Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Sargent began working for the University in 1991 as an environmental health-and-safety technician. Sargent was the campus’s licensed asbestos consultant. Sargent sued, presenting abundant evidence about retaliation after he raised concerns about environmental hazards. A jury found in his favor on claims alleging unlawful retaliation and on a claim under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act (Labor Code 2698, PAGA), which was premised almost entirely on violations of the California Occupational Safety and Health Act (Labor Code 6300, CalOSHA). He was awarded more than $2.9 million in PAGA penalties and more than $7.8 million in attorney fees.The court of appeal affirmed the award of attorney fees but reversed the award of PAGA penalties. Education Code 66606.2 does not bar PAGA claims against the California State University (CSU) system; CSU is not categorically immune from PAGA penalties because it is a public entity. Viable PAGA claims can be asserted against CSU only when the statutes upon which the claims are premised themselves provide for penalties. Here, Sargent brought some viable PAGA claims but ultimately failed to establish CSU’s liability for them because the jury found that he was not personally affected by the underlying statutory violations. View "Sargent v. Board of Trustees of the California State University" on Justia Law

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Senate Bill No. 1421 amended Penal Code section 832.7 to allow disclosure under the California Public Records Act (CPRA) of records relating to officer-involved shootings, serious use of force and sustained findings of sexual assault or serious dishonesty. VCDSA filed suit against defendants to enjoin section 832.7’s application to records involving peace officer conduct and incidents occurring before January 1, 2019, the statute's effective date. The trial court issued a preliminary injunction.In the meantime, the First District issued Walnut Creek Police Officers' Ass'n v. City of Walnut Creek (2019) 33 Cal.App.5th 940, which rejected the assertion "that applying the 2019 amendments to compel disclosure of records created prior to 2019 constitutes an improper retroactive application of the new law." In the absence of a reason to depart from Walnut Creek, and for reasons stated in Becerra v. Superior Court (2020) 44 Cal.App.5th 897, the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment and dissolved the permanent injunction. The court agreed with Walnut Creek that section 832.7 does not attach new legal consequences to or increase a peace officer's liability for conduct that occurred before the statute's effective date. The court explained that because the statute merely broadens the public's right to access records regarding that conduct, it applies retroactively. View "Ventura County Deputy Sheriffs' Ass'n. v. County of Ventura" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal issued a peremptory writ of mandate directing the trial court to set aside its order enjoining the County from enforcing its orders to the extent they prohibit outdoor dining due to the COVID-19 pandemic until after conducting an appropriate risk-benefit analysis. During the pendency of the petition, the County lifted its prohibition based on infection rates declining and ICU availability increasing. However, the court concluded that these cases are not moot because conditions may change and the County may re-impose its outdoor restaurant dining ban.The court held that courts should be extremely deferential to public health authorities, particularly during a pandemic, and particularly where, as here, the public health authorities have demonstrated a rational basis for their actions. In this case, the County's order banning outdoor dining is not a plain, palpable invasion of rights secured by the fundamental law and is rationally related to limiting the spread of COVID-19.Even assuming that Mark's, a restaurant, has a First Amendment right to freedom of assembly, or that Mark's has standing to bring a First Amendment challenge on behalf of its patrons or employees, the court held that the order does not violate Mark's purported First Amendment right to freedom of assembly or that of its patrons. The court explained that the County's order does not regulate assembly based on the expressive conduct of the assembly; it is undisputed that limiting the spread of COVID-19 is a legitimate and substantial government interest; and the order leaves open alternative channels for assembling. Accordingly, the court entered a new order denying the Restauranteurs' request for a preliminary injunction. View "County of Los Angeles Department of Health v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County" on Justia Law

