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California Case Summaries New California Civil Cases

CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT

Civil Procedure

Wilson v. Cable News Network, Inc. (2019) _ Cal.5th _ , 2019 WL 3281342: The California Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the Court of Appeal’s judgment in a wrongful termination case holding that the anti-SLAPP statute (Code of Civil Procedure, section 425.16) did not apply to claims alleging discriminatory or retaliatory employment actions, or to a defamation claim for privately discussing the alleged reasons for plaintiff’s termination with potential employers and others. The California Supreme Court ruled that the anti-SLAPP statute has no exception for discrimination or retaliation claims, and in some cases the actions a plaintiff alleges may qualify as protected speech or petitioning activity under section 425.16. Because defendant employer established that some of plaintiff’s claims arose in limited part—though not in whole—from protected activity, the trial court should determine whether those portions of plaintiff’s claims had enough potential merit to proceed. The Supreme Court held that the privately communicated remarks were not made in connection with any issue of public significance, so the anti-SLAPP statute did not apply to them. (July 22, 2019.)

Settlement

Monster Energy Co. v. Schechter (2019) _ Cal.5th _ , 2019 WL 3022773: The California Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeal holding that attorneys signing a settlement agreement with the words “Approved as to form and content” were not liable for a breach of a confidentiality provision in the agreement. The Supreme Court concluded that the notation “approved as to form and content” means that counsel has read the document, it embodies the parties’ agreement, and counsel perceives no impediment to his client signing it. An attorney’s signature on a document with such a notation does not, as a matter of law, preclude a factual finding that the attorney intended to be bound by the document’s terms. The intent question requires an examination of the agreement as a whole, including substantive provisions referring to counsel. Ultimately, this question would be resolved by the trier of fact. This issue arose in this case via an anti-SLAPP motion to strike filed against the complaint alleging violations of the confidentiality clause in a settlement agreement. The Supreme Court ruled that plaintiff had sufficiently showed a probability of success on the merits so the anti-SLAPP motion should have been denied. (July 11, 2019.)

Taxes

City and County of S.F. v. The Regents of the University of Cal. (2019) _ Cal.5th _ , 2019 WL 2529253: The California Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeal decision that had affirmed the trial court’s denial of a writ petition seeking to compel respondents to collect and pay to petitioner a tax on drivers who park their cars in paid parking lots. The California Supreme Court ruled that the California Constitution allows petitioner to apply this tax collection requirement to state universities that operate paid parking lots in the city of San Francisco. (June 20, 2019.)

Torts

Quigley v. Garden Valley Fire Protection Dist. (2019) _ Cal.5th _ , 2019 WL 3071308: In a personal injury action where a firefighter was injured when she was run over by a water truck as she was sleeping, the California Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeal decision that had concluded that defendants did not waive their defense of immunity under Government Code section 850.4 by not alleging it as an affirmative defense because it was jurisdictional and could be raised at any time. The California Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that section 850.4 immunity does not deprive a court of fundamental jurisdiction but rather operates as an affirmative defense to liability that may be forfeited if not timely raised. The case was remanded to determine whether or not defendants had waived their defense of immunity under section 850.4. (July 15, 2019.)

CALIFORNIA COURTS OF APPEAL

Arbitration

Valentine v. Plum Healthcare Group, LLC (2019) _ Cal.App.5th _ , 2019 WL 3338166: The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s order denying a motion to compel arbitration of an action for elder abuse and wrongful death. The plaintiffs were the husband as decedent’s successor in interest, the husband individually, and the children of decedent. The trial court properly found that, although the husband did not sign the arbitration agreements as decedent’s agent, he expressly bound himself to arbitrate all claims he held individually and as the successor in interest. As a result, both decedent’s claim for elder abuse and the husband’s individual claim for wrongful death were subject to arbitration. However, the trial court properly denied the petition because the children’s claims were not subject to arbitration and allowing the arbitration and the litigation to proceed concurrently could result in inconsistent findings of fact and law. (C.A. 3rd, filed July 2, 2019, published July 25, 2019.)

