Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Plaintiff Sofia Barriga filed this lawsuit against 99 Cents Only Stores LLC, (99 Cents) individually, and on behalf of similarly situated current and former nonexempt employees of 99 Cents hired before October 1, 1999, pleading various Labor Code violations and violation of the unfair competition law. Plaintiff alleged 99 Cents had a zero-tolerance policy that required its stores to lock their doors at closing time, therefore, forcing nonexempt, nonmanagerial employees, who worked the graveyard shift and clock out for their meal break or at the end of their shift, to wait for as long as 15 minutes for a manager with a key to let them out of the store. According to plaintiff, 99 Cents did not pay its employees for the time they had to wait be let out, and the policy denied employees their full half-hour meal break. Plaintiff moved the trial court to certify two classes: (1) “Off the Clock Class,” and (2) “Meal Period Class.” 99 Cents opposed the certification motion, contending there was no community of interests among putative class members, and the lack of common issues among putative class members would render a class action unmanageable. Plaintiff moved to strike 174 declarations of employee declarants who were members of the proposed classes on the grounds the process by which they had been obtained was improper, and because they were substantively inconsistent with the subsequent deposition testimony of 12 of declarants. Concluding it lacked the statutory authority to strike the declarations, the trial court denied plaintiff’s motion to strike. And, based on all 174 declarations, the court concluded plaintiff had not demonstrated a community of interests or a commonality of issues among putative class members. Plaintiff appealed those orders. The Court of Appeal found the record demonstrated the trial court in this case was unaware of the need to scrutinize 99 Cents’ declarations carefully, and was either unaware of or misunderstood the scope of its discretion to either strike or discount the weight to be given the 174 declarations, including the declarations of employees who were not members of the putative classes, if it concluded they were obtained under coercive or abusive circumstances. The orders denying plaintiff’s motion to strike 99 Cents’ declarations and class certification motion were reversed, and the matter remanded for reconsideration. View "Barriga v. 99 Cents Only Stores LLC" on Justia Law

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A "subtle" question concerning entitlement to attorney fees raised by this appeal was one of first impression for the Court of Appeal. In a separate lawsuit filed at Superior Court, plaintiffs obtained a judgment for breach of contract, including an award of attorney fees, against certain entities not parties to the present suit. Plaintiffs filed the present enforcement action against defendants, seeking to hold them liable on the judgment as alter egos of the judgment debtors. Plaintiffs lost against one of the defendants, Steve Saleen (Steve). Steve moved for attorney fees under the contract; the court granted the motion and plaintiffs appeals. Plaintiffs contended this was not an action on the contract and, therefore, fees were unavailable under Civil Code section 1717. Instead, it was an enforcement action. They cited caselaw for the proposition that a judgment on the contract subsumes and extinguishes contractual rights. On the other hand, had plaintiffs included Steve as a defendant in the Superior Court suit, making the exact same alter ego allegations they made to the Court of Appeal, undoubtedly Steve would have been entitled to contractual attorney fees under the doctrine of reciprocity established by Civil Code section 1717 and Reynolds Metals Co. v. Alperson, 25 Cal.3d 124 (1979), even though he was not a signatory on the contract. The Court of Appeal concluded the timing of an alter ego claim (either pre- or postjudgment) was too arbitrary a consideration on which to base the right to attorney fees. "When a judgment creditor attempts to add a party to a breach of contract judgment that includes a contractual fee award, the suit is essentially 'on the contract' for purposes of Civil Code section 1717." The Court therefore agreed with Steve and affirmed judgment. View "MSY Trading Inc. v. Saleen Automotive, Inc." on Justia Law

