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California Case Summaries. New California Civil Cases.



Mathews v. Becerra (2019) _ Cal.5th _ , 2019 WL 7176898: The California Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s order sustaining a demurrer, without leave to amend, to plaintiffs’ complaint alleging that the amended and expanded definition of the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act’s (CANRA; Stats. 1987, ch. 1459.) term “sexual exploitation”, approved in Assembly Bill 1775, violated the plaintiffs’ patients right to privacy under the state and federal Constitutions. The California Supreme Court held that plaintiffs had asserted a cognizable privacy interest under the California Constitution and their complaint survives demurrer. This holding does not mean the reporting requirement is unconstitutional. It means only that the burden shifts to the state to demonstrate a sufficient justification for the incursion on privacy as this case moves forward. The case was remanded for further proceedings to determine whether the statute’s purpose of protecting children is actually advanced by mandatory reporting of psychotherapy patients who admit to possessing or viewing child pornography. (December 26, 2019.)


Barefoot v. Jennings (2020) _ Cal.5th _ , 2020 WL 372523: The California Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeal decision that had interpreted Probate Code section 17200(a) to only allow a currently named beneficiary to file a petition challenging the validity of disinheriting amendments in probate court on grounds such as incompetence, undue influence, or fraud. The California Supreme Court ruled that the Probate Code grants standing in probate court to individuals who claim that trust amendments eliminating their beneficiary status arose from incompetence, undue influence, or fraud. The Supreme Court did not decide whether an heir who was never a trust beneficiary has standing under the Probate Code to challenge the trust. (January 23, 2020.)



PG&E “San Bruno Fire” Cases (2019) _ Cal.App.5th _ , 2019 WL 6888248: The Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal challenging the trial court’s allocation of attorney fees and costs after the settlement of consolidated San Bruno Fire Derivative Cases against PG&E. The settlement agreement provided that settling plaintiffs’ counsel would be paid in the aggregate $25 million in attorney fees and $500,000 in costs. The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal because the operative settlement agreement unequivocally deemed the trial court’s allocation determination to be final and not subject to appellate review. (C.A. 1st, December 18, 2019.)


Fabian v. Renovate America, Inc. (2019) _ Cal.App.5th _ , 2019 WL 6522978: The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s order denying defendant’s petition to compel arbitration. The trial court properly denied the petition. Defendant offered no evidence about the process used to verify plaintiff’s electronic signature via DocuSign, including who sent plaintiff the contract, how the contract was sent to her, how plaintiff’s electronic signature was placed on the contract, who received the signed contract, how the signed contract was returned to defendant, and how plaintiff’s identification was verified as the person who actually signed the contract. Defendant’s DocuSign authentication argument was therefore unsupported and unpersuasive. Moreover, by not providing any specific details about the circumstances surrounding the contract’s execution, defendant’s declaration offered little more than a bare statement that plaintiff “entered into” the contract without offering any facts to support that assertion. (C.A. 4th, filed November 19, 2019, published December 4, 2019.)

Philadelphia Indemnity Ins. Co. v. SMG Holdings, Inc. (2020) _ Cal.App.5th _ , 2019 WL 7790891: The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s order denying a petition to compel arbitration. Plaintiff’s insurance policy was issued to Future Farmers of America for an event it was holding inside the Fresno Convention Center. Future Farmers licensed the use of the convention center from defendant, its property manager. As part of the license, Future Farmers agreed to obtain coverage for itself and to name defendant as an additional insured. The policy provided coverage for “managers, landlords, or lessors of premises” as well as for any organization “as required by contract” and also contained an arbitration clause for coverage disputes. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court and held defendant could be compelled to arbitrate. Defendant was an intended third party beneficiary to the contract. Defendant was estopped from claiming it was not subject to arbitration because it had previously tendered a request for defense and indemnity to plaintiff. Finally, the arbitration agreement encompassed the dispute at issue. (C.A. 3rd, filed December 31, 2019, published January 28, 2020.)

Attorney Fees

Hance v. Super Store Industries (2020) _ Cal.App.5th _ , 2020 WL 373070: The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s order awarding class action attorney fees and dividing them in accordance with an alleged fee division agreement between the attorneys. The trial court abused its discretion by enforcing the fee division agreement because the undisputed facts showed a clear violation of former rule 3-410, requiring disclosure to potential clients that one of the attorneys had no malpractice insurance, and this rendered the fee agreement unenforceable. The matter was remanded for the trial court to determine whether the uninsured lawyer should recover compensation for his attorney services on a quantum meruit basis, and, if so, how much he should recover. (C.A. 5th, January 23, 2020.)

Civil Code

Hensel Phelps Construction Co. v. Super. Ct. (2020) _ Cal.App.5th _ , 2020 WL 370445: The Court of Appeal denied a writ of mandate seeking an order directing the trial court to vacate its order denying petitioner’s motion for summary judgment in an underlying construction defect lawsuit. Petitioner argued that the plaintiff’s construction defect claim was barred by the 10-year statute of limitations in Civil Code section 941. Petitioner was the general contractor on a project. Petitioner argued that substantial completion under the statute had the same meaning as substantial completion in its construction contract with the developer. The construction defect plaintiff, however, was not a party to that contract. The Court of Appeal ruled that petitioner offered no authority for its novel proposition that certain parties may, by contract, conclusively establish the date when a limitations period begins to run on another party’s cause of action. Moreover, petitioner did not show that the statute should be interpreted to adopt the provisions of the construction contract. (C.A. 4th, January 22, 2020.)

Civil Procedure

Dalessandro v. Mitchell (2020) _ Cal.App.5th _ , 2019 WL 6872301: The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s order denying judgment creditor’s motion to compel production of documents and imposing $3,456.70 in sanctions against judgment creditor’s attorney for discovery abuses. The Court of Appeal ruled the post-judgment order was not an appealable order but treated the appeal as a writ petition. The trial court properly denied the motion to compel, finding service of the demand to be ineffective because there was no postage affixed to the envelope. The trial court properly issued sanctions for abuse of the Discovery Act (Code of Civil Procedure, section 2023.010 et seq.). For such sanctions, there was no requirement for a party to meet and confer with the opposing party to alert him to defects in his discovery requests, particularly when they were not validly served. Nor was the trial court required to make a finding of a lack of substantial justification. Finally, a separate motion was not required, nor was a separate hearing on discovery sanctions. (C.A. 2nd, filed December 17, 2019, published January 3, 2020.)


Loeb v. County of San Diego (2019) _ Cal.App.5th _ , 2019 WL 6838736: The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s order granting a nonsuit in defendant’s favor on the issue of trail immunity (Government Code, section 831.4.). Plaintiff sued for personal injuries she allegedly sustained when she tripped on an uneven concrete pathway in a park. The trial court had previously denied motions for summary judgment on the basis that disputed facts existed regarding whether the pathway was used for recreational purposes. However, when plaintiff conceded during argument over the proposed special verdict forms that the pathway was used, at least in part, for recreational purposes, the trial court properly granted the nonsuit. (C.A. 4th, filed November 19, 2019, published December 16, 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

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Filed Under: Featured StoriesPractice Management

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

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