Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

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Stephen Taylor was convicted by jury of numerous sex offenses against his adopted daughters, Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2. In total, the jury convicted him on 12 counts. The trial court sentenced him to prison for a one-year determinate term and an aggregate indeterminate term of 165 years to life. On appeal, Taylor argued the trial court erred by admitting expert testimony on child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome, and instructing the jurors that they could use that evidence to evaluate the victims’ credibility. He also claimed the court made several sentencing errors: (1) by imposing two indeterminate terms under the former “One Strike” law for two offenses that occurred during a single occasion; (2) by imposing multiple punishments for four counts of aggravated sexual assault and four counts of lewd acts arising from the same facts; and (3) by imposing a restitution fine and court operations and facilities fees without an ability to pay hearing. The Court of Appeal agreed that the court erred by imposing multiple punishments on four counts of aggravated sexual assault (counts 1 through 4) and four counts of forcible lewd acts (counts 5 through 8) that arose from the same conduct. Accordingly, Taylor’s sentence was stayed on counts 5 through 8. The Court also agreed the court should hold an ability to pay hearing, at least as to the court operations and facilities fees. Therefore, the Court reversed the order imposing those fees and remanded for a hearing on Taylor’s ability to pay them. As to the restitution fine, Taylor forfeited his contention. The Court otherwise rejected Taylor’s arguments and affirmed. View "Holden v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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During their marriage, Wong held a 48.5 percent interest and Tang held an 11 percent interest in Asian Square, which owns San Jose’s Grand Century Mall. Their divorce judgment provided that Wong would transfer to Tang all of his interest in Asian Square subject to all liabilities. “If either party has incurred ... any liability not disclosed … on which the other is or may become personally liable or that could be enforced at any time against an asset held or to be received under this agreement… that warrantor will fully indemnify the other with respect to the obligation, including… attorney fees, and related costs.” Both died in 2013. The Tang Estate obtained a probate court order to effect the transfer. In 2014, Asian Square received a “Notice of Default” based on a $ 5 million promissory note. Asian Square paid off the loan and sued the Wong Estate to recoup the money, alleging that the loan proceeds were “appropriated, in full, by [Wong] for his own personal benefit.” The Wong Estate obtained a dismissal that was subsequently reversed. Meanwhile, the Wong Estate filed suit, seeking indemnification. The Tang Estate filed an anti-SLAPP motion (Code of Civil Procedure 425.16) to strike the complaint. The trial court denied the motion, holding that the lawsuit did not arise from protected activity, without addressing whether the Wong claims had merit. The court of appeal affirmed. The Wong claims for indemnity do not arise from Tang’s protected activity in relation to the litigation. View "Wong v. Wong" on Justia Law

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Raymond Dapo was born in 1990. OCS took custody of him ten years later and, in April 2000, placed him in Taun Lucas’s foster home. Lucas and her husband David legally adopted Dapo in May 2002. According to Dapo, Lucas began sexually abusing him shortly thereafter; Lucas, however, alleged that she was sexually abused by Dapo, and Dapo, then 11 years old, was arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree sexual assault. The charges were eventually dropped, and Dapo was returned to the custody of the State as a dependent child. When he was 24 years old (in 2015), Dapo filed a complaint against Lucas, alleging that she had sexually abused him while he was a minor. In September 2015, Lucas filed a third-party claim against OCS for apportionment of fault, contending that OCS “had a duty to protect” Dapo and “negligently failed to protect” him. The superior court granted OCS’s motion to dismiss the apportionment claim, holding that it was barred by the ten-year statute of repose, AS 09.10.055(a). Dapo appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court held that the statute of repose applied to the apportionment claim and was not unconstitutional as applied. However, the Court determined there were issues of fact regarding the applicability of two exceptions to the statute of repose: claims for gross negligence and claims for breaches of fiduciary duty. Therefore the superior court’s order was reversed, and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Dapo v. Alaska, Office of Children's Services" on Justia Law

