Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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In 2015, John and Jane were students at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). On September 7, they went to a party together and then had a sexual encounter. The next day, a dispute arose about whether the encounter was consensual. Jane filed a police report, which led to an investigation but no criminal charges. Jane filed a complaint with UCSB’s Title IX and Sexual Harassment Policy Compliance Office, 20 U.S.C. 1681. An investigator opined that John sexually assaulted Jane and recommended that John be suspended for three years. A Review Committee denied John’s appeal.John sought judicial review; his petition named only the University; Jane is described as a “[n]on-party.” The trial court granted John’s petition, finding that John was not afforded procedural due process during the University’s investigation. Jane moved to vacate the order on the ground that she did not receive notice of or an opportunity to participate in, the writ proceeding. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of Jane’s motion. While Jane’s interests were affected by the mandate proceeding, such that she may have been a real party in interest or a necessary party, she has not established that she was an indispensable party. Nor has she established that the absence of even an indispensable party is grounds to void a judgment. View "Doe v. The Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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Petitioner entered a no contest plea to first-degree murder. He also admitted that he acted intentionally, deliberately, and with premeditation in committing the murder. Twelve years later, Petitioner filed a petition for resentencing under Cal. Penal Code Sec. 1170.95 and SB 1437 (allowing inmates to obtain a resentencing hearing if they were convicted of felony murder or murder under the "natural and probable consequences" theory).The trial court denied Petitioner's petition, finding that he acted with premeditation. Petitioner appealed.On appeal, the Second Appellate District affirmed the trial court's ruling. The court explained that Petitioner made a binding admission when he admitted to acting intentionally, deliberately, and with premeditation and that this admission precluded SB 1437 relief. View "P. v. Romero" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (MMBA; Gov. Code 3500) requires public agencies to meet and confer (bargain) in good faith with recognized employee organizations regarding changes to wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. The Associations filed unfair practice complaints alleging the County violated the MMBA when its board of supervisors placed Measure P on the November 2020 ballot. The measure, which the voters ultimately approved, amends the Sonoma County Code to enhance the investigative and oversight authority of the County’s Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (IOLERO) over the Sonoma County Sheriff-Coroner's office.The Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), which has jurisdiction over MMBA claims, agreed, finding that, before placing the measure on the ballot, the County was required to bargain with the Associations. The court of appeal reversed in part and remanded. PERB failed to consider whether the decision to place certain Measure P provisions on the ballot significantly and adversely affected the working conditions of the Associations’ members and exceeded its authority by issuing a remedial order declaring voter-approved Measure P provisions void and unenforceable. View "County of Sonoma v. Public Employment Relations Board" on Justia Law

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In 2018, Cuenca pleaded guilty to false imprisonment of his girlfriend and to a related charge of resisting arrest resulting in serious bodily injury to an officer. The court imposed a split sentence: three years of formal probation plus county jail time that amounted to a single day, net of credit for time served. Two years later, while on probation, Cuenca was charged with assault and criminal threats arising out of a physical altercation with a male friend, A jury found Cuenca guilty of a lesser offense of assault. The court revoked probation and sentenced Cuenca to county jail for an aggregate term running a total of five years and two months for the three felony convictions in both cases. Cuenca pursued consolidated appeals.The court of appeal affirmed the convictions and sentence, rejecting an argument that Napa County’s failure to grant county jail inmates the same opportunities that state prison inmates have to earn rehabilitation program credits violated his constitutional right to equal protection. Napa County need not put forward evidence of the actual reasons justifying its policy choice; the challenged classification is presumed to be rational. View "In re Cuenca" on Justia Law

