Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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After plaintiff missed the statutory deadline to file a claim against a public entity, he applied to submit a late claim. Then plaintiff filed his complaint the same day, not waiting for the public entity to respond to his application.The Court of Appeal held that the Government Claims Act, Gov. Code, 810, is not satisfied by filing a complaint before rejection of a claim. In this case, plaintiff filed suit against the District for injuries he suffered while attempting to board one of the District's boats. The court held that section 946.6, which allows a petition to seek relief from the failure to comply with the claim requirement after denial of an application for leave to present a claim, did not apply here. Furthermore, the complaint plaintiff filed the same day was premature. In this case, the lawsuit is precluded because it was not preceded by rejection of a claim, and plaintiff's noncompliance with the Act cannot be cured by amending the complaint to allege he complied. Finally, the court held that there was no abuse of discretion in awarding costs. View "Lowry v. Port San Luis Harbor District" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure
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The state filed an unverified complaint against the entities and one of their principals, asserting unfair practices and false advertising. The defendants filed an unverified “Answer” with a general denial of the complaint’s allegations and affirmative defenses. The judge struck the answer as to the entities because they failed to verify the answer as required by Code of Civil Procedure section 446 and asserted only a general denial in contravention of section 431.30(d). The court concluded that section 446(a)'s exception to the verification requirement was coextensive with the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and a corporation may not invoke that privilege. In response to a “show cause order” following the defendants’ petition for extraordinary writ relief, the court issued an order noting that the case had been reassigned. After a hearing, a new judge vacated the previous order.The court of appeal agreed that the exception applies to corporations and that the defendants could file a general denial under section 431.30(d), which requires a defendant to answer each material allegation of a verified complaint with specific admissions or denials, but allows a defendant to file a general denial if the complaint is not verified. There is no reason for deeming the state’s complaint verified. The court also noted that an order to show cause, unlike an alternative writ, does not invite the trial court to change the challenged order and that superior court judges generally may not overturn the order of another judge unless the other judge is unavailable. View "Paul Blanco's Good Car Co. Auto Group v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Michelle Kramer filed a wage and hour lawsuit against her employer, defendants Traditional Escrow, Inc. (Traditional), and its alleged alter ego, Annette Scherrer-Cosner. A few months after defendants answered the initial complaint, their counsel withdrew, and defendants subsequently chose not to participate in this case. Plaintiff continued to serve defendants with all case documents, including an amended complaint, at their address of record. But, in violation of the California Rules of Court, defendants changed their mailing address without giving notice to plaintiff or the trial court. As a result, they did not receive any of the documents that plaintiff served on them after their counsel withdrew. Eventually, default and default judgment were entered against them due to their failure to answer the amended complaint. Defendants moved to set aside the default and vacate the judgment, arguing they were entitled to equitable relief because they had been prevented from responding to the amended complaint due to extrinsic fraud and extrinsic mistake. The trial court granted the motion, finding that defendants were unaware the complaint had been amended. It also found that after filing the amended complaint, plaintiff’s counsel misrepresented to Cosner’s divorce attorney, who was unaffiliated with this matter, that defendants were in default and could not file an answer. Plaintiff appealed the trial court’s ruling, arguing equitable relief was unwarranted. To this, the Court of Appeal agreed: "Defendants cannot deliberately neglect this lawsuit and go off-grid, so to speak, and then complain that they lacked notice of the proceedings." The trial court's order was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Kramer v. Traditional Escrow" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed an administrative mandamus petition challenging wastewater disposal fees under Proposition 218. The trial court dismissed the petition based on failure to exhaust administrative remedies.The Court of Appeal held that plaintiff should have been given leave to rename her petition, which was, in essence, a complaint for declaratory relief. In this case, the trial court erred by preventing plaintiff from presenting evidence from an expert to support her claims. Therefore, plaintiff may proceed in her action against the sanitary district to allege that rates charged residential customers are disproportionate and unlawful. View "Malott v. Summerland Sanitary District" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure
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Proposition 65 was enacted by the voters to protect the people of California and its water supply from harmful chemicals. Proposition 65 required the Governor to publish, at least annually, a list of chemicals known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. Proposition 65 added Health and Safety Code section 25249.8, which provided the listing obligations and sets forth four independent “listing mechanisms” by which a chemical could be listed, including the “state’s qualified expert” listing mechanism and the “authoritative body” listing mechanism. At issue in this case was whether the decision by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) to list Bisphenol A (BPA) as a chemical known to cause reproductive toxicity under Proposition 65, was an abuse of discretion. BPA is used primarily to coat food and beverage packaging and containers. The American Chemistry Council (ACC) commenced this action seeking to enjoin OEHHA from listing BPA. In an amended complaint, ACC sought a peremptory writ of mandate directing OEHHA not to list BPA. The trial court denied the requested relief. ACC appealed, asserting that OEHHA abused its discretion in: (1) refusing to consider the arguments against listing BPA; (2) concluding that the National Toxicology Program (NTP) formally identified BPA as a reproductive toxicant in the monograph; and (3) determining that NTP concluded that studies in experimental animals indicated that there was sufficient data to establish that an association between adverse reproductive effects in humans and BPA is “biologically plausible” within the meaning of that term as it was used in OEHHA’s own regulation. The Court of Appeal found OEHHA’s position as to biological plausibility was based on, among other things, the presumption that chemicals that cause harm in experimental animals will also cause similar harm in humans in the absence of evidence to the contrary. The Court concluded OEHHA did not abuse its discretion in listing BPA based on the monograph. Therefore, the Court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying ACC the relief requested in the amended complaint. View "Am. Chemistry Council v. Off. of Environ. Health Hazard Assessment" on Justia Law

