Articles Posted in California Court of Appeal

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Nicholas Behunin filed suit against Charles Schwab and his son Michael Schwab over an unsuccessful real estate investment deal. Behunin's attorneys, Leonard Steiner and Steiner & Libo, engaged a public relations consultant, Levick Strategic Communications, to create a website containing information linking the Schwabs and their real estate investments in Indonesia to the family of former Indonesian dictator Suharto. Charles Schwab filed suit against Behunin for libel and Michael Schwab filed suit against Behunin for libel, slander, and invasion of privacy. Behunin filed a special motion to strike under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16. At issue was whether the communications among Behunin, Steiner, and Levick were confidential, attorney-client privileged communications and whether disclosure to Levick waived the privilege. The court concluded that, although in some circumstances the attorney-client privilege may extend to communications with a public relations consultant, it did not do so in this case because Behunin failed to prove the disclosure of the communications to Levick was reasonably necessary for Steiner's representation of Behunin in his lawsuit against the Schwabs. Accordingly, the court denied Behunin's petition for a writ of mandate. View "Behunin v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a homeowner in Rancho Palos Verdes, submitted an application to his HOA, seeking to invoke the HOA's dispute resolution process against a neighbor who refused to trim trees blocking defendant's views. Plaintiff, another neighbor and HOA member, filed suit against defendant and the HOA, alleging that two of the offending trees were actually on his property, that the relevant tree-trimming covenant did not encumber his property, and therefore that defendant and the HOA were wrongfully clouding his title by seeking to apply such an encumbrance. The trial court granted defendant's special motion to strike the claims alleged against him under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, the anti-SLAPP statute. The court concluded that defendant made a prima facie showing that plaintiff's complaint arose from defendant's statements made in connection with an issue of public interest. Therefore, defendant's statements were protected under section 425.16. The court also concluded that plaintiff could not show a probability of success on the merits of his claims against defendant, particularly because defendant dismissed his application shortly after the lawsuit was filed and has never sought to invoke the HOA's tree-trimming process against plaintiff. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Colyear v. Rolling Hills Community Association" on Justia Law

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Diana Lemke challenged the trial court’s granting of summary judgment in favor of respondents Sutter Roseville Medical Center, Peter V. Hull, M.D., Debbie Madding, and Julie Fralick (collectively Sutter Roseville). Lemke was terminated from her employment as a registered nurse at Sutter Roseville after improper administration of narcotics to a patient and failure to properly monitor and document the patient’s condition. In response, Lemke filed an action against Sutter Roseville in which she claimed retaliation for whistleblowing, disability discrimination, failure to accommodate a disability, failure to engage in an interactive process, retaliation, harassment, failure to prevent retaliation, and defamation. On appeal, Lemke addressed only her causes of action for retaliation, failure to prevent retaliation, and defamation, contending: (1) there was a triable issue of material fact as to whether Sutter Roseville’s stated reasons for terminating her employment were pretextual; (2) the same reasons establishing her claim for retaliation also compel reversal of the trial court’s dismissal of her claim for failure to prevent retaliation; (3) she presented sufficient evidence to demonstrate triable issues of material fact for her claim of defamation; and (4) the trial court erred in its evidentiary rulings related to the motion for summary judgment. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded Lemke did not meet her burden to show Sutter Roseville’s stated reasons were merely a pretext for retaliating against her. Furthermore, the Court determined the trial court properly dismissed her claim of failure to prevent retaliation. The Court affirmed in all other respects. View "Lemke v. Sutter Roseville Medical Center" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against defendants after he was suspended from his position as a physician at Cedars-Sinai. The suspension stemmed from plaintiff's operation on a young patient, which resulted in complications requiring corrective surgery. The trial court granted the hospital's anti-SLAPP, Code of Civil Procedure 425.16, motion based on its contention that plaintiff's claim arose out of a protected activity—the medical staff's peer review process—and that plaintiff could not show a probability of success on the merits. The court concluded that defendants' acts relating to plaintiff's suspension and peer review process constituted protected activity for purposes of the anti-SLAPP statute and plaintiff's claims arose from that protected activity. Because plaintiffs' claims arose from defendants' protected activity, the burden shifted to plaintiff to submit admissible evidence supporting a prima facie case in his favor. In this case, the court concluded that plaintiff failed to establish a probability of success on the merits of his claims under the Health and Safety Code and he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Melamed v. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center" on Justia Law

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Faris Alsafar appealed the extension of his period of commitment to a state mental hospital as a mentally disordered offender (MDO). He argued the trial court violated his constitutional right to equal protection when it compelled him to testify over his objection at the trial to determine whether his commitment should be extended. Alsafar contended that because persons subject to civil commitment after being found not guilty by reason of insanity (NGI) have a statutory right, pursuant to Penal Code section 1026.5 (b)(7) not to be compelled to testify in proceedings to extend their commitments, so should a person facing commitment as a MDO. He pointed out that this right has been extended to commitment proceedings for sexually violent predators (SVP) by application of equal protection principles. The Attorney General argued it was not a denial of equal protection to treat MDO’s differently from NGI’s, and any disparate treatment was related to a legitimate government purpose. Alternatively, she maintained any error was harmless. The Court of Appeal asked the parties to submit supplemental letter briefs discussing a recently decided opinion by Division Two of the Fourth District, which held that MDO’s, SVP’s, and NGI’s were all similarly situated with respect to the testimonial privilege provided for in section 1026.5(b)(7). In addition, it looked as if Alsafar’s one-year commitment order expired while the appeal was pending due to the Court of Appeal’s “pressing caseload.” The Court ordered the parties to notify the Court if there was a new commitment order, and if this ruling rendered the appeal moot. The Court concluded the question of equal protection was a legal issue of continuing public importance that was likely to reoccur in MDO proceedings. “A reviewing court may exercise its inherent discretion to resolve an issue rendered moot by subsequent events if the question to be decided is of continuing public importance and is a question capable of repetition, yet evading review.” Because Alsafar had been recommitted without being required to testify, the issue of equal protection was rendered moot as to him. View "California v. Alsafar" on Justia Law