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A family who owned and operated a medical practice ("Defendants") suffered $25,000 in damages when a pipe in an adjacent office started leaking. The family hired a lawyer ("Plaintiff") to help them compel the neighboring office owner to pay for the damages. When the neighboring office owner refused to pay, Plaintiff recommended they sue. Two of the three family members agreed, but Plaintiff listed all three parties as plaintiffs. Over the course of the litigation, Defendants paid Plaintiff nearly $68,000 in legal fees. Defendants asked Plaintiff to cease all nonessential work on the case while another family member, a barred attorney, attempted to resolve the matter. Plaintiff refused to allow Defendants' family member to help until she formally substituted in and then settled the case.Plaintiff sued Defendants for breach of contract. Defendants cross-claimed that Plaintiff breached his fiduciary duties, committed malpractice and failed to execute a written fee agreement. Plaintiff then filed his own cross-complaint naming Defendants and their family member-lawyer and Defendants filed this SLAPP action to strike portions of Plaintiff's cross-complaint.The trial court granted the family-member lawyer's motion but denied Defendants' motions. On appeal, the Second Appellate District reversed the trial court's denial of the Defendant's SLAPP motions and remanded for the court to determine whether Plaintiff has demonstrated a probability of prevailing on the causes of action against each individual Defendant. View "Bowen v. Lin" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Rick Fowler sought a writ of mandate against defendant Golden Pacific Bancorp, Inc. (Bancorp), to enforce his statutory rights as a director and majority shareholder to inspect corporate books and records. Bancorp opposed the petition, arguing that the trial court should limit Fowler’s inspection rights because he was involved in ongoing litigation with Bancorp and could use the information to undermine Bancorp’s position in the lawsuit. The trial court granted Fowler’s writ petition. Bancorp appealed. After the Court of Appeal issued an oral argument waiver notice, Bancorp moved to dismiss the appeal as moot, citing that because Bancorp had been acquired by Social Finance, Inc., Fowler was no longer a Bancorp board member, and therefore it was impossible for the Court to grant effective relief. Ultimately, the Court of Appeal found Fowler was indeed no longer a member of Bancorp’s board of directors and therefore had no director’s inspection rights. Nevertheless, exercising discretion, the Court reached the merits of the case because it presented an issue of substantial and continuing public interest: whether a director’s “absolute” right of inspection under California Corporations Code section 1602 could be curtailed because the director and corporation were involved in litigation and there was a possibility the documents could be used to harm the corporation. “[T]he mere possibility that information could be used adversely to the corporation is not by itself sufficient to defeat a director’s inspection rights. Rather, any exception to the general rule favoring unfettered access must be limited to extreme cases, where enforcing an ‘absolute’ right of inspection would produce an absurd result, such as when the evidence establishes the director’s clear intent to use the information to breach fiduciary duties or otherwise commit a tort against the corporation.” The Court declined to reach the other question referenced in the parties’ briefs concerning Fowler’s inspection rights as a shareholder, because that issue was not resolved by the trial court and the record was insufficiently developed for a determination of whether it was moot. The case was remanded for the trial court to consider whether that issue was moot and, if not, to resolve any remaining disputes in the first instance. View "Fowler v. Golden Pacific Bancorp." on Justia Law

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The Lanterman-Petris-Short Act (Welfare & Institutions Code 5000e) authorizes one-year conservatorships over individuals who are “gravely disabled” by a mental health disorder or chronic alcoholism. Persons subject to the Act are entitled to a court or jury trial on whether they are gravely disabled, and must be personally advised of this right by the court. If no demand has been made, the court must hold a timely “hearing on the conservatorship petition,” and the proposed conservatee subsequently has up to five days to demand a trial by court or jury.The trial court held a hearing on March 2, 2022, and established a conservatorship over K.R. Before that hearing neither K.R. nor her counsel demanded a court or jury trial, nor was K.R. ever personally advised by the court of her right to a jury trial. K.R.’s counsel subsequently, unsuccessfully, demanded a jury trial. . The court of appeal held that the trial court erred in denying K.R.’s timely jury trial demand, rejecting the public conservator's argument that the March 2 proceeding was actually a bench trial and that K.R. forfeited or waived her jury trial right by participating. Section 5350(d)(1) draws a distinction between a “hearing” and a “trial” on a conservatorship petition and offers no option to a trial court to conduct a bench trial absent a demand by the proposed conservatee. View "K.R. v. Superior Court of Napa County" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure
