Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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In February 2017, students at Rubidoux High School (RHS) participated in a protest; approximately one quarter of the student body boycotted school for a day. Plaintiff-appellant, Patricia Crawford, a guidance counselor at RHS, criticized the students who boycotted in an e-mail to a colleague and by leaving several comments on a RHS teacher’s public Facebook post that was similarly critical of the boycotting students. Some students and others considered the post and Crawford’s comments on the post to be offensive. The Facebook post “went viral,” and a public outcry against Crawford and other RHS teachers’ comments ensued, resulting in nationwide media attention, a RHS student protest against the teachers, and a flurry of e-mails to RHS administration from the public. Real party in interest, Jurupa Unified School District (the District), dismissed Crawford on the grounds that her conduct was “immoral” and showed that she was “evidently unfit for service” under Education Code section 44932. Defendant-respondent, the Commission on Public Competence of the Jurupa Unified School District (CPC), upheld Crawford’s dismissal, as did the trial court. On appeal, Crawford suggested there were three fixed categories of conduct that constituted "immoral conduct" as a matter of law, and her conduct did not fit into any of them. To this, the Court of Appeal disagreed: "A teacher’s conduct is therefore 'immoral' under [Education Code] section 44932 (a)(1) when it negatively affects the school community in a way that demonstrates the teacher is 'unfit to teach.'" The Court affirmed the trial court's finding that the weight of the evidence supported CPC's finding that Crawford engaged in immoral conduct and was evidently unfit to serve. View "Crawford v. Comm. on Prof. Competence etc." on Justia Law

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This case began when, in December 2016, plaintiff-respondent San Bernardino Children and Family Services (CFS) learned that Mother threatened to physically abuse J.W., the youngest of her two daughters, then one year old. Mother had called 911 and threatened to stab herself and J.W. Police officers detained Mother and temporarily committed her pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 5150. CFS’s detention reports stated that, a few weeks prior, Mother had moved to California from Louisiana, where she had been living with A.W., J.W.'s father. According to a family friend, Mother was spiraling into depression in Louisiana and had mentioned relinquishing her children to the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services. The family friend urged Mother to come live with her in California, which she did. The family friend also informed CFS that in 2010 Mother had suffered traumatic brain injuries requiring dozens of surgeries, from a car accident that killed Mother’s mother and sister. Since the accident, Mother had suffered from grand mal seizures and had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. CFS petitioned for J.W. and her older half-sister L.M. After the detention hearing, the juvenile court found a prima facie case and detained the children. Although the detention reports noted Mother’s recent move from Louisiana, CFS did not address whether there was jurisdiction under the UCCJEA, and the juvenile court made no finding concerning the UCCJEA. Ultimately Mother's rights to the children were terminated. A.W. challenged the termination, contending the juvenile court failed to comply with the UCCJEA, such that Louisiana should have been the forum for the case. Mother contended the juvenile court failed to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. The Court of Appeal determined that, even assuming the juvenile court lacked UCCJEA jurisdiction, A.W. forfeited the ability to raise his argument on appeal. "Forfeiture would not apply if the UCCJEA provisions governing jurisdiction implicated the courts’ fundamental jurisdiction, but...they do not." The Court determined there was no failure to apply the ICWA, “ICWA does not obligate the court or [child protective agencies] ‘to cast about’ for investigative leads.” View "In re J.W." on Justia Law

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Daisy Arias suffered sustained, egregious sexual harassment for most of the time she was employed by defendant-petitioner, Blue Fountain Pools & Spas, Inc. The primary culprit was defendant-petitioner, Sean Lagrave, a salesman who worked in the same office as Arias. Arias says Lagrave did everything from repeatedly asking her for dates to grabbing her and describing "his own sexual prowess." Arias complained about Lagrave’s conduct repeatedly over the course of her employment, but things came to a head on April 21, 2017: Lagrave yelled at Arias in front of coworkers, used gender slurs, and then physically assaulted her, bumping her chest with his own. Arias called the police and later left work. Arias told the owner, defendant-petitioner, Farhad Farhadian, she wasn’t comfortable returning to work