Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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Where an offeree achieves a judgment more favorable than a first offer, the determination of whether an offeree obtained a judgment more favorable than a second offer should include all costs reasonably incurred up to the date of the second offer. This case involved a landlord-tenant dispute which resulted in the tenant rejecting two offers to compromise from the landlord. After a bench trial, the trial court awarded the tenant damages less than the two offers to compromise. The trial court found that the Code of Civil Procedure section 998 offers were reasonable and made in good faith; declared the landlord to be the prevailing party; and awarded him attorney fees. The Court of Appeal held that the trial court improperly calculated the "net" judgment to ascertain whether tenant had obtained a judgment more favorable than the section 998 offers. In this case, the trial court should have added her costs and attorney fees to the damages award to determine the correct "net" judgment. Therefore, the court reversed the trial court's amended judgment incorporating the order and remanded for a determination of the amount of the tenant's reasonable costs. The court either declined to reach the tenant's remaining arguments or otherwise did not have jurisdiction to consider them. View "Hersey v. Vopava" on Justia Law

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Cases consolidated for review came to the Court of Appeal as part of ongoing litigation between The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry (the National Grange) and the Order’s relatively recent charter the California State Grange (the California Grange) (collectively, respondents) against the Order’s former California charter, now known as the California Guild (the Guild), which operated the California Grange Foundation (the Foundation) when the Guild’s charter was previously active. At issue was the disqualification of the law firm representing the Guild and the Foundation following its hiring of an attorney who previously worked for the law firm representing the National Grange. The trial court granted respondents’ motions to disqualify Ellis Law Group in litigation initiated in 2012 while the court’s prior order granting summary judgment in favor of the National Grange was pending on appeal in this court. In litigation initiated in 2016 by only the California Grange against the Foundation, the trial court granted the California Grange’s motion to disqualify Ellis Law Group too. The Court of Appeal found no reversible error in disqualifying the Ellis Law Group, and affirmed the trial court's orders. View "The Nat. Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry v. California Guild" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the trial court's order denying in part his fee request stemming from an underlying action brought by plaintiff for the wrongful denial of unemployment benefits by EDD and the Board. The Court of Appeal held that the trial court improperly limited the scope of permissible fees in this case to those incurred solely in connection with the Robles II litigation. Therefore, the trial court's fee order was reversed to the extent it declined to award fees under Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5 for work related to Robles I. The court remanded for the trial court to make an additional award of attorney fees and costs. View "Robles v. Employment Development Dept." on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics

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The Court of Appeal reversed the order awarding sanctions and held that there was no evidence to support finding that the attorney violated Code of Civil Procedure section 128.7. The court held that there was no evidence that the attorney presented the complaint to the court within the meaning of section 128.7 before he was served with the motion for sanctions; a new attorney's filing of a declaration merely notifying the court of a change in counsel does not constitute presenting the complaint to the court under section 128.7; and a sanctions order cannot be supported solely by evidence of conduct occurring after the motion is served, because a motion for sanctions under section 128.7 must describe the specific conduct taken by the party to be sanctioned and allow a safe harbor period to withdraw or appropriately correct the sanctionable conduct. View "Primo Hospitality Group, Inc. v. Haney" on Justia Law

