Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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At the time of his death, Farkas owned Parcels 5 and 18. His widow, McLaughlin, brought a probate petition to establish and enforce an access easement benefiting that property, naming Maleti. Maleti sold Parcel 18 to Farkas in 1993; after 2000, Maleti owned no property in the vicinity. McLaughlin’s nine claims were resolved in favor of Maleti. Carol, Maleti’s executor, sued McLaughlin and her Attorneys for malicious prosecution and abuse of process. Attorneys filed a special motion to strike (Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, "anti-SLAPP" (strategic lawsuit against public participation)). The trial court struck Carol’s abuse of process claim but declined to strike the malicious prosecution claim.The court of appeal affirmed in part. Carol established that her malicious prosecution claim had “a minimum level of legal sufficiency and triability” A malicious prosecution plaintiff, having succeeded in all respects in defending a multiple-claim case, need not show that all such claims were resolved on the merits if at least one claim was terminated on the merits. Carol established the legal sufficiency and an evidentiary basis supporting the elements of absence of probable cause and malice required for malicious prosecution. Carol did not adequately plead abuse of process. The trial court erred in denying Attorneys’ request for attorney fees and costs as the prevailing defendant; a finding that Attorneys derived no practical benefit from successfully moving to strike the abuse of process claim was not supported by the record. View "Maleti v. Wickers" on Justia Law

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This litigation arose from a decision by the City of Chula Vista (the City) to reject applications by CV Amalgamated LLC, dba Caligrown (CVA) for licenses to operate retail cannabis stores in the City. In 2018, the City enacted an ordinance regulating commercial cannabis businesses (the Cannabis Ordinance). Among other things, the Cannabis Ordinance allowed for a maximum of eight storefront retail cannabis business licenses, with up to two licenses in each of the City’s four council districts (the Council Districts). CVA submitted applications for storefront retail cannabis business licenses in each of the City’s four Council Districts. CVA filed an appeal with the City Manager, in which it challenged the City’s rejections of its applications for licenses in Council Districts One, Three and Four. After a hearing, CVA's applications were again denied, and it initiated this litigation in September 2020. On January 29, 2021, the trial court issued an order denying CVA’s motion for a writ of mandate. The trial court made no factual findings and failed to explain why it concluded that CVA had failed to meet its burden. The Court of Appeal concluded the City failed to follow its ministerial and mandatory duty to follow its own procedures when it rejected CVA's applications in the initial assessments of the applications. The trial court's judgment was reversed with instructions to issue a writ of mandate directing the City to reassess CVA's applications in districts One, Three and Four. View "CV Amalgamated LLC v. City of Chula Vista" on Justia Law

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The State petitioned to commit Nicholas Needham California under the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA). Preparing for trial on the petition, the district attorney retained a psychological expert to evaluate Needham and testify at trial that he qualified as an SVP. Needham moved to exclude the expert’s testimony at trial, but the trial court denied his motion. Needham appealed, seeking a declaration that the SVPA did not permit the State to call a privately retained expert to testify at trial. The Court of Appeal granted relief: “[G]iven the obvious dangers to essential liberty interests inherent in the SVPA, it must be carefully implemented and applied only where there is a high degree of certainty that it is warranted.” The Court found the statutory scheme deliberately limited when an SVP petition could be filed and brought to trial, as well as the evidence available to the prosecution. In light of this system, the Court concluded the expert-witness provisions of the Civil Discovery Act did not apply and that the State had no right to retain an expert witness to testify at trial. View "Needham v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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Sonoma County received a harassment complaint lodged against the elected sheriff of the county, Mark Essick. An independent investigator, Amy Oppenheimer, prepared a written report. A local newspaper requested the County release the complaint, the report, and various related documents (collectively, the Oppenheimer Report) pursuant to the California Public Records Act (CPRA) Sheriff Essick objected to the County’s release of the Oppenheimer Report. In this “reverse” CPRA action, the trial court denied his request for a preliminary injunction barring the Oppenheimer Report’s release. Sheriff Essick appealed, contending the trial court erred because: (1) the Oppenheimer Report should have been classified as confidential under an exemption to the CPRA either as a “peace officer[]” “personnel record[],” or because it constituted a “report[] or findings” relating to a complaint by a member of the public against a peace officer; and (2) the County should have been estopped to release the Oppenheimer Report because it promised him that, in conducting its investigation, it would abide by the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act POBRA), and it therefore should have been bound to keep the results of the investigation confidential. The Court of Appeal disagreed on both points and affirmed the trial court’s judgment. View "Essick v. County of Sonoma" on Justia Law

