Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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Proposition 66, the Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act of 2016, changed the procedures governing petitions for writs of habeas corpus in capital cases. It ended the practice of capital defendants initiating habeas proceedings in the Supreme Court, in favor of having the “court which imposed the sentence” decide the petitions in the first instance. (Pen. Code 1509(a).) Proposition 66 authorized the Supreme Court to transfer pending petitions to the sentencing court. After the passage of Proposition 66, the Supreme Court transferred Salcido’s pending petition to San Mateo County, where Salcido was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. The state sought transfer of the petition to Sonoma County, which is where Salcido was initially charged before the case was transferred due to pretrial publicity. The trial court granted the transfer. The court of appeal granted Salcido mandamus relief; his habeas petition must remain in San Mateo County. The Supreme Court, by transferring Salcido’s petition to San Mateo County pursuant to Proposition 66, has already determined that San Mateo County is the “court which imposed the sentence” and must decide the petition. No lower court may second-guess that decision. There is no statutory basis supporting the position that San Mateo County, as the sentencing court, may transfer the petition to another county. View "Salcido v. Superior Court of San Mateo County" on Justia Law

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After defendant's dog killed plaintiff's cat, the parties settled for $2,000 and a written agreement with a non-disparagement clause. However, defendant then posted a hostile message on a neighborhood blog about plaintiff, who responded by suing defendant and his wife for breach of contract, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Defendant and his wife filed an anti-SLAPP motion under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of defendant's anti-SLAPP motion and held that there was no public interest in defendant's internet post about plaintiff. In this case, neither party was in the public eye; none of their acts directly affected a large number of people beyond the three households; and there was no issue of public interest when the speaker's words were merely an effort to gather ammunition for another round in the speaker's neighborhood wrangle. View "Jeppson v. Ley" on Justia Law

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Adams pleaded no contest to inflicting corporal injury and was placed on formal probation. Defense counsel argued Adams did not have the ability to pay fines or fees; he was homeless and did not have a job. The court did not impose a $330 restitution fund fine or a probation revocation fine but imposed $40 court operations and $30 court facilities funding assessments, a $129.75 criminal justice administration fee, and a $25-per-month probation fee. Later, Adams pleaded no contest in another case for failing to register as a sex offender. Adams again received formal probation. The court imposed a $300 restitution fine plus $30 for administrative costs (Pen. Code 1202.4(b)(1), (l)); imposed but suspended a $300 probation revocation fine (Pen. Code 1202.44); imposed $40 court operations (Pen. Code 1465.8) and $30 court facilities funding assessments (Gov. Code 70373) but did not impose the criminal justice administration fee based on inability to pay. Later, the court revoked probation in both cases and sentenced Adams to prison. The previously-suspended probation revocation fine was ordered to be paid; two $300 parole revocation fines were imposed but suspended. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting an argument that the trial court violated Adams’s federal due process rights by imposing fines and fees without assessing his ability to pay. The court reasoned that the 2019 decision, People v. Dueñas, was wrongly decided and factually distinguishable. View "People v. Adams" on Justia Law

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Kerbs was found not guilty by reason of insanity of assault with a deadly weapon and was committed to the state hospital system for a maximum of four years. Other than two limited periods of conditional release, his commitment was extended over 20 years. The state sought to again extend the commitment. Dr. Mancusi testified as an expert in violence risk assessment, psychodiagnostic assessment, and psychological treatment. She had been Kerbs’s unit psychologist for about four and one-half years. She testified that Kerbs, then 61 years old, suffered from schizophrenia, and that “lacking engagement in treatment and lacking insight into his mental disorder,” Kerbs did “continue to pose a significant risk for violence without sufficient support and supervision.” Kerbs had made statements that concerned her and had expressed an intention to continue his medication. Mancusi believed that his risk in the community without supervision was in the high range. On cross-examination, Mancusi acknowledged that she had never seen Kerbs “place his hands on anyone,” but she had “witnessed him act in an intimidating manner.” The court extended his civil commitment under Penal Code section 1026.51 for two years. The court of appeal reversed. The expert testimony did not show either that Kerbs ever physically harmed another while confined or that he has difficulty controlling “dangerous behavior,” so the court’s finding of dangerousness was not supported by substantial evidence. View "People v. Kerbs" on Justia Law

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Brome started with the California Highway Patrol in 1996; he transferred offices twice. Other officers subjected Brome, who was openly gay, to derogatory comments; singled him out for pranks; and refused to provide him with backup assistance. Brome filed administrative complaints, including with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The incidents continued. Brome won the Solano Area Officer of the Year Award in 2013, but the Patrol never displayed his photograph, in a break from office practice. Through 2014, Brome complained to his superiors. The problems continued and Brome feared for his life during enforcement stops, experienced headaches, muscle pain, stomach issues, anxiety, and stress, and became suicidal. Brome went on medical leave and filed a successful workers’ compensation claim. He took industrial disability retirement. The court dismissed his claims under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (Gov. Code 12900), as untimely, rejecting Brome’s claim that he was constructively discharged. The court of appeal reversed. The filing of the workers’ compensation claim could equitably toll the one-year deadline for filing his discrimination claim; equitable tolling would not prejudice the Patrol. After years of harassment, Brome was struggling to recover; although 11 months elapsed, Brome can meet the good faith requirement. While it is not the only possible conclusion, there is enough evidence for a reasonable trier of fact to conclude that the Patrol knowingly permitted the conditions and should have known that a reasonable employee would resign. View "Brome v. California Highway Patrol" on Justia Law

