Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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When Hall was pulled over for a vehicle equipment violation in 2018, a police officer observed in the car “a clear plastic baggie” of what appeared to be marijuana. Based on this observation, two police officers searched Hall’s car and found a gun in a closed backpack, resulting in criminal charges against Hall for carrying a loaded firearm in a public place, carrying a concealed firearm in a vehicle, and having no license plate lamp.The trial court denied Hall’s motion to suppress the evidence found in the search. The court of appeal reversed that denial. Since the passage of Proposition 64 in 2016, it has been legal for persons 21 years of age and older to possess and transport small amounts (up to 28.5 grams) of marijuana, Health & Saf. Code 11362.1(a)(1). The lawful possession of marijuana in a vehicle does not provide probable cause to search the vehicle. Under Proposition 64, a driver is not permitted to “[p]ossess an open container or open package of cannabis or cannabis products” but there was no evidence in this case that the plastic baggie observed by the officers was an “open container.” View "People v. Hall" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Fresno Unified and the Contractor, alleging that they violated California's competitive bidding requirements, the statutory and common law rules governing conflicts of interest, and Education Code sections 17406 and 17417. Based on the Court of Appeal's review of the four corners of the construction agreements and resolution of Fresno Unified’s board, the court concluded that plaintiff properly alleged three grounds for why Education Code section 17406's exception to competitive bidding did not apply to the purported lease-leaseback contracts. The court also concluded that California's statutory and common law rules governing conflicts of interest extended to corporate consultants and plaintiff alleged facts showing Contractor participated in creating the terms and specifications of the purported lease-leaseback contracts and then became a party to those contracts. After remand, the further proceedings included defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings, which argued the lawsuit had become moot because the construction was finished and the contracts terminated. The trial court agreed.The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that defendants and the trial court erroneously interpreted plaintiff's lawsuit as exclusively an in rem reverse validation action. Rather, plaintiff is pursuing both a validation action and a taxpayer action. In this case, plaintiff asserts violations of California's competitive bidding laws and Education Code sections 17406 and 17417 along with conflicts of interest prohibited by Government Code section 1090 and common law principles. The remedy of disgorgement is available under these counts asserted in plaintiff's taxpayer's action even though the Construction Contracts are fully performed. Therefore, the counts in plaintiff's taxpayer's action seeking disgorgement are not moot. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Davis v. Fresno Unified School District" on Justia Law

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The Church experienced water damage 57 days after escrow closed on a residence it had purchased; its insurance broker, SBC, had procured commercial property insurance for the residence with Philadelphia Indemnity. Philadelphia denied a claim. The policy states the insurer will not pay for losses if the building where the loss occurs was vacant for more than 60 consecutive days before the loss. The parties entered into an agreement whereby the Church gave Philadelphia the right to control litigation in the Church's name against SBC or third parties in exchange for a loan of money to repair and remediate the residence; the loan was to be repaid out of any recovery.In a suit against SBC for professional negligence, the court found that SBC had breached its duty of care, but that the Church suffered no damages because the loss was covered under the Philadelphia policy. The court found the vacancy provision ambiguous and concluded that it did not include time before the insured owned the residence.The court of appeal reversed. When the vacancy provision is properly interpreted and applied to the undisputed evidence, there was no coverage for the loss. The residence did not contain enough personal property to conduct operations as a residence for the Coptic Pope and visiting clergy or the prior owner. The court rejected an argument that the residence was not vacant under the policy because it was being held out for sale. View "St. Mary & St. John Coptic Orthodox Church v. SBC Insurance Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Environmental groups challenged the constitutionality of Public Resources Code section 25531, which limits judicial review of decisions by the Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission on the siting of thermal power plants. Section 25531(a) provides that an Energy Commission siting decision is “subject to judicial review by the Supreme Court of California.” The plaintiffs contend this provision abridges the original jurisdiction of the superior courts and courts of appeal over mandate petitions, as conferred by California Constitution Article VI, section 10. Section 25531(b) provides that findings of fact in support of a Commission siting determination “are final,” allegedly