Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
IAR believed that defendant, its former CEO, had embezzled money. IAR, represented by Valla, sued defendant. Valla, on behalf of IAR, reported the crimes to the Foster City Police. The district attorney charged defendant with felony embezzlement. In response to defendant’s subpoena, Valla produced over 600 documents and moved to quash other requests on attorney-client privilege grounds. Defendant filed another subpoena, seeking documents relating to an email from the district attorney to Valla, discussing the need for a forensic accountant. Valla sought a protective order. Defendant asserted Valla was part of the prosecution team, subject to the Brady disclosure requirement. Valla and deputy district attorneys testified that Valla did not conduct legal research or investigate solely at the request of the police or district attorney, take action with respect to defendant other than as IAR's attorneys, nor ask for assistance in the civil matter. IAR retained a forensic accountant in the civil action, who also testified in the criminal matter, after being prepared by the district attorney. IAR paid the expert for both. There were other instances of cooperation, including exchanges of legal authority. The court found Valla to be a part of the prosecution team. The court of appeals reversed. The focus is on whether the third party has been acting under the government’s direction and control. Valla engaged in few, if any, activities that would render it part of the prosecution team. View "IAR Systems Software, Inc. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

by
Attorney filed suit, seeking payment of unpaid fees. Client filed an answer and, one year later, asked for arbitration pursuant to his retainer agreement. The court compelled arbitration that resulted in no recovery by either side. Six days after the award, Client asked the arbitrator to award him costs under Code of Civil Procedure section 998 because Attorney’s recovery was less favorable than an offer that Client made two months before demanding arbitration. When the arbitrator responded that he no longer had jurisdiction, Client asked the court to confirm the award, with Section 998 costs. The court confirmed the arbitration award but determined that Client failed to make a timely section 998 claim to the arbitrator and denied Client’s request for costs. The court of appeals reversed, rejecting Attorney’s suggestion that Client should have presented his section 998 request for costs to an arbitrator before the arbitration award was rendered. An offer which is not accepted “cannot be given in evidence upon the trial or arbitration.” In his request to confirm the award, Client established that the arbitrator had refused to hear any evidence of Attorney’s rejection of Client’s section 998 offer; Client timely presented his claim to the arbitrator, who should have reached the merits of that claim. View "Heimlich v. Shivji" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed suit against its former attorneys for legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty arising from defendants' representation of plaintiff in an earlier breach of contract action. In the published portion of this opinion, the court affirmed the trial court's grant of nonsuit on plaintiff's breach of fiduciary claim because plaintiff did not adduce any evidence in support of that claim beyond the evidence offered in support of its malpractice claim for professional negligence. The court affirmed in all other respects. View "Broadway Victoria, LLC v. Norminton, Wiita & Fuster" on Justia Law

by
In this original proceeding, the issues presented for the Court of Appeal’s review related to a confidential attorney-client communication. The trial court found that plaintiff and real party in interest Richard Hausman, Sr. (Dick), did not waive the attorney-client privilege by forwarding a confidential e-mail he received from his personal attorney to his sister-in-law because Dick inadvertently and unknowingly forwarded the e-mail from his iPhone, and therefore lacked the necessary intent to waive the privilege. The trial court also impliedly found that Dick’s sister-in-law did not waive the privilege when she forwarded the e-mail to her husband, who then shared it with four other individuals, because neither Dick’s sister-in-law nor his brother-in-law could waive Dick’s attorney-client privilege, and Dick did not consent to these additional disclosures because he did not know about either his initial disclosure or these additional disclosures until a year after they occurred. In a separate order, the trial court disqualified Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP (Gibson Dunn) from representing defendants-petitioners McDermott Will & Emery LLP and Jonathan Lurie (collectively, Defendants) in the underlying lawsuits because Gibson Dunn failed to recognize the potentially privileged nature of the e-mail after receiving a copy from Lurie, and then analyzed and used the e-mail despite Dick’s objection that the e-mail was an inadvertently disclosed privileged document. The Court of Appeal denied the petition in its entirety. Substantial evidence supported the trial court’s orders and the court did not abuse its discretion in selecting disqualification as the appropriate remedy to address Gibson Dunn’s involvement in this matter. “[R]egardless of how the attorney obtained the documents, whenever a reasonably competent attorney would conclude the documents obviously or clearly appear to be privileged and it is reasonably apparent they were inadvertently disclosed, the State Fund rule requires the attorney to review the documents no more than necessary to determine whether they are privileged, notify the privilege holder the attorney has documents that appear to be privileged, and refrain from using the documents until the parties or the court resolves any dispute about their privileged nature. The receiving attorney’s reasonable belief the privilege holder waived the privilege or an exception to the privilege applies does not vitiate the attorney’s State Fund duties.” View "McDermott Will & Emery v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

by
A criminal complaint charged petitioner Shawn Melcher with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer and other crimes. One of petitioner’s alleged assault victims was Alan Serpa. Serpa’s wife, Barbara Yook, was the Calaveras County District Attorney. Before the trial court, petitioner moved to recuse the Calaveras County District Attorney’s office from prosecuting his case because of the connection between the victim the district attorney. The trial court denied the motion, ruling petitioner failed to show the conflict of interest was so grave he was unlikely to receive fair treatment. Petitioner sought writ relief from the Court of Appeal. After review, the Court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion, and therefore denied the petition. "The mere fact the victim and the district attorney are married does not establish a disabling conflict where there is no evidence she has influenced the prosecution, an ethical wall prevents the district attorney from influencing the case, and the district attorney waives any rights to participate in the case as a victim or a member of the victim’s family." View "Melcher v. Superior Court" on Justia Law