Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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Defendants appealed the trial court's denial of a motion under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, the anti-SLAPP statute, in a driveway dispute easement action brought by Starview Property. The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that an anti-SLAPP motion may be brought within 60 days of service of an amended complaint if the amended complaint pleads new causes of action that could not have been the target of a prior anti-SLAPP motion, or adds new allegations that make previously pleaded causes of action subject to an anti-SLAPP motion. In this case, Starview's three newly pled causes of action in its amended complaint plainly could not have been the target of a prior motion, even if they arose from protected activity alleged in the original complaint. Therefore, the trial court erred by dismissing defendants' motion as untimely. View "Starview Property, LLC v. Lee" on Justia Law

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An employer can sue for declaratory relief to enforce a superior court judgment unfavorable to the Labor Commissioner without violating the anti-SLAPP statute where, as here, the lawsuit does not arise out of activity protected by the statute. In this case, Supershuttle filed an action for declaratory and injunctive relief against the the Labor defendants, seeking a declaration that the doctrine of collateral estoppel precludes the Labor Commissioner from considering wage claims filed by drivers of Supershuttle vans because the Sacramento Superior Court previously found the drivers were independent contractors, not employees. The court found that the gravamen of Supershuttle's complaint was the harm it will suffer from the intended decision of the Labor defendants to deny collateral estoppel effect to a final decision of the Sacramento Superior Court, not from the Labor defendants' writing or statements preceding or communicating that decision; the Labor defendants have not identified speech or writings made in connection with a public issue or issue of public importance from which the causes of action arise; and the trial court did not conclude that the Labor defendants acted illegally as a matter of law within the meaning of the anti-SLAPP law. The court held that, most importantly, the trial court did not rely on any illegality to deny the Labor defendants' motion to strike, and the court did not rely on any illegality to affirm the trial court's order. View "Supershuttle International, Inc. v. Labor & Workforce Development Agency" on Justia Law

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After a client fired her attorney and his firm, the firm placed a lien on the client's further recovery and filed suit against the client's daughter for defamation. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of the daughter's motion under the anti-SLAPP law. The court held that Bel Air Internet, LLC v. Morales (2018) 20 Cal.App.5th 924, 929, foreclosed the firm's argument that, because the daughter denied making the posts, plaintiffs' cause of action was not arising from any act of the daughter. The court agreed with the trial court's conclusion that plaintiffs did not make a prima facie showing that the daughter was legally responsible for the Yelp review postings that underly their defamation claim. In this case, the posts themselves did not establish that the daughter was the author or poster, because none of the posts were in her name and their content suggested that the author was the client, the one represented by the attorney and law firm. The court rejected plaintiffs' remaining arguments and held that the daughter was entitled to her costs on appeal. View "Abir Cohen Treyzon Salo, LLP v. Lahiji" on Justia Law

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The Teamsters Union represents skilled crafts employees at UCLA and UCSD and was campaigning to unionize University of California Davis (UCD) employees. Teamsters distributed a flyer making statements about the impact that unionizing had upon the skilled crafts employees at UCLA and UCSD. In response, Regents distributed an “HR Bulletin,” stating: “the University is neutral on the issue of unionization” and that UCLA and UCSD employees had been in extensive contract negotiations, which had the effect of freezing salaries for several years. The flier included favorable statements about UCD salaries, benefits, and grievance procedures. Teamsters filed suit, citing Government Code 16645.6, which prohibits a public employer from using state funds to “assist, promote, or deter union organizing.” Regents filed an "anti-SLAPP" special motion to strike (Code of Civil Procedure 425.16) arguing that the complaint arose from protected conduct: a statement made in a place open to the public in connection with an issue of public interest; that Teamsters could not demonstrate a probability of prevailing on its claim because the action was preempted by the exclusive jurisdiction of the Public Employment Relations’ Board (PERB); and that nothing in section 11645.6 prohibited noncoercive speech. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the anti-SLAPP motion. PERB had exclusive jurisdiction over unfair labor practices. The bulletin was not alleged to be an unfair labor practice. The bulletin could be construed as an attempt to influence the employees, so Teamsters had a reasonable probability of prevailing on its section 16645.6 claim. View "Teamsters Local 2010 v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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In 2006, SFSU hired Gupta, an American woman of Indian ancestry, as a tenure-track assistant professor. In 2009, Gupta and other women of color in the School of Social Work raised issues concerning “hostile work environment” and discrimination. Two months later, Gupta received a critical fourth-year review. Shortly thereafter, Gupta sent emails to a colleague complaining that her workplace was hostile towards women of color. Her supervisor told Gupta “I know about [the emails] ... I’m going to get even.” Another professor witnessed the exchange. After being denied early tenure Gupta filed an EEOC complaint and a federal lawsuit. An arbitrator ordered SFSU to review Gupta for tenure the following year. Despite excellent evaluations and recommendations, Gupta was denied tenure; her supervisor made threatening remarks to a colleague who questioned the decision. SFSU granted tenure to Dr. J.H., another School of Social Work professor, who had not filed a complaint. Gupta’s scores were better than J.H.’s scores and Gupta had more than double the minimum publication requirement, while J.H. had not met that requirement. SFSU terminated Gupta’s employment in 2014. A jury awarded Gupta $378,461 for retaliation; the court awarded $587,160.75 in attorney fees and costs. SFSU has reinstated Gupta as a tenured professor. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting arguments that the trial court erred in: allowing Gupta to present evidence of a “comparator professor” without requiring her to show her qualifications were clearly superior; refusing to give a special jury instruction regarding comparator evidence; and intervening in the questioning of witnesses in a manner that favored Gupta. View "Gupta v. Trustees of the California State University" on Justia Law

