Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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Plaintiff County of Monterey (County) appealed when the trial court denied its petition for writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief. The County was the successor agency for its former redevelopment agency ("RDA"), and challenged decisions by the Department of Finance (Department) relating to a development known as the East Garrison Project, which was part of the Fort Ord Redevelopment Project located on a closed military base in Monterey. The County claimed the trial court erroneously determined that a written agreement entered into between its former RDA and a private developer (real party in interest, UCP East Garrison, LLC) was not an enforceable obligation within the meaning of the dissolution law because the former RDA did not have the authority to approve the agreement on the date the governor signed the 2011 dissolution legislation. The County further contended the trial court erred in determining the County failed to show the Department abused its discretion in disapproving two separate requests for funding related to administration of the East Garrison Project. The County claimed these administrative costs were expended to complete an enforceable obligation within the meaning of the dissolution law, and therefore the Department should have approved its requests for payment of such costs. Finally, the County argued the Department’s application of the dissolution law improperly impaired UCP’s contractual rights. The Court of Appeal rejected each of the County's contentions and affirmed judgment. View "County of Monterey v. Bosler" on Justia Law

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Defendants Fusion Buffet, Inc., Xiao Yan Chen, and Zhao Jia Lin appealed postjudgment orders of the trial court regarding attorney fees and costs. Cruz was employed as a server at the Great Plaza Buffet restaurant, which was operated by Fusion Buffet, from approximately February 2014 to late January 2016. Chen and Lin served as officers and owners of Fusion Buffet and managed the Great Plaza Buffet restaurant. In her complaint, Cruz alleged defendants: (1) failed to pay minimum wage; (2) failed to pay overtime; (3) failed to pay meal period compensation; (4) failed to pay rest period compensation; (5) failed to furnish timely and accurate wage and hour statements; (6) converted earned gratuities; (7) took unlawful deductions from wages; (8) failed to indemnify for all necessary expenditures or losses; and other causes of action stemming from her work at Fusion Buffet. In the complaint, Cruz sought to impose liability against Chen and Lin under an alter ego theory, alleging, among other things, that Chen and Lin commingled their assets with those of Fusion Buffet and that they failed to maintain corporate formalities. After a three-day bench trial, the court found in Cruz's favor on seven out of ten causes of action, and in favor of Fusion Buffet on the remaining three. The trial court determined Cruz was the prevailing party and found she was entitled to recover fees and costs incurred. The Court of Appeal determined defendants failed to demonstrate reversible error in the trial court's determinations with respect to the postjudgment orders and affirmed them all. View "Cruz v. Fusion Buffet, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Hillarie and Keith Levy appealed the dismissal of their lawsuit filed against defendant, Only Cremations for Pets, Inc. Plaintiffs alleged it agreed to cremate individually two of their dogs, but then intentionally sent them random ashes instead. Plaintiffs sought recovery of emotional distress damages under contract and tort law. The Court of Appeal determined: the complaint failed to state a cause of action under any contract theory; and there were no factual allegations showing the existence of any contract between plaintiffs and defendant. Plaintiffs’ veterinarian, not plaintiffs, contracted with defendant. However, the complaint adequately pled two tort theories: trespass to chattel and negligence. The Court found allegations here "fit comfortably" in a cause of action for trespass to chattel claim, which permitted recovery of emotional distress damages. The allegations also supported a negligence cause of action because defendant advertised its services as providing emotional solace, and thus it was foreseeable that a failure to use reasonable care with the ashes would result in emotional distress. The Court reversed and remanded, giving plaintiffs an opportunity to plead more fully a third-party beneficiary cause of action. View "Levy v. Only Cremations for Pets, Inc." on Justia Law

