "Ruiz-Martinez v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In 2015, plaintiffs sued 88 school districts and the California Department of Education, seeking relief for alleged violations of Education Code section 51210(g). That law requires no less than 200 minutes of physical education instruction every 10 school days for pupils in first through sixth grades. In 2017, five of the districts sought to have the court issue a writ of mandamus against them, granting the relief sought in the petition. The superior court granted the motion. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting arguments that it was error for the trial court to enter the judgments without an evidentiary proceeding; that the allegations did not preclude writ relief beyond the limited relief contained in the judgments (injunctive relief); and the trial court should have allowed amendment of the petition to state a cause of action for declaratory relief. The plaintiffs unsuccessfully argued that a writ of mandate was an inadequate remedy because it cannot compel the school districts’ employees to comply with the PE mandate and that no writ could issue unless the Districts admit noncompliance with the PE mandate. View "Cal200, Inc., v. Apple Valley Unified School District" on Justia Law

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U.S. Continental Marketing Inc. (USCM), a manufacturing company that made shoe care products, relied on temporary employees for much of its workforce and contracts for employees' services with Ameritemps, Inc. Elvia Velasco Jimenez worked for USCM as either a direct or temporary employee for five years before her employment was terminated. At that point, she was performing a supervisory role as a line lead in USCM's production department, overseeing as many as thirty colleagues, including both temporary and direct employees of USCM. Jimenez's supervisor was a direct USCM employee. Jimenez asserted claims under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) against USCM. Jimenez's claims required a threshold showing that USCM was her employer. Disputing that assertion at trial, USCM framed the inquiry as a contest of relative influence between the direct and contracting employers, asking the jury during closing arguments, "Did [USCM] have control over plaintiff more than the temp agency?" The jury agreed with USCM and returned a special verdict finding that USCM was not Jimenez's employer. Jimenez moved for a new trial, unsuccessfully, and judgment was entered in favor of USCM. On appeal, Jimenez argued there was insufficient evidence to support the special verdict finding and asked the Court of Appeal to reverse the judgment. The Court determined the undisputed evidence demonstrated USCM exercised considerable direction and control over Jimenez under the terms, conditions, and privileges of her employment. And although the parties contested the characterization of Jimenez's termination, the appropriate inquiry in the temporary-staffing context was whether the contracting employer terminated the employee's services for the contracting employer (which USCM did), not whether the contracting employer terminated her employment with her direct employer (which USCM did not do). Accordingly, without expressing any opinion as to the ultimate merit of Jimenez's claims, the Court reversed judgment as to three claims and. The matter was remanded for a new trial at which the jury should be instructed that USCM was Jimenez's employer. View "Jimenez v. U.S. Continental Marketing, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendants appealed the trial court's denial of a motion under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, the anti-SLAPP statute, in a driveway dispute easement action brought by Starview Property. The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that an anti-SLAPP motion may be brought within 60 days of service of an amended complaint if the amended complaint pleads new causes of action that could not have been the target of a prior anti-SLAPP motion, or adds new allegations that make previously pleaded causes of action subject to an anti-SLAPP motion. In this case, Starview's three newly pled causes of action in its amended complaint plainly could not have been the target of a prior motion, even if they arose from protected activity alleged in the original complaint. Therefore, the trial court erred by dismissing defendants' motion as untimely. View "Starview Property, LLC v. Lee" on Justia Law

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Defendant Jovan Felix contended the trial court abused its discretion in his trial for attempted murder by introducing evidence of a prior crime and by denying his motions for retrial and to reopen the evidence. Charges arose from a night of drinking and a fight at a midtown Sacramento bar in August 2013. Defendant was with another man, later identified as Cornelius Jones. Defendant and Jones were tried jointly before separate juries. Jones was convicted of premeditated attempted murder and other serious crimes. However, the court declared a mistrial in defendant’s case. After retrial, a jury found defendant guilty of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, and assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury. The court sentenced defendant to a state prison term of 28 years and four months. On appeal of the convictions and sentence, defendant contended the trial court erred when it admitted evidence of an armed robbery he committed with Jones in 1994. He claimed the robbery was too dissimilar to the current crime to be admitted: it was remote in time, it shared no characteristics with the current crime other than the identity of the perpetrators, and it occurred when defendant was a young teenager. Defendant argued that admitting the evidence was prejudicial error. The trial court reached the opposite conclusion than the first trial court which had refused to admit the evidence. Defendant claimed prejudice was shown because the first trial ended in a hung jury without hearing the evidence, yet the jury in the second trial which heard the evidence convicted him. The Court of Appeal found defendant was not convicted "merely because the second court admitted the 1994 robbery evidence." It therefore found admitting the evidence was harmless error, and thus affirmed the second trial conviction. View "California v. Felix" on Justia Law

