Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Plaintiff appealed the probate court's order striking her petition to enforce a no contest clause in a trust under the anti-SLAPP statute, Code of Civil Procedure 425.16, and denying her motion to recover attorney fees. The Court of Appeal agreed with the probate court, and with a recent decision by Division Five of this district, that the anti-SLAPP statute applies to a petition such as plaintiff's seeking to enforce a no contest clause. However, the court held that plaintiff adequately demonstrated a likelihood of success under the second step of the anti-SLAPP procedure. In this case, defendant's judicial defense of the 2007 Amendment to the Trust that she procured through undue influence met the Trust's definition of a contest that triggered the no contest clause. Furthermore, under sections 21310 and 21311, that clause was enforceable against defendant. The court also held that plaintiff provided sufficient evidence that defendant lacked probable cause to defend the 2007 Amendment. The court held that the findings of the probate court concerning defendant's undue influence, which this court affirmed, provided a sufficient basis to conclude that plaintiff has shown a probability of success on her No Contest Petition. Finally, the court held that plaintiff had the contractual right to seek reimbursement of her attorney fees incurred in resisting defendant's appeal of the probate court's ruling invalidating the 2007 Amendment. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "Key v. Tyler" on Justia Law

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In the underlying actions, the People asserted claims under Business and Professions Code section 17501 against real parties in interest and alleged that real parties sold products online by means of misleading, deceptive or untrue statements regarding the former prices of those products. The trial court sustained real parties' demurrer without leave to amend on the ground that the statute was void for vagueness as applied to real parties. The Court of Appeal granted the petition for writ of mandate seeking relief from the ruling regarding the section 17501 claims, and held that real parties failed to demonstrate any constitutional defect on demurrer. Regarding real parties' challenge to section 17501 as an unconstitutional regulation of free speech, as a preliminary matter, the court rejected petitioner's contention that the statute targets only false, misleading or deceptive commercial speech; the plain language of the statute restricts protected commercial speech and thus, the statute was subject to the test for constitutional validity set forth in Central Hudson Gas & Elec. v. Public Serv. Comm'n (1980) 447 U.S. 557, 566; and, because the undeveloped record was inadequate to apply the test, real parties' "free speech" challenge necessarily failed on demurrer. The court also rejected real parties' contention that section 17501 was void for vagueness, and rejected the facial and as-applied challenges. View "People v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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In 1988, at age 17, Palmer pled guilty to kidnapping for robbery and was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. He became eligible for parole in 1996 and, over the next 19 years, had 10 parole suitability hearings at which parole was denied. While challenging the denial of parole at a 2015 hearing Palmer also sought habeas corpus relief, citing the Eighth Amendment. On December 6, 2018, the Board held a new parole suitability hearing, as ordered by the reviewing court, and found Palmer suitable for release on parole. The court of appeal concluded that the serial denials of parole Palmer experienced resulted in punishment so disproportionate to his individual culpability for the offense he committed, that it must be deemed constitutionally excessive and that Palmer is entitled to release from all forms of custody, including parole supervision. The court noted that such challenges based on the length of prison time already served are rare. View "In re Palmer" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of defendants' special motion to strike under the anti-SLAPP statute, because information about the views from a private residence affecting only those directly interested in buying or selling that house is not an issue of public interest. The court also held that plaintiff was entitled to attorney fees and therefore reversed the trial court's ruling on that issue. The court also granted plaintiff's motion for sanctions. View "Workman v. Colichman" on Justia Law

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Following a murder trial, the foreperson wrote a note stating the jury was deadlocked on count 2, and “[f]rustrations are running high.” A second note stated, “I do not feel the dissenting juror is basing their dissent on reasonable doubt.” In subsequent questioning, the foreperson and Juror 10 indicated dissatisfaction with Juror 11. The judge questioned and discharged Juror 11, under Penal Code section 1089. The court of appeal reversed, noting the risk to a defendant’s right to due process and a fair trial by an unbiased jury. A trial court must “rely on evidence, that in light of the entire record, supports its conclusions” that a juror was actually unable to perform. Juror 11 “fail[ed] to agree with the majority of other jurors [and] persist[ed] in expressing doubts about the sufficiency of the evidence in support of the majority view” and had trouble “articulat[ing] the exact basis for disagreement after a complicated trial,” but these circumstances do not amount to juror misconduct. It is not a ground to discharge a juror because he “relies on faulty logic or analysis” or because he “does not deliberate well or skillfully.” The foreperson and Juror 10 did not claim that Juror 11 said he intended to disregard the court’s instructions or he disagreed with the law as instructed by the court. View "People v. Salinas-Jacobo" on Justia Law