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After the City filed suit against plaintiffs from their jobs as hearing examiners at the Department of Transportation, they filed suit alleging violations of the Bane Act and a claim for whistleblower retaliation. The jury found for plaintiffs and the trial court assessed a penalty under the Private Attorney General Act (PAGA), awarding them attorney fees. The court held that plaintiffs have established a prima facie case of retaliation; assumed that the City established legitimate, nonretaliatory reasons for firing plaintiffs; and held that there was evidence to support the jury's finding that the City's proffered reasons for firing plaintiffs were pretextual. In this case, there was evidence plaintiffs were not fired because of how they conducted hearings or for behavioral problems. Rather, a jury could have reasonably inferred that the City was punishing plaintiffs for their prior complaints. The court rejected the City's contention that the penalty award must be reversed based on plaintiffs' failure to comply with prefiling notice requirements, and held that attorney fees were appropriately awarded under Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5. Finally, the court held that it need not reach the Bane Act issues. View "Hawkins v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of plaintiff's petition for writ of administrative mandate, arguing that the University's disciplinary proceeding concerning his sexual misconduct with another student was unfair and the evidence did not support the adjudicator's findings. The court held that plaintiff's hearing was fair where the University's policy complied with all the procedural requirements identified by California cases dealing with sexual misconduct disciplinary proceedings: both sides had notice of the charges and hearing and had access to the evidence, the hearing included live testimony and written reports of witness interviews, the critical witnesses appeared in person at the hearing so that the adjudicator could evaluate their credibility, and the respondent had an opportunity to propose questions for the adjudicator to ask the complainant. The court also held that plaintiff's contentions that the hearing was unfair were meritless where his arguments concerning the charge evaluation worksheet were forfeited and did not support mandamus relief; the hearing coordinator was not biased; the independent adjudicator was not biased; and there was no cumulative impact. Therefore, the court held that there was substantial evidence that plaintiff should have known that the student was incapacitated. View "Doe v. Occidental College" on Justia Law

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Minton, a transgender man diagnosed with gender dysphoria, sued under the Unruh Civil Rights Act, Civil Code 51(b), which guarantees “full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind.” Minton’s physician, Dr. Dawson, scheduled Minton's hysterectomy at Mercy, which is part of Dignity Health. Minton told a Mercy nurse that he is transgender. The following day, Mercy notified Dawson that the procedure was canceled. Mercy’s president, Ivie, informed Dawson that she would “never” be allowed to perform Minton's hysterectomy at Mercy because it was “part of a course of treatment for gender dysphoria, as opposed to any other medical diagnosis.” At Ivie's suggestion, Dawson was able to get emergency admitting privileges at Methodist Hospital, a non-Catholic Dignity hospital about 30 minutes away. Dawson performed Minton’s hysterectomy at Methodist three days later. Dignity argued that as a Catholic hospital, Mercy is bound to follow its facially neutral “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which prohibit direct sterilization and require that bodily and functional integrity be preserved. The court of appeal reversed the dismissal of Minton’s complaint. Without determining the right of Dignity to provide its services in such cases at alternative facilities, the complaint alleges that Dignity initially failed to do so and that the subsequent rectification of its denial, while likely mitigating plaintiff’s damages, did not extinguish his discrimination claim. View "Minton v. Dignity Health" on Justia Law

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A warrant issued for the search of Klugman’s residence and his dental practice, authorizing the seizure evidence of child pornography. Officers seized extensive electronic evidence contained on multiple devices. Klugman was charged with knowingly possessing images of minors engaging in or simulating sexual conduct. In a motion to suppress, Klugman cited the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, sections 1538.5 and 1546.4(a), asserting that the warrant lacked particularity and probable cause and “contained no limiting time periods, specific accounts, precise descriptions of the types of information, or particular electronic devices that could be seized. Nor did it contain any safeguards such as sealing or the appointment of a referee to preserve the privacy of seized information unrelated to the purpose of the warrant. Instead, it authorized a ‘complete dump’ of all electronic devices ... including thousands of patient records.” The court of appeal affirmed. Even disregarding timeliness issues, the trial court did not err. The reports based on information derived from third parties were not conclusory, were not stale, and were reliable and corroborative; inferences from tips were reinforced by the opinion of the affiant, a 20-year veteran who relied on his training, experience, and conversations with other officers and with the computer forensics expert. While the warrant for Klugman’s equipment did not dictate that medical information about Klugman’s patients be sealed in compliance with HIPAA, investigating officers previewed material at the scene, “thus addressing the issue noted in the statute.” View "Klugman v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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After defendant was convicted of violent felonies in three different cases, he received a 51 year aggregate sentence in 2005 pursuant to a plea agreement. After his petition for habeas corpus was granted in 2017, he was resentenced to an aggregate sentence of 45 years and eight months. Defendant argued that his two consecutive one year sentences imposed as part of the resentencing should be vacated because they were unlawful under California Rules of Court, rule 4.452. The Court of Appeal held that the habeas order was not void, because defendant was entitled to petition the superior court for a writ of habeas corpus without first obtaining a certificate of probable cause, the superior court could change an unlawful sentence at any time, and the court could reconsider the sentence upon notice from California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation of its possible illegality. The court also held that defendant may raise his Rule 4.452 claim without a certificate of probable cause, and the two sentences he challenged must be vacated as unlawful. The court agreed with the People that remand regarding the firearm sentencing enhancements would be futile and therefore affirmed those sentences. View "People v. Allison" on Justia Law