Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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Kennith Evans was pulled over for driving with his off-road-only lights illuminated while on a "highway." After exhibiting signs of intoxication, Evans consented to a chemical breath test. Evans was notified his license was being suspended for driving a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or more. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) upheld the suspension after conducting an administrative hearing. Evans filed a petition for a writ of administrative mandate challenging the DMV's decision. Evans the appealed the superior court's denial of his writ petition. In his petition, Evans argued his suspension was not supported by substantial evidence: he contended he was allowed to use off-road lights inasmuch as the road he was on was not a "highway" as defined by section 24411 of the Vehicle Code. In addition, he claimed substantial evidence did not support the finding he was driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or more because the time entries on the notice indicate the arresting officer administered two chemical breath tests before he had had the opportunity to observe Evans for 15 minutes, as required by Title 17 of the California Code of Regulations. After review, the Court of Appeal determined Evans’ initial stop was lawful, the DMV and superior court properly considered the dispatch log and breath test results, and substantial evidence supported the superior court’s findings. View "Evans v. Shiomoto" on Justia Law

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Williams stopped working for Impax in 2013. Four years later, she filed a class action complaint under the unfair competition law, identifying unlawful business practices in which Impax allegedly engaged, including failing to pay overtime wages, provide meal and rest periods, and pay minimum wages. Williams proposed a class of all individuals employed by Impax during the previous four years. The court struck the class allegations; because Williams could not pursue all remedies otherwise available to the putative class, due to the statute of limitations, Williams cannot be a suitable class representative. The court gave her 45 days to amend, suggesting the addition of another class representative. The court denied Williams’s request to conduct discovery to locate other class representatives. Williams neither sought review nor amended her complaint to name a new plaintiff. Her first amended complaint essentially re-alleged the class contentions from her original complaint, Williams asserted that the order was “impossible” to comply with. The court struck the class allegations and directed Williams to file a second amended complaint. The court of appeal dismissed; the order is not appealable under the death knell doctrine, which authorizes an interlocutory appeal of the first, but only the first, order in a case that extinguishes all of a plaintiff’s class claims. The court declined to address her argument that the court thwarted her from pursuing discovery of the class list, which she needed to name another class representative. View "Williams v. Impax Laboratories, Inc.," on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was 43 years old when she began working for Defendants. She worked for approximately 15 years before retiring at age 58 due to rheumatoid arthritis. In 2000, Plaintiff successfully applied for disability retirement. Years later, Plaintiff brought a putative class action lawsuit, alleging that Defendants discriminate on the basis of age in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) (Gov. Code, 12900) by providing reduced disability retirement benefits to older employees who took disability retirement after working for the City for less than 22.22 years. Plaintiff alleged that she became aware her retirement benefits were based on her age after seeing an advertisement on or about July 20, 2017, more than 17 years after her retirement. The court dismissed on the ground that Plaintiff did not file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing within one year of the date the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred. The court of appeal reversed. The disparate treatment and disparate impact claims were timely with respect to the allegedly discriminatory disability retirement payments that Plaintiff received within one year of the date on which she filed her DFEH complaint. View "Carroll v. City and County of San Francisco" on Justia Law