violating the separation of powers doctrine by depriving courts of their essential power to review administrative agency findings (Cal. Const., Art. III, section 3; Art. VI, section 1).The court of appeal affirmed summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs. The Article VI grant of original jurisdiction includes the superior courts and courts of appeal and may not be circumscribed by statute, absent some other constitutional provision. Legislative amendments to section 25531 have broken the once-tight link between the regulatory authority of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and Energy Commission power plant siting decisions, such that the plenary power Article XII grants the Legislature over PUC activities no longer authorizes section 25531(a). Section 25531(b) violates the judicial powers clause by preventing courts from reviewing whether substantial evidence supports the Commission’s factual findings. View "Communities for a Better Environment v. Energy Resources Conservation & Development Commission" on Justia Law

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In 2001, a Minnesota state court ordered James to pay $89,582.15 in child support arrears to his ex-wife, Rosemary, for their two children. James was then living in California. In 2005 the Minnesota order was registered for enforcement purposes in Santa Cruz County Superior Court under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act. In 2018, in connection with registration in California of a renewed judgment from Minnesota, the Santa Cruz County court stayed enforcement of a portion of James’s child support arrears determined by the 2001 Minnesota order because the children had intermittently lived with James between 1993 and 2002. The trial court found the remainder of the arrears enforceable. The Santa Cruz County Department of Child Support Services, which has assisted in the enforcement and collection of James’s child support arrears, contends that the court lacked authority under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act to stay the arrears owed by James because the 2001 Minnesota order at issue was registered and confirmed in California in 2005, and James did not timely challenge its registration. The court of appeal agreed and reversed the portion of the 2018 order staying enforcement of $28,890 of the arrears, while affirming that the remainder of the arrears ($60,692.15) was enforceable. View "Marriage of Sawyer" on Justia Law

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After receiving a citizen’s tip that Black males in a Mercedes were “acting shady,” four San Diego Police Department (SDPD) officers drove to the scene in two marked vehicles, activating emergency lights in one. Parking behind the Mercedes, the officers positioned themselves beside each of its four doors and asked the three teenagers inside for their names and identification. A records check later indicated that the driver was on probation subject to a Fourth Amendment waiver. The officers searched the vehicle and recovered a loaded firearm and sneakers linking the minors to a recent robbery. The minors moved to suppress the evidence found in the car, claiming their initial detention was not supported by reasonable suspicion. Finding the encounter was consensual rather than a detention, the juvenile court denied the motions. Two of the minors pleaded guilty to a subset of the charges originally filed. In a consolidated appeal, two of the minors, Edgerrin J. and Jamar D. challenged the denial of their motions to suppress, arguing the juvenile court erred in finding the encounter consensual, and claimed the citizen’s tip did not establish reasonable suspicion to detain them. To this, the Court of Appeal agreed on both points. However, the Court found conflicting evidence as to whether officers knew other facts that might furnish reasonable suspicion for the stop, or justify the detention and search pursuant to Edgerrin’s active Fourth Amendment waiver. Because the rationale for its ruling made it unnecessary for the juvenile court to address these other issues, judgment was reversed and remanded for a new hearing to permit it to assess witness credibility and reach factual findings in the first instance. View "In re Edgerrin J." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-respondent Sarah Coughenour worked for defendant-appellant Del Taco, LLC, starting when she was 16 years old. When she was first employed by Del Taco, she signed a “Mutual Agreement to Arbitrate” (Agreement). After Coughenour reached the age of 18, she continued working for Del Taco for four months. Coughenour quit and filed a lawsuit against Del Taco for sexual harassment committed by one of their employees, wage and hour claims brought pursuant to the Labor Code, and other claims under the Fair Housing and Employment Housing Act. Del Taco moved to compel arbitration. The trial court denied the Motion, finding that Coughenour’s filing of the lawsuit was a disaffirmance of the Agreement within the meaning of Family Code section 6710, which allowed a person upon reaching majority age to disaffirm a contract entered into while a minor. Del Taco appealed the denial of its motion, arguing that by working for Del Taco for four months after she reached the age of majority, Coughenour ratified the Agreement, which estopped her power to disaffirm the Agreement. In the alternative, Del Taco argued that Coughenour did not disaffirm the Agreement within a “reasonable time” after reaching the age of 18 as required by Family Code section 6710. The Court of Appeal affirmed denial of Del Taco's motion: [t]he filing of the lawsuit was notice that [Coughenour] disaffirmed the Agreement." The trial court did not abuse its discretion by concluding that Coughenour disaffirmed the Agreement within a reasonable time. View "Coughenour v. Del Taco" on Justia Law

