Friday, July 14, 2017

Deined § 631.8 Motion Proves Probable Cause

Hart v. Darwish, No. B270513 (D2d2 Jun. 1, 2017)

A suit for malicious prosecution generally cannot lie if the court
in the underling case denied the defendant’s summary judgment motion. Essentially, the denial substantiates that plaintiff had a reasonable basis to bring suit, even if it does not ultimately prevail. The court here holds that the same concept applies if the court in the prior case denies a defendant’s motion for judgment under Code of Civil Procedure 631.8.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Can Kicking on a Costs Ruling

Heimlich v. Shivji, No. H062641 (D6 May 31, 2017)

About a year into an Attorney-Client fee dispute, Client made an offer of judgment under Code of Civil Procedure § 998 to settle the case for thirty grand. Attorney didn’t respond. Months after that, client sought to compel arbitration under the parties’ fee agreement. For reasons unclear, the trial court compelled the case to arbitration after summary judgment was denied, which ended in a $0 award where each party bore its own costs and fees. 

Client tried to raise the § 998 offer with the arbitrator as a basis of fee-shifting. But the arbitrator said that since her award had been rendered, she no longer had jurisdiction to address the question. As part of an effort to confirm the (lack of) award, Client asked the court to shift costs based on his beating the pre-arbitration § 998 offer. The trial court denied relief, finding that the issue should have been raised with the arbitrator before the substantive award was entered. Client appeals.

Some relevant legal points at play here. 1. § 998 was amended in 1997 to apply in arbitrations. 2. § 1293.2 permits a court upon confirmation of an arbitral award to award the same kinds of costs that are recoverable by a prevailing party in a civil litigation. 3. § 1284.2 says that, absent a contractual agreement otherwise, a party bears his own costs plus his pro rata share of the expenses of arbitration, such as the arbitrator’s fee.

Courts have generally read the interplay between 2 and 3 to mean that a court can shift court-related costs of compelling, confirming, or vacating an arbitration, but not costs incurred within the arbitral process itself. The 1997 amendments to § 998, however, change that somewhat, permitting the recovery of costs within the arbitration, even if not contractually agreed to. That’s not too controversial. But still, who decides? Generally litigants have been expected to enforce intra-arbitration cost shifting within the context of the arbitration, not afterwards.

The trouble with putting the question to the arbitrator is that with the exception of a limited authority to correct obvious or immaterial errors, the arbitrator doesn’t have much in the way of post-award jurisdiction. Cases and statues re pretty clear on that. But when it comes to a § 998 issue, that makes absolutely no sense, because an arbitrator can’t decide if a § 998 offer was bested until a decision has been rendered. Indeed, § 998 itself says that a rejected offer is inadmissible in evidence during a case on the merits.

So it’s a quintessential Catch 22. A § 998 “determination necessarily must postdate an arbitration award,” since there’s no way to adjudicate the § 998 before the award is entered, particularly when the rejection is inadmissible. But the arbitrator basically lacks jurisdiction to do that. 

Lacking many great options, and hemmed in by conflicting case law, the Court of Appeal just gets to rulin’ in the interest of common sense. It says: 1. an arbitrator can and should consider a post-award § 998 motion, and has jurisdiction to do so. 2. If the arbitrator won’t do that, he has failed to consider a submitted issue—a grounds for vacation under § 1283.4 and related case law. So the arbitrator here made that mistake.

The court thus orders the matter remanded for reconsideration by the arbitrator. But if that doesn’t work, there is some tangential dicta in a Supreme Court case that says something from which one could read—were one to squint a little and turn your head like a puppy—that a superior court can also entertain such an award if the arbitrator refuses to do so. So if the arbitrator continues to refuse, the superior court should address the issue on remand.


Monday, July 10, 2017

No Writs for the Vexatious

Ogunsalu v. Superior Court, No. D071323 (D4d1 Jun. 7, 2017)
A school teacher who has also been previously declared to be a vexatious litigant is a party to an ALJ case over a credentialing suspension. When the ALJ denied a continuance, Teacher petitioned for a writ of mandate from the superior court. The trial court imposed the prefiling requirements for vexatious litigants and refused to permit Teacher to file his writ. Teacher took his writ to the Court of Appeal, which also denied based on a lack of merit to get through pre-filing review. Teacher then sought review of that, and the Supreme Court granted and transferred the case back for reconsideration in light of its recent decision in the John case, which held that the pre-filing review requirements d
don’t apply to appeals were a vexatious pro per was appealing as a losing defendant.

