Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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The Department filed suit against M&N, alleging numerous causes of action stemming from defendants' operation of a business that purchased retail installment sales contracts from used car dealerships where defendants used a formula that considered the gender of the car purchaser in deciding how much to pay for the contracts. The trial court entered judgment in favor of the Department on the first and second causes of action, which alleged violations of the Unruh Civil Rights Act (Civ. Code, 51) and Civil Code section 51.5, and assessed over $6 million in statutory damages pursuant to Civil Code section 52, subdivision (a). The trial court dismissed the fifth, sixth, and seventh causes of action, which alleged violations of Government Code section 12940, subdivisions (i) and (k) of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).In the published portion of the opinion, the Court of Appeal held that the trial court erred in dismissing the fifth cause of action and otherwise affirmed the trial court's judgment. In the fifth cause of action, the Department alleged that M&N "knowingly compelled and coerced its employees to engage in practices that violated" FEHA and Civil Code sections 51 and 51.5, in violation of section 12940, subdivision (i). The court held that employees who are coerced by their employer to violate Civil Code sections 51 and 51.5 are "aggrieved" within the meaning of section 12965, subdivision (a) and have standing to sue their employer pursuant to section 12940, subdivision (i). Therefore, the employees of M&N who were coerced by M&N into violating Civil Code sections 51 and 51.5 could be individually liable for sex discrimination. The court explained that these employees would necessarily be "aggrieved" by their employer's unlawful employment practice as their personal interests would be affected by their employer's misconduct. Therefore, the Department was authorized to file a civil action on behalf of these employees and the trial court erred by dismissing the fifth cause of action. View "Department of Fair Employment and Housing v. M&N Financing Corp." on Justia Law

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In 2013, Steven Ray Eynon pled guilty to premeditated first degree murder and admitted that the murder was committed during a robbery. The information alleged that a codefendant was the actual killer. In 2019, Eynon petitioned to vacate his murder conviction under Penal Code section 1170.95. The trial court denied the petition without issuing an order to show cause. On appeal, the State argued that Eynon was ineligible for relief because he “admitted he acted with a premeditated and deliberate intent to kill the victim.” The Court of Appeal rejected the State's argument because it mischaracterized Eynon’s factual admissions: Eynon admitted he was guilty, on an unspecified theory, of a premeditated and deliberate murder, but he did not admit that he acted with premeditation, deliberation, or intent to kill. In so holding, the Court agreed with California v. Rivera, 62 Cal.App.5th, review granted June 9, 2021, S268405 (2021), which rejected an argument similar to the one presented here. "Nothing in Eynon’s record of conviction refutes the allegation in his section 1170.95 petition that he is eligible for relief." The Court accordingly reversed the order denying his petition, and remanded with directions to issue an order to show cause under section 1170.95(c). View "California v. Eynon" on Justia Law

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In 2008, defendant Antonio Barboza was initially convicted of first degree murder with a gang special circumstance. The trial court reduced the conviction to second degree murder, struck the special circumstance, and sentenced defendant to 15 years to life plus 25 years to life for the murder and a vicarious firearm enhancement. On direct appeal, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. In June 2019, defendant filed a petition for resentencing in the trial court pursuant to Penal Code section 1170.95, and received appointed counsel. The court subsequently found defendant had not set forth a prima facie case for relief because the jury’s special circumstance finding required that defendant personally harbored an intent to kill. The Court of Appeal found, however, that the court erred by using the jury’s findings as to first degree murder with the special circumstance, as the court struck those findings and entered a conviction for second degree murder at the time of sentencing. Accordingly, defendant presented a prima facie case for relief and was entitled to a hearing on his 1170.95 petition. The Court thus reverses, and directed the trial court on remand to issue the appropriate order to show cause. View "California v. Barboza" on Justia Law

