Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiffs filed a petition for writ of mandate and a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief challenging statewide delays in the transfer of incompetent to stand trial (IST) defendants from county jails to DSH and DDS to begin substantive services. The trial court granted the petition in part, first finding that defendants systematically violate the due process rights of IST defendants in California who are committed to DSH pursuant to Penal Code section 1370 or to DDS pursuant to section 1370.1, subdivision (a)(1)(B)(i). The trial court found that due process requires defendants to commence substantive services for these IST defendants within 28 days of the date on which the order transferring responsibility for those defendants to DSH or DDS is served. The trial court denied the petition as to certain IST defendants charged with felony sex offenses who are committed to DDS pursuant to section 1370.1, subdivision (a)(1)(B)(ii) and (iii).The Court of Appeal concluded that defendants have systematically violated the due process rights of all IST defendants in California by failing to commence substantive services designed to return those defendants to competency within 28 days of service of the transfer of responsibility document, which is the date of service of the commitment packet for all defendants committed to DSH and the date of service of the order of commitment for all defendants committed to DDS. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment as to the issues raised in defendants' appeal, but reversed as to the issue raised in plaintiffs' cross-appeal. The court remanded to the trial court with directions to modify its order granting in part plaintiffs' petition for writ of mandate to reflect a uniform transfer of responsibility date for all IST defendants committed to DDS. View "Stiavetti v. Clendenin" on Justia Law

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In an appeal related to a California insurance insolvency proceeding, the New York Plaintiffs requested clarification from the San Francisco Superior Court as to whether its orders "prohibit or stay" their New York claims. In the insolvency case, the trial court appointed the California Insurance Commissioner (Commissioner) as conservator, and later as liquidator, of CastlePoint. The trial court, as part of the process, issued injunctions and approved releases pertaining to claims filed against or on behalf of CastlePoint or its assets.The Court of Appeal concluded that some of the causes of action in the New York lawsuit are not barred. These causes of action relate to: (i) the alleged breach of so-called "successor obligor provisions"; and (ii) an alleged $143 million payment from ACP to shareholders of TGIL. The court explained that these causes of action are not asserted against CastlePoint or the insurance companies that were merged into it, and there is no indication the Commissioner could have asserted these causes of action on behalf of the insolvent insurance companies. Therefore, the court reasoned that permitting them to proceed in New York will not interfere in any meaningful way with the plan for CastlePoint's liquidation, especially given the New York Plaintiffs' agreement not to assert any judgment against the insolvent insurance companies' estate or assets.However, prior to entering into releases, the Commissioner could have asserted fraudulent conveyance causes of action and a cause of action for unjust enrichment because they are based on alleged improper transfers of assets of the insolvent insurance companies. Accordingly, the court concluded that these causes of action are barred by the injunctions and releases in the liquidation proceeding. The court affirmed in part and reversed in part. View "Lara v. Castlepoint National Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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RECON filed suit against AECOM for damages related to AECOM's alleged failure to properly manage the construction project on which RECON worked as one of AECOM's subcontractors. After AECOM moved to compel arbitration based on an arbitration clause contained in a separate contract (the Prime Agreement) between AECOM and the property owner, Shell, the trial court denied AECOM's motion.The Court of Appeal affirmed and concluded that, in the absence of a clear agreement to submit a dispute to arbitration, the court will not infer a waiver of a party's jury trial rights. The court explained that the subcontractor's incorporation of a voluminous contract containing an arbitration agreement between other parties was insufficient to subject RECON to arbitration of its claims against AECOM. Accordingly, AECOM has failed to establish the existence of an agreement to arbitrate RECON's claims. View "Remedial Construction Services, LP v. Aecom, Inc." on Justia Law

