Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment entered in favor of the law firm in an action where defendant entered a written settlement and release from a 2008 judgment to the plaintiff in the underlying lawsuit. The settlement and release released the attorney fees and costs due to the law firm pursuant to the firm's retainer agreement with plaintiff. The law firm then brought this action against defendant, seeking attorney fees and costs, plus interest, awarded in the underlying litigation and incorporated into the judgment. The court held that defendant's act of executing the memorandum was communicative, but it was one act in a course of tortious conduct to deprive the law firm of its attorney fees. Therefore, defendant's noncommunicative conduct was not protected by the litigation privilege. The court also held that there was sufficient evidence to establish that defendant knew of the law firm's attorney fee lien and that he intended to interfere with the firm's collection of its attorney fees and costs. View "Mancini & Associates v. Schwetz" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics

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Plaintiffs sued Kissler and her medical marijuana collective (Alternatives), alleging defendants failed to pay them for their contract work growing marijuana. The summons and complaint were served: defendants actively participated in the case but failed to file any responsive pleading. They did not move to quash service. At a case management conference, the judge warned defendants their response to the complaint was long-overdue and that challenging the validity of service required a motion. The court ordered the plaintiffs to take the defendants’ default by a specified date or else be sanctioned. Weeks later, plaintiffs took their default. Meanwhile, Kissler was pursuing cases she had filed against plaintiffs: an unlawful detainer action in which she obtained a writ to remove plaintiffs from her property, and a breach of contract action that alleged plaintiffs, not Kissler had breached the contract. Kissler obtained a discovery ruling in her separate contract action that, contrary to her complaint allegations, deemed plaintiffs to have admitted Kissler was not a party to that contract. Kissler sought to set the default aside. The court of appeal affirmed the denials of discretionary relief from default under Code of Civil Procedure 473(b)) on the ground of excusable mistake. Kissler was capable of ascertaining the rules and using them to her advantage when it suited her. Alternatives was “one and the same” party as Kissler, an attorney. The attorney declaration of fault she filed was of no legal effect for purposes of granting mandatory relief from default under section 473(b). View "McClain v. Kissler" on Justia Law

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After appellants obtained a judgment in their favor, the trial court declared Greene the prevailing party and awarded him attorney fees under a contractual attorney fee provision. Greene appealed, contending that the trial court erred in calculating his damages. Greene later voluntarily dismissed his appeal. Respondent then moved for an award of attorney fees incurred on appeal. The Court of Appeal reversed and held that the trial court erred in awarding respondent her attorney fees because Greene was the prevailing party in the action. The court explained that the fact that the court awarded respondent costs in connection with the prior appeal did not conclusively establish her entitlement to attorney fees under Civil Code section 1717. Furthermore, respondent was not entitled to attorney fees under Code of Civil Procedure section 128.5 where Greene's appeal was not frivolous. View "De la Carriere v. Greene" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics

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Nicole, age 13 became a dependent of the juvenile court. Nicole suffered from emotional and behavioral problems and later became “[a] dependent minor who turns 18 years of age” with a permanent plan of long-term foster care, continuing under the juvenile court’s jurisdiction because she agreed that she would continue her education. The designation continued despite her noncompliance, a pregnancy, and living in an unapproved home with a boyfriend who had a history of selling illegal drugs and committing domestic violence. When Nicole turned 20, the Agency recommended that the court dismiss Nicole’s dependency, citing failure to participate in services. In a special writ proceeding, the court of appeal directed the juvenile court to vacate its order requiring Nicole’s therapist to testify about confidential communications relating to whether Nicole has a qualifying mental condition. The juvenile court later terminated its dependency jurisdiction because she had reached the age of 21. The court dismissed Nicole’s case. In her dependency case, Nicole sought an award of attorney’s fees under Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5, which codifies the private attorney general doctrine exception. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the motion; section 1021.5 fees are not recoverable in a dependency proceeding. View "In re Nicole S." on Justia Law

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Taeb’s attorney, Trigger, failed to appear for trial in Taeb’s dissolution case. The court entered a Code of Civil Procedure section 128.5 sanctions order. The court of appeal reversed as to Taeb and affirmed as to Trigger, abrogating a 2016 holding that an objective standard applied when determining whether a party’s or an attorney’s conduct is sanctionable under section 128.5, as it did under section 128.7 and that section 128.5 did not incorporate the safe harbor provisions of section 128.7. Section 128.5 has since been amended to specifically overrule the decision on those points. The law concerning the kind of conduct sanctionable under sections 128.5 and 128.7 has largely returned to its previous state; a more stringent standard requiring subjective bad faith applies to section 128.5, and a lesser standard, requiring only objective bad faith, applies to section 128.7. The conduct for which Trigger was sanctioned can support the requisite finding of bad faith. Taab, however, did appear on the scheduled trial date and only relayed what Trigger told him. There is no evidence Taab was even aware Trigger had misrepresented her readiness for trial or that she made no effort to correct what she had told the court. View "In re: Marriage of Sahafzadeh-Taeb & Taeb" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's restitution order imposed after defendant pleaded no contest to driving under the influence and injuring another person, and admitted allegations that he had a blood-alcohol content in excess of 0.20 percent, injured more than one person, and suffered a prior conviction for driving under the influence. The court held that the trial court properly ordered defendant to pay $178,000 in restitution because there was a rational, factual basis for that order: the injured party incurred those costs to settle her civil lawsuit. In this case, there were no conflicting policies that would constitute compelling and extraordinary reasons to refuse to order restitution and thus the district court did not abuse its discretion when it ordered defendant to pay for the injured party's attorney fees. The court also held that the trial court did not err by declining to apportion the attorney fee award between fees the injured party incurred to collect economic damages and those incurred to collect noneconomic damages. Finally, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in choosing the method to calculate the restitution award. View "People v. Grundfor" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics

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The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's grant of O'Gara Coach's motion to disqualify Richie Litigation and its attorneys from representing plaintiff, a former sales advisor at O'Gara Coach, in plaintiff's action against O'Gara Coach for race discrimination in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and other employment-related misconduct. The court held that O'Gara Coach failed to present evidence Richie possessed privileged information materially related to the pending litigation. The court also held that Richie's likely testimony as a percipient witness did not justify disqualification of Richie Litigation or other attorneys at the firm under the advocate-witness rule. View "Wu v. O'Gara Coach Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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