Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Guo owned TVGC, which operated a Pleasanton spa. TVGC agreed to sell the business to Mazurova's corporation, LSI. The sale was partially financed through a promissory note. The sales agreement and promissory note contained provisions allowing a party prevailing in a legal action to recover attorney fees. After the sale, a dispute arose regarding Guo’s alleged nondisclosure of outstanding coupons for free spa services and Mazurova’s alleged failure to make payments. A judgment was entered for $161,085.58 against Guo and TVGC, which was affirmed. A subsequent order specifically stated that LSI and Mazurova were deemed the prevailing parties under Code of Civil Procedure Section 1032, “entitled to recover their costs of suit and reasonable attorney fees.” Mazurova and LSI assigned the judgment to Moorpark, which engaged in collection efforts and moved for attorney fees under Code of Civil Procedure section 685.040.The court denied the motion because the underlying judgment did not include an award of attorney’s fees. The court of appeal reversed. The judgment awarded reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing parties, although it did not set a particular amount of fees and no costs bill including such fees was ever filed. The court’s failure to include a specific amount in the judgment does not defeat section 685.040. View "Guo v. Moorpark Recovery Service, LLC" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff filed a petition for writ of administrative mandate to overturn Westmont College's determination that he committed sexual assault, the trial court granted plaintiff's petition. Plaintiff then moved for attorney fees, which the trial court denied. Westmont appealed from the judgment, but plaintiff did not appeal from the postjudgment order denying his attorney fee motion. The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. After remittitur issued, plaintiff moved for attorney's fees based on the court's decision. The trial court denied the motion.The Court of Appeal held that the trial court applied the wrong standards when it denied plaintiff's attorney fee motion. In this case, the trial court erred when it denied plaintiff's post-appeal motion for attorney fees because his action against Westmont resulted in the enforcement of an important right affecting the public interest, and his action conferred significant benefits on a large group of people. Furthermore, the trial court abused its discretion by failing to consider whether public enforcement of plaintiff's fair hearing rights was available or adequate. The trial court also failed to consider whether the financial burden hoisted on plaintiff in prosecuting his case outweighed his own personal interests, focusing instead on the "punishment" that would be inflicted on Westmont for exercising its right to appeal. The court also agreed with plaintiff that the trial court erred when it denied his attorney fee motion due to his failure to provide a basis for apportionment between the fees he incurred to advance his private interests and those that advanced the public interest. Therefore, the court vacated the denial order and remanded for further proceedings. View "Doe v. Westmont College" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's award of attorney's fees to plaintiff after a jury trial on plaintiff's lemon law claims. HNL argued that plaintiff's counsel failed to provide evidence of their hourly rates, (2) the trial court erred in refusing to apportion attorney's fees, (3) the trial court erred in applying a lodestar multiplier, and (4) TD was not liable for attorney's fees under title 16, section 433.2 of the Code of Federal Regulations (2020) (the Holder Rule).The court upheld the amount of attorney's fees award, finding no abuse of discretion. The court explained that substantial evidence supported the Lodestar amount; there was no abuse of discretion in refusing to apportion the fee award; and there was no abuse of discretion applying a Lodestar multiplier. The court also upheld the trial court's ruling that TD is liable for attorney's fees, and concluded that the Holder Rule does not limit the attorney's fees that a plaintiff may recover from a creditor-assignee. View "Pulliam v. HNL Automotive Inc." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's award of attorney fees in favor of plaintiff, holding that defendants are entitled to fees under the note and deed of the trust. The court rejected plaintiff's contention that Civil Code section 1717 does not apply because his negligence and fraud claims do not refer to or rely on the existence of a contract. In this case, the court found no error in the trial court's conclusion that plaintiff's tort claims "directly relate to enforcement of the note through foreclosure." The court explained that, at its core, plaintiff's suit sought to avoid his obligations under the note by making claims defendants acted negligently and fraudulently during the foreclosure process. The court also concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in awarding fees under Code of Civil Procedure 2033.420. View "Yoon v. CAM IX Trust" on Justia Law

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In 2016, Hill pleaded no contest to felony possession of a firearm by a convicted felon (case CR940896). The court suspended imposition of sentence and placed Hill on three years' felony probation. In 2019, a Clearlake police officer noticed Hill outside of a liquor store, approached, obtained Hill’s name, and conducted a records check, which revealed that Hill was on postrelease community supervision. As the officer returned, Hill “produced” a knife and placed it on a pole. Hill said he needed the knife “for protection” and that he had it shoved down his sleeve. Hill pleaded no contest to concealing a dirk or dagger (case CR953084) and admitted a probation violation in case CR940896. The plea was open with a maximum possible sentence of 32t months.The trial court revoked his probation in case CR940896 and sentenced Hill in both cases to an aggregate term of 32 months. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting Hill’s argument that his attorney was ineffective for failing to request a hearing on his eligibility for mental health diversion under Penal Code section 1001.36. Because Hill’s appeal did not attack the validity of his plea but challenged the court’s sentencing discretion relating to section 1001.36, no certificate of probable cause was required. Hill's counsel was not deficient in failing to request an eligibility hearing nor was Hill prejudiced by counsel’s failure to do so. View "People v. Hill" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose out of a property tax refund action brought by Chinese Theatres against the County. After remanding to the Los Angeles County Assessment Appeals Board to reduce the value of real property owned by Chinese Theatres and to correct the tax roll, the trial court awarded Chinese Theatres attorney fees under Revenue and Taxation Code section 1611.6.The Court of Appeal reversed the postjudgment order awarding Chinese Theatres fees, holding that Chinese Theatres was not entitled to attorney fees under section 1611.6. The court explained that, under a plain reading