Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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Plaintiff-appellant Golden Eagle Land Investment, L.P. (Golden Eagle) and its coplaintiff-appellant Mabee Trust owned real property in the vicinity of Rancho Santa Fe. Appellants sought approvals for a joint development project (the project) from San Diego County land use authorities. At the same time, they began the process of seeking land use approvals for the project from defendant, respondent and cross-appellant, the Rancho Santa Fe Association (the Association or RSFA), whose activities in this respect were governed by a protective covenant and bylaws, as well as County general planning. Appellants sued the Association on numerous statutory and tort theories, only some of which were pled by the Trust, for injuries caused by allegedly unauthorized discussions and actions by the Association in processing the requested approvals, in communicating with County authorities and others. Appellants contended that these Association activities and communications took place without adequate compliance with the Common Interest Development Open Meeting Act. Appellants challenged the trial court's order granting in large part (eight out of nine causes of action) the Association's special motion to strike their complaint, based on each of the two prongs of the anti-SLAPP test. Appellants contended that none of these related tort and bylaws claims arose out of or involved protected Association activity, but rather they were mixed causes of action that were "centered around" alleged earlier false promises by Association representatives to abide by the provisions of the Open Meeting Act. The trial court denied the Association's motion as to one remaining cause of action, in which Golden Eagle alone alleged violations of the Open Meeting Act. The court ruled that the Association's challenged conduct in that respect was not on its face entitled to the benefits of Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, because it did not fall within the statutory language that defined protected communications during "official" proceedings. On that cause of action only, the trial court did not find it necessary to reach the second portion of the statutory test under the anti-SLAPP statute, on whether Appellants are able to establish a probability that they will prevail on their claims. The Association cross-appealed that portion of the order, arguing the trial court erred as a matter of law in finding the anti-SLAPP statute was inapplicable by its terms. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court correctly applied the anti-SLAPP statutory scheme in granting the Association's motion to strike the second through ninth causes of action, as variously alleged by one or both Appellants. In addition, the Court reversed the order in part, concluding that the trial court should have granted the motion to strike the first cause of action regarding alleged violations of the Open Meeting Act. View "Golden Eagle Land Inv. v. Rancho Santa Fe Assn." on Justia Law

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In an eminent domain matter, the condemning agency, Tri-City Healthcare District (Tri-City), made a pretrial deposit of $4.7 million and sought to take immediate possession of the subject property, a partially completed medical building. Medical Acquisition Company, Inc. (MAC) stipulated to Tri-City's possession of the building and withdrew the $4.7 million deposited under the "quick-take" provision of the California Constitution. The eminent domain matter was consolidated with another case involving a lease between the parties and ultimately proceeded to trial where a jury determined just compensation for the taking was nearly $17 million. The court subsequently ordered Tri- City to increase its deposit by about $12.2 million. Among other procedural maneuvers, Tri-City filed a notice of abandonment of the eminent domain proceeding. However, the superior court granted MAC's motion to set aside the abandonment. Tri-City appealed that order in addition to the judgment. MAC argued that after judgment, withdrawing a deposit made in an eminent domain action was governed solely by Code of Civil Procedure section 1268.140. Under that section, MAC contended the superior court could not impose any undertaking regarding the prompt release of a deposit to a single claimant after judgment has been entered. In addition, MAC argued the bonding requirement here frustrated the purpose of the quick-take provision of the California Constitution, and thus, should be declared unconstitutional. This was a matter of first impression for the Court of Appeal. After review, the Court concluded MAC was correct that any postjudgment withdrawal of a deposit in an eminent domain case was governed by section 1268.140. However, that provision allowed a court, in its discretion, to impose an undertaking upon objection by any party to the proceeding. The Court concluded MAC did not show how the trial court abused its discretion under section 1268.140. Additionally, the Court determined that MAC's contention that the bonding requirement was unconstitutional was without merit. As such, the Court of Appeal denied the requested relief. View "Medical Acquisition Company v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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A group of doctors sued the hospital, alleging unfair business practices and interference, specifying that the action was not based on any “wrongs or facts arising from any peer review activities.” The complaint was conclusory in nature, with little factual support and ultimately did not withstand demurrer. Disregarding the express pleading, the hospital filed a special motion to strike (Code of Civil Procedure, 425.16, “anti-SLAPP motion”), contending that while plaintiffs did not state a claim, to the extent it could state a claim, it had to be based on peer review—a protected activity. The hospital also filed a demurrer, which was stipulated to while the SLAPP motion was pending. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the SLAPP motion, stating: A losing defendant’s right to appeal is the aspect of the Anti-SLAPP Statute most subject to abuse,” and noting the “inordinate delay” and “unnecessary legal fees.” In this case, the original suit was not based on a protected activity. View "Central Valley Hospitalists v. Dignity Health" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure

