Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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Francisco Diaz was employed as a tree trimmer by Professional Community Management, Inc. (“PCM”) for many years. He filed his complaint against it in October 2014, stating various causes of action arising out of PCM’s alleged failure to reasonably accommodate the workplace restrictions imposed by his doctor, its alleged retaliation, and its alleged wrongful termination of his employment. PCM answered the complaint in December 2014, denying the allegations and pleading 24 affirmative defenses. The 24th affirmative defense alleged that Diaz’s complaint “and each cause of action, is barred by [his] failure to exhaust contractual remedies available to him, including, but not limited to, the grievance and arbitration procedure under the collective bargaining agreement between [PCM] and [Diaz’s] collective bargaining representative.” PCM unilaterally orchestrated the issuance of an appealable order by: (1) applying ex parte, a mere 11 days before trial, for an order shortening time to hear its motion to compel arbitration; (2) voluntarily submitting a proposed order to the trial court that not only reflected the court’s denial of the ex parte application (the only ruling reflected in the trial court’s own minute order) but also included a denial of the motion on the merits; and (3) promptly appealing that order, which then stayed the scheduled trial. The Court of Appeal concluded PCM carefully tailored the order it proposed the trial court issue, incorporating what it characterized as the trial court’s reasons for rejecting the summary judgment motion, and excluding any mention of issues that might distract from that analysis. PCM continued its aggressive strategy on appeal, contending Diaz was precluded from arguing that PCM had waived its right to compel arbitration. According to PCM, Diaz could not make that argument because the trial court’s premature denial of the motion to compel (at PCM’s request) meant Diaz never argued waiver in an opposition to the motion; and because the order PCM drafted did not reflect the trial court had relied on it as a basis for denying the motion. Instead, PCM claimed Diaz was relegated to defending the court’s ruling based solely on the analysis PCM crafted in its proposed order, and that the Court of Appeal assess the propriety of that order based solely on that analysis. The Court of Appeal concluded that PCM invited the trial court’s alleged error when it proposed the court issue the very ruling it now challenged on appeal. “By doing that, PCM won the battle - it got the court to issue the appealable order it sought, prior to trial - but it lost the war.” A party that invites the trial court to commit error is estopped from challenging that error on appeal. The Court concluded PCM and its counsel acted in bad faith, generating an appealable order they knew the trial court had not intended to issue at the ex parte hearing, for the purpose of obtaining a delay of trial. It imposed monetary sanctions against PCM and its counsel for bringing a frivolous appeal. View "Diaz v. Professional Community Management, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's order granting attorney fees to respondent after the trial court entered an interlocutory judgment of partition in her favor. In this case, the trial court found that an attorney fee provision in an earlier settlement agreement applied to the partition action, and awarded all fees to plaintiff under Civil Code section 1717 rather than apportioning the costs of partition under Code of Civil Procedure section 874.040. The court held, however, that the partition action did not fall within the terms of the attorney fee provision. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Orien v. Lutz" on Justia Law

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Denton sued his employer, San Francisco, alleging workplace retaliation, disability discrimination (disparate treatment, failure to accommodate, failure to engage in the interactive process), defamation, violation of the Confidentiality of Medical Information Act (Civ. Code 56), hostile work environment harassment, and failure to prevent harassment, discrimination, or retaliation, and against his supervisor, alleging defamation and hostile work environment harassment. After defendants moved for summary judgment, negotiations led to a settlement ($250,000). Denton’s then-counsel filed a notice of conditional settlement. A week later, after Denton discharged his attorney, defendants’ counsel successfully applied ex parte to have the settlement set aside, despite Denton twice assuring defendants’ counsel that he was not backing out of the settlement. Four days later, at the hearing on defendants’ summary judgment motion, Denton, appearing in propria persona, requested a continuance to oppose the motion. The trial court denied the request and granted defendants’ motion as unopposed. The court of appeal reversed. The trial court abused its discretion. To the extent the court implied that Denton was not diligent, the implication is not supported by the record. Defendants’ counsel acknowledged as much at the hearing. View "Denton v. City and County of San Francisco" on Justia Law