The court notes the case is generally moot, because the ALJ proceeding is already over. But it reaches the merits anyway. The court finds John to be distinguishable. Although Teacher is a defendant in the ALJ proceeding, he is essentially a plaintiff in the writ case he filed in superior court. According to the Court, a writ like Teacher’s isn’t an appeal akin to John because an administrative ALJ hearing is not “litigation” as defined under Code of Civil Procedure § 391. Which means the writ petition is not an appeal but a new litigation initiated by Teacher, which makes Teacher effectively a plaintiff to whom the vexatious litigant pre-filing rules apply.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Should Have Appealed the First Time

Chango Coffee, Inc. v. Applied Underwriters, Inc., No. BC267358 (D2d3, May 26, 2017) 
Defendant lost a motion to compel arbitration, but didn’t appeal. Six months later it filed a renewed motion under Code of Civil Procedure § 1008(b), claiming that a Plaintiff witness gave deposition testimony that further supported arbitration. The trial court denied that too, and this time Defendant appeals. 

One problem. The denial of a motion to compel arbitration is subject to an interlocutory appeal. But the denial of a renewed motion under § 1008(b) is not. Since it’s a non-appealable order, an appeal wasn’t properly taken. That’s the case even though § 1008(g) permits an appeal to be taken from a reconsideration or renewed motion when the underlying motion is appealed. By failing to appeal the original denial, Defendant lost any ability to use § 1008(g).

Appeal dismissed.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Tantamount to Proceeding Without Consent

McClintock v. Djulus, No. D049757 (D4d1 Apr. 14, 2017)

A divorce case gets assigned to a commissioner. Wife, who is represented, signs the consent form but Husband, who is pro per, did not. Indeed, the record doesn’t reflect that at the original hearing Husband was ever given the form or even informed that the “judge” to whom the case was assigned was actually a commissioner. The commissioner made several rulings at that hearing. At a later hearing, after being informed that the presiding officer was a commissioner, Husband objected to proceeding before her. But the commissioner ruled that Husband’s participation in the prior hearing was a “tantamount stipulation” to her presiding over the case.

That was a mistake. A stipulation to a commissioner doesn’t need to be formal or in writing. And indeed, it can sometimes be implied from the fact of actively litigating before a commissioner after the party becomes aware that the presiding officer is not, in fact, a full-blown superior court judge. But that rule can’t apply if a party did not actually know that the “judge” is just a commissioner. And the record here shows that Husband did not. 

So it was error to find that husband had engaged in a tantamount stipulation by participating in the prior hearing. And indeed, that error required vacation of all of the commissioner’s orders since she had no authority to act.


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

A Reversal with Remand Is a Final Order

Dhillon v. John Muir Health, No. S 224473 (Cal. May 25, 2017)

Is an order granting a writ of administrative mandamus and remanding the matter to the agency for further proceedings an appealable final order under Code of Civil Procedure § 904.1? Reversing the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court here says it is in an unanimous opinion by Justice Kruger.

It’s uncontroversial that a final order denying the writ wholesale is appealable. As is an order that grants a writ and orders affirmative relief without a remand. But there’s a pretty substantial split when a remand is ordered, although the cases generally fail to give any reasoning why. The Court explains that the order is sufficiently final because it was the definitive ending of all proceedings before the trial court. There was nothing left for it to do, which made the order effectively final and appealable. And the fact that the petitioner previously sought a writ of mandate in the court of appeal challenging the remand didn’t change that result.


Thursday, June 29, 2017

In Which the Author Outs Himself as a (Soft) Textualist ...

Leider v. Lewis, No. S232622 (Cal. May 25, 2017)

The trial court in this case issued an injunction against certain practices involving the elephant enclosure at the LA Zoo. The Court of Appeal affirmed, in a split decision, over the Zoo’s challenge that Civil Code § 3369 prohibited the issuance of an injunction against acts of animal cruelty that were prohibited only by criminal laws in the Penal Code. The Court of Appeal held that the argument was barred by the resolution of a prior appeal under the law of the case doctrine, and that, in any event, it was wrong on the merits. But the Supreme Court granted review and now unanimously disagrees.