Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Plaintiff Family Health Centers of San Diego operated a federally qualified health center (FQHC) that provided various medical services to its patients, some of whom are Medi-Cal beneficiaries. Section 330 of the Public Health Service Act authorized grants to be made to FQHC’s. In addition, FQHC’s could seek reimbursement under Medi-Cal for certain expenses, including reasonable costs directly or indirectly related to patient care. Plaintiff appealed a trial court’s order denying its petition for writ of mandate seeking to compel the State Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) to reimburse plaintiff for money it expended for outreach services. The Court of Appeal rejected plaintiff’s contention that the trial court and the DHCS improperly construed and applied applicable guidelines in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Publication 15-1, The Provider Reimbursement Manual (PRM). The Court concluded that the monies spent by plaintiff were not an allowable cost because they were akin to advertising to increase patient utilization of plaintiff’s services. View "Family Health Centers of S.D. v. State Dept. of Health Care Services" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Brian Exline appealed an order granting defendant Lisa Gillmor’s special motion to strike under California's anti-SLAPP law. Exline filed a complaint against Gillmor alleging that, during her terms serving as a councilmember and then as the mayor of the City of Santa Clara (the City), Gillmor violated the Political Reform Act of 1974 (the Act) by failing to disclose on Form 700 filings her interest in, and income she received from, an entity known as Public Property Advisors. Exline argued his lawsuit was not subject to challenge under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16 because it fell within the public interest exemption codified at section 425.17 (b). He contended the trial court erred by concluding that an exception to that exemption, set forth in section 425.17(d)(2) applied and rendered the exemption inapplicable. The Court of Appeal held the exception applied to completion of the Form 700, and the complaint in this case was therefore subject to the anti-SLAPP law. View "Exline v. Gillmor" on Justia Law

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Proposition 13 and Proposition 218 amended the California Constitution to require that any special tax adopted by a local government entity take effect only if approved by a two-thirds vote of the electorate. The court of appeal recently interpreted these constitutional provisions “as coexisting with, not displacing, the people’s power to enact initiatives by majority vote” and held that a measure placed on the ballot as a local citizens’ initiative requires a majority, not a supermajority, vote to pass.Sixty percent of San Franciscans voting on Proposition G— an initiative entitled “Parcel Tax for San Francisco Unified School District”—approved the measure. San Francisco filed suit to establish that Proposition G was valid. The complaint against “All Persons Interested” was answered by Nowak, who argued that Proposition G is invalid because it failed to garner the two-thirds vote required by Proposition 13 and Proposition 218. Nowak also contended that a provision of Proposition 218 unique to parcel taxes, (art. XIII D, 3(a)), requires a two-thirds vote of the electorate to enact Proposition G. Nowak sought to distinguish the earlier decisions on the grounds that Proposition G was conceived and promoted by local government officials and was not a valid citizens’ initiative. The court of appeal rejected all of Nowak’s arguments, standing by its earlier decisions. View "City & County of San Francisco v. All Persons Interested in Matter of Prop. G" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Taking Offense, an “unincorporated association which includes at least one California citizen and taxpayer who has paid taxes to the state within the last year,” sought a writ of mandate asserting facial challenges to two provisions of Senate Bill No. 219 (2017-2018 Reg. Sess.), which added to the Health and Safety Code the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Long-Term Care Facility Residents’ Bill of Rights. The first, codified in Health and Safety Code section 1439.51 (a)(5), prohibited staff members of long-term care facilities from willfully and repeatedly referring to a facility resident by other than the resident’s preferred name or pronoun when clearly informed of the name and pronoun. The second challenged provision, section 1439.51 (a)(3), makes it unlawful for long-term care facilities or facility staff to assign, reassign, or refuse to assign rooms, where such decisions are based on gender, other than in accordance with a transgender resident’s gender identity, unless at the transgender resident’s request. Taking Offense challenged (a)(5) on the bases that it violated staff members’ rights to free speech, free exercise of religion, and freedoms of thought and belief, and was vague and overbroad. Taking Offense challenged (a)(3) as a violation of non-transgender residents’ right to equal protection under the law, contending non-transgender residents were not afforded the same opportunity to request a roommate who does not conform to the resident’s gender identity. The Court of Appeal agreed with Taking Offense that section 1439.51 (a)(5) was a content-based restriction of speech that did not survive strict scrutiny. The Court disagreed that section 1439.51 (a)(3) created an unconstitutional gender-based classification and concluded Taking Offense’s equal protection argument lacked merit. View "Taking Offense v. California" on Justia Law

