Justia Legal Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
City of Los Angeles Department of Airports v. U.S. Specialty Ins. Co.
Russo contracted to build four airport firefighting trucks for the city. The contract provided that Russo would pay the city’s attorney fees in the event of litigation involving the trucks. Under a performance bond, Specialty agreed to be liable to the city for any losses if Russo failed to perform the contract. The city accepted and paid for two trucks, but subsequently terminated the contract and refused to pay for the remaining two trucks before they were delivered. Alleging problems with the first two trucks and Russo’s failure to timely deliver the other two, the city made a claim under the performance bond, then sued Russo for breach of contract and sought enforcement of the performance bond against Russo and Specialty, demanding the return of the payments it had made for the first two trucks. Russo sued the city for breach of contract. The city won judgments on all claims; a jury awarded the city $1. B.The court of appeal affirmed the denial of Specialty’s application for attorney fees, rejecting Specialty’s argument that, despite losing on contract liability, it is entitled to fees as the prevailing party because the jury awarded the city only nominal damages rather than the $3.4 million that the city sought. The trial court had discretion to find that neither party prevailed. View "City of Los Angeles Department of Airports v. U.S. Specialty Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Bruno v. Hopkins
Lynne filed suit against her mother, individually and as trustee of a family trust, and her sisters (collectively Respondents), alleging that they forged trust instruments purporting to divide her parents’ estate upon the death of her father. The trial court entered judgment in favor of the Respondents after determining the trust instruments were not forgeries. On Respondents’ motion for attorneys’ fees, the trial court ordered Lynne to pay over $829,000, finding there was no merit to the position Lynne pursued at the trial, and that Lynne “acted without basis in filing any of her claims.” In addition, the court ordered Lynne to pay over $96,000 in costs.The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting Lynne’s arguments that the trial court’s jurisdiction was limited to the property of the trust estate, such that she could not be personally liable for any amount of attorneys’ fees over and above her interest in the trust and that because she had a reasonable and good faith belief in the merits of her claim, there was insufficient evidence to support the issuance of the fee award. View "Bruno v. Hopkins" on Justia Law
A.F. v. Jeffrey F.
Eleven-year-old A.F. sought a domestic violence restraining order (DVRO) against her father, Jeffrey F. (Father), who held joint legal custody with her mother, Andrea F. (Mother). The petition was filed by Mother on A.F.’s behalf. Mother sought appointment as A.F.’s guardian ad litem (GAL) in the domestic violence (DV) matter at the same time. The court granted the request for GAL appointment. A.F. was represented by attorney Edward Castro in the domestic violence matter. Castro previously represented Mother in her marital dissolution from Father. Father objected to Mother’s appointment as GAL and to Castro’s representation of A.F., contending Castro had a conflict of interest under Rule 1.7(a), (b) of the State Bar Rules of Professional Conduct. The court removed Mother as GAL and granted Father’s request to disqualify Castro. A.F. appealed, contending: (1) Father lacked standing to challenge Castro’s representation of A.F.; (2) the court incorrectly concluded Castro simultaneously represented Mother and A.F. and consequently abused its discretion by applying Rule 1.7 to disqualify Castro; and (3) the court should have considered the rules governing successive representation and denied the request for disqualification. The Court of Appeal assumed Father had standing to challenge Castro’s representation of his minor child A.F. However, the Court concluded the record lacked substantial evidence to support the trial court’s finding that Castro simultaneously represented Mother and A.F., and it was therefore an abuse of discretion to apply Rule 1.7 to disqualify Castro. Accordingly, the order disqualifying Castro as attorney was reversed, and the matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "A.F. v. Jeffrey F." on Justia Law
Hassett v. Olson
Defendants Patricia G. Olson and Jimmy Dastur appealed a court order disqualifying Steven Bailey, a former El Dorado County Superior Court judge, from representing them in this lawsuit filed by plaintiff Robert Hassett. The trial court relied on rule 1.12 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, finding Bailey’s participation as a judge was personal and substantial in rendering decisions in two other cases involving the validity of options and a purchase agreement for the same real property at issue in the action brought by Hassett. Defendants argued on appeal that: (1) Hassett lacked standing; (2) the disqualification motion was a tactic designed to disrupt defense; and (3) Bailey did not personally and substantially participate as a judge in a “matter” within the meaning of rule 1.12. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Hassett v. Olson" on Justia Law
California ex rel. City of San Diego v. Experian Data Corp.
