Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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Plaintiff and Andrijana Mackovska filed suit alleging that Viewcrest wrongfully removed their personal belongings and took possession of residential property Viewcrest had purchased at a foreclosure sale. The trial court held that plaintiff waived his right to a jury trial by failing to timely post jury fees. The Court of Appeal reversed and held that the trial court erred in denying plaintiff's motion for relief from the jury trial waiver, because Viewcrest did not make a showing of prejudice; plaintiff's failure to file a petition for writ of mandate after the trial court denied his motion for relief from jury trial waiver did not preclude review of that order on appeal from the judgment; plaintiff did not have to show prejudice; and the trial court's order imposing sanctions must be vacated. View "Mackovksa v. Viewcrest Road Properties LLC" on Justia Law

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Almost two years into active litigation, defendants moved to compel arbitration of this class action brought on behalf of persons who employed the services of PMZ to buy or sell a residence. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the motion. A motion to compel arbitration is properly denied when the moving party has waived its right to do so, Civ. Proc. Code, 1281.2(a). The California Supreme Court has identified relevant factors: whether the party’s actions are inconsistent with the right to arbitrate; whether the litigation machinery has been substantially invoked and the parties were well into preparation of a lawsuit before the party notified the opposing party of an intent to arbitrate; whether a party either requested arbitration close to the trial date or delayed for a long period before seeking a stay; whether a defendant seeking arbitration filed a counterclaim without asking for a stay; whether important intervening steps [e.g., taking advantage of judicial discovery procedures not available in arbitration] had taken place; and whether the delay affected, misled, or prejudiced the opposing party. The trial court properly applied the factors; its determination that defendants’ delay of nearly two years constituted an unreasonably long period of time, and defendants’ explanation for their delay was unavailing, is “copiously supported by the evidence.” View "Spracher v. Paul M. Zagaris, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Elliotts were defendants in six civil fraud actions based on an international investment scheme through which they fraudulently induced hundreds of individuals and organizations to invest in Dominican Republic resorts. The actions were coordinated for discovery but remained separate for trial. Criminal charges were brought against the defendants based essentially on the same facts. Elliott reached a plea deal with respect to some issues. In most of the civil actions, there was no stipulation regarding the five-year statutory period to bring an action to trial (Code of Civil Procedure section 583.310); despite being served with the summons and complaint, the Elliotts had not answered, In May 2015, Elliott filed an answer in the two matters under appeal. The trial court lost jurisdiction over one matter for 17 months, during an appeal. Elliott engaged in multiple delaying strategies. Plaintiffs reached settlements with other defendants. In August 2016, weeks before trial was to begin, Elliott first (unsuccessfully) raised the issue of dismissal under section 583.310. In both cases, the trial court awarded the plaintiffs damages, with no appearance from the Elliotts. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of Elliott’s motion to dismiss for want of prosecution within the five-year statutory period and, alternatively, for a stay of proceedings pending resolution of his criminal case. Notwithstanding plaintiffs’ failure to secure a default judgment, there were extenuating circumstances: the undisputed complexity of the cases and the Elliotts’ reluctance to engage in resolution efforts. The court properly allowed Elliott’s civil trials to go forward, with the understanding that he could object on Fifth Amendment grounds to any questioning. View "In re: Alpha Media Resort Investment Cases" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure
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Plaintiff-respondent Carra Crouch was 13 years old when she was drugged and raped by a 30-year-old employee of the Trinity Christian Center of Santa Ana, Inc. (TCC). The assault took place while plaintiff was in Atlanta participating in a TCC-sponsored telethon. When Carra returned to California, she and her mother, Tawny Crouch, went to see Carra’s grandmother, Jan Crouch, who was a TCC officer and director and was responsible for overseeing the telethon. When Tawny explained to Jan what had happened to Carra in Atlanta, Jan flew into a tirade and yelled at Carra that she was stupid, it was really her fault, and she was the one who allowed it to happen. Based on Jan’s conduct, the jury awarded Carra $2 million in damages (later remitted to $900,000) against TCC on her cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED). The jury found that Jan was acting within her authority as an officer or director of TCC when she yelled at Carra. TCC appealed, challenging the judgment and the trial court’s orders overruling its demurrer to Carra’s first amended complaint and denying its motions for summary adjudication, nonsuit, a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), and a new trial. At each stage of the trial court proceedings, and again on appeal, TCC argued that Jan’s conduct was not extreme or outrageous but was just a grandmotherly scolding or irascible behavior. According to TCC, Carra endured nothing more than insults, petty indignities, and annoyances. The Court of Appeal concluded Jan’s behavior toward Carra was sufficiently extreme and outrageous to impose liability for IIED. “Yelling at 13-year-old girl who had been drugged and raped that she was stupid and she was at fault exceeds all possible bounds of decency.” The Court concluded the evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s finding Jan acted within the scope of her authority as an officer of TCC, and therefore, supported respondeat superior liability against TCC. View "Crouch v. Trinity Christian Center of Santa Ana, Inc." on Justia Law

