Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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In the lawsuit underlying these consolidated writ proceedings, the People of the State of California, by and through the Santa Clara County Counsel, the Orange County District Attorney, the Los Angeles County Counsel, and the Oakland City Attorney, filed an action against defendants— various pharmaceutical companies involved in the manufacture, marketing, distribution, and sale of prescription opioid medications. The People alleged the defendants made false and misleading statements as part of a deceptive marketing scheme designed to minimize the risks of opioid medications and inflate their benefits. This scheme, the People alleged, caused a public health crisis in California by dramatically increasing the number of opioid prescriptions, the use and abuse of opioids, and opioid-related deaths. These proceedings pertained to a discovery dispute after several of the defendants served subpoenas on two nonparty counties, petitioners County of Los Angeles and County of Alameda, seeking records of patients in various county programs, including individual prescription data and individual patient records related to substance abuse treatment. After petitioners and the Johnson & Johnson defendants engaged in various informal and formal means to attempt to resolve the dispute, the superior court issued a discovery order granting the Johnson & Johnson defendants’ motions to compel production of the records. The Court of Appeal concluded petitioners established that the superior court’s order threatened a serious intrusion into the privacy interests of the patients whose records were at issue: the Johnson & Johnson defendants failed to demonstrate their interests in obtaining “such a vast production of medical information” outweighed the significant privacy interests that the nonparty petitioners identified. Accordingly, the Court granted petitioners’ writ petitions and directed the superior court to vacate its order compelling production of the requested documents, and to enter a new order denying Johnson & Johnson defendants’ motions to compel. View "County of Los Angeles v. Superior Ct." on Justia Law

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Homeowners sought free refuse collection from the City of San Diego for their 12 condominiums located in a gated complex in the Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego. The City refused the request to initiate service on the grounds the complex did not qualify under its Waste Management Regulation (WMR). In response to the denial of service, the Homeowners brought suit against the City asserting the WMR was issued in violation of the San Diego Municipal Code, and claiming that the City’s use of the WMR to deny them service violated their equal protection rights. After discovery, the City brought a successful motion for summary judgment. Thereafter, the trial court entered judgment in the City’s favor. The Homeowners appealed, contending the court erred by finding the WMR was validly promulgated and that there were no triable issues of fact with respect to their equal protection claims. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment. View "Perry v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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Verizon California Inc.’s (Verizon) petitioned the California State Board of Equalization’s (Board) to reduce its assessments for the tax years 2008 through 2012. Verizon paid the taxes levied by the counties for each year based on the Board-assessed values set forth in its petitions. Verizon then joined with Board staff to seek approval from the Board of joint recommendations to lower the assessed values of its property set forth in its petitions. The Board approved the joint recommendations. Verizon then filed actions for refunds for the years 2008 through 2012 arguing that the Board should have adopted the valuations proposed in its petitions. The trial court consolidated the actions. The Board moved for summary adjudication of the claims on the ground the court lacked jurisdiction because in approving the Verizon/Board staff recommendations for reduced valuations Verizon failed to exhaust its administrative remedies with respect to the valuations it claimed in its petitions. The trial court granted the motion for summary adjudication of the consolidated actions based on the Board’s approvals of the parties’ joint recommendations for a reduction in assessed valuations. On this basis, the trial court concluded: “Because of the mutually agreed recommendation[s] on value, no disputed issues were presented to the Board for [tax years] 2008 through 2012. In each of those five years, the Board adopted the revised value that had been jointly recommended by Verizon and [the Board] staff, reducing Verizon’s tax basis by over $1.1 billion in the aggregate. [¶] . . .Verizon cannot ask the Board to adopt a jointly presented reduction in value, receive the agreed reduction, and then turn around and sue for a lower value than it asked the Board to adopt.” Verizon timely appealed the trial court’s decision, arguing again that the Board should have adopted the valuations it proposed in its petitions to the Board to reassess its property. The Court of Appeal determined the statutory ground of the actions required a “dispute” regarding the Board’s assessments of the property. Finding none, the Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment. View "Verizon California v. Board of Equalization" on Justia Law