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Sweeney bought the 39-acre Point Buckler Site, located in Suisun Marsh in the San Francisco Bay's Grizzly Bay, which apparently was previously operated as a managed wetland for duck hunting. Sweeney undertook unpermitted construction and development, including restoring an exterior levee and opening a private recreational area for kiteboarding. The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) inspected the Site, noting the unauthorized work and multiple violations; the levee construction work had removed tidal flow to the Site’s interior and dried out tidal marsh areas. BCDC concluded the Site never functioned as a managed wetland and had long reverted to a tidal marsh. Sweeney was directed to stop work and informed that a marsh development permit was required to develop the Site; BCDC indicated that any work that could not be retroactively approved would need to be removed.The Regional Water Quality Control Board commenced separate proceedings, citing violations of the federal Clean Water Act and the California Water Code. BCDC staff observed that additional work had been performed since the earlier inspection. The Board issued a cleanup and abatement order (CAO), imposed administrative civil liabilities and required payment of approximately $2.8 million in penalties. The superior court set aside those orders.The court of appeal reversed. In issuing the CAO, the Board did not violate the requirements of Water Code section 13627; the CAO satisfied the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act criteria for enforcement actions and did not conflict with the Suisun Marsh Preservation Act. The court rejected arguments that the definition of waste cannot include earthen material, that the activities did not constitute “discharges,” and that any discharges were not into “waters of the state.” View "Sweeney v. California Regional Water Quality Control Board" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented was one of first impression for the Court of Appeal: whether a licensee can rebut an Evidence Code presumption that chemical blood tests were properly conducted, and the results are thus reliable. Plaintiff William Lee Gerwig crashed into the back of another vehicle at an intersection. He was thrown from his motorcycle and landed on the asphalt. California Highway Patrol Officer Jacob Rebelo responded to the scene and spoke with Gerwig while he was receiving medical attention. Based on his lethargic responses, the smell of alcohol, and his inability to recall the collision details, Rebelo suspected Gerwig was intoxicated. Rebelo arrested Gerwig for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), and watched while state-certified phlebotomist Francisco Moreno collected two vials of blood using a nonalcoholic swab to clean the site. Rebelo took the vials himself and entered them into evidence. Test results from Gerwig’s blood draw showed a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of .25 percent. At the Department of Motor Vehicle hearing, Gerwig’s counsel called an employee of Specimen Specialists of America, Inc. (SSI), the company that dispatched phlebotomist Moreno to draw Gerwig’s blood. Through the employee’s testimony, counsel demonstrated that certain SSI procedures were out of compliance with state regulations that govern blood test procedures. In particular, Moreno was functionally unsupervised and the manual that SSI provided for phlebotomists had not been approved by a physician and surgeon. After eliciting testimony to demonstrate these procedural failings, counsel argued that the test results could not be relied on due to SSI’s regulatory violations. The Court of Appeal concluded that licensees rebut the Evidence Code presumption only when they cast doubt on the integrity of the test. "It is not enough to show a violation of governing regulations that has only a tenuous connection to the accuracy of the results. Here, because plaintiff proved a regulatory violation with only an indirect and speculative relationship to the manner in which the blood test was conducted, and thus the reliability of the test results," the Court affirmed the order denying mandamus relief. View "Gerwig v. Gordon" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Respondent David Collins suffered serious injuries following his arrest by San Diego County Sheriff's Deputies for public intoxication. After a three-week trial, a jury found in favor of Collins on his negligence claims against the two deputies involved in the arrest and two nurses employed by the County of San Diego (County) who attended to Collins while in jail. On appeal from the subsequent judgment and the denial of its motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), the County raised five claims of error: (1) the jury’s finding that the deputies had a reasonable basis to arrest Collins foreclosed his claim of negligence against the deputies; (2) the court erred by instructing the jury it could find the deputies liable for injuries caused by private physicians who treated Collins after he was released from custody; (3) the court erred by failing to instruct the jury it could not hold defendants liable for an injury Collins sustained while in jail; (4) governmental immunity requires reversal of the judgment against one of the nurse defendants; and (5) the court erred in its calculation of the amount of setoff the defendants were entitled to based on Collins’s prior settlement with the private physicians and their employer. The Court of Appeal rejected these arguments and affirmed the judgment. View "Collins v. County of San Diego" on Justia Law

