Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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Rabineau served MLG with a statutory offer to compromise, but the offer did not specify how MLG could accept it. MLG's counsel hand-wrote MLG's acceptance onto the offer itself and filed a notice of acceptance with the trial court. The trial court then entered judgment in favor of MLG pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure 998, subdivision (b)(1). The Legislature enacted section 998 to encourage and expedite settlement of lawsuits before trial. At issue is whether the purported acceptance of a section 998 offer lacking an acceptance provision gives rise to a valid judgment.The Court of Appeal concluded that the trial court correctly found the judgment was void and affirmed the trial court's grant of Rabineau's motion to vacate the judgment. The court explained that California appellate courts have consistently followed Puerta v. Torres (2011) 195 Cal.App.4th 1267, to hold that a section 998 offer lacking an acceptance provision is invalid, and therefore an offeree's failure to accept it does not trigger any of section 998's cost-shifting provisions. Furthermore, application of general contract principles to conclude a section 998 offer is valid, even if it does not have an acceptance provision, would conflict with the language of section 998, which clearly provides otherwise. Finally, the court rejected arguments based on equity. View "Mostafavi Law Group, APC v. Larry Rabineau, APC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Jason Varney was a master dock builder, and star of a cable television show called “Docked Out.” He was also the president and sole shareholder of plaintiff Varney Entertainment Group, Inc. (Varney). Defendant Avon Plastics Inc., d/b/a/ Master Mark Plastic Products (Avon), manufactured products used to build docks. Plaintiff’s operative complaint alleged claims for breach of contract and for unauthorized commercial use of name or likeness in violation of Civil Code section 3344. Defendant served a statutory offer to compromise under Code of Civil Procedure section 998, offering to have a $250,000 judgment entered against it on both claims, plus attorney fees and costs through the date of the offer. Less than a week later, while its section 998 offer was still pending, defendant offered to enter into a stipulated judgment for $191,626.03 on the contract claim only, and further offered that plaintiff would be the prevailing party on that claim for purposes of awarding attorney fees and costs. Plaintiff accepted the second offer and never responded to the section 998 offer. Two months later, at the beginning of trial, plaintiff dismissed its remaining section 3344 claim without prejudice so it could refile that claim in a different jurisdiction. Defendant moved for attorney fees and costs based on section 3344’s fee shifting provision and its unaccepted section 998 offer. The trial court denied its motion, and the Court of Appeal affirmed: "Section 3344 does not provide a basis for awarding the defendant its fees or costs here because the defendant was not the prevailing party on that claim within the meaning of section 3344. And section 998 does not provide a basis for shifting fees or costs to the defendant because the defendant’s offer to enter into a stipulated judgment extinguished its prior section 998 offer." View "Varney Entertainment Grp. v. Avon Plastics" on Justia Law

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Appellants Area 55, LLC, and SAB Holdings, LLC appealed a trial court order granting the special motion to strike their first amended complaint for malicious prosecution and the related judgment of dismissal in favor of Respondents Nicholas & Tomasevic, LLP (N&T), Craig Nicholas, and Alex Tomasevic. Appellants included the successors to Vinturi, Inc. (Vinturi), which developed and sold the “ ‘Vinturi Essential Wine Aerator’ for wine-lovers who want to enhance their experience of drinking wine.” Vinturi started selling the Vinturi Aerator in 2006. As sold to the public, the box contained the Vinturi body with a decorative black silicone band, a rubber stand, and a filter screen -- parts all made in China, transported to the United States, and assembled in the United States. From 2006 until 2010, Vinturi sold its aerator in the United States with the statement “ ‘VINTURI IS MANUFACTURED IN THE USA’ ” printed on the bottom panel of the box. Attorney Nicholas filed various consumer fraud claims, challenging Appellants claim the aerator was made in the U.S. when the components were made in China. Appellants were successful in getting two class action cases dismissed. In 2018, Appellants filed the present case for malicious prosecution, resulting in the grant of Respondents' "SLAPP" motion on appeal. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court erred in ruling that Appellants could not establish the prior action was not terminated on its merits. "Thus, for purposes of the anti-SLAPP statute, the court erred in ruling that Appellants did not demonstrate a probability of prevailing on the merits of their malicious prosecution claim." In addition, in its de novo review, the Court exercised discretion to reach the additional issues raised by the parties in the motion and opposition: Appellants made a sufficient prima facie showing of the remaining elements of their claim, and Respondents did not defeat Appellants’ claim as a matter of law. Accordingly, the order granting Respondents’ special motion to strike the complaint was vacated and reversed. On remand, the trial court was directed to enter a new and different order denying Respondents’ special motion. View "Area 55 v. Nicholas & Tomasevic" on Justia Law

