Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
by
Plaintiffs filed suit alleging discrimination under Government Code section 11135 based on a requirement that all San Diego County applicants eligible for the state's CalWORKs (welfare) program participate in a home visit. The County demurred, arguing there was no discriminatory effect on of the program, no disparate impact caused by the home visits, and the parties lacked standing to sue. The superior court granted the demurrer without leave to amend, and entered judgment. Plaintiffs argued on appeal that their complaint stated a viable cause of action. The Court of Appeal disagreed, finding the complaint did not allege a disparate impact on a protected group of individuals and could not be amended to do so. Therefore, the Court affirmed the superior court. View "Villafana v. County of San Diego" on Justia Law

by
The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment denying plaintiff's request for leave to amend and granting Aerospace's motion for summary judgment, in an action alleging that plaintiff was selected for a company-wide reduction in force (RIF) because of his age.The court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying leave to amend. In this case, plaintiff's original and first amended DFEH complaints cannot support class and disparate impact theories of recovery, and thus the new allegations in his second amended DFEH complaint are untimely. As a result, plaintiff cannot show he exhausted his administrative remedies with respect to his proposed class and disparate impact claims. The court also held that the trial court did not err in granting Aerospace's motion for summary judgment where the trial court properly sustained Aerospace's objections to certain exhibits and plaintiff failed to create a triable issue of fact to withstand summary judgment. Aerospace submitted evidence showing it instituted the company-wide RIF after learning it faced potentially severe cuts to its funding, and plaintiff failed to offer substantial evidence showing that Aerospace's reasons were untrue or pretextual. View "Foroudi v. The Aerospace Corp." on Justia Law

by
The court of appeal upheld the dismissal of a claim against a school district under the Unruh Civil Rights Act (Civ. Code 51), A school district is not a business establishment and cannot be sued under the Unruh Act even where, as in this case, the alleged discriminatory conduct is actionable under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) (42 U.S.C. 12101).The California Supreme Court has not considered whether a government entity, specifically an agent of the state performing a state constitutional obligation is a business establishment within the meaning of the Act. The court of appeal examined the historical genesis of the Act and the Act’s limited legislative history. Public school districts are, nonetheless, subject to stringent anti-discrimination laws set forth in the Education Code and the comprehensive anti-discrimination provisions set forth in the Government Code and applicable to all government entities, as well as federal constitutional mandates (actionable under 42 U.S.C. 1983), and statutes such as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (20 U.S.C. 1681), Title II of the ADA (42 U.S.C. 12131), and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (29 U.S.C. 794). View "Brennon B. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

by
The Court of Appeal affirmed the reappointment of S.A.'s conservator under the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act and the trial court's order that she can be medicated against her will. The court held that substantial evidence showed that S.A. was gravely disabled where S.A. had schizophrenia and lacked insight about her mental illness, S.A. would not take medication without the support of a conservator, and S.A. cannot provide for herself without a conservatorship and without medication. The court also held that the involuntary medication order was proper because substantial evidence established S.A. was unable to make informed treatment decisions. View "Y.A. v. S.A." on Justia Law

by
Epstein, an optometrist, entered into a VSP “Network Doctor Agreement.” VSP audited of Epstein’s claims for reimbursement, concluded he was knowingly purchasing lenses from an unapproved supplier, and terminated the provider agreement. The agreement included a two-step dispute resolution procedure: the “Fair Hearing” step provided for an internal “VSP Peer Review.” If the dispute remained unresolved, the agreement required binding arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), under procedures set forth in the policy. A “Fair Hearing” panel upheld the termination.Instead of invoking the arbitration provision, Epstein filed an administrative mandamus proceeding, alleging the second step of the process was contrary to California law requiring certain network provider contracts to include a procedure for prompt resolution of disputes and expressly stating arbitration “shall not be deemed” such a mechanism. (28 Cal. Code Regs 1300.71.38.) He claimed that state law was not preempted by the FAA, citing the McCarran-Ferguson Act, which generally exempts from federal law, state laws enacted to regulate the business of insurance.The court of appeal affirmed the rejection of those challenges. State regulatory law requiring certain network provider agreements to include a dispute resolution process that is not arbitration pertains only to the first step of the dispute resolution process and does not foreclose the parties from agreeing to arbitration in lieu of subsequent judicial review. While the arbitration provision is procedurally unconscionable in minor respects, Epstein failed to establish that it is substantively unconscionable. View "Epstein v. Vision Service Plan" on Justia Law

by
In 2014, a single Riverside County, California Superior Court judge signed 602 orders authorizing wiretaps, which was approximately 17 percent of all wiretaps authorized by all the state and federal courts in the nation. In 2015, the same judge and one other authorized 640 wiretaps, approximately 15 percent of all wiretaps in the country. Plaintiff-appellant Miguel Guerrero was targeted by a wiretap that a Riverside County judge authorized in 2015. Guerrero, who had never been arrested or charged with a crime in connection with the wiretap, wanted to know why he was targeted, and he believed the sheer number of wiretaps in those years raised significant doubts about whether the wiretaps complied with constitutional requirements. Relying on California's wiretap statutes and the First Amendment, he asked a trial court to allow him to inspect the wiretap order, application and intercepted communications. The trial court denied this request. After review, the Court of Appeal determined the trial court applied the wrong standard in considering Plaintiff's application under wiretap statutes, which closely paralleled statutes under federal law. The matter was remanded so that the trial court could properly exercise its discretion, and the Court provided guidance on the appropriate standard. Given this holding on the statutory issue, the Court declined to address the contention, advanced by Guerrero and an amicus brief, that the public had a First Amendment right of access to the wiretap materials. View "Guerrero v. Hestrin" on Justia Law