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In a prior opinion, a panel of the Court of Appeal determined the tiered water rate system used by the City of San Juan Capistrano (the City) violated the California Constitution. The City offered to refund its water ratepayers the difference between what they paid and what they should have paid for a 10-month period of time, in exchange for a release of other claims against the City related to the tiered water rate system. Plaintiffs Hootan Daneshmand, Brian Montgomery, and John Bottjer were ratepayers in the City. Bottjer signed the release and received a refund; Daneshmand and Montgomery did not. Plaintiffs later filed a notice of claim against the City, on behalf of themselves and a putative class of ratepayers, to recover the difference between what they paid and what they should have paid during the entire time the tiered water rate system was in place. The City denied the notice of claim, which was filed more than one year after the last bill under the tiered water rate system was due, as untimely under Government Code section 911.2. The Court of Appeal determined claims of Bottjer and the other ratepayers who obtained a refund from the City were barred by the release those ratepayers signed. Contrary to Plaintiffs’ arguments on appeal, the release was valid and enforceable. Further, Plaintiffs’ causes of action for breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing were properly dismissed by the trial court. Finally, the claims of Daneshmand, Montgomery, and the other ratepayers who did not accept the City’s refund offer were barred because the notice of claim was filed more than one year after the claims accrued. Plaintiffs failed to show that waiver or any other legal or equitable doctrine affected the application of Government Code section 911.2 in this case. View "Daneshmand v. City of San Juan Capistrano" on Justia Law

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Petitioner-appellant Anthony Hernandez was convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence after choking his girlfriend. The California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation (Department) terminated him from his position as a correctional officer, stating that because of his domestic violence conviction, federal law prohibited him from carrying a firearm, which he needed for the job. The issue this case presented for the Court of Appeal's review was whether the Department acted reasonably in terminating Hernandez. It was undisputed that federal law makes it a felony to possess a firearm after being convicted in any court of misdemeanor domestic violence, which was defined in part as the use of physical force by “a person similarly situated to a spouse” of a victim. Disputed here was whether Hernandez was “similarly situated to a spouse” of his girlfriend, given that he had been dating her five or six months and did not share a permanent residence with her. In line with the federal case law, the Court found the evidence was sufficient to support the Department’s determination that Hernandez was “similarly situated to a spouse” of his victim under these circumstances. Accordingly, the Department acted reasonably in terminating him. View "Hernandez v. State Personnel Board" on Justia Law

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Saddleback College and Juan Avalos, vice-president of Saddleback’s student services and its Title IX officer, appealed the granting of a writ of mandamus in favor of a Saddleback student, Marcus Knight. Knight petitioned for relief after he was disciplined when two female students complained that he was following them, taking photos of one of them on his phone, and touching them. Knight had multiple disabilities, including cerebral palsy and autism, which have complicated his experience at Saddleback. In March 2018, Knight received a letter from Avalos stating that he was “suspended” – barred from classes and campus activities. It appeared, however, that he was allowed to attend classes anyway, while he contested the suspension. Eventually the potential suspension was dropped, and a written disciplinary reprimand was placed in his student record instead. At trial, Knight based his petition on the ground that the college did not afford him a hearing during which he or his counsel could confront and cross-examine witnesses. The trial court granted the writ petition on that basis. The Court of Appeal determined Knight was not entitled to that level of due process: requiring a trial-like hearing before Saddleback could issue a written reprimand placed too great a burden on the college when compared to the minor detriment to Knight. "He received notice of the charges against him, and he had an opportunity to respond – several opportunities, in fact. Had the suspension gone forward, he would have had the hearing he feels he was entitled to. But it did not go forward, and he received a much lower level of discipline." Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment for Knight and directed the trial court to enter judgment for appellants. View "Knight v. South Orange Community College Dist." on Justia Law

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Xavier Becerra and his election committee (collectively, Becerra) successfully defended a petition for writ of mandate brought by Eric Early and his election committee (collectively, Early) seeking to remove Becerra as a candidate for California's Attorney General on the November 2018 ballot. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's decision denying the petition. Early alleged that Becerra was ineligible for the office of Attorney General because his state bar status was “inactive” during the five years preceding the election and therefore he was not “admitted to practice” in the state as required for that period under Government Code section 12503. We held that the phrase “admitted to practice” in the statute “refers to the event of admission to the bar and the status of being admitted, and does not require engagement in the ‘actual’ or ‘active’ practice of law.” Becerra brought a motion for attorney fees under Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5, which the trial court granted awarding Becerra $69,718 in attorney fees. "Becerra's successful defense of the petition enforced an important public right and conferred a significant benefit on the general public as required by subdivision (a) of section 1021.5. . . . Further, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining under subdivision (b) of section 1021.5 that the financial burden Becerra incurred in defending Early’s suit outweighed any pecuniary benefit in the form of the salary paid to the Attorney General or otherwise." View "Early v. Bacerra" on Justia Law