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In October 2013, Jones was on a Pennsylvania prison bus, traveling to his post-conviction hearing. Jones talked with a fellow inmate. The driver “threaten[ed]” both men, then switched Jones’s property box with that of the other inmate. The box held Jones’s legal papers for the hearing. Weeks later, Jones was waiting for another prison bus. The same driver yanked him out of line, put him in the segregation cage, and berated him. Jones told other inmates to get the names of the transportation crew; they took off their name tags. The stress of this incident exacerbated his mental ailments. He had a nervous breakdown and stayed two days in the medical annex. Days later, Jones filed a grievance. For 10 months, he refiled, appealed, and sent follow-up letters. In September 2014, he was released, but the prison had not decided his grievance. Just under two years after his release, Jones filed a pro se 42 U.S.C. 1983 complaint. On remand, a magistrate recommended dismissing his claim as time-barred. She acknowledged that the limitations period is tolled for a prisoner who exhausts his administrative remedies before suing but reasoned that the rule does not apply to former prisoners who sue after their release. The Third Circuit vacated. A prisoner must exhaust the prison’s internal administrative remedies, whether he sues from prison or sues after his release. Jones’s claim for injunctive relief against the driver were moot but Jones may seek monetary relief against the remaining defendants. View "Jones v. Capozza" on Justia Law

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Valley National Bank ("VNB") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct directing the trial court to dismiss a declaratory-judgment action filed against VNB by Jesse Blount, Wilson Blount, and William Blount. William owned a 33% interest in Alabama Utility Services, LLC ("AUS"). William also served as the president of WWJ Corporation, Inc. ("WWJ"), and WWJ managed AUS. Wilson and Jesse, William's sons, owned all the stock of WWJ. In May 2013, William transferred his 33% interest in AUS to WWJ, and WWJ then owned all the interest in AUS. In July 2015, VNB obtained a $905,599.90 judgment against William in an action separate from the underlying action. On August 31, 2015, Asset Management Professionals, LLC, purchased from WWJ all the assets of AUS for $1,600,000. On July 17, 2018, the Blounts filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a judgment declaring "that a) William's transfer of his interest in AUS to WWJ was not fraudulent as to [VNB], b) William was not the alter ego of AUS or WWJ, c) the sale of AUS did not result in a constructive trust in favor of [VNB], and d) the [Blounts] did not engage in a civil conspiracy." VNB filed an action under the Alabama Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act against the Blounts and others in which it asserted that William had fraudulently transferred assets and sought to pierce the corporate veil of WWJ. After review of the trial court records and documents submitted by the parties, the Alabama Supreme Court determined VNB did not demonstrate a clear legal right to have claims against them dismissed. The court denied the mandamus petition insofar as it sought dismissal of the alter-ego claim and the constructive-trust claim. View "Ex parte Valley National Bank." on Justia Law

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On a winter night in 2014, strong winds blew through the town of Georgia, Vermont, causing a partially constructed livestock barn to collapse. Commercial Construction Endeavors, Inc. (CCE), the contractor building the barn, sought recompense for the resulting losses from its insurer, Ohio Security Insurance Company. However, insurer and insured disagreed as to policy coverage for costs incurred by CCE in removing the remains of the collapsed barn and rebuilding it to its pre-collapse state. Ultimately, CCE sued Ohio Security for breach of contract. In successive summary-judgment rulings, the trial court held that the contractor’s rebuilding expenses were covered under the policy, but the cost of debris removal was not. Ohio Security cross-appealed the first ruling and CCE appealed the second; the Vermont Supreme Court reversed the first ruling and affirmed the second. The Court determined the additional collapse coverage applied only to “Covered Property,” which was business personal property; CCE did not dispute that the barn was not business personal property and thus was not “Covered Property.” Therefore, the court’s first summary-judgment ruling was reversed. The debris removal was not a loss involving business personal property. As a result, it was not a loss to “Covered Property” at that term was defined by the policy at issue. View "Commercial Construction Endeavors, Inc. v. Ohio Security Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Atlantic sought a declaratory judgment that the insurance policy it had issued to Coastal was void ab initio or, in the alternative, that there was no coverage for the loss of the barge or damage to an adjacent pier. District Court Judge Wexler passed away prior to issuing his findings of fact and conclusions of law. The case was transferred to Judge Azrack, who, after no party requested the recall of any witness under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 63, issued findings of fact and conclusions of law in her role as successor judge and entered judgment finding Atlantic liable to Coastal under the terms of the policy. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a)(6), factual findings of successor judges who have certified their familiarity with the record are subject to the "clearly erroneous" standard of review. The Second Circuit also held that, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 63, a successor judge is under no independent obligation to recall witnesses unless requested by one of the parties. In this case, the court found no reversible error in Judge Azrack's findings of fact and conclusions of law, including findings that Coastal did not breach its duty of uberrimae fidei, and thus the policy was not void; Atlantic failed to prove that the vessel was unseaworthy; the loss of the vessel was due to a "peril of the sea" and was covered by the policy; Coastal was entitled to damages for contractual payments withheld by its contractor for repairs to a pier; and Coastal proved its damages using only a summary spreadsheet of invoices, as evidence. View "Atlantic Specialty Insurance Co. v. Coastal Environmental Group Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2002 or 2003, Sonoma County authorized increased pension benefits for County employees, pursuant to a settlement of employee lawsuits alleging past miscalculation of retirement benefits. In doing so, the County failed to comply with state laws requiring local legislative bodies to obtain an actuarial statement of the future annual costs of proposed pension increases and to make the future annual costs public at a public meeting, before authorizing the pension increases, Gov. Code 7507, 23026, 31515.5, 31516. In 2017, Plaintiff, a county resident and taxpayer filed a mandamus petition, alleging those violations and seeking to enjoin payment of the increased pension benefits. The trial court dismissed, finding the claim barred by the statute of limitations. The court of appeal affirmed., holding that the continuous accrual doctrine does not trigger a new limitations period every time retirement benefits are paid pursuant to the increased pension benefits approved in 2002 and 2003. Neither delayed discovery nor estoppel applies to toll the statute of limitations. View "Luke v. Sonoma County" on Justia Law