by
Von Staich is incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison, based on 1986 second-degree murder and attempted murder convictions. In May 2020, he sought habeas corpus relief, citing the COVID-19 pandemic. Shortly thereafter, San Quentin suffered a COVID-19 outbreak that infected approximately 75 percent of the inmate population and dozens of prison staff in just weeks. Von Staich is 64 years old and suffers respiratory problems resulting from bullet fragments lodged in his lung; he claimed that he and a 65-year-old cellmate, both of whom had tested positive for COVID-19 (Van Staich was asymptomatic), were in an extremely small open cell and that there is no opportunity for social distancing.The court directed the Warden to transfer Von Staich to a suitable quarantine location, finding that the Warden and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) have acted with deliberate indifference. There is ongoing federal litigation concerning inadequate medical care due to severe overcrowding in the California correctional system and San Quentin has particular risk factors, caused by the age and architecture of the facility. The court acknowledged that the existing Eighth Amendment violation will continue until the population at San Quentin can be reduced to the 50 percent level. Unless CDCR’s existing expedited release programs are sufficient to promptly achieve this population reduction—which, the sheer numbers indicate they cannot be—CDCR will have to find additional means of releasing or transferring prisoners out of San Quentin. View "In re Von Staich" on Justia Law

by
McDowell and Hutchison planned and executed a burglary and an attempted armed robbery of a drug dealer. Hutchison shot and killed the drug dealer. McDowell was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole after a jury convicted him of first-degree murder and found true robbery-murder and burglary-murder special circumstances. McDowell filed a habeas corpus petition, challenging the special circumstance findings. The California Supreme Court returned the case to the court of appeal with directions to reconsider the case in light of its 2020 Scoggins opinion.The court of appeal again concluded that the special circumstance findings are adequately supported. Under the first-degree felony-murder rule, a defendant who aided and abetted the underlying felony but was not the actual killer may only be subject to life imprisonment without parole if the prosecution proves special circumstances: either the defendant intended to kill or aided and abetted the commission of a specified felony “with reckless indifference to human life and as a major participant.” McDowell helped plan the robbery, knocked on the door, and entered first, brandishing a knife to facilitate Hutchison’s entrance. McDowell’s decision to arm himself should be viewed in combination with the particularly risky crime that he planned —a home invasion robbery of a methamphetamine dealer. The potential for violence was obvious. McDowell had an opportunity to restrain Hutchison, or otherwise intervene, either when he entered the house and realized they would be outnumbered or after Hutchison fired a warning shot. View "In re McDowell" on Justia Law

by
In 1993, Butler was convicted of raping two women and assault with intent to commit rape of a juvenile and sentenced to 18 years in prison. In 2006, before his release, the District Attorney filed a petition to commit Butler under the Sexually Violent Predators (SVP) Act, Welf. & Inst. Code, 6600. Despite Butler's numerous demands for a trial and explicit direction to the Public Defender’s office that it was not authorized to waive time, no trial was held. Butler was confined to a state hospital for 13 years awaiting trial on his SVP petition; more than 50 continuances were granted without objection or a finding of good cause.In 2019, Butler’s appointed private counsel filed a habeas corpus petition. The court found that Butler’s due process right to a timely trial had been violated and that the public defender, district attorney, and trial court all bore some responsibility for this “extraordinary” delay. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting the district attorney’s argument that she had no affirmative obligation to bring a person to trial on an SVP petition. Because involuntary civil confinement involves a substantial deprivation of liberty, an alleged SVP defendant is entitled to a trial at a meaningful time. The ultimate responsibility for bringing an accused SVP detainee to trial rests with the state. Here, the blame for the delay is shared between the district attorney’s office, the public defender’s office, and the court. View "In re Butler" on Justia Law

by
In 1990, Johnson, who is schizophrenic, was convicted of assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury. He served nine years in prison before being paroled as a mentally disordered offender (MDO). In 2000, he was civilly committed to Napa State Hospital under the MDO Act. He was twice released as an outpatient (2004-2008, and 2008-2014) but was returned to the hospital each time after he went absent without leave. Following several commitment extensions, in 2019, the trial court ordered Johnson’s MDO commitment extended for one year. Johnson was 69 years old.The court of appeal reversed, finding that the order was not supported by substantial evidence. The trial court’s only rationale for finding “that by reason of [his] severe mental health disorder, [Johnson] represents a substantial danger of physical harm to others,” was that “it does appear that the evidence shows that a high probability of decompression [sic] will occur which could result in a serious threat of substantial physical harm to others, harm to himself, and because of misperceptions and decompensation, he can be a substantial danger, and that he does not voluntarily follow his treatment plan.” The sole evidence of dangerousness was from decades earlier, with only friendly and nonconfrontational behavior ever since, even while Johnson was AWOL, off of his medications, and decompensating. View "People v. Johnson" on Justia Law