with Lagrave. Farhadian did nothing initially, refused to remove Lagrave, then terminated Arias’s health insurance, and finally told Arias to pick up her final paycheck. Though Farhadian claimed Arias had quit, she says she was fired. Arias filed a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing and received a right to sue letter on August 14, 2017. She then filed this lawsuit alleging, relevant to this appeal, hostile work environment sex discrimination and failure to prevent sexual harassment. Petitioners moved for summary judgment, seeking, among other things, to have the hostile work environment claim dismissed as time-barred and the failure to prevent harassment claim dismissed as having an insufficient basis after limiting the allegations to the conduct that wasn’t time-barred. The trial court concluded Arias had created a genuine issue of material fact as to all her causes of action and denied the motion. Petitioners brought a petition for writ of mandate, renewing their statute of limitations argument, claiming Arias could not establish a continuing violation because she admitted she had concluded further complaints were futile. The Court of Appeal concluded Arias has shown she could establish a continuing violation with respect to all the complained of conduct that occurred during Farhadian’s ownership of the company. Further, the Court determined there was a factual dispute over whether and when Arias’s employer made clear no action would be taken and whether a reasonable employee would have concluded complaining more was futile: "that question must be resolved by a jury." The Court denied petitioners' request for mandamus relief and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "Blue Fountain Pools and Spas Inc. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Four consolidated appeals presented a question of whether medical providers who provided services under California’s Medi-Cal program were entitled to reimbursement for the costs of providing in-house medical services for their own employees through “nonqualifying” self-insurance programs. Even for nonqualifying self-insurance programs, however, the Provider Reimbursement Manual allowed providers to claim reimbursement for reasonable costs on a “claim-paid” basis. Oak Valley Hospital District (Oak Valley) and Ridgecrest Regional Hospital (Ridgecrest) had self-insurance programs providing health benefits to their employees. Claims for in-house medical services to their employees were included in cost reports submitted to the State Department of Health Care Services (DHS). DHS allowed the costs when Oak Valley and Ridgecrest employees received medical services from outside providers but denied costs when the medical services were provided in-house. DHS determined claims paid to Oak Valley and Ridgecrest out of their self-insurance plan for in-house medical services rendered to their employees were not allowable costs. The trial court granted Oak Valley and Ridgecrest's the writ petitions on grounds that costs of in-house medical services were reimbursable so long as they were “ ‘reasonable’ ” as defined by the Provider Reimbursement Manual. DHS appealed in each case. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded Oak Valley’s and Ridgecrest’s self-insurance programs did not meet the requirements of a qualified plan under CMS guidelines and Provider Reimbursement Manual. The Court of Appeal rejected DHS’s contention that Oak Valley and Ridgecrest costs relating to in-house medical services for their employees were inherently unreasonable. To the extent DHS argued the cost reports were not per se unreasonable, but unreasonable under the circumstances of the actual treatments of Oak Valley and Ridgecrest employees, the Court determined the evidence in the record supports the trial court’s findings that expert testimony established Oak Valley and Ridgecrest incurred actual expenses in providing in-house medical services for their employees that were not otherwise reimbursed. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court’s granting of the petitions for writs of administrative mandate. View "Oak Valley Hospital Dist. v. Cal. Dept. of Health Care Services" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Rafi Ghazarian and Edna Betgovargez had a son, A.G., with autism. A.G. received applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy for his autism under a health insurance policy (the policy) plaintiffs had with defendant California Physicians’ Service dba Blue Shield of California (Blue Shield). Mental health benefits under this policy are administered by defendants Magellan Health, Inc. and Human Affairs International of California (collectively Magellan). By law, the policy had to provide A.G. with all medically necessary ABA therapy. Before A.G. turned seven years old, defendants Blue Shield and Magellan approved him for 157 hours of medically necessary ABA therapy per month. But shortly after he turned seven, defendants denied plaintiffs’ request for 157 hours of therapy on grounds only 81 hours per month were medically necessary. Plaintiffs requested the Department