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Douglas Roger, an orthopedic surgeon, sued respondents Riverside County (the County) and its sheriff’s department after they falsely reported he had been charged with a felony. In an earlier civil action, the Riverside Superior Court held Roger in civil contempt for refusing to produce his patients’ medical records in discovery, and remanded him to jail, where he spent 52 days in custody. When the sheriff’s department booked him into custody, they incorrectly entered his civil violation in their electronic database as a felony charge, and then reported that inaccurate charge to the California Department of Justice (DOJ), creating a false criminal record for Roger. Among other things, he alleged he lost a lucrative hospital contract he had maintained for the previous 12 years as a result of the respondents’ error. The trial court sustained respondents’ demurrer to Roger's 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim and later disposed of the remaining causes of action at the summary judgment stage. The court concluded Roger had failed to state a section 1983 claim as a matter of law because he had not alleged facts “establishing the nature of [respondents’] training program” and therefore failed to allege the training was so obviously inadequate as to amount to deliberate indifference to inmates’ civil rights. The court dismissed the defamation claims because the undisputed evidence showed Roger had failed to comply with the claim presentation requirements in the Government Claims Act by filing a late claim for damages with the County. The court concluded the writ claim failed because the undisputed evidence showed respondents had fixed the error in Roger’s record during the litigation, and therefore their recordkeeping errors amounted to a past wrong, not a present controversy. Finally, the court concluded there was no legal basis for declaratory relief because respondents were under no ministerial duty to act— that is, to maintain correct records. On appeal, Roger challenged the court’s dismissal of each of his claims. After review, the Court of Appeals determined there was merit to all of Roger's claims and reversed judgment. View "Roger v. County of Riverside" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that a security guard sexually harassed them with his metal detecting wand during the courthouse entry screening process. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment against plaintiffs, holding that substantial evidence supported the trial court's fact finding. The trial court found that plaintiffs failed to prove sexual harassment by a preponderance of the evidence. Rather, the trial court found clear and convincing evidence there had been no sexual harassment. In this case, the screening procedures are public and monitored by video; few witnesses saw the allegedly inappropriate wanding; and the video evidence clearly refutes plaintiffs' claims. The court rejected plaintiffs' claims that the trial court committed legal error by failing in the statement of decision to apply and to cite three cases; because substantial evidence supports the finding there was no hostile environment sexual harassment, it was unnecessary for the trial court to make findings about when Ventura Superior Court knew about non-harassing conduct; the trial court in fact did make the findings plaintiffs complained were omitted; claims of error regarding the trial court's decision and conduct as evidence of gender bias were rejected; and challenges to the statement of decision rejected. View "Schmidt v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Sony, the Estate of Michael J. Jackson, and MJJ Productions appealed from the superior court's order partially denying their motion to strike under the anti-SLAPP statute. Plaintiff alleged that defendants marketed a posthumous Michael Jackson album in violation of the Unfair Competition Law (UCL) and the Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA). Plaintiff also brought a fraud claim against the Cascio Defendants, alleging that they knowingly misrepresented to defendants that Jackson was the lead singer on the three tracks at issue. Upon reconsideration in light of FilmOn.com Inc. v. Double Verify Inc. (2019) 7 Cal.5th 133, the Court of Appeal held that its prior opinion was correct. In the prior opinion, the court held that plaintiff's claims against defendants arose from conduct furthering defendants' right of free speech in connection with a public issue, and that plaintiff did not show a probability that her claims under the UCL and the CLRA would succeed because the claims concern noncommercial speech that is not actionable under those statutes. The court largely adopted the prior opinion, except that it revised the discussion of the first step of the anti-SLAPP procedure to take into account the FilmOn decision and its application to the circumstances of this case. The court held that defendants' challenged statements were sufficiently connected to an issue of public interest to warrant anti-SLAPP protection. In this case, the representations that plaintiff challenged did not simply promote sale of the album, but also stated a position on a disputed issue of public interest. View "Serova v. Sony Music Entertainment" on Justia Law

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Jeremiah Smith filed a class action complaint against LoanMe, Inc., alleging that LoanMe violated the California Invasion of Privacy Act. Smith alleged that LoanMe violated Penal Code section 632.7 by recording a phone call with Smith without his consent while he was using a cordless telephone, and he claimed that a “beep tone” at the beginning of the call did not constitute sufficient notice that LoanMe was recording the call. In a bifurcated trial about the beep tone issue, the trial court concluded that: (1) the beep tone provided sufficient notice to Smith that the call was being recorded; and (2) Smith implicitly consented to being recorded by remaining on the call. The Court of Appeal concluded section 632.7 prohibited only third party eavesdroppers from intentionally recording telephonic communications involving at least one cellular or cordless telephone. Conversely, section 632.7 did not prohibit the participants in a phone call from intentionally recording it. Consequently, Smith failed to state a claim against LoanMe under section 632.7. The Court therefore affirmed dismissal of Smith’s lawsuit. View "Smith v. LoanMe, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of defendants' anit-SLAPP motion in an action brought by plaintiffs for express indemnity, equitable indemnity, contribution and declaratory relief. The trial court held that none of plaintiffs' claims arose from protected speech or petitioning activity within the meaning of the anti-SLAPP statute, Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16. The court affirmed and held that plaintiffs' cross-complaint did not arise from defendants' protected petitioning activity. In this case, plaintiffs' cross-complaint arose from the alleged breach of their agreement to indemnify plaintiffs for any liability attributable to information provided by defendants or defendants' representatives and defendants' underlying fault with regard to their decisionmaking. View "C.W. Howe Partners Inc. v. Mooradian" on Justia Law