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A subcontractor built a retaining wall that collapsed years later, causing damage to a nearby residential lot. The homeowner sued the subcontractor, obtained a default judgment, and then sued the subcontractor’s insurance company to enforce the default judgment. The insurance company moved for summary judgment, arguing the homeowner’s damages occurred long after the insurance policy had expired, and therefore the insurance company had no duty to cover the default judgment. The trial court agreed and granted the motion. On appeal, the homeowner alleged “continuous and progressive” damage began to occur shortly after the subcontractor built the retaining wall during the coverage period of the insurance policy. The insurance company disagreed. The Court of Appeal determined that was a triable issue of material fact, thus reversing the trial court’s grant of summary judgment. View "Guastello v. AIG Specialty Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Fragoza filed suit under the Private Attorneys General Act (Lab. Code 2698) in Alameda County Superior Court, alleging that she formerly worked for Crestwood in Solano County and that Crestwood systematically violates the Labor Code at its treatment centers located throughout California by neglecting to properly compensate non-exempt employees for all hours worked; failing to provide accurate and itemized wage statements; failing to allow non-exempt employees to take rest/meal breaks or to pay premiums for missed breaks; and failing to timely pay wages owed on termination. She sought civil penalties (Lab. Code 2699(a), (f)) on behalf of the state and aggrieved Crestwood employees. Crestwood moved to transfer venue to Sacramento County (where its principal place of business is located), arguing that venue is not proper in Alameda County because Fragoza worked only in Solano County.The trial court denied the motion, concluding that Alameda County is a proper venue under either Code of Civil Procedure section 3931 or section 395.5 because Crestwood is a corporation and operated two facilities in Alameda County, which “is a county ‘where the obligation or liability arises.” The court of appeal denied Crestwood mandamus relief. The allegations regarding Fragoza’s employment with Crestwood are necessary to establish standing, not venue. View "Crestwood Behavioral Health, Inc. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure
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Plaintiff-Respondent David Collins suffered serious injuries following his arrest by San Diego County Sheriff's Deputies for public intoxication. After a three-week trial, a jury found in favor of Collins on his negligence claims against the two deputies involved in the arrest and two nurses employed by the County of San Diego (County) who attended to Collins while in jail. On appeal from the subsequent judgment and the denial of its motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), the County raised five claims of error: (1) the jury’s finding that the deputies had a reasonable basis to arrest Collins foreclosed his claim of negligence against the deputies; (2) the court erred by instructing the jury it could find the deputies liable for injuries caused by private physicians who treated Collins after he was released from custody; (3) the court erred by failing to instruct the jury it could not hold defendants liable for an injury Collins sustained while in jail; (4) governmental immunity requires reversal of the judgment against one of the nurse defendants; and (5) the court erred in its calculation of the amount of setoff the defendants were entitled to based on Collins’s prior settlement with the private physicians and their employer. The Court of Appeal rejected these arguments and affirmed the judgment. View "Collins v. County of San Diego" on Justia Law

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Saddleback College and Juan Avalos, vice-president of Saddleback’s student services and its Title IX officer, appealed the granting of a writ of mandamus in favor of a Saddleback student, Marcus Knight. Knight petitioned for relief after he was disciplined when two female students complained that he was following them, taking photos of one of them on his phone, and touching them. Knight had multiple disabilities, including cerebral palsy and autism, which have complicated his experience at Saddleback. In March 2018, Knight received a letter from Avalos stating that he was “suspended” – barred from classes and campus activities. It appeared, however, that he was allowed to attend classes anyway, while he contested the suspension. Eventually the potential suspension was dropped, and a written disciplinary reprimand was placed in his student record instead. At trial, Knight based his petition on the ground that the college did not afford him a hearing during which he or his counsel could confront and cross-examine witnesses. The trial court granted the writ petition on that basis. The Court of Appeal determined Knight was not entitled to that level of due process: requiring a trial-like hearing before Saddleback could issue a written reprimand placed too great a burden on the college when compared to the minor detriment to Knight. "He received notice of the charges against him, and he had an opportunity to respond – several opportunities, in fact. Had the suspension gone forward, he would have had the hearing he feels he was entitled to. But it did not go forward, and he received a much lower level of discipline." Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment for Knight and directed the trial court to enter judgment for appellants. View "Knight v. South Orange Community College Dist." on Justia Law