of Managed Health Care conduct an independent review of the denial. Two of the three independent physician reviewers disagreed with the denial, while the other agreed. As a result, the Department ordered Blue Shield to reverse the denial and authorize the requested care. Plaintiffs then filed this lawsuit against defendants, asserting breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing against Blue Shield, and claims for intentional interference with contract and violations of Business and Professions Code section 17200 (the UCL) against defendants. Defendants each successfully moved for summary judgment. As to the bad faith claim, the trial court found that since one of the independent physicians agreed with the denial, Blue Shield acted reasonably as a matter of law. As to the intentional interference with contract claim, the court found no contract existed between plaintiffs and A.G.’s treatment provider with which defendants could interfere. Finally, the court found the UCL claim was based on the same allegations as the other claims and thus also failed. After its review, the Court of Appeal concluded summary judgment was improperly granted as to the bad faith and UCL claims. "[I]t is well established that an insurer may be liable for bad faith if it unfairly evaluates a claim. Here, there are factual disputes as to the fairness of defendants’ evaluation. . . .There are questions of fact as to the reasonability of these standards. If defendants used unfair criteria to evaluate plaintiffs’ claim, they did not fairly evaluate it and may be liable for bad faith." Conversely, the Court found summary judgment proper as to the intentional interference with contract claim because plaintiffs failed to show any contract with which defendants interfered. View "Ghazarian v. Magellan Health" on Justia Law

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Defendants Silverado Senior Living Management, Inc., and Subtenant 350 W. Bay Street, LLC dba Silverado Senior Living – Newport Mesa appealed a trial court's denial of its petition to compel arbitration of the complaint filed by plaintiffs Diane Holley, both individually and as successor in interest to Elizabeth S. Holley, and James Holley. Plaintiffs filed suit against defendants, who operated a senior living facility, for elder abuse and neglect, negligence, and wrongful death, based on defendants’ alleged substandard treatment of Elizabeth. More than eight months after the complaint was filed, defendants moved to arbitrate based on an arbitration agreement Diane had signed upon Elizabeth’s admission. At the time, Diane and James were temporary conservators of Elizabeth’s person. The court denied the motion, finding that at the time Diane signed the document, there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate she had the authority to bind Elizabeth to the arbitration agreement. Defendants argued the court erred in this ruling as a matter of law, and that pursuant to the Probate Code, the agreement to arbitrate was a “health care decision” to which a conservator had the authority to bind a conservatee. Defendants relied on a case from the Third District Court of Appeal, Hutcheson v. Eskaton FountainWood Lodge, 17 Cal.App.5th 937 (2017). After review, the Court of Appeal concluded that Hutcheson and other cases on which defendants relied are distinguishable on the facts and relevant legal principles. "When the Holleys signed the arbitration agreement, they were temporary conservators of Elizabeth’s person, and therefore, they lacked the power to bind Elizabeth to an agreement giving up substantial rights without her consent or a prior adjudication of her lack of capacity. Further, as merely temporary conservators, the Holleys were constrained, as a general matter, from making long-term decisions without prior court approval." Accordingly, the trial court was correct that the arbitration agreement was unenforceable as to Elizabeth. Furthermore, because there was no substantial evidence that the Holleys intended to sign the arbitration agreement on their own behalf, it could not be enforced against their individual claims. The Courttherefore affirmed the trial court’s order denial to compel arbitration. View "Holley v. Silverado Senior Living Management" on Justia Law

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Defendants-tenants John and Rosa Castro (the tenants) leased a residential property from plaintiff-landlord Fred Graylee. The landlord brought an unlawful detainer action against the tenants, alleging they owed him $27,100 in unpaid rent. The day of trial, the parties entered into a stipulated judgment in which the tenants agreed to vacate the property by a certain date and time. If they failed to do so, the landlord would be entitled to enter a $28,970 judgment against them. The tenants missed their move-out deadline by a few hours and the landlord filed a motion seeking entry of judgment. The trial court granted the motion and entered a $28,970 judgment against the tenants under the terms of the stipulation. The tenants appealed, arguing the judgment constituted an unenforceable penalty because it bore no reasonable relationship to the range of actual damages the parties could have anticipated would flow from a breach of the stipulation. To this, the Court of Appeal agreed, and reversed and remanded this matter for further proceedings. View "Graylee v. Castro" on Justia Law

