Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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Linton fell from her wheelchair while being transported in a county paratransit van and sustained injuries. Linton alleged violations of the California Disabled Persons Act (Civ. Code 54, DPA) and the Unruh Civil Rights Act (Civ. Code 51) and sought general damages, medical and related expenses, interest, costs of suit, and statutory attorney fees. Settlement attempts failed because defendants insisted on a global settlement amount whereas Linton’s counsel demanded a settlement amount for damages and a separate right to seek attorney fees. After several years of litigation, Linton made a section 998 offer, which provided for judgment in the amount of $250,001, “Plus costs under Code of Civil Procedure section 1032 and attorney’s fees allowed by law as determined by the court.” Defendants accepted Linton’s offer. Defendants opposed Linton’s fee motion arguing that the DPA and Unruh Act require a finding of liability, and the section 998 offer did not include such a finding. The trial court agreed. The court of appeal affirmed. While Linton’s section 998 offer provided her the right to seek attorney fees as “allowed by law,” no such fees were in fact “allowed by law.” View "Linton v. County of Contra Costa" on Justia Law

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After ex-wife filed a civil action alleging that ex-husband siphoned some of the community assets that were subject to a stipulated judgment, ex-husband successfully demurred and obtained a judgment of dismissal against ex-wife's civil action. Ex-husband then moved in the family court under the stipulated judgment's attorney fees provision to recover fees and costs he incurred in connection with the civil action. The Court of Appeal affirmed the family law court's award of fees and costs, holding that the attorney fees provision in the stipulated judgment encompassed these fees and costs because of its broad language, particularly, the phrase "in connection therewith." The court also held that the family law court did not abuse its discretion in deeming ex-husband the prevailing party because he obtained a judgment of dismissal against ex-wife's civil suit thereby achieving his litigation objectives, which was the applicable standard. Finally, the court held that the family law court did not abuse its discretion in awarding $90,000 in attorney fees and costs, and finding that counsel's hourly rates and number of charged hours were reasonable. View "Pont v. Pont" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's award of attorney fees and costs in this dispute over the management and the distribution of monetary assets of a family trust. The court held that the trial court properly applied the substantial benefit theory, an offshoot of the common fund doctrine, in making its award of fees from trust assets. In this case, substantial evidence supported the finding that the litigation substantially benefited all beneficiaries and that litigation preserved trust assets when the accounts were frozen. The court explained that the litigation preserved a common fund for the benefit of the non-participating beneficiaries. View "Smith v. Szeyller" on Justia Law

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The trial court imposed a $950 sanction on Deputy Public Defender Raju, counsel for Landers in a two-defendant joint criminal trial, for violating a reciprocal discovery order. The court found that Raju failed to disclose to the prosecution the name and statements taken from Fletcher, a witness called by Landers’s co-defendant, Lemalie. Raju argued the sanction order was improper because he never intended to call Fletcher at trial, and in fact did not call her; he contends he relied on a state-of-the evidence defense for Landers, putting on no affirmative defense case and eliciting what he needed through cross-examination of various witnesses, one of whom was Fletcher. The court of appeal reversed. Raju did not violate the reciprocal discovery order. Raju had no general obligation to disclose exculpatory information he expected to come from witnesses called by Lemalie. A “sham cross-examination” theory relied on by the trial court is unsupported by substantial evidence, and as applied here, violates due process. View "People v. Landers" on Justia Law

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When O'Gara Coach moved to disqualify Richie Litigation from representing its former senior executive, Joseph Ra, in litigation, O'Gara Coach argued that Darren Richie had been a client contact for outside counsel investigating the charges of fraudulent conduct that ultimately led to an action alleging that O'Gara Coach and Ra had committed fraud in connection with Marcelo Caraveo's acquisition of luxury vehicles from O'Gara Coach. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's order denying the motion to disqualify Richie Litigation. The court held that Darren Richie could not act as Ra's counsel because he obtained privileged information relating to the pending litigation as O'Gara Coach's President and CEO. Furthermore, Richie Litigation, not just Richie, must be disqualified under established rules for vicarious disqualification. View "O'Gara Coach Co. v. Ra" on Justia Law