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Shao Yan Chen, Han Lin Liu, Zhi Hua Mo, Yuk Yee Cheng, Hui Zhen Hu, Ruizhao Wu, and Qi Di Wu (collectively, tenants) had a dispute with Valstock Ventures, LLC and 371 Broadway Street, LLC (together, Valstock) over which of two documents was the operative lease governing the tenants’ tenancies in two of Valstock’s apartment buildings. The tenants filed suit against Valstock seeking a declaratory judgment on this question, alleging a civil conspiracy, and stating claims for violations of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), Unfair Competition Law (UCL), and section 37.10B of the San Francisco Rent Ordinance. The trial court awarded the tenants approximately $1.1 million in attorney’s fees under Civil Code section 1717 after granting their motion for summary adjudication of the sole cause of action on the contract in this case, before trial or disposition of the remaining non-contract causes of action. The defendants appealed, arguing the award of attorney’s fees was premature because the litigation as a whole had not yet ended. To this the Court of Appeal agreed and therefore reversed. View "Chen v. Valstock Ventures, LLC" on Justia Law

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Stella Grace Yeh (Yeh) attended the University of San Diego. Following a party where Yeh became highly intoxicated, a friend summoned an Uber to take Yeh back to her dorm at the University. That ride was terminated before completion, and the Uber driver, one of the codefendants, Louvensky Geffrard, exited the Interstate and allegedly ordered Yeh out of the car. Subsequently, Yeh initiated a second ride request from Uber, and petitioner Mark Rycz (Petitioner) arrived. Yeh did not enter that car and instead left the area. Half an hour later, an eyewitness observed Yeh walk onto the freeway, where she was struck by two different cars. Petitioner alleged Yeh was several miles away from where Petitioner saw her when she was killed. Plaintiffs and real parties in interest (Plaintiffs) were Josefina McGarry, Yeh’s mother, in her individual capacity; Josefina McGarry in her capacity as a successor in interest to Yeh; and McKenna McGarry Limentani, Yeh’s sister, in her capacity as a successor in interest to Yeh. In April 2021, Plaintiffs filed a complaint against Uber Technologies, Inc. (Uber); Geffrard, an Uber driver; and Petitioner, also an Uber driver. The Superior Court denied Petitioner’s motion for change of venue to San Diego County under Code of Civil Procedure section 397 (c) based on the convenience of witnesses and the interests of justice. Petitioner sought a writ of mandate from the Court of Appeal directing the Superior Court to set aside denial of the motion and to grant the motion. Among other things, the Court of Appeal concluded the Superior Court erred: (1) in reasoning the location of the witnesses was unimportant because they could appear remotely under section 367.75, enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic; and (2) in finding Petitioner failed to show venue in San Diego would be more convenient for most witnesses and promote the interests of justice. The Court granted writ relief to require the Superior Court to grant Petitioner’s motion. View "Rycz v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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Luis Munoz and LR Munoz Real Estate Holdings, LLC (together, Munoz) bought a hotel from a company owned and managed by Rajesh Patel and his son, Shivam. Before escrow closed, the parties negotiated a leaseback arrangement requiring Munoz to lease the hotel back to the Patels’ company after the sale. Escrow closed and the parties thereafter executed the previously-negotiated lease. However, Munoz contended the Patels secretly swapped out the agreed-upon lease for a lease substantially more beneficial to the Patels and worse for Munoz, and then tricked him into signing it. Munoz filed suit against the Patels, an alleged alter ego entity of the Patels called Inn Lending, LLC, and other defendants involved in the sale, asserting causes of action for breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, promissory fraud, and elder financial abuse, among other causes of action. Rajesh and Inn Lending demurred to the operative second amended complaint, the trial court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend. In a prior opinion, the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment and determined, among other things, that Munoz alleged a viable fraud cause of action based on a theory of fraud in the execution. The California Supreme Court granted review and remanded the case back to the appellate court, ordering a rehearing of the parties arguments for fraud. After reconsideration, the Court of Appeal concluded operative complaint alleged facts sufficient to state a viable cause of action for fraud in the execution against Rajesh, but not against Inn Lending. Additionally, the Court concluded the complaint plead facts sufficient to state an elder financial abuse cause of action against both Rajesh and Inn Lending. The Court concluded Munoz failed to establish that the trial court erred in dismissing his breach of contract and bad faith causes of action. In light of these determinations, the appeals court reversed the trial court judgment and remand the matter with instructions that the trial court vacate its order sustaining the demurrer to the entire complaint, and enter a new order. View "Munoz v. Patel" on Justia Law

