Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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In July 2013, the California State Board of Pharmacy (the Board) filed an accusation against pharmacist Solomon Oduyale, citing 20 charges for discipline and seeking revocation of his pharmacist license. By August 2016, Oduyale had successfully challenged all but nine of the charges for discipline against him. The Board then ordered Oduyale's pharmacist license revoked. Oduyale challenged the Board's decision in court by filing a petition for writ of mandate. In his petition, Oduyale argued the Board lacked justification for revoking his license, and suggested it could have imposed stringent conditions on probation instead. The superior court did not comment on the propriety of the revocation decision, but concluded that because the Board's decision did not include an explicit discussion of each possible level of discipline with an explanation for why each would have been inappropriate in Oduyale's case, the Board abused its discretion. The Board appealed to the Court of Appeal, challenging the trial court's requirement that it discuss every possible form of discipline short of revocation in its written decision, and also asked for consideration of whether it acted within its discretion to revoke Oduyale's pharmacist license based on the nine causes for discipline. Oduyale cross-appealed, contending the trial court erred by remanding the matter for further consideration by the Board and arguing the court should have directed the Board to impose a penalty short of revocation. The Court of Appeal agreed with the Board: the trial court erred by directing it to provide in writing its reasoning for not imposing each penalty short of revocation. Furthermore, the Court concluded the Board acted within its discretion to revoke Oduyale's pharmacist license. Accordingly, the trial court's judgment was reversed. View "Oduyale v. California State Board of Pharmacy" on Justia Law

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Ron Koenig was the superintendent and principal of the Warner Unified School District (the district). He and the district entered an agreement to terminate his employment one year before his employment agreement was due to expire. Under the termination agreement, Koenig agreed to release any potential claims against the district in exchange for a lump sum payment equivalent to the amount due during the balance of the term of his employment agreement, consistent with Government Code section 53260. The district also agreed to continue to pay health benefits for Koenig and his spouse "until Koenig reaches age 65 or until Medicare or similar government provided insurance coverage takes effect, whichever occurs first." The district stopped paying Koenig's health benefits 22 months later. Koenig then sued to rescind the termination agreement and sought declaratory relief he was entitled to continued benefits pursuant to his underlying employment agreement, which provided that Koenig and his spouse would continue receiving health benefits, even after the term of the agreement expired. After a bench trial, the trial court determined the district's promise in the termination agreement to pay health benefits until Koenig turned 65 violated section 53261, was unenforceable, and rendered the termination agreement void for lack of consideration. Both Koenig and the district appealed the judgment entered after trial. Koenig contended the trial court properly determined the termination agreement was void but should have concluded he was entitled to continued health benefits until the age of 65. The district contended the trial court erred when it concluded the termination agreement was void; rather, the trial court should have severed the termination agreement's unenforceable promise to continue paying benefits, enforced the remainder of the termination agreement, and required Koenig to pay restitution for benefits paid beyond the term of the original agreement. The Court of Appeal concluded the termination agreement's unlawful promise to pay health benefits in excess of the statutory maximum should have been severed to comply with sections 53260 and 53261, Koenig did not establish he was entitled to rescind the termination agreement, and the district was entitled to restitution for health benefits paid beyond the statutory maximum. Judgment was reversed and the trial court directed to enter judgment in favor of the district for $16,607. View "Koenig v. Warner Unified School District" on Justia Law

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Attorney-defendant Peter Porter represented plaintiff Elise Sharon in a lawsuit resulting in a 2008 default judgment entered in favor of Sharon. In October 2015, a judgment debtor wrote to Sharon, claiming the judgment was void. In November 2015, Sharon’s new attorney correctly opined that the judgment was indeed void. In September 2016, the debtor filed a motion to vacate the judgment, which was granted the following month. In May 2017, Sharon filed a legal malpractice lawsuit against Porter. During a court trial on stipulated facts, the trial court found the judgment had been valid until it was vacated. The court also found the statute of limitations applicable to Sharon’s lawsuit had been tolled until “actual injury” first occurred in September 2016, when Sharon began incurring hourly attorney fees to oppose the judgment debtor’s motion to vacate the judgment. After review, the Court of Appeal reversed, finding the default judgment was void independent of it being vacated. "Discovery of the void judgment and whatever injury resulted therefrom occurred at least by November 2015 when the judgment debtor wrote to Sharon and her new attorney claiming the judgment was void. The statute ran one year from that date. Sharon’s 2017 lawsuit was time-barred." View "Sharon v. Porter" on Justia Law

