Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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In May 2007, police responded to a 911 call. Something resembling the lower half of a person was in the middle of Millar Ranch Road. The victim, R.J., lay partially in the bushes. Part of his brain and skill fragments were scattered in the road by his feet. A lighter, cigarette butt, gum wrapper and saliva were found near the victim's body. An autopsy revealed R.J. died from a shotgun blast to the head, likely fired within three feet. He had methamphetamine in his system. R.J. had last been seen alive by a grocery store; cell phone records showed the last number called belonged to defendant Marlin Royal. A mutual friend introduced Royal to R.J. A patchwork of physical evidence and testimony from one of Royal's ex girlfriends was presented at trial. After a jury deadlocked and the trial court declared a mistrial, a second jury was empaneled and convicted Royal of first degree murder. The jury also found true that Royal personally used a firearm in the commission of the murder, and intentionally discharged a firearm causing death. Royal subsequently admitted a serious felony prior as well as two prior strikes. The court sentenced Royal to prison for 100 years to life, plus five years. Royal appealed, contending: (1) the prosecution did not exercise due diligence in securing the key witness to testify during Royal's second trial (leading the prosecution to read the transcript of the witness's testimony at the second trial); (2) the trial court erroneously admitted hearsay evidence as past recollection recorded; and (3) the trial court improperly limited the scope of the cross-examination of the prosecution's expert witness. Although the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court erred in admitting certain evidence under the past recollection recorded exception to the hearsay rule, it concluded such error was harmless. Additionally, the Court found Royal's other claims of error without merit, and affirmed judgment and conviction. View "California v. Royal" on Justia Law

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In 1997 the Water District sued to adjudicate rights in the Santa Maria Valley Groundwater Basin. Landowners (primarily farmers) filed cross-complaints, seeking to quiet title to their overlying rights. In a previous appeal, the court directed the trial court to quiet title to the Landowners’ overlying rights to native groundwater as having priority over the other rights, less the perfected prescriptive rights public water producers (who pump water for municipal and industrial use). The court later held that quantification of the proportionate prescriptive loss attributable to each of the landowners’ parcels was unnecessary and that the quiet title judgment was not illusory. The trial court then denied the Landowners’ motion to clarify that the amended judgment protects their overlying rights from future prescription The court of appeal reversed the denial on the merits, finding that the issue was not ripe. The resolution of the issue would require speculation about hypothetical situations in which the public water producers attempt to prescript against the Landowners’ rights. There is no specific fact scenario or evidence for review. The Landowners have not demonstrated that they will suffer hardship without an immediate decision; there is no evidence of an overdraft or of any asserted claims of prescription. View "City of Santa Maria v. Adam" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal held that substantial evidence supported the trial court's order authorizing the involuntary administration of antipsychotic medication. In the published portion of the opinion, the court held as a matter of first impression that Senate Bill 1187, which amends Penal Code section 1370 to reduce the maximum term of commitment for competency restoration to two years instead of three, is not retroactive. The court explained that, had the Legislature intended SB 1187 to have retroactive application, it could have included a specific provision to so provide. Furthermore, even though a statute may be applied retroactively if there is a clear and compelling indication the Legislature intended such a result, the court held that no such clear and compelling indication is present with SB 1187. View "People v. Howell" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the school district's cross-complaint under the anti-SLAPP statute. In the underlying action, Margaret Williams and her LLC filed suit against the school district, alleging that her termination was retaliatory. Williams also alleged that the school district unlawfully caused her arsenic poisoning. The court explained that, if the court were to enforce the school district's request, the indemnity provision would require Williams LLC to fund the school district's defense against the very litigation the LLC and Williams brought against the school district. Therefore, the school district's cross-complaint arose from that litigation or the LLC's refusal to sabotage it -- each of which was protected by the anti-SLAPP statute. Furthermore, the school district sought to require the LLC not only to fund the school district's defense, but also to reimburse the school district for any award secured by Williams or the LLC. The court explained that such a bar to meaningful recovery embodied a high degree of substantive unconscionability, sufficient -- when combined with the procedural unconscionability shown through Williams LLC's unrebutted evidence of adhesion, oppression, and surprise -- to establish that the indemnity provision was unconscionable. The court limited the provision to avoid an unconscionable result, and held that the school district failed to show error in the dismissal of the breach of contract and declaratory relief claims, as well as the dismissal of the school district's other cross-claims. View "Long Beach Unified School District v. Margaret Williams, LLC" on Justia Law

