Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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Robert filed a petition, alleging that Dae violated a “no contest” clause in a family trust by filing a previous petition challenging Robert’s actions as trustee. Dae’s subsequently moved to strike Robert’s petition under the anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) statute (Code Civ. Proc. 425.16.)The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the anti-SLAPP motion. Robert’s No Contest Petition arose from protected petitioning activity under Code of Civil Procedure 425.16(e)(1); to defeat Dae’s motion, Robert was required to show a probability that he would prevail on that Petition. Robert made such a showing. Dae’s petition broadly challenged Robert’s conduct in setting up a financial structure that Robert claimed was designed to avoid estate taxes. If Robert’s claim is true, Dae’s petition would implicate the no-contest provision by seeking to “impair” trust provisions giving Robert the authority to manage trust assets. Dae also challenged his own removal as a beneficiary. Whether that more specific challenge amounts to a “contest” for purposes of the no-contest clause depends upon the trustors’ intent. Robert provided sufficient evidence of the trustors’ intent to allow a change of beneficiary to make a prima facie showing of probability of prevailing on Robert’s contention that Dae’s claims are a “contest.” The court expressed no opinion on the outcome of Robert’s petition. View "Dae v. Traver" on Justia Law

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In April 2018, Cavey filed a personal injury action for injuries sustained in a traffic accident involving a vehicle driven by a School District employee. Citing the six-month statute of limitations, Government Code 945.6,(a)(1), the trial court dismissed. The theory of untimeliness was based on the District’s July 19, 2017 notice rejecting a claim presented without Cavey’s authorization by a chiropractic firm that was treating her injuries, which, allegedly, started the statute of limitations.The court of appeal reversed. The claim submitted by the chiropractic firm was not presented “by a person acting on … her behalf” for purposes of section 910. The limitations period did not begin to run until the authorized claim submitted by Cavey’s lawyers was deemed rejected in November 2017. Using a November 2017 start date, the April 2018 complaint was timely under the six-month statute of limitations. In addition, the District’s notice of rejection was mailed to the wrong address, so the two-year statute of limitations in section 945.6(a)(2) applies. View "Cavey v. Tualla" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Cheryl Thurston was blind and used screen reader software to access the Internet and read website content. Defendant-respondent Omni Hotels Management Corporation (Omni) operated hotels and resorts. In November 2016, Thurston initiated this action against Omni, alleging that its website was not fully accessible by the blind and the visually impaired, in violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act. By way of a special verdict, the jury rejected Thurston’s claim and found that she never intended to make a hotel reservation or ascertain Omni’s prices and accommodations for the purpose of making a hotel reservation. On appeal, Thurston contended the trial court erred as a matter of law: (1) by instructing the jury that her claim required a finding that she intended to make a hotel reservation; and (2) by including the word “purpose” in the special verdict form, which caused the jury to make a “factual finding as to [her] motivation for using or attempting to use [Omni’s] Website.” Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court. View "Thurston v. Omni Hotels Management Corporation" on Justia Law

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In a suit concerning oil and gas royalties, Poole, an attorney, represented only himself. Poole's interest in the royalties is “less than 1%,” the other owners were members of two families. Poole sought “$50,745 for fees and [$1,572.75] for costs for work successfully defending the trial court judgment on appeal” plus “$46,020 for fees and $1,269.29 for costs for work performed in the Superior Court.” Poole requested that payment be made from the interpleaded royalties, citing the equitable common fund theory, which allows a party, who has paid for counsel to prosecute a lawsuit that creates or preserves a fund from which others will benefit, to require those other beneficiaries to bear their fair share of the litigation costs. Other parties objected, reasoning that an award would deplete the royalties available for distribution to family members; one told the court that Poole’s involvement was "counterproductive.”The court of appeal affirmed the denial of an award of attorneys’ fees under the common fund theory. An attorney who represents only himself and does not pay or become liable to pay consideration in exchange for legal representation may not recover attorney fees under the equitable common fund doctrine but may seek recovery of legitimate, reasonable costs excluding attorney fees under that doctrine. View "Leiper v. Gallegos" on Justia Law

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Three appeals against respondent Department of Water Resources all involved litigation related to changes in long-term water supply contracts brought about by the “Monterey Agreement” and “Monterey Amendment.” In the first case, Central Delta Water Agency, et al. (collectively, Central Delta) appealed the trial court’s decision on a petition for writ of mandate challenging the adequacy of the “Monterey Plus” environmental impact report (Monterey Plus EIR) issued in 2010 and the validity of the Monterey Amendment. In the second, Center for Biological Diversity (Biological Diversity) appealed the trial court’s denial of attorney fees incurred in connection with its writ petition against DWR involving the Monterey Plus EIR and Monterey Amendment. In the third case, Center for Food Safety, et al. (collectively, Food Safety) appealed the trial court’s denial of a petition for writ of mandate challenging DWR’s revised environmental impact report on the Monterey Plus project (Revised EIR). Finding no reversible error in any of the three cases, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Central Delta Water Agency v. Dept. of Water Resources" on Justia Law