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Defendants Florin County Water District (district), its board of directors (board), and its general manager appealed a trial court judgment setting aside the district’s December 2016 water rate increase for violating Proposition 218 (known as the Right to Vote on Taxes Act), as requested by Plaintiffs KCSFV I, LLC and KCSFV II, LLC in their verified petition for writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief (petition). Defendants claimed the rate increase complied with the procedural and substantive requirements of Proposition 218, and the trial court erred in rejecting their affirmative defenses under Government Code section 66022 and the exhaustion of administrative remedies doctrine. Defendants further challenged the trial court’s judgment awarding plaintiffs their attorney fees pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal rejected defendants’ arguments pertaining to the validity of the water rate increase. The Court further rejected defendants’ challenge to the attorney fees decision in the unpublished portion of the opinion. View "KCSFV I, LLC v. Florin County Water District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Dora Leon’s husband, José Leon, was shot and killed by a neighbor in a driveway of a mobile home park in Cherry Valley, where Dora and José lived. Riverside County Sheriff’s deputies unsuccessfully attempted to revive José but, before doing so, one of the deputies dragged José’s body several feet and, in the process of being dragged, José’s pants fell to his thighs, exposing his genitals. José’s body lay, with his genitals exposed, for around eight hours while sheriff’s deputies and other law enforcement officers evacuated the mobile home park, located the shooter who had shot himself dead, and continued investigating the shooting. José’s body was not removed until shortly after the coroner arrived on the scene and completed processing the body. Dora sued the County of Riverside, alleging a single cause of action for negligence, sounding in negligent infliction of emotional distress, based on the failure of Riverside County Sheriff’s deputies to promptly cover José’s exposed body, or remove the body from the scene, while deputies evacuated the park, searched for the shooter, and investigated the shooting. The trial court granted the county’s motion for summary judgment on Dora’s first amended complaint (FAC). Dora argued on appeal that the deputies who responded to the shooting, and the county as the deputies’ employer, owed Dora a duty of care not to allow José’s body to lie exposed while deputies and other law enforcement officers secured the area and investigated the shooting. The Court of Appeal affirmed, finding that negligence, if any, occurred during the court of the deputies’ official investigation of the shooting. For this reason, they were immune from liability to Dora, and the counts, as the deputies’ public entity employer, was immune from vicarious liability for the deputies’ alleged negligence. View "Leon v. County of Riverside" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, All of Us or None–Riverside Chapter (All of Us or None), Jane Roe, and Phyllis McNeal, filed an action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against defendants, Superior Court of California, County of Riverside (Riverside Superior Court), and its Executive Officer and Clerk, W. Samuel Hamrick, Jr. Plaintiffs alleged that defendants improperly maintained the Riverside Superior Court’s records in criminal cases in various ways. Plaintiffs alleged that these practices invaded their right to privacy as embodied in the California Constitution (fifth cause of action). Plaintiffs claimed that they were entitled to declaratory relief (sixth cause of action) and writ of mandate (seventh cause of action) to remedy these violations. On appeal, plaintiffs challenged the trial court’s demurrer and summary judgment rulings. The Court of Appeal agreed with Plaintiffs the trial court erred in its ruling on the first, third, and fifth causes of action; as a result, the trial court’s grant of judgment as a matter of law on plaintiffs’ remedial causes of action for declaratory relief (sixth cause of action) and injunctive relief (seventh cause of action) were also reversed. The matter was thus remanded for further proceedings. View "All of Us or None etc. v. Hamrick" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from two cases consolidated for trial, involving a California Raisin Marketing Order (the Marketing Order) first issued in 1998 by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (the Department) under the California Marketing Act of 1937 (the CMA). The first case, Lion Raisins, Inc., et al. v. Ross (case No. C086205) sought a declaration and injunctive relief filed by Lion Raisins, Inc., et al. (collectively, Lion). The Lion complaint sought a declaration that the Marketing Order was unconstitutional and invalid, and requested an injunction against future assessments, and a refund of all assessments paid since the 1999-2000 crop year. In the second case, People ex rel. Ross v. Raisin Valley Farms, LLC, et al. (case No. C086206), Raisin Valley Farms, LLC, et al. (collectively, Raisin Valley) sought to recover unpaid assessments, and a related cross-complaint against the Department for declaratory, injunctive, and compensatory relief. Similar to the Lion complaint, the Raisin Valley cross-complaint challenged the validity of the Marketing Order on multiple grounds. The trial court initially entered judgment against the Department on the consolidated cases, concluding the Marketing Order was invalid because there was insufficient evidence that the Marketing Order was necessary to address severe economic conditions in the raisin industry. The Department appealed and the Court of Appeal reversed, concluding the trial court’s interpretation of the CMA was too narrow. On remand, after additional briefing, the trial court entered judgments in favor of the Department, denying the challenges to the Marketing Order. Lion and Raisin Valley appealed those judgments, asserting numerous errors. With regard to the appeal in the Lion case, the Court of Appeal modified the judgment to dismiss the “varietal benefit” and “non-disparagement” claims due to appellants’ failure to exhaust administrative remedies, and affirmed the judgment as modified. The Court dismissed the appeal in the Raisin Valley case as premature under the one final judgment rule. View "Lion Raisins v. Ross" on Justia Law