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Espinoza asked a San Jose city planner to place him on the public notice list for a proposed project which would rezone farmland for light industrial uses. He twice specifically requested a copy of the notice of determination (NOD) documenting the city’s certification of an environmental impact report and approval of the project. The city filed two NODs for the project: the first identified the wrong applicant but the second correctly listed Microsoft as the applicant. The city, in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), failed to send Espinoza the legally operative second NOD. Based on the first NOD, which the city had emailed to Espinoza, the initial petition for writ of mandate named the wrong real party in interest. Plaintiff did not file an amended petition naming Microsoft until after the limitations period had run. The court determined that the initial petition was defective for failing to join Microsoft as a necessary and indispensable party and dismissed the CEQA claim in the amended petition as untimely.The court of appeal affirmed, noting its “uncomfortable conclusion" that the dismissal must be upheld. The city violated CEQA by failing to send Espinoza the second NOD but the second NOD was properly filed with the county clerk. It provided constructive notice of the correct parties to sue and Espinoza did not timely amend its petition to name Microsoft. View "Organizacion Comunidad de Alviso v. City of San Jose" on Justia Law

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Guo owned TVGC, which operated a Pleasanton spa. TVGC agreed to sell the business to Mazurova's corporation, LSI. The sale was partially financed through a promissory note. The sales agreement and promissory note contained provisions allowing a party prevailing in a legal action to recover attorney fees. After the sale, a dispute arose regarding Guo’s alleged nondisclosure of outstanding coupons for free spa services and Mazurova’s alleged failure to make payments. A judgment was entered for $161,085.58 against Guo and TVGC, which was affirmed. A subsequent order specifically stated that LSI and Mazurova were deemed the prevailing parties under Code of Civil Procedure Section 1032, “entitled to recover their costs of suit and reasonable attorney fees.” Mazurova and LSI assigned the judgment to Moorpark, which engaged in collection efforts and moved for attorney fees under Code of Civil Procedure section 685.040.The court denied the motion because the underlying judgment did not include an award of attorney’s fees. The court of appeal reversed. The judgment awarded reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing parties, although it did not set a particular amount of fees and no costs bill including such fees was ever filed. The court’s failure to include a specific amount in the judgment does not defeat section 685.040. View "Guo v. Moorpark Recovery Service, LLC" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff filed a petition for writ of administrative mandate to overturn Westmont College's determination that he committed sexual assault, the trial court granted plaintiff's petition. Plaintiff then moved for attorney fees, which the trial court denied. Westmont appealed from the judgment, but plaintiff did not appeal from the postjudgment order denying his attorney fee motion. The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. After remittitur issued, plaintiff moved for attorney's fees based on the court's decision. The trial court denied the motion.The Court of Appeal held that the trial court applied the wrong standards when it denied plaintiff's attorney fee motion. In this case, the trial court erred when it denied plaintiff's post-appeal motion for attorney fees because his action against Westmont resulted in the enforcement of an important right affecting the public interest, and his action conferred significant benefits on a large group of people. Furthermore, the trial court abused its discretion by failing to consider whether public enforcement of plaintiff's fair hearing rights was available or adequate. The trial court also failed to consider whether the financial burden hoisted on plaintiff in prosecuting his case outweighed his own personal interests, focusing instead on the "punishment" that would be inflicted on Westmont for exercising its right to appeal. The court also agreed with plaintiff that the trial court erred when it denied his attorney fee motion due to his failure to provide a basis for apportionment between the fees he incurred to advance his private interests and those that advanced the public interest. Therefore, the court vacated the denial order and remanded for further proceedings. View "Doe v. Westmont College" on Justia Law