Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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Plaintiff Dennis Ponte demanded defendant County of Calaveras (County) to pay him over $150,000 to reimburse him for work purportedly performed on the County’s behalf pursuant to an oral contract. The contract did not contain any fixed payment, and no bid was submitted nor approved pursuant to relevant county ordinances governing public contracts. Ponte disregarded opportunities to abandon his claims after the County provided him with pertinent legal authority demonstrating that his claims lacked merit. After multiple sustained demurrers, the trial court granted summary judgment to the County on Ponte’s third amended complaint. The court later awarded substantial attorney fees, finding Ponte’s claims, including those based on promissory estoppel, were not brought or maintained in both subjective and objective good faith. Ponte appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Ponte v. County of Calaveras" on Justia Law

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Litigation under the Public Records Act (PRA) (Gov. Code, sec. 6250 et seq.) is one of the rare instances where a losing party may still be deemed a prevailing party entitled to an attorney fee award. Ponani Sukumar appeals an order denying his motion for prevailing party attorney fees against the City of San Diego (City). Sukumar owns a home in San Diego (the Property). In about 1992, Sukumar's neighbors began complaining to the City about Sukumar's use of the Property. These complaints mostly involved parking issues and noise. In 2006 the City ordered Sukumar to take "immediate action to correct" municipal code violations occurring on the Property that constituted "a public nuisance." However, the City decided to not pursue the matter absent additional neighbor complaints. In 2015, Sukumar's attorney delivered a request to the City for "production of documents and information" under the PRA. The request sought 54 separate categories of documents, all relating to any neighbor's complaints about Sukumar. Twenty-four days after the request, the City wrote to Sukumar's attorney, stating that some potentially responsive documents were exempt from disclosure, and responsive, nonexempt records would be made available for Sukumar's review. Sukumar's attorney remained unconvinced that the City had produced all documents responsive to its request, and sought a writ of mandate or used other mechanisms to compel the documents' production. Though every time the City offered to certify it produced "everything," it would release additional documents. The trial court ultimately denied Sukumar's writ petition, finding that by 2016, the City had "in some fashion" produced all responsive documents. After stating Sukumar's writ petition was "moot" because all responsive documents had now been produced, the court stated, "Now, you might argue that you're the prevailing party, because the City didn't comply until after the lawsuit was filed. That's another issue." Asserting the litigation "motivated productions of a substantial amount of responsive public documents, even after the City represented to this [c]ourt there was nothing left to produce," Sukumar sought $93,695 in fees (plus $5,390 incurred in preparing the fee motion). Sukumar appealed the order denying his motion for prevailing party attorney fees against the City. The Court of Appeal reversed because the undisputed evidence established the City produced, among other things, five photographs of Sukumar's property and 146 pages of e-mails directly as a result of court-ordered depositions in this litigation. The Court remanded for the trial court to determine the amount of attorney fees to which Sukumar is entitled. View "Sukumar v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Aleksei Sviridov was terminated as a police officer for the City of San Diego. In the first appeal, Sviridov challenged an order denying his petition for administrative mandamus in which he sought a determination by the Civil Service Commission of the City on the merits of his challenge to his first termination. The Court of Appeal concluded Sviridov's administrative claim was moot in light of the decision to reinstate Sviridov and to pay his back pay and benefits. In a second appeal, the Court affirmed summary judgment on Sviridov's third amended complaint asserting claims for wrongful termination stemming from his second termination (among others). The Cout reversed the trial court's order sustaining defendants' demurrer to Sviridov's ninth breach of contract cause of action and remanded the matter with directions to grant Sviridov leave to amend his complaint to state a cause of actin under the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act ("POBRA") or to seek mandamus relief. Following remand, Sviridov filed a fourth amended complaint seeking relief under POBRA without pursuing a writ of mandate. The court entered judgment after a bench trial ordering Sviridov's reinstatement as a police officer and awarding him back pay and benefits. The Court of Appeal reversed the judgment in "Sviridov III" concluding Sviridov was not entitled to POBRA relief because Sviridov did not timely appeal his termination with the office of the chief of police as required by a memorandum of understanding with the San Diego Police Officers' Association. The matter was remanded again with directions to enter judgment in favor of the City and stated the City was entitled to costs on appeal. In the present appeal, Sviridov appealed the award of costs to the City, arguing the City was not entitled to costs based upon Williams v. Chino Valley Independent Fire Dist., 61 Cal.4th 97, (2015), which held that in actions based upon the California Fair Employment and Housing Act costs should not be awarded under Government Code section 12965(b), to a defendant against an unsuccessful FEHA plaintiff "unless the plaintiff brought or continued litigating the action without an objective basis for believing it had potential merit." Sviridov also argued POBRA prohibited an award of costs for the defense of his POBRA claim unless the action was frivolous or brought in bad faith. The City argued neither of these statutes applied because the City was entitled to its costs pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 9981 since Sviridov rejected multiple statutory settlement offers and did not obtain a more favorable result. The Court of Appeal agreed with the City and affirmed the cost award. View "Sviridov v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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The sperm of Brian Cole was used to inseminate Mie Tsuchimoto, who gave birth to a boy (the child). When the child was six years old, the County of Orange filed a complaint to declare Cole to be the child’s father and to seek child support from Cole. Cole defended on the ground that under Family Code section 7613, he could not be the child’s parent. The trial court found that, notwithstanding section 7613: (1) there was a rebuttable presumption under section 7611(d) that Cole was the child’s parent because Cole had received the child into his home as his natural child and openly held out the child as his own; and (2) Cole had not rebutted that presumption. The Court of Appeal affirmed, finding the trial court’s findings regarding section 7611(d) were supported by substantial evidence. "The inability to establish parenthood under section 7613 does not preclude a finding of parenthood under section 7611(d)." View "County of Orange v. Cole" on Justia Law