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Kate K. and Jaime S. were the de facto parents of L.M., who was placed in their foster care soon after birth. They challenged a juvenile court's order, made when L.M. was 10-months old, removing her from their care and placing her with Rita and John E. (the E.'s), who had previously adopted L.M.'s sister, V.E. The juvenile court had "an immensely difficult decision" to make in this case. As the court recognized, Kate and Jaime had provided L.M. excellent care for essentially her entire 10-month life. Yet, the E.'s are also "good people and excellent parents as well" and have adopted L.M.'s sister. L.M. thrives in both environments. The tipping point was the relationship between L.M. and V.E., who "hit it off immediately" and "simply love each other." The court found that it is in L.M.'s best interest to be removed from Kate and Jaime's care so that she may be placed with the E.'s. On appeal, Kate and Jaime claimed the juvenile court erred by applying the "wrong" legal standard: the court first had to determine if it was in L.M.'s best interest to be removed from their care, without regard to whether it was in L.M.'s best interest to be placed with the E.'s. Kate and Jaime further claimed that under this standard, focusing only on grounds for removal, the order had to be reversed because the juvenile court recognized that they provided excellent care and did nothing wrong. The Court of Appeal determined that, even assuming that Kate and Jaime were entitled to rights afforded to prospective adoptive parents, the juvenile court applied the correct legal standard, and it affirmed because the court's findings were supported by substantial evidence. View "In re L.M." on Justia Law

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People v. Sanchez (2016) 63 Cal.4th 665, explicitly prohibited the introduction by an expert of case-specific hearsay. Plaintiff filed a writ petition challenging the trial court's finding of probable cause in a Sexually Violent Predators Act proceeding. The Court of Appeal agreed with plaintiff that the trial court erred by allowing expert testimony of case-specific facts relating to a 2012 incident, and that the trial court improperly relied on the incident in finding probable cause. The court held that the People failed to meet their burden of proof at the probable cause hearing, and the trial court's finding of probable cause was not supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the SVP petition must be dismissed and the court granted the writ petition. View "Bennett v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County" on Justia Law

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Appellants Bryan and Jackie Myers appealed after the trial court refused to set aside a judgment settling a disagreement between neighbors. Their homes sit on adjacent lots that were once part of a single parcel which, when subdivided, did not account for a five-foot setback for a part of one home now owned by Appellants. The problematic property line has spawned a host of disputes between the neighbors involving encroaching tree roots and the placement of an air conditioning unit, fencing, and security cameras. The Machados sued Appellants in 2014. The operative complaint asserted causes of action for nuisance, trespass, harassment, and violation of the right to privacy, among others. In February 2016, the case settled during a settlement conference on the eve of trial. The settlement terms were recited on the record, in open court. The parties acknowledged agreement to all terms. Appellants contended the judgment did not conform to the terms of the parties' stipulated settlement, which was entered orally before the court. The Machados contended Appellants' failure to comply with the terms of the settlement relieved them of their obligation to perform certain provisions originally contemplated in the parties' settlement, and thus the entry of a judgment modifying the original settlement terms was justified. The Court of Appeal concluded the judgment entered pursuant to section 664.6 erroneously failed to conform to the terms of the parties' stipulated settlement agreement. Therefore, judgment was reversed and the trial court directed to enter a new judgment setting forth all the material terms of the parties' settlement agreement, as reflected in the record. View "Machado v. Myers" on Justia Law

