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.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Sketchy Default; Sketchy Vacation ...

Grapo v. McMills, No. A147522 (May 23, 2017)

So this case involves a crazy default judgment scenario where an individual was served with a pro se complaint with his name in the caption, but he wasn’t mentioned in the counts. He didn’t respond. His default was taken, but before the default judgment was entered, he died. Plaintiff tried to get a $10 million judgment, which was rejected. Then he amended the complaint and sought $12 million, but the complaint also mentioned $60k in lost property. The trial court ultimately signed off on a $60k judgment.

On Call Claims Merit Class Cert

Bartoni v. Am. Med. Response W., No. A143784 (D1d May 24, 2017) 

For a while, it seemed like there was an opinion on class cert in a wage and hour case—usually reversing a denial—every week. But it’s been a dry spell of late. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

You're the Puppet!!!

Kinney v. Clark, No. B265267 (D2d1, as modified Jun. 14, 2017)

This appeal is just the latest in a lengthy saga where a Disbarred Lawyer has been trying to duck a ten-year old order that he pay an adversary’s attorneys’ fees. He’s also been declared a vexatious litigant pretty much everywhere in Southern California and has pre-filing orders against him. This case is no different and the court dismisses the appeal as frivolous because the arguments D.L. raises have already been raised and lost in many other cases over and over again.

As a sanction, the court enters an expanded pre-filing order against D.L. that applies even to cases where he is represented by counsel! Code of Civil Procedure § 391.7 facially authorizes pre-filing orders only against pro se filings, on the theory that the ethical obligations of lawyers should be enough to prevent truly vexatious filings. But prior cases permit expanded orders when a vexatious litigant recruits attorneys to act as “puppets” in the filing of new frivolous litigation.

Dicta in the Supreme Court’s recent decision in John v. Superior Court, 63 Cal. 4th 91 (2016), doesn’t bode otherwise. There, the court held that a pre-filing order doesn’t apply to an appeal in a case where the vexatious litigant appeals a judgment in a case where he is a defendant. In passing, the Court referenced that “the “vexatious litigant statutory scheme [citation] applies exclusively to self-represented litigants.” But that statement alone doesn’t mean that the scheme can’t apply when attorneys act a mere puppets to vexatious litigants without exercising any independent professional judgment.

In any event, the court here finds that the puppet standard is met because the attorneys representing D.L. are just regurgitating old arguments that D.L. has made and lost on in a bunch of old resolved cases. Moreover, since prior orders have been ineffective, the court further notes that it can impose the limits under its inherent powers, as a means necessary to protect from abuse of the judicial process. But the expanded order applies only to additional filings in connection with the long-dead dispute that underlies this case.

In addition, the court issues $10,000 in monetary sanctions against the disbarred lawyer and orders the opinion sent to the state bar, lest he seek reinstatement at some point in the future.

Appeal dismissed and sanctions awarded.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Stretching to Compel Third Party Arb

Garcia v. Pexco, LLC, No. G052872 (D4d3 May 16, 2017)

Temp works for Temp Service. He brings a wage-and-hour class action against Temp Service and a Company where he was assigned to work. The employment contract between Temp and Temp Service has an arbitration clause with a class action waiver. Company isn’t a party, but joins Temp Service’s motion to compel, which the trial court grants. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Lien Filing Triggers Limited Civil SLAPP

O'Neil-Rosales v. Citibank (South Dakota) N.A., No. JAD17-03 (L.A. Super. App. Div. May 10, 2017)

Appellate department decision affirming an appeal of a granted anti-SLAPP motion in a limited civil case brought under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and California’s Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Because the underlying act was recording a lien, the case arose from protected activity. And because plaintiff’s allegations didn’t describe debt collection practices as defined in the statutes, she had not probability of prevailing. So the motion was appropriately granted.

Affirmed.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Coordination Good.

In re Ford Motor Warranty Cases, No. B277725 (D2d8 May 8, 2017)

Where federal court has multi-district litigation proceedings, California has “coordination” under Code of Civil Procedure § 404.1. When there’s a potential for coordination, the Judicial Council assigns the matter to a “coordination motion judge,” whose job it is to decide if coordination is merited. And if it is, the matter is then assigned to a “coordination trial judge” whose job is to manage the litigation, to decide common legal, factual, and procedural questions, and then to farm cases out for trial. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Fox Johns-Macaluso Paradox, Resolved(?)

Yolandas, Inc. v. Kahl Goveia Commercial Real Estate, No. B271408 (D2d6 May 3, 2017)

Former Tenant is trying to collect on a $2 million judgment against a Former Landlord. Landlord entities claim insolvency. But Landlord had created a new entity and transferred all of the judgment-debtor entities’ assets and several of their employees to it. Which smacks of fraudulent transfer.

When Tenant took a PMQ debtor exam over the Landlord entities, the witness identified assets that had been transferred to related parties, but refused to testify about his knowledge of the current location of those assets, claiming it was beyond the scope of the exam. The trial court granted a motion to compel, which the debtor now tries to appeal.

