Articles Posted in California Court of Appeal

by
In 2015, the court of appeal upheld the probate court’s decision to grant the petition of Alexander Hughes, the sole noncontingent trust beneficiary (and trustor Mark Hughes’ only child), to suspend and remove trustees due to their breach of trust in failing to exercise reasonable prudence in connection with the trust’s sale of Tower Grove, a 157-acre parcel of previously undeveloped Beverly Hills real property. A subsequent order allowed the former trustees to withhold from the successor trustee and Alexander Hughes, some, but not all, of a collection of documents identified on a supplemental privilege log submitted by the former trustees under court order. The documents, which are from the trust’s legal files and relate to two trust accountings submitted by the former trustees prior to their removal, were withheld on the basis of attorney-client privilege. The court of appeal reversed in part, finding that the probate court failed to consistently and appropriately apply the legal standards prescribed by the California Supreme Court. View "Fiduciary Trust International of California v. Klein" on Justia Law

by
ECC appealed a final arbitration award of almost $7 million against them and in favor of Manatt. ECC argued that the trial court erred in confirming the interim award because the arbitrator violated mandatory disclosure rules, and that the trial court erred in confirming the final award. The court concluded that ECC did not establish that the arbitrator violated mandatory disclosure rules; ECC forfeited its argument that the 2007 engagement agreement was illegal; ECC did not establish that Manatt procured the final award by fraud or undue means; and ECC did not establish that the arbitrator improperly refused to hear evidence. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "ECC Capital v. Manatt, Phelps & Phillips" on Justia Law

by
Nicholas Behunin filed suit against Charles Schwab and his son Michael Schwab over an unsuccessful real estate investment deal. Behunin's attorneys, Leonard Steiner and Steiner & Libo, engaged a public relations consultant, Levick Strategic Communications, to create a website containing information linking the Schwabs and their real estate investments in Indonesia to the family of former Indonesian dictator Suharto. Charles Schwab filed suit against Behunin for libel and Michael Schwab filed suit against Behunin for libel, slander, and invasion of privacy. Behunin filed a special motion to strike under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16. At issue was whether the communications among Behunin, Steiner, and Levick were confidential, attorney-client privileged communications and whether disclosure to Levick waived the privilege. The court concluded that, although in some circumstances the attorney-client privilege may extend to communications with a public relations consultant, it did not do so in this case because Behunin failed to prove the disclosure of the communications to Levick was reasonably necessary for Steiner's representation of Behunin in his lawsuit against the Schwabs. Accordingly, the court denied Behunin's petition for a writ of mandate. View "Behunin v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

by
After Nancie Walent successfully challenged her dismissal from employment, the District appealed the award of attorney's fees to Walent. The trial court determined that a lodestar calculation was the appropriate mechanism to determine the reasonable fees to be recovered pursuant to Ketchum v. Moses, and that the rates Walent requested were reasonable market rates. The District argued that the Education Code limited her recovery to fees actually incurred, which precluded the lodestar analysis performed by the trial court. The court concluded that the trial court correctly determined the fee award where California Education Code, section 44944(f)(2) does not preclude the use of the lodestar calculation and the lodestar calculation applied absent a statutory exception. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Walent v. Commission on Professional Competence of the LAUSD" on Justia Law

by
After a jury found that defendant, an attorney, had breached the standard of care in failing to properly implement plaintiff's express instruction to maintain her assets as her separate property in the trust document which defendant prepared for her and her then husband, the parties both found error in the jury's monetary award and in the trial court's denial of plaintiff's motion for prejudgment interest. The court concluded that the trial court correctly gave the comparative fault instruction requested by defendant and that substantial evidence supported the jury's award of $260,000 in damages (to be reduced under the jury's comparative fault determination); the award for investment losses claimed by plaintiff was not supported by substantial evidence; and plaintiff was not entitled to prejudgment interest. View "Yale v. Bowne" on Justia Law

by
After the Labor Commissioner awarded Anthony Stratton approximately $6,000 in unpaid wages and penalties against Thomas Beck, Stratton's former employer, Beck unsuccessfully appealed the award to the superior court under Labor Code section 98.2, subdivision (a). The superior court awarded Stratton $31,365 in attorney's fees. The court rejected Beck's contentions that the motion for attorney's fees was untimely because the case was a limited civil case, and that, even if the motion was timely, the fee award was unreasonably high and unsupported by competent billing evidence. In this case, the superior court found that, although Beck initially acted in good faith, Beck continued to refuse to pay Stratton, which the trial court reasonably concluded was an intentional withholding meriting penalties—and attorney's fees when challenged in superior court. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Beck v. Stratton" on Justia Law