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Defendant Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Company (Coldwell) marketed a vacant, bank-owned property in Simi Valley for sale. The property had a backyard with an empty swimming pool and diving board. While plaintiffs Jacques and Xenia Jacobs were viewing the property as potential buyers, Jacques stepped onto the diving board to look over the fence. The diving board base collapsed and Jacques fell into the empty pool. Plaintiffs sued Coldwell for negligence and loss of consortium. The trial court granted Coldwell’s motion for summary judgment, finding Coldwell was entitled to judgment on plaintiffs’ claim regarding the negligent condition of the diving board. Plaintiffs argued that they also were claiming that the empty pool was a dangerous condition. The court rejected this unpled, undisclosed theory of liability, concluding that even if the theory had been pled, Coldwell could not be held liable for failing to remedy the dangerous condition of the empty pool because Jacques’ accident was not reasonably foreseeable. The Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Jacobs v. Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Co." on Justia Law

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This appeal concerned a limited liability company, JPB Investments LLC (JPBI), created and operated by respondent James Baldwin, a real estate developer. Appellant Curci Investments, LLC (Curci) sought to add JPBI as a judgment debtor on a multi-million dollar judgment it had against Baldwin personally. Curci asserted Baldwin held virtually all the interest in JPBI and controlled its actions, and Baldwin appeared to be using JPBI as a personal bank account. Curci argued, under these circumstances, it would be in the interest of justice to disregard the separate nature of JPBI and allow Curci to access JPBI’s assets to satisfy the judgment against Baldwin. Citing Postal Instant Press, Inc. v. Kaswa Corp. 162 Cal.App.4th 1510 (2008), the court denied Curci’s motion based on its belief the “reverse veil piercing,” was not available in California. On appeal, Curci asserted Postal Instant Press was distinguishable, and urged the Court of Appeal to conclude reverse veil piercing was available in California and appropriate in this case. The Court agreed Postal Instant Press was distinguishable, and concluded reverse veil piercing is possible under these circumstances. The Court reversed and remanded for the court to make a factual determination as to whether JPBI’s veil should be pierced. View "Curci Investments v. Baldwin" on Justia Law

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PGA West Residential Association, Inc. (PGA West) alleged defendant Dempsey Mork tried to fraudulently insulate the equity in his condominium from creditors by naming Hulven International, Inc. (Hulven), a sham corporation entirely owned and controlled by Mork, as the beneficiary of a deed of trust and note, and by later directing Hulven to foreclose on the condominium. Hulven demurred to the complaint, arguing PGA West's lawsuit was barred by a seven-year limitations period for actions under the former Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act. The superior court overruled the demurrer and, after conducting a bench trial, entered judgment for PGA West. In this appeal, Hulven argued the superior court erred by overruling its demurrer. According to Hulven, the allegedly fraudulent activities by Mork and Hulven were a “transfer” for purposes of the UFTA and, therefore, this lawsuit was governed by that act and its seven-year limitations period. Because PGA West filed its lawsuit more than seven years after the alleged fraudulent transfer, Hulven contends PGA West's claims were completely extinguished. The Court of Appeal agreed with Hulven that Mork's alleged fraudulent attempt to insulate the equity in his condominium from creditors by naming a sham corporation as the beneficiary on the deed of trust constituted a “transfer” for purposes of the UFTA and that the act's limitations period applied here: "the seven-year limitations period for actions under the UFTA is not simply a procedural statute of limitations that bars a remedy and is forfeited if not properly raised by a defendant. Rather, the UFTA's seven-year limitations period is a substantive statute of repose that completely extinguishes a right or obligation and, under the majority view that we adopt, a statute of repose is not subject to forfeiture." Because PGA West filed its lawsuit after the UFTA's statute of repose had run, its rights under the act were completely extinguished. Therefore, the Court concluded the superior court erred as a matter of law by overruling Hulven's demurrer. View "PGA West Residential Assn. v. Hulven International" on Justia Law