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Bile Salat appealed the discontinuation of his disability benefits. In 2016, Salat slipped and fell at work. On March 31, 2016, WSI accepted liability for a contusion of the lower back and pelvis and a right ankle sprain. By November 2016, an independent medical examination revealed Salat's ankle injury had not healed and was not at pre-injury status, but low back pain was unrelated to the work injury. Salat's personal physician reviewed the IME's opinion and did not have any "objective findings on physical exam to challenge or disagree with his medical opinion." On August 5, 2016, WSI issued an order discontinuing Salat’s disability benefits after June 29, 2016. On December 15, 2016, WSI issued a notice of decision denying further benefits of Salat’s lumbar spine after November 11, 2016. The North Dakota Supreme Court reversed the discontinuation of benefits, finding Salat's physician's statement was misunderstood by the district court as a "blanket agreement" with the independent medical examiner: Salat's physician's "statement is better understood as stating she had no objective findings on physical exam to challenge or disagree with [the IME] opinion regarding the source of Salat’s back pain." On this record, the Supreme Court surmised the ALJ could have reasonably found the two physicians had conflicting medical opinions on the source of continued back pain, and that a "reasoning mind reasonably could determine" Salat suffered low back pain after November 11, 2016 that was attributable to the compensable work injury. View "WSI v. Salat, et al." on Justia Law

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In September 2018, Western State Bank sued Swanson and James Lund to enforce commercial guaranties executed by Leland Swanson and Lund. Swanson and Lund consented to entry of judgment, and a $1,334,374.25 judgment was entered against Swanson and Lund. The judgment stated Swanson and Lund were jointly and severally liable. Swanson paid the judgment in full, and contemporaneously, Western State Bank assigned the judgment to Swanson. The next day, Swanson assigned his interest in the judgment to Open Road Trucking. The assignment from Swanson stated it assigned his contribution interest against Lund for $670,952.24, one-half of the judgment amount. Open Road Trucking, LLC, appealed district court orders: (1) denying Open Road’s application for a charging order lien against Lund; and (2) directing satisfaction of a judgment against Lund and Swanson. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded Open Road was entitled to take an assignment of the judgment for the purpose of enforcing contribution against Lund. The Court reversed the district court’s order denying Open Road’s application for a charging order, and remanded for entry of a charging order against Lund’s transferrable interests in the limited liability companies. The Court reversed a part of the court’s February 2019 order directing entry of satisfaction of the judgment. The Court affirmed that part of the order cancelling any execution of judgment for the full amount of the judgment. View "Open Road Trucking v. Swanson, et al." on Justia Law