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The Department of Water Resources (DWR) applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or Commission) to extend its federal license to operate Oroville Dam and its facilities as a hydroelectric dam, the “Oroville Facilities Project.” A Settlement Agreement (SA)) by which the affected parties agreed to conditions for extending the license. “ DWR filed a programmatic (informational) Environmental Impact Report (EIR) as the lead agency in support of the application pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Plaintiffs challenged the sufficiency of the EIR, and the failure to consider the import of climate change, in the state courts and sought to enjoin the issuance of an extended license until their environmental claims were reviewed. The trial court denied the petition on grounds the environmental claims were speculative. In an earlier opinion the Court of Appeal held that the authority to review the EIR was preempted by the Federal Power Act (FPA), that the superior court lacked subject matter jurisdiction of the matter, and ordered that the case be dismissed. Plaintiffs petitioned for review in the Supreme Court, review was granted, and the matter was transferred back to the Court of Appeal with directions to reconsider the case in light of Friends of the Eel River v. North Coast Railroad Authority, 3 Cal.5th 677 (2017). The Court determined the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA), at issue in Eel River, was materially distinguishable from the FPA. Therefore, the Court concluded Eel River did not apply in this case. The plaintiffs could not challenge the environmental sufficiency of the program because review of that program lied with FERC and they did not seek review as required by 18 Code of Federal Regulations part 4.34(i)(6)(vii) (2003). The plaintiffs could not challenge the environmental predicate to the Certificate contained in the CEQA document because that was subject to review by FERC. The plaintiffs could not challenge the Certificate because it did not exist when this action was filed, and they could not challenge the physical changes made by the SWRCB in the Certificate until they were implemented. For these reasons the parties did not tender a federal issue over which the Court of Appeal had state CEQA jurisdiction. Accordingly, it dismissed the appeal with directions to the trial court to vacate its judgment and dismiss the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. View "County of Butte v. Dept. of Water Resources" on Justia Law

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In a dispute between the parties that started over a disabled parking space, Dennis Ross filed a complaint with police stating that plaintiff Diann Davis vandalized his car. Davis entered a plea of no contest to misdemeanor vandalism in 2016. She then the underlying complaint here against Dennis Ross both as an individual and as a trustee of his revocable trust, alleging false imprisonment, fraud, libel, slander, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and abuse of process. Twenty months later, at the outset of trial, the court granted Ross’s motion for judgment on the pleadings premised on the litigation privilege (Civ. Code, section 47), entering a judgment of dismissal in October 2017. The court subsequently denied Davis’s motion for a new trial premised on a spoliation exception to the litigation privilege that Davis had already presented in opposition to the motion for judgment on the pleadings. Davis then filed a notice of appeal in January 2018. Before the Court of Appeal Davis again attempted to press the spoliation exception to the litigation privilege. After preliminary review of the briefing, the Court solicited supplementary analysis from the parties to account for the effect, if any, of Davis’s plea of no contest, and whether sanctions for a frivolous appeal were warranted. The Court of Appeal affirmed: the underlying suit was not premised on the tort of intentional spoliation. "At best, Davis is contending that she was deprived of the use in evidence of Ross’s vehicle in an unaltered state in defending against his criminal complaint against her. But it was Davis’s choice to plead no contest to the vandalism charge against her rather than raise her present claim of intentional spoliation of evidence in Ross’s exclusive control as providing a reasonable doubt as to her guilt." The Court found the spoliation exception to the litigation privilege did not have any application to Davis' action. View "Davis v. Ross" on Justia Law

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In 2003, Daley, pregnant with twins, had twin-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS), a congenital condition involving a circulation abnormality in twins growing from a single placenta. Standard therapy for TTTS in the U.S. was amnioreduction, which removes amniotic fluid from the recipient fetus by inserting a needle into the amniotic sac. Daley underwent amnioreduction in Utah, but it was unsuccessful. Daley agreed to participate in an institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) clinical trial. The University of Utah conducted the formal informed consent process; Daley signed a consent form. Daley contends that the subsequent performance of open fetal surgery on study patients violated NIH protocol, the consent forms, and UCSF hospital policy. Ultimately, neither twin survived. About 11 years later, Daley saw a Facebook posting by her current attorneys, seeking mothers who participated in the NIH TTTS trial. Daley filed suit, alleging medical battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, claiming she had consented to a percutaneous surgery (with access to the organs established by a needle puncture), but defendants performed an open laparotomy and open hysterotomy, procedures to which she did not consent. The trial court dismissed her case as time-barred. The court of appeal reversed, concluding that the discovery rule applies to medical battery claims. View "Daley v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law