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The dispute underlying this appeal was between a contractor (respondent) and subcontractor (appellants). The parties sued each other for alleged damages arising out of a construction project on California State Route 91. Respondent moved to disqualify Pepper Hamilton LLP and its individual attorneys (collectively, Pepper Hamilton) from representing appellants in this action and to issue additional injunctive relief pertaining to confidential documents. Respondent claimed that appellants’ litigation counsel, Pepper Hamilton, had improperly accessed documents made available by respondent solely for mediation sessions that preceded the commencement of the action. The court granted the motion, finding disqualification was appropriate to eliminate the possibility that Pepper Hamilton would exploit the unfair advantage. Appellants filed a petition for writ of supersedeas, arguing: (1) their appeal of the disqualification order resulted in an automatic stay of all trial court proceedings; or (2) if there was no automatic stay, the Court of Appeal court should exercise its discretionary power to stay all trial court proceedings. The Court indeed issued a temporary stay of all trial court proceedings and invited further briefing by the parties on the issue of whether an appeal of an order disqualifying counsel result in an automatic stay pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 916? If so, how far does the automatic stay extend: solely to enforcement of the disqualification order or to all trial court proceedings? As a matter of first impression, the Court of Appeal concluded the appeal automatically stayed enforcement of the order disqualifying counsel, but not all trial court proceedings. The Court declined to address appellants’ request for a discretionary stay of all trial court proceedings pursuant to section 923. View "URS Corp. v. Atkinson/Walsh Joint Venture" on Justia Law

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Defendants Steve George and Real Estate Portfolio Management, LLC (REPM) appealed a trial court’s order granting the motion of plaintiffs Angelica Lynn and Angel Lynn Realty, Inc. (ALR) to disqualify counsel. George and REPM were represented by attorney Kevin Spainhour and his law firm, Spainhour Law Group (SLG), who were the subjects of the motion to disqualify. Spainhour represented George for over 15 years and REPM for several years. Lynn and ALR alleged in their complaint that they had formed a partnership with George and REPM for buying and selling real property. Lynn and ALR moved to disqualify Spainhour and SLG on the ground they had represented the alleged partnership and had provided Lynn legal advice relating to a proposed sale transaction. Alternatively, Lynn and ALR asserted they had a confidential non-client relationship with Spainhour and SLG. The trial court expressly found that neither Spainhour nor SLG had represented Lynn or ALR in their individual capacities, nevertheless, the court found there had been a confidential non-client relationship between Lynn and ALR, on the one hand, and Spainhour and SLG, on the other, and a “potential attorney-client relationship with the alleged partnership.” Based on those findings, the court granted the motion to disqualify. The Court of Appeal reversed, finding the evidence did not support the trial court’s finding of a confidential non-client relationship. View "Lynn v. George" on Justia Law

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Defendant Anice Plikaytis appealed an order awarding her attorneys' fees in a breach of contract action brought by plaintiff Debra Roth. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal agreed with Plikaytis's contention that the trial court erred when it declined to consider previously filed documents she incorporated by reference as part of her motion. In the unpublished portions of the opinion, the Court discussed Plikaytis's arguments that: (1) the court failed to apply the lodestar method; (2) erroneously denied fees for equitable and cross-claims and for obtaining relief from bankruptcy stays; and (3) substantially reduced her award without explanation. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court erred by denying fees for obtaining bankruptcy stay relief that related to the breach claim and failing to provide an adequate justification for significantly reducing the number of hours allowed. Accordingly, the trial court was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and the matter remanded with directions. View "Roth v. Plikaytis" on Justia Law

