Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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The Court of Appeal modified its prior opinion and inserted the following paragraph: The probate court's orders (1) striking Key's No Contest Petition under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16; (2) awarding attorney fees to prevailing parties on their motion to strike under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16; and (3) denying Key's motion for attorney fees on appeal are reversed. The case is remanded for further proceedings on Key's petition and for determination of Key's reasonable attorney fees in defending Tyler's appeal in case No. B258055. On remand, the trial court shall determine whether those fees are to be paid solely from Tyler's share of the Trust estate (if any). Key is entitled to her costs on this appeal. The court's modification changed the judgment and the petition for rehearing was denied. View "Key v. Tyler" on Justia Law

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The San Mateo County Assessor assessed Silverado’s assisted living facility’s fair market value for property tax purposes at $26.4 million for the October 2011 base year value assessment and the 2012/2013 regular assessment. Silverado appealed. The County Assessment Appeals Board found that the income approach analysis was appropriate for determining the fair market value based on the present value of the property’s expected future income stream. The trial court found that the Board appropriately used an income approach analysis but agreed with Silverado that the analysis did not adequately make “all necessary deductions” to remove the value of intangible assets that Silverado claimed had been impermissibly subsumed in the assessment value. The court remanded for the “narrow purpose” of allowing the Board to clarify its valuation using an income approach analysis, based on the evidence that had been admitted at the administrative hearings. Silverado sought attorney fees under Revenue and Taxation Code 1611.6 and 5152. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the motion. Because the Board’s resolution of Silverado’s appeals was neither arbitrary nor capricious, nor caused by a legal position taken in bad faith, no award is warranted under section 1611.6. With respect to section 5152, there was no basis for finding that a tax law or regulation was unconstitutional or invalid. View "SSL Landlord, LLC v. County of San Mateo" on Justia Law

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In July 2012, Maguire, represented by attorney Bornstein, brought an unlawful detainer action against Connelly. In September 2012, Maguire voluntarily dismissed the unlawful detainer action. On September 16, 2014, Connelly sued Maguire and Bornstein for malicious prosecution, alleging the two “actively were involved in brin[g]ing and maintaining” the unlawful detainer action, which ended in appellant’s favor; “no reasonable person in [Maguire and Bornstein’s] circumstances would have believed that there were reasonable grounds” to bring and/or maintain the action; and Maguire and Bornstein “acted primarily for a purpose other than succeeding on the merits” of the action. The trial court dismissed, citing the one-year statute of limitations in Code of Civil Procedure section 340.6(a), governing “[a]n action against an attorney for a wrongful act or omission, other than for actual fraud, arising in the performance of professional services.” The court of appeal affirmed, recognizing that finding section 340.6(a) applicable to malicious prosecution claims against attorneys will result in a one-year statute of limitations for such claims, while a two-year statute of limitations will apply to malicious prosecution claims against litigants. View "Connelly v. Bornstein" on Justia Law

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Jarvis Properties, a limited partnership, owns a parcel of land. Its general partners, Todd and James (brothers), each own a 50 percent interest in the partnership, which is less than the majority consent required to act on behalf of the partnership (Corp. Code, 15904.06(a)). The brothers cannot agree on what to do about the parcel. Their partnership agreement does not address decision-making deadlocks. James sought partition by sale, naming Todd and Jarvis Properties as defendants. Todd hired his own lawyer and hired a separate lawyer, Roscoe, to represent the partnership. James objected to having Roscoe represent the partnership and moved to disqualify Roscoe. James argued that Roscoe was not authorized to act by the requisite majority of the general partners and that Roscoe, who took the position that he was not subject to the direction of either partner and was being paid by Todd, was not acting in the best interests of the partnership and would run up unnecessary litigation costs and deplete the partnership’s limited assets. The court of appeal affirmed an order disqualifying Roscoe. James had a sufficient interest to challenge Roscoe’s authority, having demonstrated a risk that Roscoe's representation may advance Todd’s interests and may not be in the Partnership's best interests. On remand, the court may wish to explore options for resolving deadlock at the entity level and consider appointing a receiver or other neutral. View "Jarvis v. Jarvis" on Justia Law

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Richmond issued its first medical marijuana collective permit to RCCC. Three other permits were later issued. The ordinance was amended to reduce the number of dispensary permits from six to three; if a permitted dispensary did not open within six months after the issuance of a permit, the permit would expire. RCCC lost its permit. RCCC filed an antitrust complaint under the Cartwright Act, alleging that the other dispensaries paid for community opposition to RCCC’s applications and also purchased a favorably zoned property. Defendants filed a joint anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) motion to strike (Code of Civil Procedure 425.16), which was granted as to allegations related to protected activity--statements made before the city council and defendants’ actions in opposing RCCC’s application. Allegations related to the property purchase were not stricken. Some defendants sought attorney fees. The trial judge determined that “defendants prevailed on their” anti-SLAPP motions and awarded 7 Stars $23,120 plus costs of $688.12. The court of appeal affirmed. There is no conflict between the anti-SLAPP statute, which permits an award of attorneys’ fees to a defendant and the Cartwright Act, which permits only a plaintiff to be “awarded a reasonable attorneys’ fee together with the costs of the suit” (Bus. & Prof. Code 16750(a)). View "Richmond Compassionate Care Collective v. 7 Stars Holistic Foundation" on Justia Law