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In the lawsuit underlying these consolidated writ proceedings, the People of the State of California, by and through the Santa Clara County Counsel, the Orange County District Attorney, the Los Angeles County Counsel, and the Oakland City Attorney, filed an action against defendants— various pharmaceutical companies involved in the manufacture, marketing, distribution, and sale of prescription opioid medications. The People alleged the defendants made false and misleading statements as part of a deceptive marketing scheme designed to minimize the risks of opioid medications and inflate their benefits. This scheme, the People alleged, caused a public health crisis in California by dramatically increasing the number of opioid prescriptions, the use and abuse of opioids, and opioid-related deaths. These proceedings pertained to a discovery dispute after several of the defendants served subpoenas on two nonparty counties, petitioners County of Los Angeles and County of Alameda, seeking records of patients in various county programs, including individual prescription data and individual patient records related to substance abuse treatment. After petitioners and the Johnson & Johnson defendants engaged in various informal and formal means to attempt to resolve the dispute, the superior court issued a discovery order granting the Johnson & Johnson defendants’ motions to compel production of the records. The Court of Appeal concluded petitioners established that the superior court’s order threatened a serious intrusion into the privacy interests of the patients whose records were at issue: the Johnson & Johnson defendants failed to demonstrate their interests in obtaining “such a vast production of medical information” outweighed the significant privacy interests that the nonparty petitioners identified. Accordingly, the Court granted petitioners’ writ petitions and directed the superior court to vacate its order compelling production of the requested documents, and to enter a new order denying Johnson & Johnson defendants’ motions to compel. View "County of Los Angeles v. Superior Ct." on Justia Law

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Appellant Mark Sorden appealed his conviction for contempt of court for violating a Criminal Protective Order— Domestic Violence (CPO) issued in a prior action. The Court of Appeal determined Appellant did not meet his burden of establishing reversible error, finding: (1) Appellant could not collaterally attack the CPO in this action; (2) the trial court properly instructed the jury as to the meaning of “disturbing the peace” for purposes of the contempt conviction; (3) the trial court did not deny Appellant due process of law when it allowed the jury to consider evidence of cellphone tracking that was not presented at the preliminary hearing; (4) the trial court properly instructed the jury as to the meaning of “act of violence” for purposes of the conduct enhancement; (5) the trial court was not required to give a unanimity instruction for the conduct enhancement; and (6) without individual instances of trial court error, there could be no prejudice from “cumulative error.” The Court further concluded that, as Appellant and the Attorney General agreed, because Senate Bill No. 136 (2019-2020 Reg. Sess.; Stats. 2019, ch. 590, sec. 1, eff. Jan. 1, 2020) applied retroactively, the two one-year sentence enhancements based on prior prison terms should be stricken from the judgment. Accordingly, the Court modified the judgment to strike the two one-year sentence enhancements and otherwise affirmed the judgment. View "California v. Sorden" on Justia Law

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In 2010, after decades of cooperation in selling their hardware and software, HP and Oracle had a disagreement over Oracle’s decision to hire HP’s former CEO. The companies negotiated a confidential settlement agreement, including a “reaffirmation clause,” stating each company’s commitment to their strategic relationship and support of their shared customer base. Six months later, Oracle announced it would discontinue software development on one of HP’s server platforms.The trial judge held that the reaffirmation clause requires Oracle to continue to offer its product suite on certain HP server platforms until HP discontinues their sale. A jury subsequently found that Oracle had breached both the express terms of the settlement agreement and the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; it awarded HP $3.014 billion in damages. The court denied HP’s request for prejudgment interest. The court of appeal affirmed. The reaffirmation clause requires Oracle to continue to offer its product suite on certain HP server platforms. The trial court did not err in submitting to the jury the breach of contract and implied covenant claims. The court rejected Oracle’s argument that the judgment must be reversed based on violations of its constitutional right to petition and because HP’s expert’s testimony on damages was impermissibly speculative under California law and should have been excluded. View "Hewlett-Packard Co. v. Oracle Corp." on Justia Law

