Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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In February 2017, students at Rubidoux High School (RHS) participated in a protest; approximately one quarter of the student body boycotted school for a day. Plaintiff-appellant, Patricia Crawford, a guidance counselor at RHS, criticized the students who boycotted in an e-mail to a colleague and by leaving several comments on a RHS teacher’s public Facebook post that was similarly critical of the boycotting students. Some students and others considered the post and Crawford’s comments on the post to be offensive. The Facebook post “went viral,” and a public outcry against Crawford and other RHS teachers’ comments ensued, resulting in nationwide media attention, a RHS student protest against the teachers, and a flurry of e-mails to RHS administration from the public. Real party in interest, Jurupa Unified School District (the District), dismissed Crawford on the grounds that her conduct was “immoral” and showed that she was “evidently unfit for service” under Education Code section 44932. Defendant-respondent, the Commission on Public Competence of the Jurupa Unified School District (CPC), upheld Crawford’s dismissal, as did the trial court. On appeal, Crawford suggested there were three fixed categories of conduct that constituted "immoral conduct" as a matter of law, and her conduct did not fit into any of them. To this, the Court of Appeal disagreed: "A teacher’s conduct is therefore 'immoral' under [Education Code] section 44932 (a)(1) when it negatively affects the school community in a way that demonstrates the teacher is 'unfit to teach.'" The Court affirmed the trial court's finding that the weight of the evidence supported CPC's finding that Crawford engaged in immoral conduct and was evidently unfit to serve. View "Crawford v. Comm. on Prof. Competence etc." on Justia Law

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This case began when, in December 2016, plaintiff-respondent San Bernardino Children and Family Services (CFS) learned that Mother threatened to physically abuse J.W., the youngest of her two daughters, then one year old. Mother had called 911 and threatened to stab herself and J.W. Police officers detained Mother and temporarily committed her pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 5150. CFS’s detention reports stated that, a few weeks prior, Mother had moved to California from Louisiana, where she had been living with A.W., J.W.'s father. According to a family friend, Mother was spiraling into depression in Louisiana and had mentioned relinquishing her children to the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services. The family friend urged Mother to come live with her in California, which she did. The family friend also informed CFS that in 2010 Mother had suffered traumatic brain injuries requiring dozens of surgeries, from a car accident that killed Mother’s mother and sister. Since the accident, Mother had suffered from grand mal seizures and had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. CFS petitioned for J.W. and her older half-sister L.M. After the detention hearing, the juvenile court found a prima facie case and detained the children. Although the detention reports noted Mother’s recent move from Louisiana, CFS did not address whether there was jurisdiction under the UCCJEA, and the juvenile court made no finding concerning the UCCJEA. Ultimately Mother's rights to the children were terminated. A.W. challenged the termination, contending the juvenile court failed to comply with the UCCJEA, such that Louisiana should have been the forum for the case. Mother contended the juvenile court failed to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. The Court of Appeal determined that, even assuming the juvenile court lacked UCCJEA jurisdiction, A.W. forfeited the ability to raise his argument on appeal. "Forfeiture would not apply if the UCCJEA provisions governing jurisdiction implicated the courts’ fundamental jurisdiction, but...they do not." The Court determined there was no failure to apply the ICWA, “ICWA does not obligate the court or [child protective agencies] ‘to cast about’ for investigative leads.” View "In re J.W." on Justia Law