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In separate criminal cases, a trial court found 37 defendants incompetent to stand trial (IST) and ordered the State Department of State Hospitals (Department) to admit them within 60 days of the receipt of an informational packet. The Department failed to timely admit 31 of the 37 defendants. These defendants separately sought sanctions against the Department pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 177.5, claiming violation of the court’s order. The trial court found the Department in violation of the order, and imposed monetary sanctions. The Department appealed, contending the trial court was not authorized to impose sanctions against it under section 177.5. Additionally, it claimed good cause or substantial justification for violating the order even assuming the court could impose sanctions under section 177.5. After review, the Court of Appeal disagreed with the Department’s arguments and affirmed. View "California v. Aguirre" on Justia Law

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Appellant N.A. was a nonminor former dependent (NFD). While a minor, she lived with a legal guardian, who received financial aid (aid to families with dependent children-foster care, or AFDC-FC) on N.A.’s behalf. When N.A. was 17 years old, she moved out of the guardian’s home. The San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency was not informed of this circumstance, and AFDC-FC payments to the guardian continued past N.A.’s 18th birthday. The guardian provided some financial support to N.A. after she moved out, but at some point, the guardian stopped providing support altogether. Thereafter, N.A. petitioned to return to juvenile court jurisdiction and foster care, which would provide her with certain services and financial aid, under Welfare & Institutions Code section 388.1. At that time, the Agency became aware of N.A.’s prior living circumstance and determined that she and the guardian became ineligible for AFDC-FC payments when N.A. moved out of the guardian’s home before N.A. turned 18. The Agency sent notice of its decision to the guardian. Based on its determination that N.A. was not actually eligible to receive AFDC-FC payments after she turned 18, the Agency recommended denying her petition for reentry. The juvenile court denied N.A.’s petition for reentry, but ordered the Agency to notify N.A. directly of its eligibility determination so that she could pursue administrative remedies. On appeal, N.A. contended the juvenile court’s order was based on an erroneous interpretation of section 388.1 and related statutes. Alternatively, N.A. argued that the court should have decided the AFDC-FC eligibility issue because exhausting the administrative hearing process would be futile under the circumstances. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the order. View "In re N.A." on Justia Law

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Code of Civil Procedure section 340.1 authorizes an award of “up to treble damages” in a tort action for childhood sexual assault where the assault occurred “as the result of a cover-up.” Government Code section 818 exempts a public entity from an award of damages “imposed primarily for the sake of example and by way of punishing the defendant.”Plaintiff sued the school district (LAUSD) alleging an LAUSD employee sexually assaulted her when she was 14 years old and the assault resulted from LAUSD’s cover-up of the employee’s sexual assault of another student. She requested treble damages under section 340.1. The trial court denied LAUSD’s motion to strike the damages request. The court of appeal reversed. While the harm caused by childhood sexual assault is undoubtedly amplified if a victim learns the assault resulted from a deliberate cover-up by those charged with the victim’s care, noneconomic damages under general tort principles already provide compensation for this added psychological trauma. The treble damages provision has no compensatory function. Section 340.1 generally serves to ensure perpetrators of sexual assault are held accountable for the harm they inflict but its text unambiguously demonstrates the treble damages provision’s purpose is to deter future cover-ups by punishing past cover-ups. Because treble damages under section 340.1 are primarily exemplary and punitive, a public entity like LAUSD maintains sovereign immunity from liability for such damages. View "Los Angeles Unified School District v. Superior Court" on Justia Law