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The Strawns’ home and pickup, which were insured by State Farm were “damaged and destroyed” by fire on June 1, 2009. They immediately notified State Farm. Dennis Strawn was prosecuted for arson, but the case was dismissed in February 2013. In August 2015, State Farm informed the Strawns that it was denying their claims on the ground that Dennis Strawn had intentionally set the fire and Diane Strawn had fraudulently concealed evidence of this wrongful conduct. In August 2016, the Strawns sued, alleging breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy and elder abuse. The claims for invasion of privacy and elder abuse were also alleged against Wood, the attorney who represented State Farm, and MPP, Wood’s law firm. The trial court dismissed the claims against the attorneys. The court of appeal affirmed as to financial elder abuse but reversed as to the claim of invasion of privacy, which alleged that Wood improperly provided the Strawns’ tax returns to State Farm and its accountants despite their assertion of their privilege to not disclose the returns. View "Strawn v. Morris, Polich & Purdy" on Justia Law

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After the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's holding that plaintiff's motion for $31,365 in statutory attorney fees was timely and supported by substantial evidence, the court stated, "In the interest of justice, the parties are to bear their own costs of appeal." Defendant argued that "costs" included attorney fees on appeal and plaintiff sought $114,840 in appellate attorney fees. The trial court awarded plaintiff the lodestar and denied defendant's motion to reconsider or clarify the ruling. The court affirmed, holding that the trial court had jurisdiction to award fees and the trial court's order granting plaintiff's counsel's motion for attorney fees was adequate. View "Stratton v. Beck" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-appellants Jamie and Kelly Etcheson brought an action under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (commonly known as the "lemon law") against defendant and respondent FCA US LLC (FCA) after experiencing problems with a vehicle they had purchased new for about $40,000. After admitting the vehicle qualified for repurchase under the Act, FCA made two offers to compromise under Code of Civil Procedure section 998: one in March 2015, to which plaintiffs objected and the trial court found was impermissibly vague, and a second in June 2016, offering to pay plaintiffs $65,000 in exchange for the vehicle's return. Following the second offer, the parties negotiated a settlement in which FCA agreed to pay plaintiffs $76,000 and deem them the prevailing parties for purposes of seeking an award of attorney fees. Plaintiffs moved for an award of $89,445 in lodestar attorney fees with a 1.5 enhancement of $44,722.50 for a total of $134,167.50 in fees, plus $5,059.05 in costs. Finding the hourly rates and amount of counsels' time spent on services on plaintiffs' behalf to be reasonable, the trial court tentatively ruled plaintiffs were entitled to recover $81,745 in attorney fees and $5,059.05 in costs. However, in its final order the court substantially reduced its award, concluding plaintiffs should not have continued to litigate the matter at all after FCA's March 2015 section 998 offer. It found their sought-after attorney fees after the March 2015 offer were not "reasonably incurred," and cut off fees from that point, awarding plaintiffs a total of $2,636.90 in attorney fees and costs. Pointing out their ultimate recovery was double the estimated value of FCA's invalid March 2015 section 998 offer, which they had no duty to counter or accept, plaintiffs contended the trial court abused its discretion by cutting off all attorney fees and costs incurred after that offer. The Court of Appeal agreed and reversed the order and remanded back to the trial court with directions to award plaintiffs reasonable attorney fees for their counsels' services, including those performed after FCA's March 2015 offer, as well as reasonable fees for services in pursuing their motion for fees and costs. View "Etcheson v. FCA US LLC" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment and order denying prevailing party attorney fees in an action filed by plaintiff alleging that GNC used his likeness in its advertising campaign after its right to do so had expired. The court held that the trial court correctly rejected plaintiff's proposed special jury instruction regarding the burden to apportion GNC's profits associated with the unauthorized use of his likeness; the trial court did not misinterpret the burden of proof set forth in section 3344 and the testimony of plaintiff's experts were property excluded; and the trial court properly concluded that there was no prevailing party. View "Olive v. General Nutrition Centers, Inc." on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from lawsuits filed nearly 20 years ago known as the Antelope Valley Groundwater Adjudication cases. The Court of Appeal held that there was substantial evidence to support the trial court's conclusion that AVEK effectively consented to BB&K's representation of District No. 40, and its inordinate delay in seeking disqualification estopped AVEK from seeking to disqualify District No. 40's chosen counsel. The court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that disqualification would deprive District No. 40 of its chosen counsel, that District No. 40 (as well as many other parties) would suffer serious detriment from disqualification, and that AVEK unreasonably delayed seeking disqualification. View "Antelope Valley Groundwater Cases" on Justia Law