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Commissioner, on behalf of preschool teachers employed by the Temple, filed suit alleging that the Temple violated various provisions of the Labor Code by failing to provide its preschool teachers with rest breaks, uninterrupted meal breaks, and overtime pay. The trial court granted summary judgment for the Temple and held that the Commissioner's claims were barred by the ministerial exception. The Court of Appeal reversed and held that the teachers were not "ministers" for purposes of the ministerial exception. In this case, although the Temple's preschool curriculum has both secular and religious content, its teachers were not required to have any formal Jewish education, to be knowledgeable about Jewish belief and practice, or to adhere to the Temple's theology. Furthermore, the Temple did not refer to its teachers as "ministers" or the equivalent, nor did the teachers refer to themselves as such. Therefore, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Su v. Stephen S. Wise Temple" on Justia Law

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Given the plain language of California's open meeting law (the Ralph M. Brown Act), Government Code 54954.3(a), and its legislative history, the Brown Act does not permit limiting comment at special city council meetings based on comments at prior, distinct committee meetings. In this case, petitioner sought a writ of mandate and a declaratory judgment enforcing the Brown Act. The trial court sustained the City's demurrer without leave to amend, and entered a judgment of dismissal. The Court of Appeal reversed, and held that plaintiff stated a claim for a writ of mandate and declaratory relief with regard to the Brown Act. The court held that the trial court erred in holding that the committee exception in Government Code 54954.3(a) applied to special meetings. Rather, the plain language of section 54954.3(a) specified that the committee exception applied only to regular meetings. The court held that plaintiff adequately alleged a claim that he was improperly denied the opportunity to comment on the agenda item at a special meeting, and a pattern of conduct by the City at special city council meetings in violation of the Brown Act. The court affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the California Public Records Act count as duplicative of plaintiff's Brown Act claim. View "Preven v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed Defendant’s conviction of reckless driving, holding that there was sufficient evidence that Defendant acted with wanton disregard for safety, that there was no trial error warranting reversal, and that any error in imposing Defendant’s sentence was harmless. Defendant was convicted of reckless driving after causing a head-on collision that resulted in significant injuries to two victims. The superior court sentenced Defendant to an aggregate term of six years incarceration - the high term of three years for the conviction plus three years for a great-bodily-injury enhancement, to run consecutively. The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding (1) substantial evidence supported Defendant’s conviction; (2) the superior court did not deny Defendant his constitutional right to present a defense by barring him from cross-examining an officer about the details of other accidents near the collision site; (3) a great-bodily-injury enhancement may attach to felony reckless driving; (4) the superior court did not abuse its discretion in deciding to impose the high term in this case; and (5) any error in assessing Defendant’s presumptive probation eligibility was harmless. View "People v. Escarcega" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff, Edward Joseph Mahoney's drummer, was terminated, plaintiff filed suit against Mahoney and others for discrimination on the basis of age, disability, and medical condition. In this appeal, defendants challenged the trial court's denial of a special motion to strike under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16 (the anti-SLAPP motion). The Court of Appeal held that defendants met their burden to establish that Mahoney's decision to terminate plaintiff was protected conduct. The court held that Mahoney's selection of musicians to perform with him was an act in furtherance of the exercise of the right of free speech, an act in connection with an issue of public interest, and plaintiff's first cause of action arose from Mahoney's decision to terminate him. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for the trial court to determine whether plaintiff has demonstrated a probability of prevailing on the merits of his claim. View "Symmonds v. Mahoney" on Justia Law

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Five African-American women on the basketball team at California State University at San Marcos (CSUSM) sued their head coach and the Board of Trustees of the California State University, claiming the coach engaged in race-based discrimination and retaliation: derogatorily referring to them as "the group," reduced their playing time, afforded them fewer opportunities, punished them more severely and generally singled them out for harsher treatment as compared to their non-African-American teammates. The trial court granted both motions for summary judgment filed by the Board, concluding plaintiff Danielle Cooper's claims were untimely and that the remaining plaintiffs could not show a triable issue on the merits. The Court of Appeal reversed summary judgment and directed the court to enter a new order granting summary adjudication on some, but not all, of plaintiffs' claims: plaintiffs cannot sue the Board under 42 United States Code sections 1981 and 1983 because CSUSM was not a "person" subject to suit under those statutes. With regard to the remaining claims brought by the four "freshmen plaintiffs," summary adjudication was improper as to their racial discrimination claims under title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Unruh Civil Rights Act. The Board did not meet its moving burden to show the lack of a triable issue as to whether these plaintiffs suffered a materially adverse action under circumstances suggesting a racially discriminatory motive. For similar reasons, summary adjudication was improper on title VI retaliation claims brought by three of the four freshmen plaintiffs, Lynette Mackey, Kianna Williams, and Sierra Smith: each of these women complained about the coach's discriminatory treatment and indicated how they suffered adverse consequences as a result. The Court reached a different conclusion as to plaintiff Crystal Hicks, who never made a complaint and denied facing any consequences as a result of complaints made by her peers. View "Mackey v. Bd. of Trustees of the Cal. State University" on Justia Law