by
Former counsel moved to withdraw from representing a client, alleging another attorney had agreed to handle (and was already handling) postjudgment motions, and that the other attorney would also handle the appeal of an adverse judgment. The client sued former counsel for malpractice more than one year after the motion to withdraw was made, but less than one year after the motion was granted. The question this case presented for the Court of Appeal's review was whether the trial court properly granted summary judgment to former counsel based on the one-year statute of limitation provided by Code of Civil Procedure section 340.61 on the ground that the client could not have had an objectively reasonable expectation that former counsel was continuing to represent him after the motion to withdraw had been served. The Court concluded the trial court was correct in granting summary judgment. "Once the former counsel told the client, via the motion to withdraw, that the case had already been handed off to another attorney, the client was on notice that former counsel was no longer working for him. . . . because this lawsuit was filed more than one year after that time, no triable issue of fact remains as to the statute of limitation defense." View "Flake v. Neumiller & Beardslee" on Justia Law

by
Gonzalez challenged an administrative order declaring that she should be reported to the statewide child abuse index for what was deemed excessive discipline of her 12-year old daughter. She had spanked the girl with a wooden spoon. After she successfully appealed the trial court’s denial of relief, she sought an award of approximately $60,000 in attorney fees incurred to four separate law practices. The trial court awarded $7,500, denying her claim as to all but her current counsel and finding the evidence in support of two other claims technically deficient, although no evidentiary objection had been asserted against them. It denied the third claim on the basis of objections that were only raised when the court permitted the opposing party to file a third opposition memorandum. The court of appeals remanded, stating that the rulings “may have grown out of an understandable frustration with counsel for plaintiff, whose several failings included the belated assertion of arguments and the devotion of considerably more attention to unsound technicalities than to making a bulletproof showing on the merits.” The court stated that complete denial of relief as to three of plaintiff’s four attorneys exceeded the bounds of sound discretion. View "Gonzalez v. Santa Clara County Department of Social Services" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed suit against his former employer, WaveFront, for wrongful termination. On appeal, plaintiff challenged the trial court's award of $8,125.00 in attorney fees to WaveFront. The court rejected plaintiff's contention that the trial court's attorney fees award was made without statutory authority and was an abuse of discretion. In this case, the record on appeal did not include any reporter's transcript of either the hearing on plaintiff's motion to withdraw his mistaken admissions or the subsequent hearing at which the trial court ruled on defendant's motion for attorney fees. The court explained that, as the party asserting error, it was plaintiff's burden to supply an adequate record. Other than the portion of the trial court's order that states Code of Civil Procedure section 2033.300, subdivision (c) was the statutory basis of its attorney fees award, the court had no reliable means of assessing the trial court's rationale for awarding fees. Because the court concluded that section 2033.300 does permit, as a general matter, a court to condition relief on the payment of reasonable attorney fees, the remainder of plaintiff's contentions must therefore fail. Accordingly, the court affirmed the attorney fees order. View "Rhule v. WaveFront Technology" on Justia Law

by
Acting pro se, Clay Jones sued his former attorney, Alan Whisenand, for legal malpractice and civil rights violations allegedly committed in the course of civil commitment proceedings under the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA). The trial court sustained Whisenand’s demurrer to the first amended complaint without leave to amend on the grounds that: (1) Jones failed to allege actual innocence of all charges in the underlying criminal case or post-conviction exoneration; and (2) Jones failed to show that Whisenand was a “state actor” acting “under color of state law.” After review, the Court of Appeal concluded that the actual innocence requirement did not apply to SVPA proceedings. However, public policy considerations underlying the actual innocence requirement (namely, judicial economy and the desire to avoid conflicting resolutions) compelled the conclusion that alleged SVPs should not be able to pursue causes of action for legal malpractice in the course of their SVPA proceedings unless and until such proceedings have been terminated in their favor. "[O]ur conclusion does not leave alleged SVPs without a remedy while proceedings are ongoing, as they may still seek relief for ineffective assistance of counsel in the SVPA proceedings themselves. Jones does not, and cannot, allege that the pending SVPA proceedings have been terminated in his favor. We therefore conclude the trial court properly sustained Whisenand’s demurrer to Jones’s cause of action for legal malpractice." The SVPA proceedings against Jones were still pending, raising the possibility that he might be able to comply with the favorable termination requirement in the future. Accordingly, the Court concluded the demurrer should have been sustained with leave to amend. With respect to his civil rights claim, the Court concluded the trial court properly sustained the demurrer without leave to amend. View "Jones v. Whisenand" on Justia Law