Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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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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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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Plaintiff Darren Hulbert, a self-represented indigent inmate, appealed the dismissal of his medical malpractice suit Richard Cross, M.D. Dr. Cross performed a radial head resection and arthroplasty on Hulbert’s right elbow. Hulbert alleged that Dr. Cross negligently failed to tighten a screw in the implant, which resulted in the screw coming loose and damaging Hulbert’s elbow joint, cartilage, and surrounding tissue. To help establish his claim, Hulbert filed a motion for appointment of legal counsel and a medical expert. The trial court denied the motion and subsequently found that Hulbert could not rebut the declaration of Dr. Cross’s medical expert without providing medical expert evidence of his own. On this basis, the trial court granted Dr. Cross’s motion for summary judgment. On appeal, Hulbert contended: (1) he was deprived of meaningful access to the courts because the trial court denied him the assistance of a medical expert while requiring a medical expert to establish a triable issue of material fact; (2) the trial court failed to exercise its discretion by considering all of the remedies available to ensure that he had meaningful access to the courts; (3) the trial court erred in determining there was no triable issue of material fact because the loose screw itself did not prove medical negligence; (4) the trial court erred in refusing to appoint legal counsel; (5) Dr. Cross did not provide informed consent prior to the procedure; (6) the declaration by Dr. Cross’s medical expert was insufficient to overcome a presumption of negligence because Dr. Cross’s operation notes failed to show compliance with the implant manufacturer’s instructions. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial did not properly exercise informed discretion with respect to ensuring access to the courts when it denied Hulbert’s motion for appointment of a medical expert. The trial court’s statement that it lacked authority to appoint legal counsel required remand to allow the trial court to consider and clarify which remedies were appropriate in this case to protect Hulbert’s right to meaningful access to the court. View "Hulbert v. Cross" on Justia Law

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Over the course of a few years, an employee of Severin Mobile Towing Inc. (Severin) took about $157,000 in checks made payable to Severin’s d/b/a, endorsed them with what appears to be his own name or initials, and deposited them into his personal account at JPMorgan Chase Bank N.A. (Chase). Because the employee deposited all the checks at automated teller machines (ATM’s), and because each check was under $1,500, Chase accepted each check without “human review.” When Severin eventually discovered the embezzlement, it sued Chase for negligence and conversion under California’s version of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), and for violating the unfair competition law. Severin moved for summary judgment on its conversion cause of action, and Chase moved for summary judgment of all of Severin’s claims, asserting affirmative defenses under the UCC, and that claims as to 34 of the 211 stolen checks were time- barred. The trial court granted Chase’s motion on statute of limitations and California Uniform Commercial Law section 3405 grounds; the court did not reach UCL section 3406. The court denied Severin’s motion as moot, and entered judgment for Chase. On appeal, Severin argued only that the court erred in granting summary judgment to Chase on Severin’s conversion cause of action (and, by extension, the derivative UCL cause of action). Specifically, Severin argued the court erroneously granted summary judgment under section 3405 because Chase failed to meet its burden of establishing that Severin’s employee fraudulently indorsed the stolen checks in a manner “purporting to be that of [his] employer.” Severin further argued factual disputes about its reasonableness in supervising its employee precluded summary judgment under section 3406. The Court of Appeal agreed with Severin in both respects, and therefore did not reach the merits of Chase’s claim that its automated deposit procedures satisfied the applicable ordinary care standard. Accordingly, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Severin Mobile Towing, Inc. v. JPMorgan Chase etc." on Justia Law

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Marie Sales appealed after a trial court granted summary judgment on her wrongful death and related state law claims arising from the death of her 19-year-old son, Paul Quintanar. The trial court concluded Sales failed to timely file her complaint in state court after the federal district court entered judgment against her on her federal claims, and withdrew supplemental jurisdiction over her state law claims in an earlier federal complaint she had filed. The trial court was persuaded that the 30-day safe harbor in which to refile state law claims afforded by 28 U.S.C. 1367(d) began to run from the date of the federal district court’s judgment, rather than after Sales’s appeal to the Ninth Circuit. On appeal, the Court of Appeal concluded settled law established that section 1367(d)’s tolling provisions extended “‘through appeal to the courts of appeals afforded as a matter of statutory right.’” Judgment was therefore reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Sales v. City of Tustin" on Justia Law

