Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Some Special Solicitude to the Government's Primary Rights

People v. Superior Court (Cahuenga’s the Spot), No. B257222 (D2d5 Mar 9, 2015)

LA city attorney Mike Feuer is suing to shut down some medical marijuana operations. The city seeks a bunch of different remedies like nuisance abatement, injunctions, and civil penalties. The city moved for summary judgment on liability only and some equitable remedies, arguing that it was legally and factually indisputable that the operations were in violation of the law. But it did not move on civil penalties. The trial court denied the motion, on the grounds that it did not dispose of the whole cause of action.

The city took a writ, which the court here grants. According to the court, unlike damages, which are clearly an element of a cause of action, civil penalties and equitable relief are extrinsic to it, at least as “cause of action” is understood under primary rights theory under which a single cause of action can have several different remedies. Relying on People v. Superior Court (Jayhill), 9 Cal. 3d 283, 288 (1973)—which held that several UCL “violations” subject to separate statutory penalties all fell within the same primary right—the court holds that a summary judgment on liability that did not resolve the remedies issue nonetheless was sufficient to resolve the entire cause of action.

Writ granted.

I have to say, I don’t really understand the reasoning of this opinion. Based on its logic, a civil plaintiff should be entitled to a summary judgment if it can establish that damages exist even if the number is disputed. But several cases—not addressed heresay otherwise. The reliance on the notoriously vague primary rights theory compounds my confusion. (Viz., each dollar of damage on a breach of contract also doesn’t violate a separate primary right.) I really doubt that any appellate court would entertain such an argument by a private plaintiff. But it’s the government, so . . . .

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