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The defendants are Fair, an attorney, and limited liability companies Fair formed in 2007, which own Arizona apartment units. Plaintiffs are a California limited partnership and a nonattorney individual investor, who invested $150,000 and $100,000, respectively, in those LLCs. Plaintiffs asserted that defendants made fraudulent representations. The following years involved an attempt to negotiate a settlement; a lawsuit and amended complaints; two motions to stay the action and compel arbitration, pursuant to the arbitration provision contained in each LLC’s operating agreement; two appeals; a special motion to strike (anti-SLAPP motion); an award to plaintiffs of $12,609 in attorney fees and costs; refusal to comply with an alleged settlement; summary adjudications; and an additional award of $4,918.00 in attorney fees for the SLAPP proceedings. The court of appeal affirmed summary adjudication regarding the breach of the settlement agreement, rejecting an argument that there were triable issues of material fact regarding whether the parties entered into a binding settlement agreement. The court also affirmed the award of fees, rejecting an argument that the court should have awarded attorney fees for the entire dispute, consistent with Civil Code section 1717’s mutuality requirement and public policy or, at least, should have awarded fees as prevailing parties on defendants’ failed motions to compel arbitration and a related appeal. The court imposed monetary sanctions on defendants and their attorneys for bringing a frivolous appeal. View "J.B.B. Investment Partners v. Fair" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the trial court's award of fees following a settlement of plaintiff's lawsuit against Mercedes-Benz. Determining that it had jurisdiction, the Court of Appeal held that plaintiff was entitled to recover reasonable attorney fees for legal services performed after the January 2016 Code of Civil Procedure section 998 offer to compromise; the trial court erred by failing to use the Lodestar Method for the award of fees incurred after the January 2016 section 998 offer to compromise; and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in disallowing costs for plaintiff's first expert. View "Hanna v. Mercedes-Benz USA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-petitioner Jane Doe, a student-employee in the campus police department at Southwestern College, brought claims relating to sexual harassment and sexual assault against defendants-real parties Southwestern Community College District and three District employees. Her complaint also alleged sexual harassment of two other female District employees, which was presumably relevant to Doe's allegations because it provided notice to the District regarding similar misconduct by at least one of the involved employees, campus police officer Ricardo Suarez. Before her deposition could take place, one of those female employees, Andrea P., was contacted by one of Doe's lawyers, Manuel Corrales, Jr. When they discovered this contact, defendants moved to disqualify Corrales for violating Rule 4.2 of the California State Bar Rules of Professional Conduct, which generally prohibits a lawyer from communicating with "a person the lawyer knows to be represented by another lawyer in the matter." The trial court granted the motion. Although the District offered to provide counsel for Andrea, the Court of Appeal found there was no evidence that at the time of the contact she had accepted the offer or otherwise retained counsel. The Court issued a writ directing the superior court to vacate its order disqualifying Corrales as Doe's counsel in this matter. View "Doe v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from a civil action brought by United Grand to recover overdue rent from Malibu Hillbillies and its guarantor. After a default judgment, United Grand sought almost $2 million in attorney fees for its efforts to enforce the judgment against the guarantor. The trial court subsequently found that United Grand had engaged in extensive misconduct throughout the duration of the action and imposed a terminating sanction striking from the complaint United Grand's prayer for attorney fees. However, the trial court also entered judgment in favor of United Grand and against the guarantor in the amount of the unpaid rent and accrued interest she had already paid. The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment of dismissal, the order dissolving the injunction and the order denying attorney fees on appeal. The court held that many of United Grand's claims were forfeited and the few cognizable claims of error were meritless. Finally, the court dismissed the appeal from the sanctions orders. View "United Grand Corp. v. Malibu Hillbillies, LLC" on Justia Law

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From 2011 to 2015, Appellant Attorney Joanna Vogel represented plaintiff-respondent Angele Lasalle in the dissolution of a registered domestic partnership with Minh Tho Si Luu. Lasalle repeatedly failed to provide discovery in that case, and the court defaulted her as a terminating sanction. She said her failure to provide discovery was caused by Vogel not keeping her informed of discovery orders, so she sued Vogel for legal malpractice. A default judgment was entered against Vogel. Vogel successfully moved to set aside the default judgment pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 473(b). In response, LaSalle’s new lawyer asked the trial court to take judicial notice of state bar disciplinary proceedings against Vogel which stayed her ability to practice law. The set aside motion was then denied, and a year later, a default judgment was entered against Vogel for $1 million. She appealed the default and denial of her motion to set aside the default. The Court of Appeal reversed: “[w]e sympathize with the court below and opposing counsel. We have all encountered dilatory tactics and know how frustrating they can be. But we cannot see this as such a situation, and cannot countenance the way this default was taken, so we reverse the judgment.” View "Lasalle v. Vogel" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed the denial of his petition to compel arbitration of a fee dispute with his former attorneys pursuant to the Mandatory Fee Arbitration Act (MFAA), Business and Professions Code section 6200, et seq. The trial court found that defendant waived his right to arbitration under the MFAA by failing to request arbitration within the required 30 days. The Court of Appeal held that it lacked jurisdiction to consider defendant's appeal because the denial of a petition to compel a MFAA arbitration is not an appealable order. The court held that Code of Civil Procedure section 1294, subsection (a) did not authorize the instant appeal, and the court declined to treat the appeal as a writ petition. Finally, the court held that sanctions were not warranted and LAK could not be awarded attorney fees for representing itself. View "Levinson Arshonsky & Kurtz LLP v. Kim" on Justia Law