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In this case, the real parties in interest and plaintiffs were former store managers for petitioner-defendant Big Lots Inc., who claimed they spent less than 50 percent of their worktime on managerial tasks and, as a result, should have been paid overtime compensation for hours worked in excess of a standard 40-hour week. Big Lots was an Ohio corporation. When this lawsuit was first filed, it retained a California law firm, Haight Brown & Bonesteel LLP (Haight Brown), as counsel of record. Big Lots later sought the superior court’s permission for attorneys from an Ohio law firm, Vorys, Sater, Seymour & Pease LLP (Vorys), to also represent it. The trial judge ultimately granted applications filed by three different attorneys in the Vorys firm. But after later being advised that these Ohio attorneys were attempting to represent various current and former Big Lots managers in depositions noticed by plaintiffs, the court revoked pro hac vice authorization for all three lawyers. Big Lots petitioned for a writ of mandamus to overturn that order. The Court of Appeal agreed with the trial judge that there was a between an attorney’s representation of the defendant corporation in a lawsuit and his or her representation of current or former employee witnesses. "Pro hac vice admission as to one client does not necessarily allow a lawyer to represent a different client even if substantive law does not otherwise prohibit it." The Court nonetheless concluded the total revocation of pro hac vice status for the Vorys attorneys was not supported by the record then before the trial court. The petition to vacated the revocation order was granted, but the matter was returned to the trial court for additional hearings/orders deemed necessary. View "Big Lots Stores v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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In 2015, a jury convicted Daniel of second-degree murder in the death of his girlfriend. He was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. In 2018, Senate Bill 1437 altered liability for murder under the theories of felony murder and natural and probable consequences and established a procedure, Penal Code section 1170.95, for eligible defendants to seek resentencing. Daniel filed a petition for relief, alleging that he was convicted of murder under the natural and probable consequences doctrine or the felony murder doctrine and could no longer be convicted of murder because of Senate Bill 1437’s changes to the law.The trial court summarily denied the petition, reasoning that the jury was not instructed on either theory of liability and the record showed Daniel was the actual killer. The court of appeal affirmed. Although the judge who ruled on the petition failed to appoint counsel and was not the sentencing judge, both violations of section 1170.95, the errors were harmless. A court’s failure to appoint counsel after a petitioner files a facially sufficient petition for relief is not prejudicial error when records in the court’s own file—here, the jury instructions— demonstrate that the petitioner is ineligible for relief as a matter of law. View "People v. Daniel" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Proposition 218, the Right to Vote on Taxes Act, generally required local governments obtain voter approval prior to imposing taxes. Plaintiffs Jess Willard Mahon, Jr. and Allan Randall brought this certified class action against the City of San Diego (City) claiming that the City violated Proposition 218 by imposing an illegal tax to fund the City’s undergrounding program. Specifically, plaintiffs contended the City violated Proposition 218 through the adoption of an ordinance that amended a franchise agreement between the City and the San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E). The ordinance, together with a related memorandum of understanding, further specifies that part of the money to fund the undergrounding budget will be collected by SDG&E through a 3.53 percent surcharge on ratepayers in the City that will be remitted to the City for use on undergrounding (Undergrounding Surcharge). Plaintiffs claim that the surcharge is a tax. Plaintiffs further claim that the surcharge violates Proposition 218 because it was never approved by the electorate. Plaintiffs note that the City has imposed more than 200 million dollars in charges pursuant to the Undergrounding Surcharge during the class period. Through this action, plaintiffs seek a refund of those amounts, among other forms of relief. The City moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted on two grounds: (1) the Undergrounding Surcharge constituted compensation for franchise rights and thus was not a tax; alternatively, (2) the Undergrounding Surcharge was a valid regulatory fee and not a tax. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court properly granted the City’s motion for summary on the ground that the Undergrounding Surcharge was compensation validly given in exchange for franchise rights and thus, was not a tax subject to voter approval. View "Mahon v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law