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The court of appeal affirmed Lopez's convictions for murder and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. The trial court abused its discretion in concealing the prospective jurors' names from the attorneys but the error was harmless. It is a generally accepted practice for courts to refer to jurors by their badge numbers during voir dire to protect their privacy. Courts must be careful to make clear to jurors there is a reason for the procedure other than possible safety concerns relating to the defendant. The trial court erred in advising prospective jurors that the court was referring to them by numbers in part for security reasons; jurors could speculate that Lopez posed a security risk. The court withheld from the attorneys the jurors’ names out of concern that attorneys (or members of the public or press) would obtain additional information about the jurors online or contact the jurors. Absent a compelling case-specific need to conceal the names from the attorneys, that was an abuse of discretion. The court upheld the denial of the motion to exclude Lopez’s admission, in a jail call with his sister, that he had killed someone. View "People v. Lopez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Roberts beat his girlfriend with a belt, was apprehended several weeks later, and gave a false name. The District Attorney was unable to locate the complaining witness before trial; the court denied a motion to exclude statements she made on the day of the event. A potential juror’s sister was a paralegal in the public defender’s office. Defense counsel knew her. The prosecutor exercised a peremptory challenge to that juror, the only African American potential juror. Defendant unsuccessfully objected on the ground that the peremptory challenge was racially motivated. There was testimony about a previous domestic violence incident. Convicted of inflicting corporal injury on an intimate partner and giving a false name to a police officer, Roberts was acquitted of assault likely to cause great bodily injury. The judge applied an enhancement for committing the crimes while released on bail. Roberts was granted probation, with a condition that he serve one year in county jail.The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting arguments that a missing portion of the reporter’s transcript prevented a meaningful review of Roberts's claim that the prosecutor exercised a race-based peremptory challenge; concerning the alleged admission of hearsay and a response Roberts gave to an officer’s question while in custody; concerning alleged misconduct by the prosecutor in closing argument; and concerning the imposition of fines and fees without a hearing to determine his ability to pay. View "People v. Roberts" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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National Western Life Insurance Company (NWL) appealed a jury verdict holding the company liable for negligence and elder abuse arising from an NWL annuity sold to Barney Williams by Victor Pantaleoni, an independent agent. In 2016, Pantaleoni sold a $100,000 NWL annuity to Williams, who had contacted Pantaleoni to revise a living trust after the death of Williams’ wife. When Williams returned the annuity to NWL during a 30-day “free look” period, Pantaleoni wrote a letter over Williams’ signature for NWL to reissue a new annuity. In 2017, when Williams cancelled the second annuity, NWL charged a $14,949.91 surrender penalty. The jury awarded Williams damages against NWL, including punitive damages, totaling almost $3 million. NWL moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, which was denied. The Court of Appeal reversed: “Assuming NWL had monitored Pantaleoni as Williams suggested, there was no evidence showing that NWL knew or should have known of Pantaleoni’s fraud. … That Williams wrote the note cancelling the first annuity and Pantaleoni apparently wrote the letter requesting that it be reissued for Williams’ signature did not suggest to NWL that the letter was forged.” View "Williams v. National Western Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Eloy Gonzalez appealed a trial court’s postjudgment order denying his petition for resentencing pursuant to Penal Code section 1170.95. Gonzalez claimed the court improperly determined he was ineligible for resentencing as a matter of law. “Southside” gang members Gonzalez, Matthew Robert Miller, and Eduardo Vargas engaged in a series of armed robberies, one of which ended with Vargas shooting a robbery victim, Jesse Muro. Vargas was tried separately, convicted of first-degree murder, and sentenced to death. The Attorney General (AG) conceded section 1170.95 was constitutional but contended the court’s denial was nevertheless proper. The AG argued a person convicted of murder with a robbery-murder special circumstance before the Supreme Court’s decisions in California v. Banks, 61 Cal.4th 788 (2015), and California v. Clark, 63 Cal.4th 522 (2016), was barred from pursuing resentencing under section 1170.95 without first having obtained a writ of habeas corpus to set aside the special circumstance for insufficient evidence. To this, the Court of Appeal disagreed: because the record of conviction did not establish Gonzalez’s ineligibility for resentencing as a matter of law, the postjudgment order denying the petition for resentencing was reversed and the matter remanded with directions to issue an order to show cause (OSC) and to proceed in accordance with section 1170.95 (d). View "California v. Gonzalez" on Justia Law