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McCann was charged with forcible sexual penetration by a foreign object (Pen. Code 289(a)(1)(A) and other offenses arising from his attack of Kevin in McCann’s hotel room. Preliminary hearing testimony showed that McCann and Kevin had been drinking before the incident. Kevin had no memory of what happened to him. After the attack, Kevin appeared “beat up pretty bad”; his injuries included a broken nose, ruptured bladder, and torn rectum. He was required to use a colostomy bag for months afterward. The trial court dismissed count 1, finding no evidence that Kevin’s will was overcome by physical force. The court of appeal reversed, noting Kevin’s testimony that he did not consent and would not consent to having anything inserted in his anus; McCann’s admissions to witnesses that he put either a jagged steel bar or a wooden broomstick or handle in Kevin’s rectum, that he whacked Kevin over the head, and that he caused Kevin’s injuries and kicked him so hard McCann broke his own foot; and the nature of Kevin’s injuries. The court rejected McCann's argument that the “sexual penetration of Kevin here was not accomplished by force, but rather, by taking advantage of Kevin’s intoxication or unconsciousness.” View "People v. McCann" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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After plaintiff walked into a round concrete pillar called a bollard, she filed suit against the City, alleging that it created a dangerous condition that caused her to trip and fall. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment against plaintiff, holding that the City successfully invoked the design immunity defense. The court held that there was discretionary approval of the design before construction, and there was substantial evidence of the reasonableness of the public entity's approval of the design. In this case, the bollard was big, designed to stop cars, and was obvious to pedestrians who looked where they were going. View "Dobbs v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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Federal law requires that California must pay the counties and their clinics one hundred percent of the cost of a defined list of services for providing Medicare beneficiaries. Furthermore, California's Medi-Cal statute is consistent with the federal requirement. The Clinic filed suit against the State, seeking the full amount the clinic paid to a contractor. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of the Clinic's petition seeking to require the state to pay one hundred percent of the amount the Clinic paid the contractor. View "Tulare Pediatric Health Care Center v. State Department of Health Care Services" on Justia Law

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In July 2013, the California State Board of Pharmacy (the Board) filed an accusation against pharmacist Solomon Oduyale, citing 20 charges for discipline and seeking revocation of his pharmacist license. By August 2016, Oduyale had successfully challenged all but nine of the charges for discipline against him. The Board then ordered Oduyale's pharmacist license revoked. Oduyale challenged the Board's decision in court by filing a petition for writ of mandate. In his petition, Oduyale argued the Board lacked justification for revoking his license, and suggested it could have imposed stringent conditions on probation instead. The superior court did not comment on the propriety of the revocation decision, but concluded that because the Board's decision did not include an explicit discussion of each possible level of discipline with an explanation for why each would have been inappropriate in Oduyale's case, the Board abused its discretion. The Board appealed to the Court of Appeal, challenging the trial court's requirement that it discuss every possible form of discipline short of revocation in its written decision, and also asked for consideration of whether it acted within its discretion to revoke Oduyale's pharmacist license based on the nine causes for discipline. Oduyale cross-appealed, contending the trial court erred by remanding the matter for further consideration by the Board and arguing the court should have directed the Board to impose a penalty short of revocation. The Court of Appeal agreed with the Board: the trial court erred by directing it to provide in writing its reasoning for not imposing each penalty short of revocation. Furthermore, the Court concluded the Board acted within its discretion to revoke Oduyale's pharmacist license. Accordingly, the trial court's judgment was reversed. View "Oduyale v. California State Board of Pharmacy" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, on behalf of himself and a proposed class of similarly situated county utility ratepayers, filed suit against the city and the Department of Water and Power (DWP), alleging that DWP overcharged ratepayers for electric utility usage. After a class was certified for a proposed settlement, an unnamed class member timely objected and filed an application to intervene. The trial court denied the application, overruled the unnamed class member's objection, approved the settlement, and entered a judgment under the settlement terms. The Court of Appeal dismissed the unnamed class member's appeal, holding that she was not a party of record and has not utilized the procedures available to alter her status. Therefore, she lacked standing to appeal from the judgment. View "Eck v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

Posted in: Class Action