Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

by
Plaintiff Carl Taswell, M.D., who is certified in nuclear medicine, filed a complaint against the Regents of the University of California (the Regents). Taswell alleged he was retaliated against for his whistleblowing activities regarding patient safety at the brain imaging center during his employment by the University of California, Irvine. Taswell appealed after the trial court granted the Regents’ motion for summary judgment and summary adjudication. After review, the Court of Appeal reversed, finding that, following an administrative hearing, Taswell was not required to exhaust his judicial remedies (by seeking a writ of mandamus) to challenge the University’s rejection of his claims of retaliation. After exhausting his administrative remedies, Taswell was statutorily authorized to file this civil action and seek damages based on his statutory whistleblower retaliation claims; the administrative decision had no res judicata or collateral estoppel effect on this action. Also, a triable issue of material fact existed as to whether the University’s decisions to place Taswell on an investigatory leave of absence and to not renew his contract had a causal connection to Taswell’s whistleblowing activities. Therefore, summary judgment and/or summary adjudication should not have been granted on the theory that no triable issue of fact existed. View "Taswell v. The Regents of the Univ. of Cal." on Justia Law

by
The issue this case presented for the Court of Appeals’ review centered on the trial court’s partial denial of a special motion to strike pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, the anti-SLAPP statute, directed at causes of action arising out of the manner in which defendants, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and Robert Barton, in his capacity as Inspector General, conducted interviews with five correctional officers who previously worked at High Desert State Prison. The interviews were conducted as part of an investigation into that institution’s “practices . . . with respect to (1) excessive use of force against inmates, (2) internal reviews of incidents involving the excessive use of force against inmates, and (3) protection of inmates from assault and harm by others.” As relevant here, these officers and the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) alleged in their first and second causes of action that defendants violated Penal Code section 6126.5 and Government Code section 3300 et seq. (the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights or the Act) by refusing the officers’ requests to be represented during the interviews. The trial court denied the anti-SLAPP motion as to these causes of action, concluding: (1) defendants carried their threshold burden of demonstrating the gravamen of these causes of action arose from protected activity; but (2) plaintiffs established a probability of prevailing on the merits of these claims. The Court of Appeal agreed defendants carried their burden on the threshold issue, but concluded plaintiffs failed to establish a probability of prevailing on the merits of these causes of action. The Court therefore reversed the portion of the trial court’s order denying the anti-SLAPP motion with respect to the first and second causes of action and remanded the matter to the trial court with directions to enter a new order granting the motion in its entirety and dismissing the complaint. View "Blue v. Cal. Office of the Inspector General" on Justia Law

by
The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial in part of cross-defendants' anti-SLAPP motion that sought to strike certain allegations in a cross-complaint filed by Joel D. Kettler, alleging defamation and other causes of action. The court held that the trial court did not err in concluding that complaints to the Certified Financial Planners Board of Standards was not protected activity. The Board was not a public agency and there was no public interest issue. The court also held that the litigation privilege did not protect the communications in question (communications to AXA reporting cross-complainant's wrongdoing). View "Kettler v. Gould" on Justia Law

by
The trial court granted an anti-SLAPP motion on the grounds that plaintiff's action arose out of an underlying unlawful detainer action, which was protected petitioning activity under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, and that plaintiff could not establish a reasonable probability of prevailing on the merits because defendant's appeal of the underlying unlawful detainer judgment was pending at the time plaintiff filed the instant action and was still pending at the time of the hearing on the anti-SLAPP motion. The Court of Appeal held that the trial court abused its discretion by granting plaintiff's motion for a new trial on the basis of remittitur because it was not newly discovered evidence, and the subsequent accrual of plaintiff's cause of action was not a valid basis for reinstating his complaint. Therefore, the court reversed the order granting the motion for a new trial. The court affirmed the order and judgment granting the anti-SLAPP motion and dismissing the complaint where plaintiff's cause of action arose from protected activity, and plaintiff failed to demonstrate a reasonable probability of prevailing. View "Aron v. WIB Holdings" on Justia Law

by
In 1991, Mendez was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was committed to the Napa State Hospital. In 2003, he stabbed another patient with a homemade weapon. He was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and committed as a mentally disordered offender (MDO) (Penal Code 2962). His commitment was twice extended. At trial, the prosecution called three expert witnesses. At the request of the prosecution, the court modified the jury instructions to state, “Because of his severe mental disorder, he presently represents a substantial danger of physical harm to others if released into the community unsupervised.” The court of appeal reversed for a new trial. Two experts testified Mendez had not recently engaged in violent acts, he behaved well, was stable when medicated, complied with rules, and presented a low to moderate risk for violence. Both testified about past instances when Mendez had stopped taking his medication and opined he would go off medication and become a danger if released to the community. In light of those expert opinions, the incorrect modification of the instructions, and the extensive argument about what would happen if the jury declined to order Mendez recommitted, it is reasonably probable a more favorable result would have been reached without the error. View "People v. Mendez" on Justia Law