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Defendant Alfred Lopez-Vinck appealed after a jury convicted him of three counts of robbery and three counts of assault with a deadly weapon. Lopez-Vinck and his girlfriend and co-defendant Misty Lynn Probert were both convicted of charges arising from an incident in which Probert shoplifted various items from a Kohl’s store. After Probert exited the store and was approached by three loss prevention officers, Lopez-Vinck, got out of his vehicle, took out a knife, pointed it in the direction of the loss prevention officers, and moved toward them while aggressively yelling at them to back up. Probert walked past the loss prevention officers while still in possession of the stolen merchandise, got into Lopez-Vinck’s car, and the two drove off together. On appeal, Lopez-Vinck contended insufficient evidence supported his convictions for assault with a deadly weapon, arguing that he did not engage in any act that was likely to cause injury and he did not have the present ability to injure anyone. He also argued his convictions for assault with a deadly weapon had to be modified to convictions for the lesser offense of brandishing because, he claimed, brandishing was a more specific statute that applied to his conduct and preempted the assault statute. In addition, Lopez-Vinck contended the trial court erred, and violated his right to due process, by imposing various fines and fees without first finding that he had the ability to pay them. Finally, he asserts that the minute order and abstract of judgment must be corrected to reflect the court’s oral pronouncement with respect to striking his prison prior. The Court of Appeal concluded only that Lopez-Vinck’s final contention had merit; the case was therefore remanded for the trial court to correct the minute order and abstract of judgment to reflect that the court struck Lopez-Vinck’s prison prior. The Court also found a recent recent ameliorative amendment to the law entitled Lopez-Vinck to have vacated any portion of the fee imposed pursuant to Government Code section 29550.1. View "California v. Lopez-Vinck" on Justia Law

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Defendant Amit Bharth was convicted by jury on two counts of forcible rape, assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury, and false imprisonment. The jury also found true the allegation that defendant personally inflicted great bodily injury. Defendant was sentenced to 23 years, 8 months in prison. The sole issue on appeal was whether the trial court erred in denying defendant's motion for a mistrial, which was based on his contention that the court permitted testimony by the victim that violated his confrontation clause rights. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed defendant's convictions. View "California v. Bharth" on Justia Law

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Defendant Michael Barefield appealed his convictions of corporal injury, assault with a deadly weapon, and false imprisonment, arising from his attack against a former girlfriend. He claimed the trial court erred by: (1) admitting evidence in violation of the marital testimony privilege; (2) admitting propensity evidence; (3) admitting fresh complaint evidence; (4) not staying his sentence on the false imprisonment count; and (5) using the firearm possession to impose the upper-term sentence on the assault count and a firearm enhancement. Although the trial court admitted evidence in violation of the marital privilege, the Court of Appeal found the error was harmless. Finding no other reversible error, the Court affirmed the judgment. View "California v. Barefield" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the University, alleging a claim for retaliation, as well as age and gender discrimination. The trial court granted the University's motion for summary judgment but erroneously excluded evidence that a University employee rejected a job candidate because she "wanted someone younger."The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's grant of summary judgment for the University and concluded that the trial court erroneously excluded evidence. The court stated that Reid v. Google, Inc., (2010) 50 Cal.4th 512, 535–545, explained that such remarks can be relevant in age discrimination suits. The court examined the record as a whole to see if the previous comment changes the propriety of summary judgment under governing law. Applying the three-part burden-shifting Bechtel test, the court concluded that summary judgment was inappropriate in this case where three factors show that the remark changed the pretext analysis: first, the remark evidence is relatively strong; second, the dean created a pay differential between male and female Associate Deans hired concurrently; and sources unrelated to plaintiff criticized the Dean's management. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Jorgensen v. Loyola Marymount University" on Justia Law