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Plaintiffs Clews Land and Livestock, LLC; Barbara Clews; and Christian Clews (collectively, CLL) appealed a judgment in favor of defendant City of San Diego (City) on CLL's petition for writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief, violation of procedural due process, and equitable estoppel. CLL challenged the City's approval of a project to build a private secondary school on land neighboring CLL's commercial horse ranch and equestrian facility and the City's adoption of a mitigated negative declaration (MND) regarding the project. CLL contended the City should not have adopted the MND because the Cal Coast Academy project would cause significant environmental impacts in the areas of fire hazards, traffic and transportation, noise, recreation, and historical resources, and because the MND identified new impacts and mitigation measures that were not included in the draft MND. CLL further argued the City should not have approved the project because it is situated in designated open space under the applicable community land use plan and because the City did not follow the provisions of the San Diego Municipal Code (SDMC) applicable to historical resources. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded CLL's challenge to the MND was barred because it did not exhaust its administrative remedies in proceedings before the City. In doing so, the Court rejected CLL's argument that the City's process for administrative appeals (at least as implicated by this project) violated the California Environmental Quality Act by improperly splitting the adoption of an environmental document (e.g., the MND) from the project approvals. In addition, the City complied with all applicable requirements of the SDMC regarding historical resources and the City's approval of the project did not conflict with the open space designation because the project would be located on already-developed land. View "Clews Land & Livestock, LLC v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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Burkhalter Kessler Clement & George LLP (Burkhalter) subleased a portion of its office space to the Eclipse Group LLP (Eclipse). The sublease contract had a provision for an award of reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing party in the event of a lawsuit. Burkhalter later filed a complaint against Eclipse alleging breach of contract; Burkhalter also named Jennifer Hamilton, a managing partner of Eclipse, as an alter ego defendant. The two defendants were jointly represented by Avyno Law P.C. (Avyno). Burkhalter prevailed against Eclipse on the breach of contract claim; Hamilton prevailed against Burkhalter on the alter ego theory (she was dismissed with prejudice). The trial court granted Burkhalter’s motion for its attorney fees, but denied Hamilton’s motion for her attorney fees. There was no explanation for the court’s denial. Hamilton appealed, and the Court of Appeal reversed: here, both Burkhalter and Hamilton were prevailing parties on the contract. On remand, the trial court was directed to award Hamilton reasonable attorney fees that were incurred by Avyno solely in her defense, subject to the court’s sound discretion. View "Burkhalter Kessler Clement & George, LLP v. Hamilton" on Justia Law

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Respondents-petitioners Central Coast Forest Association and Big Creek Lumber Company asked the Fish and Game Commission to remove (delist) coho salmon south of San Francisco from the list of endangered species in California. Petitioners owned and harvested timber from lands in the area of the coho salmon spawning streams in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Timber harvesting is in part responsible for declining coho salmon populations. The petitioners argued: (1) there never were wild, native coho salmon in streams south of San Francisco, a requirement of being listed as endangered; (2) if there were, they were extirpated by environmental conditions unfavorable to the species; and (3) the salmon currently present in the streams are hatchery plants, implying that the fish are not members of the CCC ESU, and consequently are not deemed wild or native to California. They tender evidence in support of the petition, which they claim “may . . . warrant[]” delisting by the Commission. If sufficient scientific evidence contained in the petition, considered in the light of the department’s scientific report and the department’s expertise, would justify delisting of the species, then the Commission might consider delisting. The Court of Appeal concluded, however, that the evidence presented here did not meet that threshold. The Court concluded the petition did not contain sufficient scientific evidence, considered in light of the department’s scientific report and expertise, to justify delisting the coho salmon south of San Francisco; therefore, there was insufficient evidence that the delisting may be warranted. View "Central Coast Forest Assn. v. Fish & Game Com." on Justia Law

