Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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While serving as an administrative law judge for the State Personnel Board (SPB), Richard Fisher joined the law firm of Simas & Associates as “of counsel.” Simas & Associates specialized in representing clients facing administrative actions, including those heard by the SPB. The Simas law firm represented a CalTrans employee in a high-profile case that was being heard before the SPB while Fisher was serving his dual roles. Unaware Fisher was working for the law firm representing the CalTrans employee, the SPB administrative law judge hearing the high-profile case discussed the matter in a meeting attended by Fisher and even sent a draft opinion to her SPB colleagues, including Fisher. Fisher, however, never informed anyone at the SPB of his connection with the Simas law firm. Fisher’s connection with the law firm came to light only when another administrative law judge was asked about the matter during a local bar function. The SPB dismissed Fisher from his position as an administrative law judge. Fisher challenged the dismissal, which was affirmed after a hearing before the Office of Administrative Hearings. After a petition for mandamus relief was denied by the superior court, Fisher timely filed this appeal, arguing he should have been reinstated to his position because he was never personally served with notice that working for a law firm specializing in administrative matters constituted an impermissible activity for an SPB administrative law judge. Fisher additionally argued: (1) the 2013 incompatible activities statement adopted by the SPB was “an invalid ‘underground regulation;’ ” (2) conflicting evidence “fairly detracts from the findings” that he engaged in neglect of duty and other failures of good behavior; (3) the SPB’s decision “failed to address the Skelly[2] violation” of a missing document that was not disclosed to him prior to his hearing; and (4) his termination from employment at the SPB was not a just and proper penalty. The Court of Appeal rejected Fisher’s arguments that an SPB administrative law judge must expressly be informed it was impermissible to work for a law firm actively litigating cases before the SPB; Fisher’s conduct violated Government Code section 199903 and the SPB’s incompatibility activities statements that were in effect throughout his tenure as an SPB administrative law judge. The Court determined substantial evidence supported the findings of the administrative law judge who heard Fisher’s case that Fisher “displayed an appalling lack of judgment when he became of counsel with Simas & Associates” and “continued to demonstrate poor judgment when he failed to disclose his of counsel relationship to SPB.” The SPB did not abuse its discretion by dismissing Fisher. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment. View "Fisher v. State Personnel Bd." on Justia Law

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The case was filed in 2013. In November 2016, the court granted defendants terminating sanctions on Moofly’s claims, finding that Moofly had abused the discovery process and displayed “utter disregard for the court.” Moofly moved for reversal of the terminating sanctions under Code of Civil Procedure section 473, which allows relief from defaults and dismissals entered as a consequence of mistakes or neglect. Defendants argued that that Moofly’s motion was an incorrectly-labeled motion for reconsideration under section 1008. On December 20, the court denied the motion, issued an order to show cause regarding sanctions against Moofly, and set the hearing for January 23, 2017. Moofly filed a response on January 18. On February 2, the court granted the motion for sanctions ($10.499.51) against Moofly and its attorney. The court of appeal reversed. Code of Civil Procedure section 1008 establishes the rules for motions for reconsideration, providing that a court may impose sanctions for violations “as allowed by [s]ection 128.7.” A court may not sanction a party for violating section 1008 without allowing the party a 21-day safe harbor to withdraw the offending motion, as required by section 128.7(c). Moofly did not receive the required 21-day notice to withdraw its motion fand avoid sanctions. View "Moofly Productions v. Favila" on Justia Law

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Lujan had a Chase credit card account, governed by an agreement with a provision stating “federal law and the law of Delaware” govern the agreement and a provision for attorney’s fees. When Lujan’s account had an unpaid balance in 2007, Chase assigned its claim to interim assignees. In 2011, PCC filed suit, alleging a debt of $8,831.90. PCC Vice President Shields verified the complaint. Lujan cross-complained against PCC, Shields, and interim assignees seeking damages under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S. C. 1692, and the Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices. The court granted Lujan summary judgment as to PCC, applying Delaware’s three-year statute of limitations. On the cross-complaint, the court granted the other defendants summary judgment, finding that none met the statutory definition of a debt collector. The judgment is silent om statutory damages, leaving Lujan with only “attorney fees and costs" as provided by statute. The court awarded Lujan $140,550.51 in fees against PCC but denied the other defendants fees because the cross-complaint was not an action “on a contract” under Civil Code 1717. The appeals court affirmed Lujan’s summary judgment against PCC, Lujan’s award of attorney’s fees, and the interim assignees’ summary judgment and denial of fees. The court reversed summary judgment in favor of Shields and PCC’s attorney. View "Professional Collection Consultants v. Lujan" on Justia Law

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Defendants Peter Holt, Holt Law Firm, and Bethany Holt (collectively Holt) appealed the denial of their special motion to strike (also known as an anti-SLAPP--Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation--motion). Peter Holt and his law firm briefly represented Charles and Victoria Yeager and successfully sued Victoria Yeager to obtain his fees in an action known as Holt v. Yeager (Super. Ct. Nevada County, No. L76533). Yeager then sued Holt, alleging professional negligence, misappropriation of name, and other claims. Holt moved to declare Yeager’s suit to be a SLAPP suit. The trial court found this suit did not chill protected expressive conduct or free speech on an issue of public interest. The Court of Appeal agreed and affirmed. View "Yeager v. Holt" on Justia Law