Attorney Fees

Hanna v. Mercedes-Benz USA (2019) _ Cal.App.5th _ , 2019 WL 2511940: The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s order, following a settlement for $60,000 of a Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (Civil Code, section 1790 et seq.) action, awarding plaintiff costs of $13,409.21. However, it reversed the trial court’s order awarding plaintiff attorney fees of only $60,869 instead of the fees requested of $259,068.75 using the lodestar method. The Court of Appeal ruled that plaintiff was entitled to recover attorney fees after a January 2016 CCP 998 offer from defendant, the trial court erred in failing to use the lodestar method to determine fees after the January 2016 998 offer, and a fee award under the Song-Beverly Act may not be based on a percentage of plaintiff’s recovery. (C.A. 2nd, June 18, 2019.)

Attorneys

Doe v. Superior Court (2019) 36 Cal.App.5th 199: The Court of Appeal granted a petition for writ of mandate directing the trial court to vacate its order granting defendant’s motion to disqualify plaintiff’s attorney and enter a new order denying the motion. Plaintiff brought claims for sexual harassment and sexual assault against defendants Southwestern Community College District (District) and three District employees. The complaint also alleged sexual harassment of two other female District employees which presumably showed that defendant had notice of other similar misconduct. The trial court granted a motion to disqualify plaintiff’s counsel because he spoke with a District employee before her deposition was taken. There was no evidence that the employee had accepted the District’s offer to represent her or had otherwise retained counsel at the time of the contact. The Court of Appeal ruled that the purpose of California State Bar Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 4.2 is to prevent ex parte contact with employees who engaged in acts or conduct for which the employer might be liable. It is not designed to prevent a plaintiff’s lawyer from talking to employees of an organizational defendant who might provide relevant evidence of actionable misconduct by another employee for which the employer may be liable. (C.A. 4th, June 13, 2019.)

Civil Procedure

Cole v. Hammond (2019) _ Cal.App.5th _ , 2019 WL 3315786: The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s order granting plaintiff’s oral motion to voluntarily dismiss a case without prejudice, pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 581(b)(1), during a hearing on defendants’ motion to dismiss the action for failure to bring the case to trial within five years under Code of Civil Procedure section 583.360. In 2011, plaintiff sued defendants because they refused to pay rent to plaintiff based upon an assignment of rent from the landlord who owed a $500,000 judgment to plaintiff. A few months after the lawsuit was filed, defendants started paying rent to plaintiff. Some initial discovery was done, but the case languished for years. In January 2018, defendants moved to dismiss the case under section 581(b)(1). The trial court erred in denying defendants’ motion for mandatory dismissal and instead granting plaintiff’s motion for voluntary dismissal. The trial court was ordered to grant the motion for mandatory dismissal. A mandatory dismissal would be a determination on the merits entitling prevailing party defendants to attorney fees under Civil Code section 1717. (C.A. 2nd, July 24, 2019.)

Samsky v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co. (2019) _ Cal.App.5th _ , 2019 WL 2610898: The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s order denying claimant’s motion for attorney fees under Code of Civil Procedure section 2033.420 for having to prove during an arbitration matters that respondent denied in its response to requests for admissions. The Court of Appeal ruled that the party opposing the motion for attorney fees has the burden of proving that one of the exceptions in section 2033.420(b) applies, and the trial court erred in requiring the moving party to prove that none of the exceptions applied. Because claimant proved he was entitled to costs under section 2033.420(a), and respondent failed to prove that any of the exceptions to a cost award applied to it, the matter was remanded to determine the amount to be awarded to claimant. (C.A. 2nd, June 26, 2019.)

Monty A. Mcintyre

Monty A. McIntyre follows his passions for the law and serving others by serving as a mediator, arbitrator and motion referee to help individuals, businesses and lawyers obtain rapid, reasonable resolution of disputes. He is also the Publisher of McIntyre’s California Civil Law Update and can be reached at 619-990-4312 or monty.mcintyre@gmail.com.

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About the Author: Monty A. McIntyre follows his passions for the law and serving others by serving as a mediator, arbitrator and motion referee to help individuals, businesses and lawyers obtain rapid, reasonable resolution of disputes. He is also the Publisher of McIntyre’s California Civil Law Update and can be reached at 619-990-4312 or monty.mcintyre@gmail.com.

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