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Petitioners California Disability Services Association; Horrigan Cole Enterprises, Inc., doing business as Cole Vocational Services; Unlimited Quest, Inc.; Loyd’s Liberty Homes, Inc.; and First Step Independent Living Program, Inc. petitioned for mandamus relief and damages, and sought a declaration against the California Department of Developmental Services (Department) and its director, Nancy Bargmann (collectively respondents). Petitioners challenged the Department’s denial of their requests for a rate adjustment due to the increase of the minimum wage, which, in turn, impacted the salaries of their exempt program directors, who had to be paid twice the minimum wage. The trial court denied petitioners’ petition and complaint for declaratory relief finding providers’ classification of the program directors as exempt employees was not mandated by law, thus “there is no ministerial duty imposed on the Department to grant a wage increase request in order to accommodate continued entitlement to the exemption.” Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "California Disability Services Assn. v. Bargmann" on Justia Law

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Under California Public Resources Code section 21167.6, documents "shall" be in the record in a CEQA challenge to an environmental impact report (EIR). The County of San Diego (County), as lead agency for the Newland Sierra project, no longer had "all" such correspondence, nor all "internal agency communications" related to the project. If those communications were by e-mail and not flagged as "official records," the County's computers automatically deleted them after 60 days. When project opponents propounded discovery to obtain copies of the destroyed e-mails and related documents to prepare the record of proceedings, the County refused to comply. After referring the discovery disputes to a referee, the superior court adopted the referee's recommendations to deny the motions to compel. The referee concluded that although section 21167.6 specified the contents of the record of proceedings, that statute did not require that such writings be retained. In effect, the referee interpreted section 21167.6 to provide that e-mails encompassed within that statute were mandated parts of the record - unless the County destroyed them first. The Court of Appeal disagreed with that interpretation, "[a] thorough record is fundamental to meaningful judicial review." The Court held the County should not have destroyed such e-mails, even under its own policies. The referee's erroneous interpretation of section 21167.6 was central to the appeals before the Court of Appeal. The Court issued a writ of mandate to direct the superior court to vacate its orders denying the motions to compel, and after receiving input from the parties, reconsider those motions. View "Golden Door Properties, LLC v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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In 2014, plaintiffs filed suit against defendants Shappell Industries and Toll Brothers, Inc. (the Developer) for construction defects arising out of the construction of two residences in a community called San Joaquin Hills. The complaint also named Doe defendants, including two causes of action against unnamed engineers, Does 101-125. Plaintiffs claimed that in 2017, some two years and nine months after the suit was filed, the Developer produced discovery that identified Petra Geosciences, Inc. On August 2, 2017, while the matter was still stayed pending the judicial reference proceeding, plaintiffs filed an amendment to the complaint naming Petra as Doe 101. At the same time, it filed a certificate of merit as required by section 411.35 (certificate of merit required before serving the complaint in a malpractice action against an engineer). Plaintiffs personally served Petra with the summons and complaint on August 9, 2017, three years and 38 days after the complaint was filed. The trial court dismissed plaintiffs’ complaint against defendant Petra because plaintiffs had not served Petra with a summons and complaint within three years, as required by Code of Civil Procedure section 583.210. Plaintiffs appealed the subsequent dismissal, contending the court erred in computing the three-year period. The Court of Appeal found the trial court had stayed the matter for nine months while the parties engaged in a prelitigation alternative dispute resolution procedure mandated by a contract. The court did not exclude that period from the three-year calculation. The question was, did that stay affect service, thereby extending the time to serve Petra? The Court concluded it likely did, but that remand was necessary for further findings. View "Steciw v. Petra Geosciences, Inc." on Justia Law