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Five recruit officers of the LAPD filed suit against the City after the Department terminated or constructively discharged them because they could not obtain the necessary medical clearance to return to the Police Academy. The jury found that the City unlawfully discriminated against plaintiffs based on their physical disabilities, failed to provide them reasonable accommodations, and failed to engage in the interactive process required by the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), Gov. Coe 12900-12996. The court agreed that plaintiffs were not "qualified individuals" under FEHA for purposes of their discrimination claim but concluded that they satisfied this requirement for their failure to accommodate claim; concluded that requiring the City to assign temporarily injured recruit officers to light-duty administrative assignments was reasonable as a matter of law in light of the City's past policy and practice of doing so; and because the court affirmed the City's liability on this basis, the court did not reach the City's challenge to the verdict on plaintiffs' claim for failure to engage in the interactive process. The court agreed with the City that future economic losses are unreasonably speculative considering the fact that plaintiffs had completed only hours or weeks of their Police Academy training. Therefore, the court vacated that portion of the damages award and the trial court's award of attorneys' fees and costs. View "Atkins v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Marlon Wayans and others, alleging, inter alia, that he was the victim of racial harassment during his day of work as an extra on Wayans's movie. Wayans moved to strike plaintiff's claims as an anti-SLAPP suit (strategic lawsuit against public participation), Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, arguing that plaintiff's claims arose from Wayans's constitutional right of free speech. The trial court entered judgment for Wayans and awarded him attorney fees. Under the two step-process applicable to anti-SLAPP motions, the court concluded that Wayans met his burden of showing that the claims arose from a protected activity because all of the alleged misconduct is based squarely on Wayans's exercise of free speech—the creation and promotion of a full-length motion picture, including the off-camera creative process. In regard to step two, the court concluded that plaintiff failed to meet his burden of demonstrating a probability of prevailing on his claims. The court rejected plaintiff's claims of misappropriation, false light, quasi-contract, and unjust enrichment based on an Internet posting. The court also rejected plaintiff's claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress based on both the on-set comments and conduct, as well as the Internet posting. Because the court held that the trial court properly granted Wayans's anti-SLAPP motion, the court further held that the award of attorney fees was proper. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Daniel v. Wayans" on Justia Law

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San Diego police officers Carlos Robles and Kyle Williams initiated contact with plaintiff Kenneth Simmons for being in a city park after it closed and for riding a bicycle in the dark without a headlight. Simmons fled. The officers pursued, detained, and searched him, finding a plastic baggie containing rock cocaine. Simmons was charged with possessing a controlled substance, using a weapon in a fight, and resisting an officer. A jury was unable to reach a verdict on the drug possession count and acquitted him on the others. Simmons then brought a civil action against the City of San Diego and the officers (collectively, defendants) asserting (among others) claims under the Tom Bane Civil Rights Act and under the Ralph Civil Rights Act of 1974. Simmons, an African-American, alleged the officers violated these statutes by using excessive force during his arrest, pulling his underwear into a "wedgie" while searching him, and conducting a nonconsensual physical body cavity search of his rectum. Defendants moved for summary judgment on the Bane Act and Ralph Act claims. The trial court granted the motion. Simmons filed a petition for writ of mandate, which defendants opposed. Finding that Simmons met his burden of demonstrating a triable issue with respect to his Bane Act claim, the Court of Appeals vacated summary judgment on that issue. The Court found the trial court properly granted summary judgment with respect to the Ralph Act claim. View "Simmons v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against defendants, lawyers and their law firms, alleging defamation and other causes of action. The action arose from statements two lawyers made on television and radio programs about a pending lawsuit involving bribery and kickbacks in connection with Pacific Hospital of Long Beach. The court granted defendants' special motion to strike the complaint as a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP), Code Civ. Proc., 425.16. The court, reviewing de novo, concluded that the action arose out of activity protected under the anti-SLAPP statute. The court also concluded that plaintiffs have not established a probability of success on the merits of their claims because the challenged statements are protected under the fair report privilege. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Healthsmart Pacific v. Kabateck" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, mandated reporters, filed suit alleging that the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA), Pen. Code, 11164 et seq., violates their patients' constitutional right to privacy. CANRA requires certain individuals, including family therapists and clinical counselors, to report to law enforcement or child welfare agencies patients who disclose that they have developed, downloaded, streamed, or accessed child pornography through electronic or digital media. The court concluded that the privacy interest of patients who communicate that they watch child pornography is outweighed by the state's interest in identifying and protecting sexually abused children; there is no fundamental right at issue in this case; and CANRA satisfies the rational basis test for determining the validity of a legislative enactment. Accordingly, the trial court properly dismissed the complaint. View "Mathews v. Harris" on Justia Law