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This case arose from a community college’s decision to buy a plot of vacant land from a regional park district for potential future use as the site of a new campus. Plaintiffs-appellants Martha Bridges and John Burkett, residents of Wildomar (where the land was located) sued respondent Mt. San Jacinto Community College District (the community college, or the college) alleging it violated California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by failing to prepare an environmental impact report (EIR) before executing a purchase agreement for the property. Appellants also alleged the community college violated CEQA by failing to adopt local CEQA implementing guidelines. The trial court dismissed the action in its entirety, and the Court of Appeal affirmed: (1) appellants did not exhaust their administrative remedies before filing this suit and did not demonstrate they were excused from doing so; and (2) even if the exhaustion doctrine did not bar appellants’ suit, the Court would have affirmed the trial court’s ruling because both of their CEQA claims lacked merit. View "Bridges v. Mt. San Jacinto Community College Dist." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Melony Light appealed judgments in favor of her employer, defendant California Department of Parks and Recreation (Department), and her former supervisors, defendants Leda Seals and Kathy Dolinar, following orders granting defendants' motions for summary judgment. Light worked for the Department's Ocotillo Wells District. She alleged numerous claims against the Department, Seals, and Dolinar, including retaliation, harassment, disability discrimination, assault, false imprisonment, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The trial court disposed of several claims at the pleading stage. After two and a half years of litigation, the Department, Seals, and Dolinar moved for summary judgment on the remaining claims against them. As to the Department, the Court of Appeal concluded triable issues of material fact precluded summary adjudication of Light's retaliation claim, but not her disability discrimination claim. Light's claim against the Department for failure to prevent retaliation or discrimination therefore survived based on the retaliation claim. As to Seals and Dolinar, the Court concluded contrary to the trial court that workers' compensation exclusivity did not bar Light's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress under the circumstances here. However, as to the merits of that claim, the Court concluded Light has raised a triable issue of fact only as to Seals, not Dolinar. Furthermore, the Court concluded Light raised triable issues of fact on her assault claim against Seals. Therefore, the Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgments in favor of the Department and Seals, and affirmed in full the judgment in favor of Dolinar. View "Light v. Calif. Dept. of Parks & Rec." on Justia Law

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Prior to its dissolution, Culver City’s former redevelopment agency made an unauthorized transfer to the City of about $12.5 million. The Department of Finance (DOF) discovered the unauthorized transfer after the former redevelopment agency was dissolved and the City took over as the successor agency. Based on that discovery, DOF authorized the county auditor-controller to reduce by about $12.5 million the tax increment revenue made available to the successor agency to pay the successor agency’s enforceable obligations. In a prior action, the Sacramento Superior Court held that the former redevelopment agency should have retained the $12.5 million to pay its bills rather than transferring it to the City. DOF did not seek an order requiring the City to repay the $12.5 million. And neither party appealed the superior court’s judgment. Since judgment was entered in “Culver City I”, the City has not repaid the $12.5 million to the successor agency, and DOF has continued to authorize successive reductions to the allotment of tax increment revenue to the successor agency to pay its enforceable obligations. DOF asserts that those funds held by the City are available to the successor agency for payment of its enforceable obligations, but the City maintains that it has no duty to pay the money back. In this action, the City, both in its municipal capacity and as the successor agency of the former redevelopment agency, sought mandamus relief to stop DOF’s successive reductions of tax increment revenue to pay the successor agency’s enforceable obligations. DOF sought an order reversing the former redevelopment agency’s transfer of $12.5 million to the City and requiring the City to return the money. The superior court in this action held that DOF’s successive reductions were not authorized by the Dissolution Law. Based on this holding, the superior court granted the City’s petition for writ of mandate. While recognizing Culver City I’s holding that the former redevelopment agency’ss transfer to the City was unauthorized, the superior court denied DOF’s petition for an equitable writ of mandate requiring the return of the money because there was a statutory remedy for this situation. The State Controller conducted a review and ordered the City to return the $12.5 million to the successor agency. DOF appealed, asserting that the superior court erred by: (1) denying DOF’s petition for writ of mandate directing the City to return the money and (2) finding that successive reductions to the tax increment revenue provided to the successor agency for the same $12.5 million held by the City was not authorized by the Dissolution Law. The Court of Appeal affirmed. View "City of Culver City v. Cohen" on Justia Law