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Quidel Corporation (Quidel) petitioned for a writ of mandate and/or prohibition to direct the trial court to vacate its order granting summary adjudication. Quidel contended the trial court incorrectly concluded a provision in its contract with Beckman Coulter, Inc. (Beckman) was an invalid restraint on trade in violation of Business and Professions Code, section 16600. Quidel argued the trial court improperly extended the holding from Edwards v. Arthur Andersen LLP, 44 Cal.4th 937 (2008) beyond the employment context to a provision in the parties’ 2003 BNP Assay Agreement (the Agreement). In its original, published opinion, the Court of Appeal concluded it was not, granted the petition and issued a writ instructing the trial court to vacate the December 2018 order granting summary judgment on the first cause of action. The California Supreme Court then granted review of the Court of Appeal's opinion and ordered briefing deferred pending its decision in Ixchel Pharma, LLC v. Biogen, Inc., S256927. On August 3, 2020, the Supreme Court issued Ixchel Pharma, LLC v. Biogen, Inc., 9 Cal.5th 1130 (2020), which held “a rule of reason applies to determine the validity of a contractual provision by which a business is restrained from engaging in a lawful trade or business with another business.” The Quidel matter was transferred back to the Court of Appeals with directions to vacate its previous opinion and reconsider the case in light of Ixchel. The appellate court issued a new opinion in which it concluded the trial court’s decision was incorrect. The trial court was directed to vacate the December 7, 2018 order granting summary adjudication on the first cause of action. View "Quidel Corporation v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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The trial court found defendants Peng Xufeng and Jia Siyu filed a frivolous anti-SLAPP motion against Changsha Metro Group Co., Ltd. (Changsha). Changsha sued defendants for: (1) breach of fiduciary duty; (2) constructive fraud; (3) aiding and abetting; (4) unjust enrichment; and (5) a constructive trust. Defendants responded with an anti-SLAPP motion. The trial court ordered defendants to pay Changsha $61,915 for Changsha’s attorney’s fees in opposing the anti-SLAPP motion. Defendants contended the trial court erred in awarding attorney’s fees to Changsha because: (1) defendants were not given a 21-day safe harbor period; and (2)Changsha requested attorney’s fees in its opposition to the anti-SLAPP motion, rather than in a separate motion. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court. View "Changsha Metro Group Co. v. Xufeng" on Justia Law

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Under the Santa Cruz Mobilehome Ordinance, a park owner may make an annual general rent adjustment without notice to the county, based on specified criteria. An owner who believes the annual adjustment does not provide for “a just and reasonable return” may petition for a special rent increase. Pinto, a 177-space mobile home park, filed a special petition seeking to increase rents by 47 percent. Notice was provided to the residents, who hired counsel and submitted objections. A hearing officer denied the proposed increase. Pinto filed a petition for administrative mandamus and complaint for declarative relief naming the county and the hearing officer as respondents. The county argued that Pinto failed to join the mobile home park residents as indispensable parties under Code of Civil Procedure section 389. Instead of amending its complaint/petition, Pinto elected to stand on the original pleadings. A judgment of dismissal was entered.The court of appeal remanded The trial court, citing Code of Civil Procedure section 389(a), concluded that the residents are necessary parties but did not address section 389(b)--whether the case should be dismissed due to the residents’ absence. The parties disagreed about whether the statute of limitations had run on joinder and the owner’s election to stand on its original pleading truncated the process. The court granted the unopposed motion to dismiss without deciding whether the residents could be made parties or whether the lawsuit could continue without them. View "Pinto Lake MHP LLC v. County of Santa Cruz" on Justia Law