There’s an issue, however, about whether the order is even appealable. As I noted back in 2013, there’s a split of authority on this issue between two opinions of the same court decided within six days of one another. One case—Macaluso v. Superior Court, 219 Cal. App. 4th 1042 (2013)—says that an order related to a judgment debtor exam is, literally, an order after final judgment, which is immediately appealable under Code of Civil Procedure § 904.1(a)(2). The other—Fox Johns Lazar Pekin & Wexler, APC v. Superior Court, 219 Cal. App. 4th 1210 (2013)—says that it isn’t, reasoning that a discovery order isn’t final enough. Without much analysis, the court here agrees with the Fox Johns approach, reasoning that treating every judgment debtor discovery order as appealable “will invite unnecessary delay and facilitate the concealment of assets.” So the court exercises its discretion to treat the appeal as a writ.

On the merits, the court finds the discovery to be permissible. Code of Civil Procedure § 708.120 permits discovery of third parties who have an interest in the debtors property or a debt to the judgment debtor that exceeds $250. Landlord here argues that limits discovery. But that ignores § 708.130(a), which permits judgment debtor discovery to an extent that a witness could be called at trial in an action to enforce the debt. That’s a pretty broad reach. And beyond that, the trial court’s power is backstopped by § 187, which gives the court the authority to enter orders necessary to carry out its jurisdiction, unless the order would be precluded by some statute. Given the policy favoring the enforcement of judgments, to the extent § 708.130 wasn’t enough, § 187 could fill the gap.

Affirmed.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Your Secrets Are Safer if Your Therapist is a PhD, Not an MD

Cross v. Superior Court, No. B277600 (D2d5 May 1, 2017)

A psychiatrist is under investigation for over-prescribing Adderall. After reviewing her prescription records, a Board of Medical examiners subpoenaed the doctor for the medical records of three patients to whom it appear that over-prescriptions occurred. The psychiatrist—claiming that she couldn’t get consent from the patients—refused to comply with the subpoenas on grounds of the physician-patient and psychotherapist-patient privileges as well as the right to medical privacy. The trial court overruled the objections and order the records produced. The doc took a writ.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

No Presumptions of Convenience for Foreign Plaintiffs

Fox Factory, Inc. v. Superior Court, No. H043648 (D6 Apr. 27, 2017)

Plaintiff is a Canadian who was hurt in a mountain biking accident in British Columbia. He filed two lawsuits over his accident. In one, filed in Santa Clara County, he sued a bunch of U.S. manufacturers if the components of his bike, including Fox, a California company that made the forks. The other case was filed in Canada and brought against a Canadian bike shop and a bunch of John Does, who appear to be the companies sued in the California action. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Obamacare Is All up in the Specials

Cuevas v. Contra Costa Cnty., No. A143440 (D1d1 Apr. 27, 2017)

We’ve discussed before how the facial amounts of medical bills aren’t good evidence of an insured plaintiff’s damages because insurers never pay the facial amounts of the bills. Same goes for doctors’ rack rates in computing future bills. Damages have to be computed based on what is reasonably likely to actually be paid. This case holds that, in figuring the impact of insurance on these costs, a jury can consider benefits obtainable under the Affordable Care Act. That’s the case even though the long-term legislative future of that law is not entirely certain, poor CBO score of its erstwhile replacement notwithstanding.

Reversed.

Monday, June 5, 2017

There's No Private Public Defender Doctrine

Save Our Heritage Org. v. City of San Diego, No. D070006 (D4d1 Apr. 27, 2017)

When an advocacy organization successfully challenges government action, it often is entitled a fee award under Code of Civil Procedure § 1021.5, which codifies California’s private attorney general doctrine. But in this case—a permitting dispute over a revitalization project in Balboa Park—the organization lost. The proponent of the permit—a committee created to shepherd the design and review process—had intervened at the trial court level and was ultimately successful in getting the approval on appeal. The question is: Can the proponent get a fee award of its own under § 1021.5?

The answer is yet, but.

Friday, June 2, 2017

State Fund Strikes Again

McDermott Will & Emery LLP v. Superior Court, No. G053623 (Apr. 18, 2017)

The underlying litigation in this writ is a malpractice case arising from messy probate fight over the control of a family office. It involves way too many names and a whole lot of factual detail, but I’ll try to simplify as best as I can, without losing the key flavor as relevant to the procedural issues, which deal with the disqualification of one party’s lawyers for failing to return privileged materials.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

D2d5 Retreads on a Broad Read of "Default or Dismissal"

Urban Wildlands Grp. v. City of L.A., No. B271350 (D2d5 Apr. 13, 2017)

Plaintiff filed for a writ of administrative mandamus but failed to file the administrative record with the trial court. The court denied the writ on the merits, finding that Plaintiff hadn’t met its burden to show error in the record. Plaintiff then sought relief under Code of Civil Procedure § 473(b) based on the fact that his attorney messed up the filing due to neglect. The court denied discretionary relief but granted under the mandatory relief provision in § 473(b).

But mandatory relief under § 473(b) is available only to address a default or dismissal. As we’ve discussed before, there’s an unresolved split of authority about what that means, with some courts reading “default or dismissal” narrowly and others giving it a little more leeway. Interestingly, the court here adopts the narrower reading even though the same division had previously authored two opinions going the other way. See In re Marriage of Hock & Gordon-Hock, 80 Cal. App. 4th 1438, 1442 (2000); Avila v. Chua, 57 Cal. App. 4th 860, 866 (1997). The court purports to disapprove of these cases.

Based on the narrow rule, what happened here wasn’t a default or dismissal. The trial court ruled against Plaintiff on the merits, finding that it wasn’t entitled to a writ because it failed to substantiate error in the underlying administrative proceeding. So the trial court erred in granting mandatory relief.

Reversed.