of section 1611.6, attorney fees are permitted in a tax refund action where: (1) a county board fails to make requested findings; or (2) the court concludes the board's findings are so deficient that it remands the matter with directions for the board to make findings that "fairly disclose [its] determination" on the point at issue, including a "statement of the method or methods of valuation used in appraising the property." In this case, neither of these circumstances exists and thus Chinese Theatres is not entitled to attorney fees under section 1611.6. View "Chinese Theatres, LLC v. County of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, trustees and beneficiaries of a trust established in 1982 by their now deceased parents, filed suit against Alice, Shahen, and Arthur Minassian, asserting four causes of action arising out of alleged fraudulent transfers. The trial court sustained defendants' demurrers to two causes of action and plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed the remaining causes of action.The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that plaintiffs pleaded facts sufficient to constitute a fraudulent transfer cause of action under Civil Code section 3439.04, subdivision (a)(1). In this case, plaintiffs alleged that Shahen made the subject transfers with an actual intent to hinder, delay or defraud any creditor of the debtor within the meaning of the Uniform Voidable Transactions Act, and alleged with particularity the existence of several badges of fraud. Furthermore, the litigation privilege does not bar plaintiffs' cause of action. In regard to plaintiffs' third cause of action against Arthur for aiding and abetting Shahen's fraudulent transfer, the court held that Arthur was not entitled to immunity for his involvement in the sham divorce and fraudulent scheme, and rejected Arthur's argument that he is protected by the litigation privilege; even if plaintiffs had alleged an attorney-client conspiracy, the allegations are sufficient to satisfy the exception to the pre-filing requirement under section 1714.10, subdivision (c); and the disclosed agent is inapplicable in this case. View "Aghaian v. Minassian" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Shahrokh Mireskandari alleged four causes of action against Joseph Scoma, M.D., based on the reports and opinions Scoma provided at the request of a disciplinary tribunal in London, England, as part of the tribunal’s formal proceedings involving Mireskandari, his legal practice, and his license to practice law in the United Kingdom. Mireskandari qualified as a solicitor in 2000, and by 2006 he was the managing partner of a London firm with mostly “black, minority, or ethnic origin” (BME) solicitors and staff. In 2007, Mireskandari publicly disclosed to a member of Parliament problems BME solicitors experienced “at the hands of the Legal Society of England and Wales (‘LSE’) and the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (‘SRA’).” In retaliation, the LSE/SRA began a campaign to discredit Mireskandari: the LSE/SRA hired a Los Angeles law firm; a paralegal working for the firm obtained Mireskandari's education records; and within two weeks of being advised of those records, LSE/SRA launched an investigation into his “educational and work background.” More than two years later, in early April 2011, the Solicitor’s Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) “initiated the proceedings against [Mireskandari] regarding the intervention of [Mireskandari’s] legal practice and his license to practice law in the United Kingdom” (SDT proceedings). At that time, Mireskandari travelled to California. He became seriously ill and requested that the SDT proceedings be adjourned. In support of his request, Mireskandari submitted evidence from California physicians of his illness, his inability to travel to England, and his inability to participate in the SDT proceedings. In response, at the request of the LSE/SRA, the SDT appointed Scoma “as an independent expert (not the expert of the LSE/SRA),” who reported back to the LSE/SRA "I see no reason why he is unable to travel by plane from the USA to the UK.’ ” Based on the SDT proceedings, the SDT struck Mireskandari from the roll of solicitors, thereby preventing him from practicing law in the United Kingdom. This resulted in the permanent closing of the law firm of which he was a partner. Mireskandari suffered damages in excess of $500 million. The trial court sustained without leave to amend Scoma’s demurrer to the complaint and entered judgment in favor of Scoma and against Mireskandari. On the record presented by Mireskandari, the California Court of Appeal found California’s litigation privilege (codified at Civil Code section 47) barred each of Mireskandari’s causes of action. Thus, the Court affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Mireskandari v. Gallagher" on Justia Law

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When a plaintiff requests entry of judgment by default, a request for attorney fees must be made at the same time or the fees are forfeited. But attorney fees are not forfeited absent such request when defendant contests a default judgment.The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's denial of plaintiff's motion for attorney fees in her lawsuit against defendants. The court concluded, among other things, that plaintiff was not entitled to attorney fees incurred for the period before she obtained the default judgment against defendants because she did not include a request for fees at the time the default judgment was entered. However, the trial court erred by denying attorney fees for plaintiff's successful post-judgment efforts to respond to and defeat defendants' motions to vacate the default judgment. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Vincent v. Sonkey" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal concluded that the trial court abused its discretion in finding that defendant—who lost the only cause of action in the case—was the prevailing party. The court rejected both parties' arguments based on the definition of prevailing party in the attorney fees provision in their contract, explaining that any such definition would not trump the definition of prevailing party in Civil Code section 1717. The court also concluded that the trial court's consideration of the parties' settlement offers in determining which party achieved the greater relief under section 1717's definition of prevailing party was contrary to precedent. The court rejected defendant's argument that it prevailed because it admitted it owed plaintiff a portion of the contractual damages plaintiff was seeking, and the jury's lump sum award was for less than plaintiff's damages claim at trial. The court explained that defendant's argument is inconsistent with section 1717, subdivision (b)(2), under which a defendant who owes a debt becomes a prevailing party by tendering to the plaintiff the full amount owed and alleging such tender in the defendant's answer. The court reversed the amended judgment only insofar as it orders plaintiff to pay defendant's attorney fees. The court affirmed in all other respects, remanding for further proceedings. View "Waterwood Enterprises, LLC v. City of Long Beach" on Justia Law