The City of San Diego (the City) sued Experian Data Corp. (Experian) on behalf of the State of California for violating the Unfair Competition Law (UCL). The City hired three private law firms to represent it in the litigation against Experian on a contingency fee basis. The trial court denied Experian’s motion to disqualify the private law firms. In affirming the trial court, the Court of Appeal found the contingency fee arrangements between the City and the private law firms in a UCL action filed by the City’s attorneys did not violate the prosecutor’s duty of neutrality and therefore did not require disqualification. Further, the Court found agreements to pay the private law firms from any penalties recovered from Experian did not violate Business and Professions Code section 17206’s requirement that all funds recovered in a UCL action be paid to the City’s treasurer. View "California ex rel. City of San Diego v. Experian Data Corp." on Justia Law
Mireskandari v. Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP
Plaintiff filed various claims against his Defendants, his former attorneys, claiming breach of contract and professional negligence. He also alleges that Defendants failed to advise him of the state’s Anti-SLAPP statute before filing a complaint against a newspaper publisher. Ultimately plaintiff’s Anti-SLAPP claim drew a special motion to strike, which he lost. This, Plaintiff claimed, deprived him of discovery he intended to use in a disciplinary proceeding pending against him in the United Kingdom. In turn, Plaintiff asserts this caused him to lose his law license and suffer other financial harm. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants and Plaintiff appealed.The Second Appellate District reversed. While Plaintiff’s damages claims were too speculative because they were based on the outcome of disciplinary proceedings in the U.K., the trial court erred in failing to consider Plaintiff’s other claimed damages. An attorney owes a duty of care to advise a client of foreseeable risks of litigation before filing a lawsuit on the client’s behalf. Here, Plaintiff presented a viable claim that, had Defendants advised him of the potential consequences of filing his Anti-SLAPP case, he would have elected not to file the claim. View "Mireskandari v. Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP" on Justia Law
Artus v. Gramercy Towers Condominium Association
A condominium owner sued her homeowners’ association alleging five causes of action, seeking injunctive and declaratory relief as to rules governing elections, voting, sales, and leasing. One cause of action fell to a demurrer, another to an anti-SLAPP motion to strike. The parties stipulated that three claims were mooted when the association amended its rules. Both sides moved for attorney fees as the prevailing party under the Davis-Sterling Act (Civ. Code 4000); the homeowner also sought fees as the successful party under Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5.The court of appeal affirmed the denial of attorney fees to both sides. Artus has not shown any abuse of discretion in the trial court’s ruling that Artus was not a “successful party” and failed to show that her lawsuit resulted in a ‘significant benefit’ to the ‘general public or a large class of persons.’ “Her one real win,” requiring the association to incur greater effort in preparing its notice materials for proposed rules changes, is of questionable significance to most association members and will likely result in higher assessments. The association simply took unilateral action to avoid judicial rulings and ‘kicked the can down the road;’ View "Artus v. Gramercy Towers Condominium Association" on Justia Law
Reyes v. Beneficial State Bank
The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's denial of plaintiffs' motion for attorney fees, concluding that attorney fee awards against a holder are not capped if a separate state law so provides. The court explained that the term "recovery," as used in the Holder Rule provision, is sufficiently broad to include attorney fees. The court also concluded that Civil Code section 1459.5 is not preempted and plaintiffs are entitled to its benefit. In this case, there is no bar to application of section 1459.5 to the matter before the court even though it had not taken effect when the trial court initially ruled on plaintiffs' fee motion. The court further concluded that certain causes of action asserted by plaintiffs fall within the scope of section 1717 whereas others do not. Finally, plaintiffs waived the argument that section 2983.4 entitles them to an award of attorney fees by failing to raise it below in its motion for attorney fees. The court remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Reyes v. Beneficial State Bank" on Justia Law
Riskin v. Downtown L.A. Property Owners Assn.
The Court of Appeal concluded that the trial court has discretion to deny attorney fees under the California Public Records Act (CPRA) in some circumstances and held that the minimal or insignificant standard is applicable when the requester obtains only partial relief under the CPRA. In this case, the Association contends the trial court erred in concluding it had no discretion under the CPRA to deny attorney fees. The court reversed and remanded for the trial court to exercise the discretion it believed it lacked. View "Riskin v. Downtown L.A. Property Owners Assn." on Justia Law
LA Investments, LLC v. Spix
The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment following a jury's verdict finding the Attorney Defendants liable to plaintiffs for malicious prosecution. The trial court determined as a matter of law that the Attorney Defendants had no probable cause to maintain a lawsuit in which they represented defendant, Rosa Banuelos, and then the jury determined the Attorney Defendants acted with malice and awarded compensatory damages and punitive damages.The court concluded that the trial court correctly found that the Attorney Defendants had no probable cause to initiate or maintain the underlying action. In this case, a reasonable attorney would have known there was little to zero chance of prevailing in the litigation after losing on summary judgment, yet the Attorney Defendants pursued the case through an unsuccessful appeal. Furthermore, no reasonable attorney would have continued to prosecute a lawsuit with potential damages of only $4,000 and exposure to an award of attorney fees. The court also concluded that substantial evidence supported the jury's finding of malice and award of compensatory damages. Finally, the court concluded that the jury's award of punitive damages was not excessive as a matter of law. View "LA Investments, LLC v. Spix" on Justia Law