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UHI and Lavine, its president, sued five defendants for fraudulent transfer. Following a two-day bench trial, the court held that the transfer was made in satisfaction of an antecedent debt, and entered judgment for defendants. The defendants then moved for costs of proof attorney fees under Code of Civil Procedure section 2033.420(a). A different judge awarded one defendant $35,595 in fees. The court of appeal held that the appeal from the judgment was not well taken and affirmed it. The court rejected an argument that a creditor whose debt is time-barred by the governing limitations period no longer has a “right to payment.” The statute of limitations is an affirmative defense that can be waived. The court struck the costs of proof award as improper. A defendant cannot, at the very inception of litigation, at a time when no discovery had taken place, and no deposition, serve requests for admission essentially seeking responses admitting that plaintiff had no case, and then, if plaintiff ultimately proves unsuccessful, recover costs of proof attorney fees. View "Universal Home Improvement, Inc. v. Robertson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Andrew Pankey (Andrew) filed a products liability claim against Petco Animal Supplies, Inc., after his son Aidan contracted a rare bacterial infection from a rat purchased at Petco. Aidan later died as a result of complications related to his infection. Andrew alleged, among other things, that Petco was strictly liable for injuries resulting from the sale of the pet rat, which he argued was a product for purposes of strict products liability. The trial court instructed the jury on negligence under ordinary negligence and negligent failure-to-warn theories, as well as three theories of strict products liability: (1) failure to warn, (2) manufacturing defect, and (3) design defect under a risk-benefit test. The jury returned verdicts in favor of Petco. On appeal, Andrew contended the trial court erred by refusing to instruct the jury on an alternative strict liability design defect theory, the "consumer expectations test." He argued there was sufficient evidence from which the jury could have concluded the pet rat purchased from Petco failed to perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would expect when used in an intended or reasonably foreseeable manner. The Court of Appeal affirmed, finding a live pet animal sold in its unaltered state was not a product subject to the design defect consumer expectations theory of strict products liability. The Court therefore did not reach a conclusion regarding applicability of the consumer expectations test or the prejudicial effect of its exclusion. View "Pankey v. Petco Animal Supplies, Inc." on Justia Law

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Abelardo Martinez, who was blind, brought an action against San Diego County Credit Union (Credit Union) claiming its website was incompatible with software permitting him to read website content. He alleged this defect denied him equal access to, and full enjoyment of, the Credit Union's website and its physical locations. Martinez asserted a single cause of action under the Unruh Civil Rights Act based on two alternate theories: (1) Credit Union's website violated the American Disabilities Act (ADA); and (2) Credit Union's actions constituted intentional discrimination prohibited by the Unruh Civil Rights Act. On the day scheduled for jury selection, the court dismissed the action on its own motion based on its understanding Martinez was intending to pursue only the ADA theory, and the court's finding Martinez had not sufficiently alleged Credit Union's website constitutes a "public accommodation" within the meaning of the ADA (although the court characterized its ruling as a nonsuit, the parties agree it was a conclusion based solely on Martinez's pleadings). Martinez appealed. The Court of Appeal found the trial court erred in dismissing the action at the pleadings stage based on the ADA's public-accommodation element: a disabled plaintiff can state a viable ADA claim for alleged unequal access to a private entity's website if there is a sufficient nexus between the claimed barriers and the plaintiff's ability to use or enjoy the goods and services offered at the defendant's physical facilities. Under this standard, the Court found Martinez alleged a sufficient nexus to state an ADA violation. The Court rejected the Credit Union's alternate argument that the dismissal was proper because the United States Congress has not enacted specific website accessibility standards. View "Martinez v. San Diego County Credit Union" on Justia Law