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While employed by Alameda County and on a medical leave of absence, Johnson enrolled online in supplemental life insurance coverage under a LINA group insurance policy. She remained on leave on the policy’s effective date and died six months later, without returning to work. When her beneficiary claimed benefits, LINA denied coverage based on a policy provision stating the insurance would not become effective if the employee was not in “active service” on the effective date. Johnson’s beneficiary sued for breach of contract, arguing that LINA and the county waived or were estopped from asserting the active service precondition.The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of Alameda County but reversed the dismissal of LINA. In determining the effect of preconditions to effective coverage, waiver and estoppel are questions of fact. There are factual questions as to what Johnson knew or should have known about the active service requirement and whether the conduct of LINA and the county supported a reasonable expectation that the supplemental insurance was in place and effective. It is not apparent that “active service” has a single unambiguous meaning such that Johnson necessarily must have known she was not in “active service” because she was on medical leave. If Johnson’s policy went into effect, LINA, not the county, is liable for improper denial of benefits. View "Dones v. Life Insurance Co. of North America" on Justia Law

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Two months before trial, appellant Reales Investment, LLC’s attorney moved to withdraw from the case. Reales did not retain counsel until a few days before trial began, and it did not participate in any of the pretrial proceedings mandated by Riverside County Superior Court Local Rule 3401. On the morning of the first day of trial, Reales’ new attorney orally requested a continuance. The trial court denied the request, and also excluded all documents and witnesses Reales did not disclose in pretrial exchanges between the parties as required by Rule 3401. Because Reales did not disclose anything under Rule 3401, it was precluded from offering any evidence or testimony at trial, so the trial court granted a nonsuit for respondent Thomas Johnson. On appeal, Reales argued the trial court’s pretrial rulings were an abuse of discretion. After review, the Court of Appeal found no abuse of discretion and affirmed the judgment. View "Reales Investment, LLC v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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Skaff sued the Roadhouse restaurant and grill, located in Sonoma County, alleging that the Roadhouse and parking lot were inaccessible to wheelchair users. Skaff cited Health and Safety Code section 19955 and the Unruh Civil Rights Act, Civ. Code section 51. Under section 19955, public accommodations must comply with California Building Code disability access standards if repairs and alterations were made to an existing facility, triggering accessibility mandates. No evidence was presented that the Roadhouse's owner had undertaken any triggering alterations. The owner nonetheless voluntarily remediated the identified barriers to access. The court entered judgment against Skaff on his Unruh Act claim but ruled in his favor on the section 19955 claim, reasoning that he was the prevailing party under a “catalyst theory” because his lawsuit was the catalyst that caused the renovations. Skaff was awarded $242,672 in attorney fees and costs.The court of appeal reversed the judgment and fee award. A plaintiff cannot prevail on a cause of action in which no violation of law was ever demonstrated or found. Nor is the catalyst theory available when a claim lacks legal merit. That a prelitigation demand may have spurred action that resulted in positive societal benefit is not reason alone to award attorney fees under the Civil Code. View "Skaff v. Rio Nido Roadhouse" on Justia Law

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A July 2017 petition under Welfare and Institutions Code 300(b)(1) concerned J.P., born in 2013. J.P.’s mother had been arrested for DUI. J.P. and his younger half-brother, A.A., were taken into protective custody. The court found mother’s ex-boyfriend Albert to be A.A.’s presumed father and found L.P. to be J.P.’s presumed father. Albert indicated that he wanted to be designated as J.P.’s presumed parent. Mother opposed the request. Police had responded to disturbances between mother and Albert. In November 2017, J.P. and A.A. were moved from foster care to the home of Albert’s parents. L.P.'s whereabouts were unknown; he had not visited J.P. The Department reported positive interactions between the children and Albert. In September 2018, Albert asked the court to recognize him as J.P.’s presumed father. The court determined that Albert did not qualify as J.P.’s presumed father under Family Code 7611(d) but ordered weekly visitation between J.P. and Albert.Months later, Albert renewed his request to be considered a de facto parent to J.P. The court stated that after another hearing, it believed that Albert qualified as a presumed parent to J.P. Mother did not dispute the court’s authority to revisit its prior order. The Department and J.P.’s counsel supported Albert's motion. The court of appeal affirmed the juvenile court’s order granting Albert presumed parent status for J.P. The juvenile court had authority under Welfare and Institutions Code 3851 to reconsider its prior order. View "In re J.P." on Justia Law

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In this Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (the "lemon law") suit, the jury answered special verdict questions determining that Jaguar had no liability for breach of express warranty or for breach of the implied warranty of merchantability. However, there was a mistake in the special verdict form that neither counsel nor the trial court detected until long after the jury was discharged. In this case, the verdict form did not tell the jury if they found no breach of warranty, they should stop and answer no further questions. Judgment was subsequently entered on the special verdict and damages were awarded to plaintiffs. The trial court then granted Jaguar's motion to vacate the judgment and enter a different judgment in its favor.The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that Jaguar's motion to vacate was timely; the original judgment rests on an erroneous legal basis, and is not consistent with the facts found by the jury; and plaintiffs did not propose the question they now say should have been asked, and on this record, there was no evidence or law to support the questions they did propose. The court explained that since the verdict form did not instruct the jurors to stop, they continued, answering the questions directed at determining damages. But there can be no damages where there is no liability. The court also held that the trial court's alternative judgment not withstanding the verdict ruling was correct where the defect in the one-touch mechanism did not occur until two years after plaintiffs leased the car, and there is no evidence it was caused by some other defect present when the car was manufactured. View "Simgel Co., Inc. v. Jaguar Land Rover North America, LLC" on Justia Law