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The San Diego City Attorney brought an enforcement action under the Unfair Competition Law, Business and Professions Code sections 17200, et seq. (UCL), on behalf of the State of California against Maplebear Inc. DBA Instacart (Instacart). In their complaint, the State alleged Instacart unlawfully misclassified its employees as independent contractors in order to deny workers employee protections, harming its alleged employees and the public at large through a loss of significant payroll tax revenue, and giving Instacart an unfair advantage against its competitors. In response to the complaint, Instacart brought a motion to compel arbitration of a portion of the City’s action based on its agreements with the individuals it hires ("Shoppers"). The trial court denied the motion, concluding Instacart failed to meet its burden to show a valid agreement to arbitrate between it and the State. Instacart challenged the trial court’s order, arguing that even though the State was not a party to its Shopper agreements, they were bound by its arbitration provision to the extent they seek injunctive relief and restitution because these remedies were “primarily for the benefit of” the Shoppers. The Court of Appeal rejected this argument and affirmed the trial court’s order. View "California v. Maplebear Inc." on Justia Law

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Attorney Dennise Henderson violated several local court rules governing the timely service and filing of materials preparatory to trial. As a result, the trial court sanctioned her $950 under Code of Civil Procedure section 575.2. The trial court could have imposed a higher amount and was generous in awarding only an amount below that required to be reported by the State Bar. Nonetheless, Henderson appealed, challenging the legal basis for the sanctions on two grounds: (1) a superior court’s power to impose sanctions for violations of its local rules did not extend to violations of local rules regulating the conduct of trial; and (2) she could not be sanctioned for violating local court rules because the trial court exonerated her of acting in bad faith. The Court of Appeal rejected both arguments because the statute by its terms was not limited to pre-trial proceedings and the Legislature did not incorporate, expressly or otherwise, the section 128.5 bad faith standard into section 575.2. View "Shiheiber v. JPMorgan Chase Bank" on Justia Law

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Defendant was a beneficiary and trustee of a family trust. In 2018, Defendant provided Plaintiff, Defendant's daughter, and the other remainder beneficiaries with a notice stating: "[y]ou may not bring an action to contest the Trust more than 120 days from the date this notification by the trustee is served upon you." Approximately 230 days after Plaintiff received this notice, she filed a petition seeking to invalidate a previous amendment to the trust. Defendant, citing a no-contest clause contained in the trust instrument, claimed that Plaintiff's litigation resulted in her disinheritance. The trial court agreed and Plaintiff appealed.On appeal, the Second Appellate District affirmed the trial court. The court rejected Plaintiff's claim that untimely litigation does not constitute a "direct contest without probable cause." More specifically, Plaintiff argued that the fact her litigation was untimely does not automatically render it unsupported by probable cause, and that the court should review the merits of her challenge. The court explained that Plaintiff's litigation was a "direct contest" and that, solely because it was untimely, it lacked probable cause. View "Meiri v. Shamtoubi" on Justia Law