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M.M. appealed a judgment denying his petition to establish a parental relationship with his biological son (Child). M.M. filed the petition after he learned, when Child was two years old, that he was Child’s biological father. M.M. alleged he was entitled to status as a presumed father under the principles of due process and equal protection set forth in Adoption of Kelsey S., 1 Cal.4th 816 (1992) for unwed fathers who were prevented by the mother or by a third party from establishing presumed father status. M.M. did not dispute the parental status of T.M., who was married to Child’s mother (Mother), listed on Child’s birth certificate as the father, and signed a Voluntary Declaration of Parentage at the Child’s birth. However, M.M. contended he should be accorded status as Child’s third parent pursuant to Family Code section 7612 (c). The Court of Appeal concluded that even assuming that M.M. was entitled to presumed parent status, the trial court properly determined that M.M. should not have been adjudged a third parent due to his lack of an existing relationship with Child. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "M.M. v. D.V." on Justia Law

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Three news media organizations made a request under the California Public Records Act to obtain unredacted records from the County of San Diego (County) that show the exact location of disease outbreaks during the COVID-19 pandemic. The County maintained a spreadsheet showing each outbreak of COVID-19 in the County, which included the applicable dates of the outbreak, the city where it occurred, the number of people involved, and whether the outbreak occurred in a community setting, a skilled nursing facility or a non-skilled congregate living facility. When releasing the spreadsheet to the public, the County redacted the columns that would show the specific name and address of each outbreak location. In their petition for an extraordinary writ, Voice of San Diego, KPBS Public Broadcasting (KPBS), and San Diego Union Tribune (collectively, petitioners) contended the trial court improperly concluded that the County was entitled to redact information about the exact location of the outbreaks. The Court of Appeal determined the County properly withheld the specific location of COVID-19 outbreaks under the catchall exemption in the PRA. The County submitted uncontradicted evidence that disclosing the exact name and address of an outbreak location would have a chilling effect on the public’s willingness to cooperate with contact tracing efforts. "Although we do not take lightly the countervailing public interest in obtaining access to public records, and we recognize the vital role that the news media plays in obtaining and disseminating information in a time of crisis, the County has convincingly shown that the value of its ability to conduct effective contact tracing in the midst of a deadly pandemic clearly outweighs the public’s interest in obtaining information about the exact outbreak locations." Accordingly, the petition for an extraordinary writ was denied. View "Voice of San Diego v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Gary and Bella Martin appealed after the trial court granted in part and denied in part their petition for writ of administrative mandate to challenge the imposition of certain special conditions placed on the development of their property - a vacant, oceanfront lot in Encinitas - by the California Coastal Commission (Commission). The Commission also appealed the judgment. The Martins’ challenged a condition requiring them to eliminate a basement from their proposed home, while the Commission challenged the trial court’s reversal of its condition requiring the Martins to set back their home 79 feet from the bluff edge. Because the Court of Appeal agreed with its own recent decision in Lindstrom v. California Coastal Com., 40 Cal.App.5th 73 (2019) interpreting the same provisions of the Encinitas Local Coastal Program (LCP) and Municipal Code at issue here, the trial court’s invalidation of the Commission’s setback requirement was reversed. The trial court’s decision to uphold the basement prohibition was affirmed. View "Martin v. Cal. Coastal Commission" on Justia Law