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Two powerful friends decided to take out significant loans in order to invest in a purported business opportunity overseas. The business opportunity was in reality, a scam. The friends offered as collateral assets which were not theirs to encumber. The third party to whom the assets belonged had no idea the assets were being so encumbered. And the "lender" was another investor in the scam intent on recouping its investment. The opportunity was "a complete bust," and the friends were unable to pay the loans back. The lender sued to collect what was owed and foreclose on its secured interest in the offered collateral. The friends failed to answer the lawsuit, and a default judgment was obtained. The lender then began to execute on its judgment. The issues presented for the Court of Appeal's review centered on two main issues: (1) whether the default judgment was void; and (2) assuming it was valid, whether the trial court should have vacated the default and default judgment under its statutory and equitable powers. The Court determined the order denying the motion to vacate default judgment should have been reversed, and the matter remanded for the trial court to vacate the default, default judgment and an assignment order (entered April 30, 2018). View "Luxury Asset Lending v. Philadelphia Television Network" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal held that Code of Civil Procedure section 351 impermissibly burdens interstate commerce, and thus the dormant Commerce Clause, when it is used to toll the statute of limitations against a judgment debtor who moved away from California to engage in commerce after the judgment was entered.The court affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment to debtor on the ground that creditor's lawsuit is time-barred. In this case, creditor filed suit in 2018 to enforce a 1997 judgment against a judgment debtor who departed California in 1998 to start a new business in Nevada. In light of the general law governing the dormant Commerce Clause, and the specific application of that law to tolling statutes aimed at out-of-state defendants in Bendix Autolite Corp. v. Midwesco Enterprises, Inc. (1988) 486 U.S. 888, the court explained that analyzing whether section 351 violates that clause is a three-step process: first, the court determined that debtor engaged in interstate commerce; second, section 351 does not discriminate against interstate commerce in purpose or practical effect; and third, section 351 places burdens on interstate commerce that are clearly excessive in relation to its putative local benefits. The court rejected creditor's arguments to the contrary. View "Arrow Highway Steel, Inc. v. Dubin" on Justia Law

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Olson is a driver for Lyft, whose terms of service include an agreement he could not bring a Private Attorney General Act (PAGA), Labor Code 2698, claim in court, and that disputes with Lyft must be resolved by individual arbitration. Olson sued Lyft alleging six PAGA claims. Lyft petitioned to compel to arbitration. The petition acknowledged that a 2014 precedent (Iskanian) precluded enforcement of PAGA waivers, but asserted that Iskanian was wrongly decided and was no longer good law in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 decision, Epic Systems. The trial court rejected Lyft’s arguments.The court of appeal affirmed. Epic Systems addressed the question of whether the NLRA renders unenforceable arbitration agreements containing class action waivers that interfere with workers’ right to engage in “concerted activities.” It did not address private attorney general laws like PAGA or qui tam suit. View "Olson v. Lyft, Inc." on Justia Law

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Auburn Woods I Homeowners Association (HOA) and its property manager Frei Real Estate Services (FRES), tendered the defense of two lawsuits filed against them by a member of HOA under HOA’s condominium/association policy. HOA’s insurer, State Farm Insurance Company (State Farm), denied the tender for the first lawsuit, but accepted defense of the second lawsuit as to HOA only. HOA and Al Frei, individually and doing business as FRES, sued State Farm and its agent Frank Lewis for, among other things, breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The trial court entered judgment in favor of State Farm and Lewis after a bench trial. HOA and Frei appealed, contending: (1) the trial court erred in concluding that State Farm did not owe a duty to defend HOA and FRES against the first lawsuit; (2) HOA had a reasonable expectation that FRES would be covered under the directors and officers liability provision of its policy; (3) State Farm failed to reimburse HOA for post-tender expenses related to the second lawsuit; (4) Lewis breached his contract with HOA by failing to include FRES as an additional insured and failing to alert HOA and Frei that itwas not possible to include FRES under the directors and officers liability provision; (5) State Farm breached the covenant of good faith and fair dealing implied in HOA’s policy; and (6) the trial court erred in denying HOA and Frei’s motion to tax the expert witness fees State Farm and Lewis sought to recover under Code of Civil Procedure section 998. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded: (1) State Farm did not have a duty to defend HOA and FRES against the first lawsuit; (2) HOA and Frei failed to establish that FRES should have been deemed an insured under the directors and officers liability provision; (3) substantial evidence supported the trial court’s finding that HOA did not present State Farm with a clear statement of the amount of attorney’s fees and costs HOA incurred in defending against the second lawsuit; (4) HOA and Frei did not establish the alleged contract between Lewis and HOA; (5) HOA and Frei failed to demonstrate error with regard to their breach of implied covenant cause of action; and (6) State Farm and Lewis’s pretrial offer to compromise was effective to trigger cost shifting under section 998. View "Auburn Woods I Homeowners Assn. v. State Farm General Ins. Co." on Justia Law