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In 2016, Placer County, California (the County) approved a project to develop a resort on about 94 acres near Lake Tahoe. Sierra Watch challenged the County’s approval in two lawsuits, both of which were appealed. In one of its suits, it alleged the County’s environmental review for the project was inadequate. In another, it alleged the County approved the project in violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act (Gov. Code. sec. 54950 et seq.). This appeal centered on Sierra Watch’s Brown Act allegations and involved two of the act’s requirements: (1) section 54957.5 of the Brown Act; and (2) section 54954.2 of the Brown Act. Because the trial court found differently on both of these issues, the Court of Appeal reversed in part. But although the Court found the County’s conduct violated the Brown Act, the Court rejected Sierra Watch’s request that the Court vacate the County’s approvals. View "Sierra Watch v. County of Placer" on Justia Law

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The appointment of a guardian ad litem for a parent in a dependency proceeding radically changes the parent's role, transferring direction and control of the litigation from the parent to the guardian ad litem. While necessary to protect the rights of an incompetent parent—an individual incapable of understanding the nature and purpose of the proceeding or unable to assist counsel in a rational manner—appointment of a guardian ad litem is not a tool to restrain a problematic parent, even one who unreasonably interferes with the orderly proceedings of the court or who persistently acts against her own interests or those of her child.The Court of Appeal reversed the order appointing a guardian ad litem for mother, concluding that the appointment of a guardian ad litem for mother is not supported by substantial evidence and was not harmless. In this case, mother's clashes with counsel were not the result of any mental health disorder but were deliberate and strategic, designed to frustrate and delay proceedings she believed were going to be unfavorable to her. The court noted that, while mother is unquestionably a difficult party, a guardian ad litem cannot be appointed without any finding of her incompetence. View "In re Samuel A." on Justia Law

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In this dispute over internet names, DotConnect appealed to ICANN's internal dispute resolution program and told the arbitrators they should grant it seven procedural advantages during the arbitration—advantages like interim relief and an independent standard of review. The arbitrators accepted DotConnect's arguments and gave DotConnect the advantages it sought, but the arbitrators did not award the .africa name to DotConnect. ICANN ultimately rejected DotConnect and awarded ZA the rights to .africa. DotConnect then filed suit against ICANN in Los Angeles Superior Court, where the trial court ruled against DotConnect on grounds of judicial estoppel.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's application of judicial estoppel and concluded that DotConnect has estopped itself from suing in court by convincing ICANN's arbitrators DotConnect could not sue in court. In this case, DotConnect took two contrary positions; DotConnect took these positions in quasi-judicial and judicial settings; DotConnect used its initial position—"we cannot sue in court"—to persuade the panel to award DotConnect seven legal victories; DotConnect's positions are totally inconsistent; DotConnect did not take its initial position as the result of fraud, ignorance, or mistake; and the trial court had an ample basis to decide, in its discretion, to apply the doctrine of judicial estoppel to this case. The court rejected DotConnect's arguments to the contrary. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment in all respects and awarded costs to respondents. View "DotConnectAfrica Trust v. Internet Corporation for Assigned Names & Numbers" on Justia Law

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X.M., a student at Maple Elementary School, sued Hesperia Unified School District (HUSD), claiming he was sexually assaulted on campus by one of their employees. He sought treble damages under Code of Civil Procedure section 340.1, alleging his assault resulted from HUSD’s cover up of a prior sexual assault by the same employee. The trial court granted the school district’s motion to strike the increased damages request on the ground that treble damages under section 340.1 were primarily punitive and therefore barred by Government Code section 818. X.M. filed a petition for writ of mandate asking the Court of Appeal to vacate the trial court’s order and conclude section 818’s immunity did not apply to the treble damages provision at issue here. He argued the primary purpose of the provision is to compensate victims of childhood sexual assault for the additional harm caused by discovering their abuse could have been prevented if those entrusted with their care had responded differently to prior sexual assaults on their watch. In the alternative, he argues the provision’s primary purpose is to incentivize victims to come forward and file lawsuits. The Court concluded the primary purpose of section 340.1’s treble damages provision was punitive because it was designed to deter future cover ups by punishing past ones. "[T]he economic and noneconomic damages available under general tort principles are already designed to make childhood sexual assault victims whole ... It is the rare treble damages provision that isn’t primarily designed to punish and deter misconduct, and nothing in section 340.1 or its legislative history convinces us the Legislature intended the increased award to be more compensatory (or incentivizing) than deterrent." Further, the Court held that section 818’s immunity applied when the defendant was a public agency like HUSD. The Court therefore denied the petition. View "X.M. v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Chase sexually assaulted aesthetician, plaintiff-respondent Kimberly Finlan during a facial treatment session at a resort spa. Finlan sued Chase, and in the course of litigating her personal injury action, she sent multiple letters offering to settle for $999,000. The letters stated that her offers were made pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure section 998, but said nothing about how the offers were to be accepted. Chase did not respond to these offers. Finlan prevailed at trial, receiving an award of $3,875,000. The issue presented for the Court of Appeal's review in this case centered on whether a simple reference to section 998 satisfied the acceptance provision requirement of the statute. The Court concluded it did not, based on settled caselaw. Further, the Court determined a valid acceptance provision required more than mere reference to a judgment; section 998 offers must provide some kind of instruction or indication as to how they can be accepted, utilizing a written acceptance that includes a signature from the offeree’s counsel or the unrepresented offeree. Accordingly, the section 998 offers in this case were not statutorily valid, and the trial court's postjudgment order was reversed to the extent it allowed plaintiff to recover costs and interest that could only be awarded based on defendant's failure to accept a legitimate section 998 offer. View "Finlan v. Chase" on Justia Law