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Petitioner-appellant Patricia Everett filed a creditor’s claim against the estate of Richard Edison Holdaway, seeking repayment of sums she contended the decedent owed her. When filed, the claim was timely, and tolled the statute of limitations against a decedent. The decedent’s son, defendant-respondent Richard Everett Holdaway, as personal representative of the estate, rejected Everett’s claim, leading to Everett suing for payment. After five continuances on her attempts to collect, the trial court dismissed Everett’s claim for failure to prosecute. Everett filed a competing petition for probate under the previous case number as the one that had been dismissed; she contended the decedent died intestate and left all property to a family trust. Holdaway produced a will, the court appointed him personal representative, and dismissed Everett’s competing petition. Then Holdaway rejected Everett’s creditor’s claim. On appeal, Everett challenged the trial court’s order sustaining without leave to amend Holdaway’s demurrer to her complaint on the ground the claim was barred by Code of Civil Procedure section 366.2. In a matter of first impression, the Court of Appeal determined dismissal of a creditor’s petition to be appointed as representative of the estate that allegedly owed her money did not toll the statute of limitations triggered by her claim. The Court reversed and remanded the case for entry of an order sustaining the demurrer with leave to amend. View "Estate of Holdaway" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed from an order striking her claims against defendant under the anti-SLAPP statute. Plaintiff was the defendant in a prior lawsuit where defendant was the legal representative for the plaintiff in that action. After the prior lawsuit was dismissed, plaintiff filed suit against defendant for malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Court of Appeal affirmed and held that plaintiff failed to show that defendant lacked probable cause to prosecute her client's claim where the trial court correctly analyzed the evidence of probable cause under the rules governing the second step of the anti-SLAPP procedure, the evidence available to defendant showed that her client's claim was arguably meritorious; and the trial court's evidentiary rulings did not provide a ground for reversal. View "Litinsky v. Kaplan" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs leased a home from Pineda, who subsequently retained the attorney-defendants to begin eviction proceedings. According to plaintiffs, there was no rent past due. Pineda and the attorney-defendants filed an unlawful detainer action. The evidence indicated that Pineda had excluded rent payments from the rent ledger and had entered into a sales contract with a third party who wanted the building to be delivered vacant. Defendants continued to prosecute the unlawful detainer for two months. Upon dismissing that action, defendants served plaintiffs with a new three-day notice demanding $9,2503 in unpaid rent. The “October notice” attached a revised rent ledger. Plaintiffs sued for wrongful eviction, alleging that defendants violated an ordinance by demanding excessive rent; that defendants violated Civil Code 1950.5(b)(1) by applying plaintiffs’ security deposit to the payment of rent when they were not in default; breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment; and malicious prosecution. The attorney-defendants filed a special motion to strike the claims (anti-SLAPP, Code Civ. Proc. 425.16), arguing the claims arose from protected activities because they were based on the first unlawful detainer action and that plaintiffs could not demonstrate a probability of prevailing on the merits. The court of appeal affirmed denial of the anti-SLAPP motion. The attorney defendants did not satisfy the first prong of the anti-SLAPP statute; the allegation that they misused plaintiffs’ security deposit did not arise out of protected activity. The plaintiffs showed minimal merit on their remaining claims. View "Olivares v. Pineda" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Wilfert Williams sued defendant Sacramento River Cats Baseball Club, LLC in a common law tort action for failing to hire him due to his race. His complaint also alleged discrimination under the Unruh and Ralph Civil Rights Acts and that defendant engaged in unfair business practices under Business and Professions Code section 17200. From April 2014 through July 2015, plaintiff catered meals to the visiting and home team players at Raley Field, home of defendant’s minor league baseball team. He was hired by the visitor clubhouse manager, Wayne Brown, and the home clubhouse manager to do so. He also helped Brown with meal preparation during that time. While assisting Brown, the job of assistant visitor clubhouse manager became available and plaintiff applied for the job. Brown recommended plaintiff to both defendant’s human resources director and to the baseball operations and public relations coordinator, Daniel Emmons. Plaintiff was never interviewed for the position even though he was already performing some of the tasks of assistant clubhouse manager and had experience running his own catering business. Instead, defendant hired a Caucasian teenager who was still in high school and did not meet any of the qualifications for the job. The trial court dismissed plaintiff’s complaint after sustaining defendant’s demurrer. Plaintiff stipulated the dismissal be entered without leave to amend. Defendant contended as a threshold matter, that plaintiff lacked standing in this appeal given his stipulation in the trial court was tantamount to a nonappealable consent judgment and in any event, his causes of action failed on the merits. In the unpublished portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal rejected defendant’s contention that plaintiff lacked standing to appeal but agreed the trial court properly dismissed plaintiff’s causes of action for discrimination under the Unruh and Ralph Civil Rights Acts and for unfair business practices. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court addressed plaintiff’s common law failure to hire claim. Central to that claim is the applicability of Tameny v. Atlantic Richfield Co., 27 Cal.3d 167 (1980). While the Court agreed that failing to hire a prospective employee based on race violated public policy, specifically the Government Code as well as our state Constitution, that prospective employee’s remedies were grounded in the Fair Employment and Housing Act (the Act). Tameny on the other hand required “the prior existence of an employment relationship” between the parties upon which to predicate a tort duty of care. Because defendant did not owe plaintiff any duty, plaintiff could not bring a failure to hire claim against defendant in a common law tort action and must instead proceed under the Act. View "Williams v. Sacramento River Cats Baseball Club, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and Andrijana Mackovska filed suit alleging that Viewcrest wrongfully removed their personal belongings and took possession of residential property Viewcrest had purchased at a foreclosure sale. The trial court held that plaintiff waived his right to a jury trial by failing to timely post jury fees. The Court of Appeal reversed and held that the trial court erred in denying plaintiff's motion for relief from the jury trial waiver, because Viewcrest did not make a showing of prejudice; plaintiff's failure to file a petition for writ of mandate after the trial court denied his motion for relief from jury trial waiver did not preclude review of that order on appeal from the judgment; plaintiff did not have to show prejudice; and the trial court's order imposing sanctions must be vacated. View "Mackovksa v. Viewcrest Road Properties LLC" on Justia Law

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Almost two years into active litigation, defendants moved to compel arbitration of this class action brought on behalf of persons who employed the services of PMZ to buy or sell a residence. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the motion. A motion to compel arbitration is properly denied when the moving party has waived its right to do so, Civ. Proc. Code, 1281.2(a). The California Supreme Court has identified relevant factors: whether the party’s actions are inconsistent with the right to arbitrate; whether the litigation machinery has been substantially invoked and the parties were well into preparation of a lawsuit before the party notified the opposing party of an intent to arbitrate; whether a party either requested arbitration close to the trial date or delayed for a long period before seeking a stay; whether a defendant seeking arbitration filed a counterclaim without asking for a stay; whether important intervening steps [e.g., taking advantage of judicial discovery procedures not available in arbitration] had taken place; and whether the delay affected, misled, or prejudiced the opposing party. The trial court properly applied the factors; its determination that defendants’ delay of nearly two years constituted an unreasonably long period of time, and defendants’ explanation for their delay was unavailing, is “copiously supported by the evidence.” View "Spracher v. Paul M. Zagaris, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Elliotts were defendants in six civil fraud actions based on an international investment scheme through which they fraudulently induced hundreds of individuals and organizations to invest in Dominican Republic resorts. The actions were coordinated for discovery but remained separate for trial. Criminal charges were brought against the defendants based essentially on the same facts. Elliott reached a plea deal with respect to some issues. In most of the civil actions, there was no stipulation regarding the five-year statutory period to bring an action to trial (Code of Civil Procedure section 583.310); despite being served with the summons and complaint, the Elliotts had not answered, In May 2015, Elliott filed an answer in the two matters under appeal. The trial court lost jurisdiction over one matter for 17 months, during an appeal. Elliott engaged in multiple delaying strategies. Plaintiffs reached settlements with other defendants. In August 2016, weeks before trial was to begin, Elliott first (unsuccessfully) raised the issue of dismissal under section 583.310. In both cases, the trial court awarded the plaintiffs damages, with no appearance from the Elliotts. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of Elliott’s motion to dismiss for want of prosecution within the five-year statutory period and, alternatively, for a stay of proceedings pending resolution of his criminal case. Notwithstanding plaintiffs’ failure to secure a default judgment, there were extenuating circumstances: the undisputed complexity of the cases and the Elliotts’ reluctance to engage in resolution efforts. The court properly allowed Elliott’s civil trials to go forward, with the understanding that he could object on Fifth Amendment grounds to any questioning. View "In re: Alpha Media Resort Investment Cases" on Justia Law