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Daisy Arias suffered sustained, egregious sexual harassment for most of the time she was employed by defendant-petitioner, Blue Fountain Pools & Spas, Inc. The primary culprit was defendant-petitioner, Sean Lagrave, a salesman who worked in the same office as Arias. Arias says Lagrave did everything from repeatedly asking her for dates to grabbing her and describing "his own sexual prowess." Arias complained about Lagrave’s conduct repeatedly over the course of her employment, but things came to a head on April 21, 2017: Lagrave yelled at Arias in front of coworkers, used gender slurs, and then physically assaulted her, bumping her chest with his own. Arias called the police and later left work. Arias told the owner, defendant-petitioner, Farhad Farhadian, she wasn’t comfortable returning to work with Lagrave. Farhadian did nothing initially, refused to remove Lagrave, then terminated Arias’s health insurance, and finally told Arias to pick up her final paycheck. Though Farhadian claimed Arias had quit, she says she was fired. Arias filed a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing and received a right to sue letter on August 14, 2017. She then filed this lawsuit alleging, relevant to this appeal, hostile work environment sex discrimination and failure to prevent sexual harassment. Petitioners moved for summary judgment, seeking, among other things, to have the hostile work environment claim dismissed as time-barred and the failure to prevent harassment claim dismissed as having an insufficient basis after limiting the allegations to the conduct that wasn’t time-barred. The trial court concluded Arias had created a genuine issue of material fact as to all her causes of action and denied the motion. Petitioners brought a petition for writ of mandate, renewing their statute of limitations argument, claiming Arias could not establish a continuing violation because she admitted she had concluded further complaints were futile. The Court of Appeal concluded Arias has shown she could establish a continuing violation with respect to all the complained of conduct that occurred during Farhadian’s ownership of the company. Further, the Court determined there was a factual dispute over whether and when Arias’s employer made clear no action would be taken and whether a reasonable employee would have concluded complaining more was futile: "that question must be resolved by a jury." The Court denied petitioners' request for mandamus relief and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "Blue Fountain Pools and Spas Inc. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Four consolidated appeals presented a question of whether medical providers who provided services under California’s Medi-Cal program were entitled to reimbursement for the costs of providing in-house medical services for their own employees through “nonqualifying” self-insurance programs. Even for nonqualifying self-insurance programs, however, the Provider Reimbursement Manual allowed providers to claim reimbursement for reasonable costs on a “claim-paid” basis. Oak Valley Hospital District (Oak Valley) and Ridgecrest Regional Hospital (Ridgecrest) had self-insurance programs providing health benefits to their employees. Claims for in-house medical services to their employees were included in cost reports submitted to the State Department of Health Care Services (DHS). DHS allowed the costs when Oak Valley and Ridgecrest employees received medical services from outside providers but denied costs when the medical services were provided in-house. DHS determined claims paid to Oak Valley and Ridgecrest out of their self-insurance plan for in-house medical services rendered to their employees were not allowable costs. The trial court granted Oak Valley and Ridgecrest's the writ petitions on grounds that costs of in-house medical services were reimbursable so long as they were “ ‘reasonable’ ” as defined by the Provider Reimbursement Manual. DHS appealed in each case. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded Oak Valley’s and Ridgecrest’s self-insurance programs did not meet the requirements of a qualified plan under CMS guidelines and Provider Reimbursement Manual. The Court of Appeal rejected DHS’s contention that Oak Valley and Ridgecrest costs relating to in-house medical services for their employees were inherently unreasonable. To the extent DHS argued the cost reports were not per se unreasonable, but unreasonable under the circumstances of the actual treatments of Oak Valley and Ridgecrest employees, the Court determined the evidence in the record supports the trial court’s findings that expert testimony established Oak Valley and Ridgecrest incurred actual expenses in providing in-house medical services for their employees that were not otherwise reimbursed. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court’s granting of the petitions for writs of administrative mandate. View "Oak Valley Hospital Dist. v. Cal. Dept. of Health Care Services" on Justia Law

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Petitioners California Disability Services Association; Horrigan Cole Enterprises, Inc., doing business as Cole Vocational Services; Unlimited Quest, Inc.; Loyd’s Liberty Homes, Inc.; and First Step Independent Living Program, Inc. petitioned for mandamus relief and damages, and sought a declaration against the California Department of Developmental Services (Department) and its director, Nancy Bargmann (collectively respondents). Petitioners challenged the Department’s denial of their requests for a rate adjustment due to the increase of the minimum wage, which, in turn, impacted the salaries of their exempt program directors, who had to be paid twice the minimum wage. The trial court denied petitioners’ petition and complaint for declaratory relief finding providers’ classification of the program directors as exempt employees was not mandated by law, thus “there is no ministerial duty imposed on the Department to grant a wage increase request in order to accommodate continued entitlement to the exemption.” Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "California Disability Services Assn. v. Bargmann" on Justia Law

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Under California Public Resources Code section 21167.6, documents "shall" be in the record in a CEQA challenge to an environmental impact report (EIR). The County of San Diego (County), as lead agency for the Newland Sierra project, no longer had "all" such correspondence, nor all "internal agency communications" related to the project. If those communications were by e-mail and not flagged as "official records," the County's computers automatically deleted them after 60 days. When project opponents propounded discovery to obtain copies of the destroyed e-mails and related documents to prepare the record of proceedings, the County refused to comply. After referring the discovery disputes to a referee, the superior court adopted the referee's recommendations to deny the motions to compel. The referee concluded that although section 21167.6 specified the contents of the record of proceedings, that statute did not require that such writings be retained. In effect, the referee interpreted section 21167.6 to provide that e-mails encompassed within that statute were mandated parts of the record - unless the County destroyed them first. The Court of Appeal disagreed with that interpretation, "[a] thorough record is fundamental to meaningful judicial review." The Court held the County should not have destroyed such e-mails, even under its own policies. The referee's erroneous interpretation of section 21167.6 was central to the appeals before the Court of Appeal. The Court issued a writ of mandate to direct the superior court to vacate its orders denying the motions to compel, and after receiving input from the parties, reconsider those motions. View "Golden Door Properties, LLC v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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After the Department discharged plaintiff based on her failure to report another deputy's use of force against an inmate and her failure to seek medical assistance for the inmate, the Commission affirmed the discharge. However, the trial court granted plaintiff's petition for writ of mandate and directed the Commission to set aside the discharge, award her back pay, and reconsider a lesser penalty.The Court of Appeal reversed and held that the Department did not abuse its discretion in discharging plaintiff where plaintiff's conduct furthered the code of silence at the Men's Central Jail, requiring the Department to take action. In this case, plaintiff's conduct in following the code of silence undermined the Department's trust and confidence in plaintiff as a deputy sheriff and negatively impacted the operation of the jail. Furthermore, at the Commission hearing, plaintiff minimized her responsibility to report the use of force. Therefore, given the Department's reasoned explanation that the discharge was necessary, the court concluded that this is not the exceptional case where reasonable minds cannot differ on the appropriate penalty. The court remanded for the trial court to enter a new judgment denying the petition for writ of mandate. View "Pasos v. Los Angeles County Civil Service Commission" on Justia Law