by
In 1991, Mendez was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was committed to the Napa State Hospital. In 2003, he stabbed another patient with a homemade weapon. He was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and committed as a mentally disordered offender (MDO) (Penal Code 2962). His commitment was twice extended. At trial, the prosecution called three expert witnesses. At the request of the prosecution, the court modified the jury instructions to state, “Because of his severe mental disorder, he presently represents a substantial danger of physical harm to others if released into the community unsupervised.” The court of appeal reversed for a new trial. Two experts testified Mendez had not recently engaged in violent acts, he behaved well, was stable when medicated, complied with rules, and presented a low to moderate risk for violence. Both testified about past instances when Mendez had stopped taking his medication and opined he would go off medication and become a danger if released to the community. In light of those expert opinions, the incorrect modification of the instructions, and the extensive argument about what would happen if the jury declined to order Mendez recommitted, it is reasonably probable a more favorable result would have been reached without the error. View "People v. Mendez" on Justia Law

by
In 2003, after a lengthy period of employment as a firefighter with the United States Forest Service, George Corley accepted a position with the San Bernardino County Fire Protection District as a battalion chief. Corley was promoted to the rank of division chief in 2005. In May 2011, the County of San Bernardino's Chief Executive Officer, Greg Devereaux, appointed Mark Hartwig as Fire Chief for the District. Chief Hartwig terminated Corley's employment with the District in February 2012. At the time of his discharge, Corley was 58 years old, and was the oldest of the District's six division chiefs. Corley filed this action against the District. A jury trial was held on a single cause of action for age discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (Gov. Code, section 12900 et seq.). The jury rendered a special verdict in which it found that Corley's age was a substantial motivating reason for the District's termination of his employment and awarded damages for lost earnings. On appeal, the District contended the trial court erred in denying its request to instruct the jury pursuant to a provision in the Firefighters' Procedural Bill of Rights (section 3254 (c)). The District also claimed the trial court erred in instructing the jury that "the use of salary as the basis for differentiating between employees when terminating employment may be a factor used to constitute age discrimination" if the employer's termination policy adversely affected older workers. The District further contended there was insufficient evidence to support the jury's award of damages based on its implicit finding that Corley would have been promoted but for the District's discrimination. Furthermore, the District claimed the trial court abused its discretion in applying a multiplier in awarding Corley statutory attorney fees. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal interpreted section 3254 (c) and concluded the trial court did not err in refusing to instruct the jury pursuant to this provision. In unpublished portions of the discussion, the Court concluded the District failed to establish any reversible error with respect to its remaining claims. View "Corley v. San Bernardino County Fire Protection Dist." on Justia Law

by
In 2003, after a lengthy period of employment as a firefighter with the United States Forest Service, George Corley accepted a position with the San Bernardino County Fire Protection District as a battalion chief. Corley was promoted to the rank of division chief in 2005. In May 2011, the County of San Bernardino's Chief Executive Officer, Greg Devereaux, appointed Mark Hartwig as Fire Chief for the District. Chief Hartwig terminated Corley's employment with the District in February 2012. At the time of his discharge, Corley was 58 years old, and was the oldest of the District's six division chiefs. Corley filed this action against the District. A jury trial was held on a single cause of action for age discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (Gov. Code, section 12900 et seq.). The jury rendered a special verdict in which it found that Corley's age was a substantial motivating reason for the District's termination of his employment and awarded damages for lost earnings. On appeal, the District contended the trial court erred in denying its request to instruct the jury pursuant to a provision in the Firefighters' Procedural Bill of Rights (section 3254 (c)). The District also claimed the trial court erred in instructing the jury that "the use of salary as the basis for differentiating between employees when terminating employment may be a factor used to constitute age discrimination" if the employer's termination policy adversely affected older workers. The District further contended there was insufficient evidence to support the jury's award of damages based on its implicit finding that Corley would have been promoted but for the District's discrimination. Furthermore, the District claimed the trial court abused its discretion in applying a multiplier in awarding Corley statutory attorney fees. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal interpreted section 3254 (c) and concluded the trial court did not err in refusing to instruct the jury pursuant to this provision. In unpublished portions of the discussion, the Court concluded the District failed to establish any reversible error with respect to its remaining claims. View "Corley v. San Bernardino County Fire Protection Dist." on Justia Law

by
CDLA filed suit against the DMV, alleging that the DMV conducts administrative hearings to determine whether automatic suspension of a driver's license was warranted after the driver has been arrested for driving under the influence. CDLA claimed that at these hearings, the hearing officers simultaneously act as advocates for DMV and as triers of fact. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's grant of DMV's motion for summary judgment, holding that taxpayer standing under Code of Civil Procedure section 526a was appropriate under the circumstances of this case, in which a group of taxpayers has alleged that a government entity was engaging in "waste" by implementing and maintaining a hearing system that violated drivers' procedural due process rights. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "California DUI Lawyers Assoc. v. California Department of Motor Vehicles" on Justia Law

by
When the complaint itself alleges protected activity, a moving party may rely on the plaintiff's allegations alone in arguing that the plaintiff's claims arise from an act "in furtherance of the person's right of petition or free speech" under the anti-SLAPP statute. The Court of Appeal explained that, while Code Civ. Proc., 425.16 requires a court to consider both the "pleadings" and the "supporting and opposing affidavits stating the facts upon which the liability or defense is based," it does not require a moving party to submit declarations confirming the factual basis for the plaintiff's claims. In this case, the prelitigation conduct encouraging third parties to sue was protected petitioning activity under section 425.16, subdivision (e). The court held that appellants could rely on Bel Air's allegations that they urged other employees to quit and sue, even though appellants denied engaging in this conduct. Therefore, the court reversed the trial court's order denying appellants' motion to strike. View "Bel Air Internet, LLC v. Morales" on Justia Law