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The Private Attorney General Act (Labor Code 2698) allows an employee, as a proxy for state enforcement agencies, to sue an employer on behalf of herself and other aggrieved employees for Labor Code violations. When the parties have an arbitration agreement, California law blocks the employer from enforcing that agreement with respect to representative PAGA claims for civil penalties; the agreement may be enforceable with respect to other claims, including claims for victim-specific relief (like unpaid wages). Lime rents electric scooters. Olabi entered into an agreement to locate, recharge, and redeploy Lime's scooters. The agreement required the parties to arbitrate “any and all disputes,” including Olabi’s classification as an independent contractor but contained an exception for PAGA representative actions. Olabi sued, alleging Lime intentionally misclassified him and others as independent contractors, resulting in Labor Code violations; he included claims under the Unfair Competition Law and PAGA. Lime petitioned to compel arbitration, arguing Olabi was required to arbitrate independent contractor classification disputes and that the PAGA exception did not cover the unfair competition claim or the PAGA claim to the extent that Olabi sought victim-specific relief. Olabi voluntarily dismissed his unfair competition claim and disavowed any claim for victim-specific relief. The trial court denied Lime’s petition and granted Olabi leave to amend. The court of appeal affirmed. The language of the arbitration agreement broadly excludes PAGA actions View "Olabi v. Neutron Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law

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In a prior appeal, the Court of Appeal vacated a default judgment entered in favor of plaintiff Airs Aromatics, LLC (Airs), concluding the trial court was without jurisdiction to award damages in excess of that demanded in Airs's complaint for breach of contract. The Court gave Airs the option on remand to proceed with a new default prove-up hearing seeking up to $25,000 in damages, or amend the complaint to state the full amount of damages sought. Selecting the first option, Airs received a default judgment awarding it $25,000 in damages, $33,849 in prejudgment interest, and $614 in costs. After the trial court denied its set-aside motion under Code of Civil Procedure section 663a, defendant CBL Data Recovery Technologies, Inc. (CBL) appealed the second default judgment, contending that Airs's failure to serve it with the default prove-up papers or a substitution of counsel form invalidated the judgment. In addition, CBL challenged the amount of damages awarded and the prejudgment interest award. Rejecting each of these contentions, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. View "Airs Aromatics, LLC v. CBL Data Recovery Tech. Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant Navigators Specialty Insurance Company (Navigators) appealed a trial court order denying its special motion to strike under California’s anti-SLAPP statute. Plaintiff Trilogy Plumbing, Inc. (Trilogy) alleged that Navigators, as Trilogy’s insurer, gave instructions with which Trilogy did not agree to attorneys Navigators had retained to defend Trilogy and wrongfully negotiated settlements without Trilogy’s consent. Navigators contended the alleged conduct constituted protected activity under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.17 (e)(2) and, therefore, the trial court erred by denying the anti-SLAPP motion. After review, the Court of Appeal affirmed: the allegations challenged by the anti-SLAPP motion described Navigators’ mishandling of the claims process with regard to 33 different lawsuits involving Trilogy. While the alleged acts were generally connected to litigation, they did not include any written or oral statement or writing made in connection with an issue under consideration or review by a judicial body and therefore did not constitute protected activity under section 425.16. View "Trilogy Plumbing, Inc. v. Navigators Specialty Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the district court's order granting in part and denying in part Size It's motion to tax costs. The court held that Size It has not shown that the trial court abused its discretion in taxing costs associated with photocopies of exhibits and the creation of closing argument demonstratives; travel expenses for defense counsel; and interpreter fees. The court acknowledged a split in authority over whether costs incurred in preparing models, blowups, and photocopies of exhibits not used at trial may be awarded under Code of Civil Procedure section 1033.5, subdivision (a)(13). The court published to explain why it has concluded that they may and include its pragmatic take on why having well-prepared counsel is "reasonably helpful to aid the trier of fact"—the test for cost recovery under the statute. View "Segal v. ASICS America Corp." on Justia Law

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After appellant defaulted on a civil case, he appealed the trial court's denial of his motion to set aside the default. The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that the trial court was right to deny the motion where appellant did not prove the service of process was bad and Pacifica put a proper proof of service form into evidence. The court explained that the burden on appellant then was to prove this apparently-proper document was invalid, which he failed to do. Furthermore, appellant's 12 arguments on appeal are invalid. The court noted that, when appreciable sums are in play, it is mysterious why lawyers on both sides think the small cost of court reporting is a good cost to avoid. The court published this opinion in part to discourage misplaced thrift. View "Pacifica First National, Inc. v. Abekasis" on Justia Law