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Defendant Kejhonne Henderson shot and killed J.P. at a house party in the North Highlands neighborhood of Sacramento. Upset that music of a local rapper disparaging his neighborhood’s gang was being played, defendant exchanged heated words with the party’s host. When J.P. intervened, he and defendant agreed to step outside. On their way to the door, defendant pulled a handgun out of his waistband and when they got outside, shot J.P. multiple times in the head and chest. A.J., one of the party goers, tackled defendant and knocked the gun out of his hand. Defendant regained possession and shot A.J. multiple times before fleeing. J.P. died before emergency services arrived at the scene, but A.J. survived. A jury found defendant guilty of one count of second degree murder and one count of attempted murder, and found true enhancement allegations that defendant personally discharged a firearm causing great bodily injury or death as to each count. The trial court sentenced defendant to serve an aggregate determinate term of seven years plus an aggregate indeterminate prison term of 65 years to life. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal concluded a trial court could not excuse for cause African-American prospective jurors solely because of their belief that the criminal justice system treats African-Americans unfairly, but rejected defendant’s assertion that the two African-American prospective jurors here were excused for that reason. "They were excused because the trial court concluded that, based on the voir dire evidence, they could not be impartial because of their bias and sympathy for defendant." On this record, the Court did not find the trial court’s ruling was an abuse of discretion; nor was defendant’s constitutional right to a jury drawn from a representative cross-section of the community violated. Furthermore, the Court concluded the trial court erred in excusing a seated juror, because the record did not demonstrate the juror could not perform his duties. However, applying the harmless error standard in Watson, 46 Cal.2d 818 (1956), the Court concluded the error was harmless. In the unpublished portion of its opinion, the Court rejected defendant’s other claims of error, and affirmed his convictions and sentence. View "California v. Henderson" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Alicia Haro was convicted by jury of multiple drug related offenses after she crossed into the United States from Mexico on three occasions while transporting large amounts of methamphetamine hidden in her vehicle. She was sentenced to 21 years in prison. On appeal, Haro argued the trial court erred: (1) in allowing a drug trafficking expert to testify that he did not believe that a drug organization would entrust large quantities of valuable drugs to an individual who had no knowledge of what they were transporting; (2) when it declined to disclose private juror information after defense counsel asserted that an alternate juror approached her following the reading of the verdict and told her that some of the jurors had discussed the case before deliberations began; and (3) when it aggregated two 10-kilogram enhancements that had been pled and proven with respect to separate charged counts of conspiracy and instead imposed the sentence for a single 20-kilogram weight enhancement, given that the court dismissed one of the conspiracy counts after the jury determined that the two charged conspiracies were in fact part of a single conspiracy. Finally, Haro contended the trial court abused its discretion when it determined that she was ineligible for a split sentence because of her immigration status. The Court of Appeal concluded Haro’s first two contentions were without merit. However, the Court agreed with Haro that the trial court erred in imposing a 20-kilogram weight enhancement under Health and Safety Code section 11370.4 (a)(4), because the accusatory pleading failed to provide Haro with notice that she could be subject to such an enhancement with respect to any charged count. The Court ruled this enhancement had to be stricken, the sentence vacated, and the matter remanded for resentencing. Given the Court's vacatur of Haro’s sentence and limited remand for resentencing, the Court did not consider Haro’s final argument. View "California v. Haro" on Justia Law

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Big Sugar filed suit alleging libel, slander, and violation of the Unfair Competition Law after defendant aired his dissatisfaction with the bakery to his 1.5 million social media followers and later discussed the experience on his podcast. Defendant responded with a special motion to strike under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16 as a strategic lawsuit against public participation (anti-SLAPP), which the trial court denied.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of defendant's anti-SLAPP motion, concluding that defendant's statements at issue did not involve the public interest. The court applied the Rand test and concluded that defendant's statements were not about a topic of public interest; defendant and Big Sugar's supposed proximities to fame do not turn this into a case of public interest; and the court rejected defendant's contention that his statements provide consumer protection information. In this case, the consumer protection cases defendant cites do not support his case. Furthermore, defendant's statements relate only to one transaction with Big Sugar; he published them on his social media accounts to air his dissatisfaction with a particular cake; and his statements were not part of a larger discussion. View "Woodhill Ventures, LLC v. Yang" on Justia Law