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At issue in this case is the scope of the Governor’s responsibilities upon receiving an allegation brought under the California Military Whistleblower Protection Act, Military and Veterans Code section 56 (Section 56), referred by the inspector general. Major Dwight Stirling, a part-time judge advocate in the California National Guard, brought a petition for writ of mandate in the trial court to compel Governor Edmund Brown, Jr. (the Governor) to act on Stirling’s whistleblower allegation in accordance with Section 56, subdivisions (d) and (f)(1). Stirling argued that Section 56(e) required the Governor to undertake the same preliminary determination, investigation, and reporting that was required of the inspector general under Section 56, subdivisions (d) and (f)(1). The Attorney General, representing the Governor, argued Section 56(e) did not require the Governor to take any particular action on a whistleblower allegation and permitted the Governor to defer to the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, who was a federal military officer responsible for heading the federal agency that controlled the United States Army National Guard. The trial court sustained without leave to amend the Attorney General’s demurrer to Stirling’s amended petition for writ of mandate. Because the Court of Appeal was reviewing a judgment following an order sustaining a demurrer without leave to amend, its analysis was necessarily limited to the pleadings and matters of which it could take judicial notice. The Court concluded Section 56 was unambiguous, and its plain language did not require the Governor to undertake the procedures required of the inspector general in response to a whistleblower allegation. The Court of Appeal also concluded, based on the appellate record, that Section 56 did not violate California’s equal protection clause because in all cases a whistleblower allegation is referred to an impartial decision maker who has discretion whether to undertake a full investigation. View "Stirling v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant, J. Brent Arave, brought several claims under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) against his former employers, Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. (Merrill Lynch), Bank of America (BoA), his supervisor Joseph Holsinger, and a human resources supervisor, Katherine Anderson (collectively, defendants). He sought to recover damages caused by discrimination, harassment, and retaliation based on his membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He also sought damages for nonpayment of wages, and whistleblower retaliation. A jury returned a verdict in favor of defendants on all counts that had survived summary judgment and dismissal. The trial court denied Arave’s post-trial motions and awarded defendants, as prevailing parties, costs, expert witness fees, and attorney fees incurred defending against Arave’s wage claim. Arave appealed, alleging numerous alleged evidentiary errors, issues with the trial court’s jury instructions, counsel misconduct, and related claims that he maintained, warranted reversal of the outcome against him. Defendants cross-appealed, contending the trial court abused its discretion when it determined Arave’s FEHA claims were not frivolous and denied them attorney fees on those claims. After careful consideration, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court in all respects but two. The Court concluded the trial court erred by awarding $83,642.68 in costs and expert witness fees though it found Arave’s FEHA claims were nonfrivolous, and therefore reversed the order making the award. However, because a portion of the award could be attributable to Arave’s wage claim, and the trial court erred by awarding $97,500 in attorney fees on the wage claim without determining whether that claim was frivolous, the matter was remanded for the trial court to make those apportionments, as appropriate. View "Arave v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, etc." on Justia Law

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The oral agreement at issue in this appeal was made in connection with a transaction by which three companies, of which Albert Kanno was the majority shareholder, were sold to two Delaware corporations. The transaction was documented principally by three writings, each of which had an integration clause. A jury found in favor of Kanno and against Marwit Capital Partners II, L.P. (Marwit Capital) and Marwit Partners, LLC (Marwit LLC) on Kanno’s claim for breach of the oral agreement. After the jury rendered its verdict, the trial court concluded the parol evidence rule did not bar Kanno’s breach of contract claim and that the oral agreement was enforceable. Marwit Capital and Marwit LLC (together, Marwit) appealed. The Court of Appeal concluded the three written agreements were at most partial integrations, and, therefore, the oral agreement was enforceable if its terms did not directly contradict and were consistent with those three agreements, and the Court found no direct contradiction or inconsistency. View "Kanno v. Marwit Capital Partners II" on Justia Law

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Turley sued multiple defendants, alleging that he has an asbestos-related disease caused by exposure to asbestos-containing products, including valve gaskets, during his 36-year employment at PG&E. Interrogatory responses stated that Turley was exposed to asbestos-containing pipe products supplied by Familian, including “asbestos cement transite pipe, pipe collars, gaskets, elbows, pipe-repair products and other asbestos products.” Familian moved for summary judgment. arguing that plaintiffs could not show exposure to asbestos in a Familian-related product. Turley submitted a declaration from a third-party witness, Scott, who had not been deposed. The court allowed Scott to be deposed. Familian used portions of the deposition in its reply. The court concluded that the deposition testimony “conclusively negates” Scott’s declaration testimony as to exposure, refused to consider it, and granted summary judgment. The court of appeal reversed, stating that ambiguity in the evidence should be resolved at trial. Scott’s testimony established that Familian-supplied asbestos-containing gaskets were frequently used at Turley’s worksite and that Turley used them. That Familian was not the only supplier did not warrant the conclusion that Turley did not establish exposure. There was no direct contradiction between Scott’s declaration and his deposition testimony with respect to several areas, so his testimony should not have been disregarded. View "Turley v. Familian Corp." on Justia Law