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Defendant-appellant Christopher Whitmore was convicted by jury of rape, false imprisonment and other crimes. After trial, Whitmore made a Marsden motion to replace his appointed counsel; he also moved for a new trial. Because of circumstances related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Whitmore was not physically present in the courtroom when the trial court heard those motions in late December 2020; instead, Whitmore reluctantly appeared via video for the hearing and at sentencing. The court denied Whitmore’s motions and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. On appeal, Whitmore contended the trial court erred in overruling his demand to be personally present in the courtroom for the hearing on his posttrial motions and at sentencing. He also contended the court abused its discretion in denying his Marsden motion, and that insufficient evidence supported his conviction for false imprisonment. In its original opinion, filed on April 29, 2022, the Court of Appeal found no reversible error and affirmed the judgment. Whitmore petitioned for rehearing, arguing that among other things: while his appeal was pending, the Legislature amended Penal Code section 1170 (b) to make the middle term the presumptive sentence unless certain circumstances exist. Whitmore contended those amendments applied retroactively to him and required remand for resentencing. The Court granted rehearing, which vacated its previous opinion by operation of law. After considering the matter, the Court agreed with Whitmore that the recent amendments to section 1170(b) applied here. Accordingly, the Court vacated the imposed sentence and remanded the matter for resentencing. In all other respects, the judgment was affirmed. View "California v. Whitmore" on Justia Law

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Defendants were convicted of first degree murder with the special circumstance of lying in wait, and unlawful participation in a criminal street gang ("gang enhancement"). On appeal, Defendants sought reversal of the gang enhancement under the newly passed AB 333, which amended Cal. Penal Code section 186.22 and added a new statute, section 1109 (requiring bifurcation of gang enhancement allegations).The court agreed with Defendants that AB 333 is fully retroactive to all non-final judgments. Thus, the court reversed Defendants gang enhancements. However, the court determined that, based on the language of section 1109, the statute does not apply to special circumstance allegations involving gang murders. Section 1109 says nothing about the special circumstance statutes, and its provisions are specific to section 186.22, subdivisions (a), (b), and (d). Moreover, the procedures required by section 1109 conflict with the procedures set forth in section 190.1 et seq. Thus, the court held that section 1109, as originally enacted by Assembly Bill 333, does not apply to the determination of special circumstance allegations under section 190.2(a)(22).The court reversed all Defendant's substantive convictions under section 186.22(a) as well as the gang enhancements under section 186.22(b). The court also reversed several firearm enhancements for unrelated reasons, otherwise affirming Defendant's murder convictions. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "P. v. Montano" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In 2015, defendants AWi Builders, Inc. (AWi), Construction Contractors Corporation, Zhirayr Robert Mekikyan, Anna Mekikyan, and Tigran Oganesian (collectively, the AWI defendants) were under criminal investigation by the Orange County District Attorney's Office (OCDA) and the Riverside County District Attorney's Office (RCDA) in connection with AWi's involvement in certain public works projects. Pursuant to search warrants jointly obtained by OCDA and RCDA, a large amount of AWI' s property was taken into OCDA's custody. In 2017, OCDA decided not to pursue criminal charges against the AWI defendants and reassigned the matter to Orange County Deputy District Attorney Kelly Ernby for civil prosecution. In 2018, Ernby filed a civil complaint, on behalf of the State and against the AWI defendants, for violations of the unfair competition law. The AWI defendants were provided with a copy of OCDA's full investigative file, minus privileged documents, and returned documents seized during the criminal investigation to the AWI defendants. In 2020, the AWI defendants filed a motion seeking an order recusing and disqualifying from this case Ernby and the entire OCDA, arguing OCDA had engaged in misconduct by, amongst other things, improperly handling property seized during the criminal investigation that was protected by the attorney-client privilege and the work product doctrine. The AWI defendants also argued that in the UCL action, Ernby had wrongfully threatened one of the AWI defendants, their counsel, and a paralegal with criminal prosecution, a claim Ernby categorically denied. The motion to recuse was denied, and the Court of Appeal affirmed denial: he AWI defendants did not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the trial court's findings. The Court found the trial court did not err by denying the motion to recuse because the evidence showed that no conflict of interest existed that would render it unlikely that the AWI defendants would receive a fair trial. View "California v. AWI Builders, Inc." on Justia Law