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Following the termination of his employment, plaintiff Fernando Martinez sued Stephen Stratton O’Hara (O’Hara), Career Solution and Candidate Acquisitions (CSCA), O’Hara Family Trust, OCRE, Inc., Professional Realty Council, Inc., and Pacific Valley Realty, Inc. (collectively, defendants) alleging five employment-related claims. Plaintiff’s wage claim was resolved before trial and his fraud claim was dismissed when the trial court granted defendants’ motion for nonsuit. A jury returned a verdict awarding a total of $8,080 in damages on the claim for sexual harassment in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Following a bench trial of plaintiff’s remaining claims seeking an injunction for unfair advertising and unfair business practices, the trial court found in favor of defendants. Plaintiff moved for attorney fees, which was denied. Plaintiff appealed the fee order, but the Court of Appeal affirmed. The Court reported plaintiff’s attorney Benjamin Pavone to the California State Bar for manifesting gender bias: the notice of appeal signed by Mr. Pavone on behalf of plaintiff referred to the ruling of the female judicial officer as “succubustic.” The Court published this portion of the opinion to make the point that gender bias by an attorney appearing before the Court would not be tolerated. Furthermore, the attorney was reported to the Bar for a statement in the notice of appeal suggesting the trial court attempted to thwart service of the signed judgment on plaintiff in an effort to evade appellate review and statements in the appellate briefs he signed on behalf of plaintiff accusing the judicial officer who ruled on the motion for attorney fees of intentionally refusing to follow the law. None of these serious charges was supported by any evidence. View "Martinez v. O'Hara" on Justia Law

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Jackson filed a pro se complaint against Kaiser under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. After unsuccessfully attempting to serve the summons and complaint, Jackson sought counsel. Jackson never properly served Kaiser; Kaiser never appeared in the action. In April 2016, Jackson retained Horowitz to assist her “with regard to” the suit. Horowitz advised Jackson to dismiss her pending lawsuit without prejudice, believing that she could re-file by September 30, 2016. Although they apparently contemplated that Horowitz would prepare a new complaint, Jackson did not retain Horowitz as counsel of record. Jackson filed a Request for Dismissal prepared by Horowitz. On September 9, 2016, Horowitz informed Jackson that his advice had been based on his misunderstanding of the statute of limitations, which had expired on December 29, 2015, the date Jackson had filed her action. Jackson’s claims are now time-barred. Jackson retained Horowitz on a limited scope basis to represent her on an application seeking relief from the dismissal under Code of Civil Procedure 473(b). The court denied that application, stating that Horowitz’s erroneous advice could not serve as the basis for relief because he did not represent Jackson at the time and did not make an appearance in the case until October 2016, and section 473's mandatory relief provision did not apply to voluntary dismissal. The court of appeal affirmed. Although the order was appealable, section 473(b) mandatory relief is unavailable for this type of voluntary dismissal. View "Jackson v. Kaiser Foundation Hospitals" on Justia Law

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In this child custody dispute, the trial court imposed $50,000 in sanctions jointly and severally against an attorney and her client for disclosing information contained in a confidential child custody evaluation report. The Court of Appeal affirmed in part and held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by imposing sanctions on the attorney. In this case, the attorney intentionally asked questions regarding a child custody evaluation that included a psychological evaluation which disclosed highly personal information about the child and her family. The court concluded that the attorney's actions were reckless. However, the court reversed in part and held that there was nothing in the record to suggest that the client directed or even encouraged the attorney to disclose privileged information. View "Anka v. Yeager" on Justia Law

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A responding party's request for sanction-based attorney fees under Family Code section 271 is not a request for affirmative relief. In this dissolution case, the Court of Appeal affirmed the award of sanctions in the form of attorney fees. The court held that, because wife's request for attorney fees under section 271 was not a request for "affirmative relief," she did not run afoul of section 213 by requesting those fees in her responsive pleadings. The court also held that, because this issue was one of first impression based on husband's colorable interpretation of the law, the court denied wife's request that it order husband to pay her attorney fees on appeal as a sanction for filing an appeal that was "totally and completely without merit." Finally, the court held that wife’s request for attorney fees under section 271 was not a request for “affirmative relief,” she did not run afoul of section 213 by requesting those fees in her responsive pleadings. Finally, husband's argument that wife's February 2016 request was barred by the doctrines of collateral estoppel and res judicata was foreclosed. View "Perow v. Uzelac" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal held that (1) an attorney does not have standing to petition to compel arbitration of his clients' claims; (2) a signatory to an arbitration agreement can compel a nonsignatory parent company of a signatory subsidiary on an agency theory where (a) the parent controlled the subsidiary to such an extent that the subsidiary was a mere agent or instrumentality of the parent and (b) the claims against the parent arose out of the agency relationship; (3) the arbitrator did not exceed his authority by substituting the attorney's clients as the real parties in interest in the arbitration; and (4) the arbitrator did not exceed his authority by denying attorneys' fees to a party that prevailed in the arbitration. Therefore, the court agreed with the reasoning in Safari Associates v. Superior Court (2014) 231 Cal.App.4th 1400, and declined to follow DiMarco v. Chaney (1995) 31 Cal.App.4th 1809 . Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded with directions for the trial court to enter new orders on the petition to compel arbitration and the cross-petitions to vacate and to correct the award. The court also reversed the trial court's order denying attorneys' fees in the postarbitration proceedings. View "Cohen v. TNP 2008 Participating Notes Program, LLC" on Justia Law