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Handoush, a store owner, sued LFG regarding a lease for credit card processing equipment. The complaint alleges fraud, rescission, and violation of Business and Professions Code section 17200. The lease agreement states that it “shall be governed by the laws of the State of New York,” that any disputes shall be litigated in New York, and that the parties waived their rights to a jury trial. California precedent (Grafton), forbids pre-dispute jury trial waivers; under New York law such waivers are enforceable. The court dismissed, finding that Handoush did not meet his heavy burden of demonstrating that the forum selection clause is unreasonable and that “the right to trial by jury is not unwaivable” under Code of Civil Procedure section 631. The court of appeal reversed. The trial court erred in enforcing the forum selection clause in favor of a New York forum where the clause includes a pre-dispute jury trial waiver, which Grafton instructs is unenforceable under California law. LFG failed to show that enforcement of the forum selection clause would not substantially diminish the rights of California residents in a way that violates California's public policy. View "Handoush v. Lease Finance Group, LLC" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether Ford had the right and opportunity to cross-examine the declarant with an interest and motive similar to that which it has at the hearing. It was undisputed that petitioner otherwise satisfied the statutory prerequisites for admission of the former testimony under Evidence Code section 1291. The Court of Appeal held that Ford had the right and opportunity to cross-examine its employees and former employees with a similar motive and interest as it would have in the instant case. The court held that, while a party's motive and interest to cross-examine may potentially differ when the prior questioning occurs in a pre-trial deposition, Ford failed to demonstrate any such different motive or interest here. Therefore, the court disagreed with Wahlgren v. Coleco Industries, Inc., (1984) 151 Cal.App.3d 543, to the extent it espouses a blanket proposition that a party has a different motive in examining a witness at a deposition than at trial. Accordingly, the court granted the petition for writ of mandate and directed the trial court to enter a new order denying Ford's motion in limine excluding the videotaped deposition testimony of nine of Ford's employees and former employees. The court also directed the trial court to reconsider the admissibility of documentary evidence that the trial court may have excluded because it found the depositions inadmissible. View "Berroteran v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure
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Defendant County of Placer sold plaintiff Patrick Hodges’s real property at a tax sale. The County later paid plaintiff the excess proceeds remaining from the sale less payments made to others. Plaintiff contended the County, its board of supervisors, and its treasurer breached a fiduciary duty they owed him, and converted his personal property, when they did not audit a payment made from the proceeds to others and did not pay him interest or earnings on its investment of the proceeds while it held them in trust. The trial court sustained the County’s demurrer to plaintiff’s second amended complaint without leave to amend and entered a judgment of dismissal. The trial court determined plaintiff could not state a claim for breach of a fiduciary relationship because no such relationship existed between him and the County. Even if a fiduciary relationship existed, plaintiff did not allege any breach or any damages arising from a breach. The court also found plaintiff could not state a claim for conversion. He did not allege the County committed a wrongful act in withholding the excess proceeds or that it interfered with his possession of the proceeds. After the Court of Appeal concurred with the trial court and affirmed its judgment. View "Hodges v. County of Placer" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Rugger Investment Group LLC (Rugger) entered into a contract to sell an airplane to plaintiffs-respondents Magic Carpet Ride, LLC (MCR) and Kevin Jennings. Rugger deposited a lien release into escrow eight days after the expiration of a 90-day period in which it was required to do so. The trial court found Rugger could not claim substantial performance because it had violated the plain language of the contract. For that reason, the court granted the motion of MCR and Jennings for summary adjudication of their breach of contract cause of action and for summary adjudication of Rugger’s rescission and breach of contract causes of action. Voluntary dismissal of other causes of action produced an appealable final judgment. The Court of Appeal reversed and remanded, finding that whether Rugger substantially performed its contract obligations was a triable issue of material fact that precluded summary adjudication. "[A] provision in the parties’ contract making time of the essence does not automatically make Rugger’s untimely performance a breach of contract because there are triable issues regarding the scope of that provision and whether its enforcement would result in a forfeiture to Rugger and a windfall to MCR." View "Magic Carpet Ride v. Rugger Investment Group" on Justia Law

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The Miller Trust is the successor owner of property previously owned by spouses Jack (now deceased) and Helen. The trustees sued previous owners including the Estate of Jack Miller and a lessee, DuBois, seeking redress for environmental contamination that originated from a dry cleaning business that operated on the property in 1956-1985. DuBois filed a counterclaim. Zurich determined it had a duty to defend and retained counsel to represent the Estate. The trustees tendered the Dubois counterclaim for defense, asserting that they were additional insureds under the Estate's Zurich policies. Zurich agreed subject to an extensive reservation of rights but denied the trustees' request for independent counsel based on conflicts of interest. The trustees sued Zurich in state court, alleging breach of the contract and of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Zurich unsuccessfully filed an "anti-SLAPP" (strategic lawsuit against public participation) special motion to dismiss, Code of Civil Procedure 425.16, asserting that the claims “arise from allegations about the conduct of attorneys representing Zurich’s insured in the” federal action and that the trustees could not demonstrate a probability of prevailing because that conduct was protected by the litigation privilege. The court of appeal affirmed, in favor of the trustees. Zurich met its burden of demonstrating the applicability of the anti-SLAPP statute but the trustees met their burden of demonstrating a probability of prevailing on the merits. A bad faith action can be subject to the anti-SLAPP statute where the basis for liability is judicial communications. View "Miller Marital Deduction Trust v. Zurich American Insurance Co." on Justia 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