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Allstate Insurance Company et al. (Allstate) filed a complaint on behalf of itself and the People of California (qui tam) against Dr. Sonny Rubin and related medical providers (Rubin). Allstate generally alleged Rubin prepared fraudulent patient medical reports and billing statements in support of insurance claims. Rubin filed an anti-SLAPP motion, arguing the preparation and submission of its medical reports and bills were protected litigation activities. The trial court denied Rubin’s motion. "Litigation is not 'under [serious] consideration' - and thereby protected activity under the anti-SLAPP statute - if the ligation is merely a 'possibility.'" The Court of Appeal found that Rubin failed to show its medical reports and bills were prepared outside of its usual course of business in anticipation of litigation that was “under [serious] consideration.” Thus, the Court affirmed the trial court’s order denying Rubin’s anti-SLAPP motion. View "California ex rel. Allstate Ins. Co. v. Rubin" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Michael and Crystal Haytasingh appealed a judgment entered in favor of defendants, City of San Diego (City) and Ashley Marino, a City lifeguard. Plaintiffs sued defendants after an incident that occurred at Mission Beach in San Diego in August 2013, while Michael Haytasingh was surfing and defendant Marino was operating a City-owned personal watercraft. Plaintiffs alleged Marino was operating her personal watercraft parallel to Haytasingh, inside the surf line, when she made an abrupt left turn in front of him. In order to avoid an imminent collision with Marino, Haytasingh dove off of his surfboard and struck his head on the ocean floor. Haytasingh suffered serious injuries. Plaintiffs alleged that Marino was negligent in her operation of the personal watercraft. Prior to trial, the trial court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiffs’ negligence cause of action, finding Government Code section 831.7 provided complete immunity to defendants on the plaintiffs’ negligence cause of action. After that ruling, plaintiffs amended their complaint to allege they were entitled to relief pursuant to two statutory exceptions to the immunity provided in section 831.7. The case proceeded to trial, and a jury ultimately found in favor of defendants. On appeal, plaintiffs contended the trial court erred in concluding that the immunity granted to public entities and their employees under section 831.7 barred plaintiffs from pursuing a cause of action for ordinary negligence against the City and Marino. Plaintiffs also contended the trial court erred when it concluded, prior to instructing the jury, that the City and its lifeguards were not required to comply with the state’s basic speed law set forth in Harbors and Navigation Code section 655.2. Plaintiffs contended the court’s instructional error with respect to the speed limit issue constituted reversible error because the state’s basic speed law was relevant to the standard of care that Marino was obliged to meet, and was therefore relevant to whether Marino’s conduct constituted an extreme departure from the standard of care. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court did not err in determining that section 831.7 provided defendants with complete immunity with respect to the plaintiffs’ cause of action for ordinary negligence, given that Haytasingh’s injuries arose from his participation in a hazardous recreational activity on public property. However, the Court also concluded the trial court erred in determining that Harbors and Navigation Code section 655.2’s five mile per hour speed limit did not apply to City lifeguards, and in instructing the jury that all employees of governmental agencies acting within their official capacities were exempt from the City’s five mile per hour speed limit for water vessels that are within 1,000 feet of a beach under San Diego Municipal Code. This error, the Court held, was prejudicial. It therefore reversed judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Haytasingh v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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To connect a California caller to a California recipient, long-distance carriers must purchase access to local exchange services provided by local carriers (switched access services). Long-distance carriers have no control over which local carrier will provide switched access services and “have no choice but to use this service." In its complaint to the Public Utilities Commission, Qwest (a long-distance carrier) alleged that local carriers discriminated against it by providing other long-distance carriers, AT&T and Sprint, with discounted rates for switched access services. Qwest was not charged more than the rates set forth in the local carriers’ tariffs. The Commission concluded Qwest showed that it was similarly situated to AT&T and Sprint and that there was no rational basis for treating Qwest differently with respect to the rates. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting challenges to the Commission failing to conduct an additional evidentiary hearing, finding Qwest was similarly situated to the Contracting Carriers without considering various factors the Commission identified in earlier Decisions; treating differences in the cost of providing service as the only “rational basis” for different rates; concluding Qwest is entitled to refunds; and in determining for the first time during the rehearing that switched access is a monopoly bottleneck service. View "Bullseye Telecom, Inc. v. California Public Utilities Commission" on Justia Law