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After D.W. was found unfit for juvenile treatment based on the allegation that, at age 17, he committed second degree murder under the theory of natural and probable consequences, the juvenile court transferred his case to adult court. Then the California Legislature eliminated liability for murder under the theory of natural and probable consequences. The Court of Appeal held that D.W. was entitled to a new transfer hearing and remanded to the juvenile court to vacate its orders transferring his case to adult court. The court held that D.W. was eligible for transfer irrespective of his liability for murder, and because any change in D.W.'s liability for murder would have no effect on the transfer decision itself. The court reasoned that eliminating the requirement that the People prove a prima facie case leaves the minor with no opportunity to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence of the offense alleged. Furthermore, the Judicial Council amended certain rules of court in light of Proposition 57 to retain the requirement that the People establish a prima facie case of the alleged offense. The court held that the juvenile court must consider D.W.'s fitness in light of the offense alleged in the petition. The court explained that the gravity of the offense alleged in the petition was not irrelevant to the court's evaluation of a minor's fitness for juvenile treatment, and the juvenile court would not presume that the juvenile court would find D.W. unfit if he were alleged to have committed an assault with a deadly weapon on a natural and probable consequences theory rather than second degree murder. View "D.W. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant John-David Gonzales (Gonzales) appealed trial court orders that led to the disbursement of settlement funds to respondents Michael Silvers, a law corporation (Silvers), Panish, Shea & Boyle (PSB), Michael W. Jacobs, Case Advance (CA), Nexus Physical Therapy, and Everence Association, Inc. (Silvers, PSB, Jacobs, CA, Nexus, and Everence were collectively referred to as lienholders). Defendants Gonzales and lienholders were named as parties in an interpleader action filed by plaintiff, respondent, and stakeholder Gregory Hood (Hood). Hood filed this action to resolve the competing claims of defendants to funds from the settlement of Gonzales v. Sears Holding Corporation et al., San Diego Superior Court case No. 27-2014-00040057-CU-PL-CTL (“the personal injury action”), which litigation was filed by Silvers in November 2014 after Gonzales was hurt in a bicycle accident. Gonzales in July 2015 agreed in writing to have PSB associate in as counsel. Silvers/PSB settled a portion of the personal injury action for $100,000. After Silvers/PSB withdrew as counsel of record in the personal injury action, Gonzales retained Jacobs, who obtained an additional settlement of $299,999.99 pursuant to an offer to compromise. Gonzales, however, refused to sign the settlement agreement and endorse the settlement check, terminated Jacobs as counsel, and retained Hood for the " 'determination and distribution' of the settlement funds." Despite his promise to do so, Gonzales again refused to endorse the settlement check. Within days after retaining Hood, Gonzales terminated him as legal counsel. In response, Hood informed Gonzales that, if he did not promptly retain new counsel to allow for the transfer of the settlement check and other settlement funds in Hood's possession, Hood would file an interpleader action, based on Hood's concern there were multiple claimants to the settlement funds and the settlement check would "expire" and not be honored by a bank. In anticipation of a hearing, the lienholders stipulated to a proposed distribution of the settlement funds among defendants. At the hearing, Gonzales (through his fifth attorney of record) agreed with the amounts owed to Silvers, PSB, and CA under that stipulation. Gonzales, however, disputed the amount sought by Jacobs, Nexus, and Everence. He also disagreed with the court's September 14 elisor order awarding costs and fees to Hood. For the most part, the Court of Appeal found all of Gonzales arguments “unavailing,” and affirmed. View "Hood v. Gonzales" on Justia Law

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Sixteen months after a jurisdiction and disposition hearing where the juvenile court placed mother J.A.’s twin children with their nonoffending, noncustodial father and dismissed the dependency with family law exit orders, she challenged the court’s findings and sought to unwind the removal order. Relying on the Court of Appeal's decision in In re A.O., 242 Cal.App.4th 145 (2015), she argued the lateness of her appeal should be excused because the juvenile court failed to advise her of her appellate rights at the close of the hearing, as required by California Rules of Court, rule 5.590(a). The Court concluded A.O. and the line of cases preceding it were distinguishable, and did not apply to this case. The Court therefore dismissed the appeal as unjustifiably late. View "In re J.A." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against actor Shia LaBeouf for assault, slander, and intentional infliction of emotional distress after LaBeouf confronted plaintiff and called him a "racist" after plaintiff refused to serve LaBeouf and his companion alcohol. LaBeouf filed a special motion to strike plaintiff's first amended complaint under the anti-SLAPP statute. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of LaBeouf's anti-SLAPP motion, holding that LaBeouf's conduct did not fall within the scope of the anti-SLAPP statute because his statements and conduct did not involve a matter of public interest or concern. In this case, LaBeouf's statement was not directed at someone in the public eye and there was no evidence that LaBeouf's comments addressed an ongoing controversy or an issue that had garnered any public interest. Rather, the court held that the statement concerned an isolated dispute between a bartender and an inebriated client over the bartender's refusal to serve the client alcohol at a restaurant. The court reasoned that, although footage of the altercation was later disseminated to many people on the internet and television, a private dispute does not become a matter of public interest simply because it was widely communicated to the public. Furthermore, the fact that LaBeouf used the word "racist" did not convert the statement into the type of speech entitled to anti-SLAPP protection. View "Bernstein v. LaBeouf" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal reversed the juvenile court's dispositional order removing son from father's custody under Welfare and Institutions Code section 361, subdivision (c). The court held that the juvenile court erroneously failed to apply section 361.2, subdivision (a), and the error was not harmless. In this case, the record was not clear as to the finding of detriment. Accordingly, the court remanded the matter to the juvenile court to consider the facts within the appropriate statutory provision. View "In re Adam H." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Sturgell was a commercial fisher for 48 years. He held Dungeness crab permits in Washington, Oregon, and California. During the 2012–2013 season, Sturgell landed 203,045 pounds of crab in California. Sturgell’s taking of crab in California before the delayed opening of the Oregon crab fishery meant he was required to wait until January 30, 2013, before taking, possessing, or landing that crab in Oregon. He could take crab in Washington on January 24. On January 29, Sturgell arrived in Astoria, Oregon to offload the crabs he had taken in Washington. He began to offload crabs at 6:15 p.m and offloaded 38,295 pounds; the balance of the 64,694 total offload was completed by 4:00 a.m. on January 30. A “Receiving Ticket,” indicating the “date of landing” as January 29, 2013, was signed by Sturgell and the buyer. The buyer later stated that this was “in error” as the ticket was actually written, “between 4[:00] a.m. and 5[:00] a.m. on January 30, 2013, after the offload was completed.” Pursuant to Fish and Game Code section 8043, a landing receipt “shall be completed at the time of the receipt, purchase, or transfer of fish.” Sturgell’s permit was revoked. The trial court ordered the permit reinstated. The court of appeal dismissed the agency’s appeal as moot, with instructions that the trial court vacate its decision. Sturgill had retired and sold his permit for over $500,000. The Department approved the transfer. View "Sturgell v. Department of Fish and Wildlife" on Justia Law