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The California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) determined that Ernest Moreno’s retirement benefits had been incorrectly calculated and initiated proceedings to adjust Moreno’s retirement benefits and collect the overpayment. The trial court denied Moreno’s petition for writ of administrative mandamus challenging the CalSTRS actions. Moreno appealed, contending: (1) CalSTRS’s adjustment of his retirement benefits and collection of the overpayment were barred by the statute of limitations found in Education Code section 22008 (c) because CalSTRS was on inquiry notice of the problem as early as 2008; and (2) CalSTRS should have been equitably estopped from adjusting his retirement benefits and collecting the overpayments. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded: (1) CalSTRS was not on inquiry notice of the reporting error that led to overpayment until December 2014 when it began an audit of Moreno’s retirement benefits, and, therefore, CalSTRS’s adjustments to Moreno’s retirement benefits and collection of overpayments were not barred by the statute of limitations; and (2) CalSTRS was not equitably estopped because CalSTRS was not apprised of (or on notice about) the overpayments until December 2014. View "Moreno v. Cal. State Teachers' Retirement System" on Justia Law

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The San Mateo County Assessment Appeals Board invalidated escape assessments imposed by the County Assessor based on the value of machinery and equipment (M&E) at Genentech’s San Mateo County facility. The fair market value of the M&E on which property tax is imposed is determined with reference to either the cost of equipment purchased in a finished state or, if the equipment is not purchased in a finished state, costs incurred to bring the equipment to a finished state. The Board determined that Genentech purchased all of the M&E in a finished state and that the assembly of the equipment into a production line did not render the equipment “self-constructed property” justifying the inclusion of the additional costs in determining fair market value. The trial court determined that none of the equipment was in a finished state until put to use in a functioning production line and that the additional costs capitalized for accounting purposes add to the value of the property for purposes of the property tax.The court of appeal reversed. The trial court adopted a standard for determining when equipment is in a finished state for which there is no justification, and erroneously rejected Board findings that are supported by substantial evidence. Fair market value and net book value are separate concepts with separate purposes; the assessor may not rely on Genentech’s capitalization of expenses for accounting purposes to establish that those expenses increase the value of the equipment and are subject to assessment. View "Church v. San Mateo County Assessment Appeals Board" on Justia Law

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The Imperial Irrigation District (District) supplied water from the Colorado River system to California's Imperial Valley, holding its water rights in trust for the benefit of its users, and was empowered by California law to manage the water supply for irrigation and other beneficial uses. In 2013, the District implemented an equitable distribution plan with an annual water apportionment for each category of users (2013 EDP). Michael Abatti presently owns and farms land in the Imperial Valley. Abatti, as trustee of the Michael and Kerri Abatti Family Trust, and Mike Abatti Farms, LLC (collectively, Abatti) filed a petition for writ of mandate to invalidate the 2013 EDP on the grounds that, among other things, the farmers possess water rights that entitle them to receive water sufficient to meet their reasonable irrigation needs—and the plan unlawfully and inequitably takes away these rights. Abatti's position, fairly construed, is that farmers are entitled to receive the amounts of water that they have historically used to irrigate their crops. The District contended the farmers possessed a right to water service, but not to specific amounts; the District was required to distribute water equitably to all users, not just to farmers; and that the 2013 DEP allowed the District to do so, while fulfilling its other obligations, such as conservation. The superior court granted the petition, entering a declaratory judgment that prohibited the District from distributing water in the manner set forth in the 2013 EDP, and required the District to use a historical method for any apportionment of water to farmers. The District appealed, and Abatti cross-appealed an earlier order sustaining the District's demurrer to his claims that the District's adoption of the 2013 EDP constitutes a breach of its fiduciary duty to farmers and a taking. The Court of Appeal concluded the farmers within the District possessed an equitable and beneficial interest in the District's water rights, which was appurtenant to their lands. "Although the superior court acknowledged certain of these principles, its rulings reflect that it took an unduly narrow view of the District's purposes, thus failing to account for the District's broader obligations, and took an overly expansive view of the rights of farmers." The superior court was directed to enter a new judgment: (1) granting the petition on ground that the District's failure to provide for equitable apportionment among categories of water users constituted an abuse of discretion; and (2) denying the petition on all other grounds, including as to declaratory relief. View "Abatti v. Imperial Irrigation Dist." on Justia Law