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If a party is successful and has conferred a significant benefit by prevailing at trial and obtaining a judgment that a construction project violates the zoning laws in existence at the time, as in this case, that party was not precluded from obtaining attorney's fees under Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5 because the losing party gets the zoning laws changed and the project's validity under the changed law has yet to be finally determined. The Court of Appeal held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in fixing the amount of attorney's fees and affirmed the award of attorney's fees. View "La Mirada Avenue Neighborhood Association of Hollywood v. Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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Magana was charged with two counts of rape. His trial counsel, Everett, sought a fifth continuance but failed to appear for the motion hearing. Everett then exercised a peremptory challenge against the assigned judge, resulting in its reassignment. Everett unsuccessfully sought to exercise a second peremptory challenge, then moved for recusal, asserting that the judge was biased. Everett voluntarily withdrew that motion. On the second day of trial, Everett moved to appoint an expert to testify that his client’s confession was involuntary. The judge ruled that Everett was not prepared to proceed and was not providing adequate representation and continued the trial. The court then granted the prosecution’s motion to remove Everett as counsel, finding that due to Everett’s conduct, the alleged victim, the prosecution, and Magana had been denied a speedy trial and that it had no faith that Everett would be prepared for trial on a timely basis. The court of appeal denied relief. Everett withdrew his first statement of disqualification; the court correctly found his second statement of disqualification untimely. A trial court has authority to remove defense counsel to ensure that adequate representation is provided, and to prevent substantial impairment of court proceedings. While such authority is to be sparingly exercised, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in this case. View "Magana v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal vacated an arbitration award in favor of a client against a law firm because the award was procured by "undue means" as that term was used in Code of Civil Procedure section 1286.2. As an initial matter, the court held that the law firm did not waive its right to appeal. On the merits, the court held that the trial court erred in confirming the arbitration award that took into consideration claims not made in the arbitration demand and to which the law firm was not given an adequate or meaningful opportunity to respond. View "Baker Marquart LLP v. Kantor" on Justia Law

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Investco and its promoters sold LLC memberships to the public. The Department of Business Oversight (DBO) believed those interests constituted “securities” but were sold without Department of Corporations qualification. Prospective investors were told that specific property would be purchased at a favorable price. The 443 investors ($22,725,000) were not told that other LLCs had purchased that property weeks earlier for a substantially lower price for sale to the Investco LLC, profiting Investco and the promoters. DBO filed a civil action. Under a confidential settlement agreement, a special master was appointed to oversee the sale of the properties. DBO sent notices to investors, including Respondents. Respondents filed civil actions; defendants moved to amend the interlocutory judgment to stay actions against them arising out of the settlement's subject matter. DBO joined the defendants’ objections, arguing that the suits would cause “bargain” sales to the detriment of other investors. Respondents filed a “special appearance,” opposing the motion to modify, arguing that they were involuntarily bound by the settlement. The court stayed Respondents’ actions as to the LLCs, but allowed suits against Investco and the promoters, and expanded the duties of the special master. The court of appeal affirmed an award of attorney fees against Investco and DBO. Respondents were successful parties; enforced an important right affecting the public and fraud victims; and provided necessary, non-duplicative, significant benefits, while incurring litigation expenses out of proportion to their personal interests. View "People v. Investco Management & Development LLC" on Justia Law

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Shapira sued his former employer, Lifetech, for breach of an employment contract. The parties presented their evidence at a bench trial and rested. Before Shapira submitted his closing argument brief, he requested that the court dismiss the case under Code of Civil Procedure, section 581(e), which provides, “After the actual commencement of trial, the court shall dismiss the complaint . . . with prejudice, if the plaintiff requests a dismissal.” The court denied Shapira’s request. After the parties filed their closing argument briefs, the court entered a judgment in Lifetech’s favor, held that Lifetech was the prevailing party under Civil Code section 1717, and awarded Lifetech costs and $137,000 in attorney fees. Shapira appealed the attorney fees award. The court of appeal reversed. The court should have dismissed the case under section 581(e), so the award of attorney fees was erroneous under Civil Code section 1717(b)(2), which states, “Where an action has been voluntarily dismissed or dismissed pursuant to a settlement of the case, there shall be no prevailing party for purposes of this section.” Section 581(e) provides a right to dismiss a case before the completion of trial. View "Shapira v. Lifetech Resources" on Justia Law

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In 2012, a Pasadena officer shot and killed an unarmed man, resulting in multiple investigations, including by the Office of Independent Review Group (OIR). The Los Angeles Times made requests under the California Public Records Act (PRA), Gov. Code, 6250, seeking disclosure of the OIR’s 2014 report. Officers sought to enjoin the report’s disclosure. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the officers' petition in 2015, finding that the report is a public document, and remanded for issuance of a new or modified judgment. The Times then sought attorney fees from the city under the PRA and from the two involved police officers and the Pasadena Police Officers Association, under the private attorney general statute (Code Civ. Proc., 1021.5). The trial court awarded the Times limited fees against the city and declined to award the Times any fees under section 1021.5. The court of appeal affirmed the award of limited fees under the PRA but reversed the order awarding no fees under the private attorney general statute, directing the trial court to award the Times reasonable fees against the officers and/or the Pasadena Police Officers Association. View "Pasadena Police Officers Association v. City of Pasadena" on Justia Law