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After a jury awarded plaintiff $16 in unpaid minimum wages and $16 in liquidated damages and found against her on causes of action alleging she had been raped by her employer, the trial court determined that plaintiff was the prevailing party for purposes of Code of Civil Procedure section 1032 and awarded her $19,523 in costs, as well as $3.20 in attorney fees based on the formula in section 1031 that multiples the wages recovered by 20 percent.In the published portion of the opinion, the Court of Appeal concluded that, in this case where plaintiff lost all of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) claims, lost some non-FEHA claims, and prevailed on some non-FEHA claims, the award of costs is governed by the interaction of section 1032 and Government Code section 12965, subdivision (b). The court concluded that section 12965, subdivision (b) bars plaintiff from recovering the costs caused solely by the inclusion of the FEHA causes of action in this lawsuit. Furthermore, the other costs incurred in the lawsuit are recoverable under section 1032, subject to the discretionary exception in section 1033, subdivision (a). The court directed the trial court on remand to determine which cost items, if any, are barred by section 12965, subdivision (b) before entering an award in accordance with sections 1032 and 1033.The court also concluded that the parties' dispute over attorney fees requires an interpretation of section 1031 and Labor Code section 1194. The court explained that the literal terms of these attorney fees provisions cover this case because of the recovery of minimum wages. In situations where these statutes overlap, the court concluded that section 1194 controls because it is the more specific statute and its attorney fees provision is the most recently enacted. Therefore, the trial court court should have exercised the discretion granted by section 1194 and awarded plaintiff reasonable attorney fees, rather than applying section 1031 and awarding 20 percent of the wages recovered. The court remanded for reasonable attorney fees. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings on the issues of attorney fees and costs. View "Moreno v. Bassi" on Justia Law

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Homeowners sought free refuse collection from the City of San Diego for their 12 condominiums located in a gated complex in the Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego. The City refused the request to initiate service on the grounds the complex did not qualify under its Waste Management Regulation (WMR). In response to the denial of service, the Homeowners brought suit against the City asserting the WMR was issued in violation of the San Diego Municipal Code, and claiming that the City’s use of the WMR to deny them service violated their equal protection rights. After discovery, the City brought a successful motion for summary judgment. Thereafter, the trial court entered judgment in the City’s favor. The Homeowners appealed, contending the court erred by finding the WMR was validly promulgated and that there were no triable issues of fact with respect to their equal protection claims. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment. View "Perry v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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In 2007, plaintiffs-respondents Jason Rubin and Cira Ross, as cotrustees of the Cira Ross Qualified Domestic Trust (judgment creditors) obtained a civil judgment against defendant-appellant David Ross (judgment debtor). In 2009, Ross filed for voluntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy. In April 2019, following an order denying judgment debtor a discharge in bankruptcy, judgment creditors filed for renewal of their judgment pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure sections 683.120 and 683.130. Ross moved to vacate the judgment on the ground that judgment creditors failed to seek renewal within the 10-year time period proscribed in Code of Civil Procedure section 683.130. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that judgment creditor’s renewal was timely because title 11 United States Code section 108(c) provided for an extension of time within which to seek renewal. Ross appealed, arguing that judgment creditors were not precluded from seeking renewal by his bankruptcy proceeding and, therefore, section 108(c) 2 did not apply to provide an extension of time to seek renewal of their judgment. The Court of Appeal agreed that judgment creditors were not barred from seeking statutory renewal of their judgment during the pendency of judgment debtor’s bankruptcy proceeding, but concluded that the extension provided for in section 108(c) applied regardless. Thus, the Court affirmed the trial court’s order. View "Rubin v. Ross" on Justia Law

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Tracy Green sued her employer, General Atomics, based on its alleged failure to provide accurate, itemized wage statements showing “all applicable hourly rates in effect during the pay period and the corresponding number of hours worked at each hourly rate by the employee.” Green maintained that General Atomics “failed to identify the correct rate of pay for overtime wages” because its wage statements showed “0.5 times the regular rate of pay rather than 1.5.” General Atomics moved for summary judgment, contending its wage statements complied with the statute because they showed the total hours worked, with their standard rate or rates, and the overtime hours worked, with their additional premium rate. The trial court issued an order denying the motion. General Atomics challenged that order by petition for writ of mandate. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court erred by determining that General Atomics’ wage statements violated Labor Code section 226: “While other formats may also be acceptable, given the complexities of determining overtime compensation in various contexts, the format adopted by General Atomics adequately conveys the information required by statute. It also allows employees to readily determine whether their wages were correctly calculated, which is the central purpose of section 226.” The Court therefore granted the petition for writ of mandate. View "General Atomics v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and his medical corporation appeal from the trial court's order of his motion for a preliminary injunction against CVS. In June 2020, CVS stopped filling plaintiff's prescriptions for controlled substances for his patients, citing concerns about his prescribing patterns. The trial court denied the injunction on several grounds, including the conclusion that plaintiff should have first sought relief from the California State Board of Pharmacy (Board).The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's conclusion, which was based on the doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies, on the alternative, but closely related ground under the doctrine of primary jurisdiction. In this case, the Board has primary jurisdiction to consider the particular statutory obligations underlying plaintiff's injunction motion. The court concluded that the trial court correctly recognized that an order requiring CVS to honor particular prescriptions would involve judgments concerning the statutory obligations of pharmacists that the Board is both expected and equipped to resolve. Furthermore, the Board is also empowered to issue an abatement order, if warranted, that would perform the equivalent role of an injunction in providing the relief that plaintiff seeks. Accordingly, the trial court reasonably ruled that plaintiff should first seek relief from the Board before pursuing his claims in court. View "Bradley v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc." on Justia Law