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Defendants Beachcomber Management Crystal Cove, LLC (Management) and Douglas Cavanaugh (collectively, Defendants) challenged a trial court’s order disqualifying the law firm of Kohut & Kohut LLP (Kohut) from continuing to represent Defendants in the underlying matter. In March 2016, Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit on behalf of Beachcomber at Crystal Cove, LLC as a shareholder derivative action against Defendants. The complaint named the Company as a nominal defendant and alleged claims for fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, abuse of control, gross negligence and mismanagement, breach of duty of honest services, unjust enrichment, declaratory relief, and accounting. Plaintiffs alleged Defendants abused their position as the Company’s managers by diverting Company funds to other Cavanaugh entities, paying themselves unauthorized management fees, misallocating expenses the Company shares with other entities, and refusing to provide Plaintiffs complete access to the Company’s books and records. Defendants hired Kohut to represent them in this lawsuit, and the Company hired independent counsel, the law firm of Corbin, Steelman & Specter, to represent it in this lawsuit. In May 2016, Plaintiffs filed a motion to disqualify Kohut “from any further participation in this case” based on conflicts of interests arising from its past and present representation of the Company and Defendants. Specifically, Plaintiffs argued disqualification was required based on the conflicts of interest arising from: (1) Kohut’s concurrent representation of the Company and Defendants; (2) Kohut’s successive representation of the Company and Defendants concerning the disputes over the Company’s operations; and (3) the need for Kohut to testify in this lawsuit about the services it provided to the Company and Defendants. Here, the trial court concluded disqualification was mandatory because: (1) Defendants and the Company had conflicting interests because the Company is the true plaintiff in this derivative suit that Plaintiffs brought against Defendants on the Company’s behalf; and (2) Kohut previously represented the Company concerning some of the issues raised in this suit, and a substantial relationship therefore existed between that representation and Kohut’s representation of Defendants in this lawsuit. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court erred because it failed to apply a more specific line of cases that governed an attorney’s successive representation of clients in a derivative lawsuit brought on a small or closely held company’s behalf against the insiders who run the company. View "Beachcomber Management Crystal Cove v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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Nelson, an attorney specializing in asbestos defense, was employed by Tucker Ellis. In 2009, Nelson became a “non-capital partner.” Gradient was retained by Tucker Ellis to assist in litigation. Nelson exchanged emails with Gradient consultants about medical research articles relating to smoking and/or radiation (rather than asbestos) as causes of mesothelioma. After Nelson left Tucker Ellis in 2011, the law firm was served with a subpoena, seeking the production of all communications between Tucker, Ellis and Gradient regarding the research. Tucker Ellis produced the attorney work product emails authored by Nelson. After Nelson was subpoenaed for deposition, he wrote a “clawback” letter to Tucker Ellis, asserting the emails contained his privileged attorney work product and demanding they be sequestered and returned to him. Nelson sought a determination that Tucker Ellis had a legal duty to protect his attorney work product from improper disclosure to third parties Code of Civil Procedure section 2018.030. The court of appeal reversed the trial court, concluding that the holder of the attorney work product privilege is the employer law firm, Tucker Ellis, not Nelson, and had no legal duty to secure Nelson’s permission before it disclosed documents he created in the scope of his employment. View "Tucker Ellis LLP v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Walton sued Rossdale. Walton, a California attorney, maintained a “litigation factory” by placing dozens of email addresses on the Internet, collecting spam messages sent to those addresses, and then demanding compensation for supposed violations of the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, Civil Code 1750. Walton‘s lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice in 2012. The same day, Rossdale sued Walton, alleging malicious prosecution. Rossdale was a fictitious business name registered in Florida to a Florida limited liability company, Miami Legal. In 2016, Walton argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed because Rossdale was "a fictitious business name registered by a company that has now dissolved.” Miami Legal argued that all of its assets and liabilities had been transferred to Rossdale Delaware, which Miami Legal called its “successor in interest to the causes of action.” The trial court dismissed for lack of standing. The court of appeals reversed. Rossdale was only a fictitious business name; no legitimate standing or jurisdictional issue was raised. This case does not involve an individual seeking to sue under a fictitious name to protect his identity, does not invoke serious privacy concerns, and did not raise any supposed violation of any fictitious name statute. View "Rossdale Group, LLC v. Walton" on Justia Law

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Family Code section 271 does not authorize the court to award sanctions to non-parties, but rather is intended to promote settlement of family law litigation through shifting fees between the parties to the litigation. In this case, the Court of Appeal agreed that the trial court was without authority to award sanctions to respondents because they were not parties to this action. The court reasoned that sanctions may not be awarded under section 271 to a party's attorney when it was that attorney who was requesting the sanctions for the sole benefit of the attorney. Accordingly, the court reversed the order for sanctions. View "Webb v. Webb" on Justia Law