Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Abelardo Martinez, who was blind, brought an action against San Diego County Credit Union (Credit Union) claiming its website was incompatible with software permitting him to read website content. He alleged this defect denied him equal access to, and full enjoyment of, the Credit Union's website and its physical locations. Martinez asserted a single cause of action under the Unruh Civil Rights Act based on two alternate theories: (1) Credit Union's website violated the American Disabilities Act (ADA); and (2) Credit Union's actions constituted intentional discrimination prohibited by the Unruh Civil Rights Act. On the day scheduled for jury selection, the court dismissed the action on its own motion based on its understanding Martinez was intending to pursue only the ADA theory, and the court's finding Martinez had not sufficiently alleged Credit Union's website constitutes a "public accommodation" within the meaning of the ADA (although the court characterized its ruling as a nonsuit, the parties agree it was a conclusion based solely on Martinez's pleadings). Martinez appealed. The Court of Appeal found the trial court erred in dismissing the action at the pleadings stage based on the ADA's public-accommodation element: a disabled plaintiff can state a viable ADA claim for alleged unequal access to a private entity's website if there is a sufficient nexus between the claimed barriers and the plaintiff's ability to use or enjoy the goods and services offered at the defendant's physical facilities. Under this standard, the Court found Martinez alleged a sufficient nexus to state an ADA violation. The Court rejected the Credit Union's alternate argument that the dismissal was proper because the United States Congress has not enacted specific website accessibility standards. View "Martinez v. San Diego County Credit Union" on Justia Law

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Bauer, an entertainment magazine publisher, appealed the denial of its special motion to strike the amended complaint of plaintiffs, Richard Simmons and Teresa Reveles. Simmons is a self-described health and fitness guru and Reveles is Simmons's live-in caretaker. Plaintiffs filed suit against Bauer after discovering that a private detective hired by Bauer unlawfully attached an electronic tracking device in Reveles' car. Plaintiffs also filed suit against the detective and the detective's sole proprietorship, LA Intelligence. The Court of Appeal affirmed the denial of the special motion and held that Bauer failed to demonstrate the conduct at the heart of the lawsuit — the unlawful use of the tracking device — is, as Bauer contends, conduct in furtherance of its exercise of the right of free speech in connection with issues of public interest under the anti-SLAPP statute. View "Simmons v. Bauer Media Group USA, LLC" on Justia Law

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After filing unsuccessful petitions for writ of mandate challenging the approval of two of the projects under various land use laws, AFH filed suit against the City for violating the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the state Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) based on a disparate-impact theory of liability. The Court of Appeal held that the trial court correctly found AHF cannot assert a cause of action under the FHA and FEHA based on its alleged disparate-impact theory of liability where AHF has not alleged a policy that is an artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary barrier to fair housing. In this case, AHF has not alleged that the City's policy restricts affordable housing; the City's approval of the Projects does not eliminate housing; and AHF seeks to impose a new development policy on the City, rather than to eliminate one. The court also held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying AHF leave to amend. Accordingly, the court affirmed the trial court's decision sustaining the City's and Real Parties' demurrers. View "AIDS Healthcare Foundation v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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Stanley was charged with sexual intercourse with a child 10 years old or younger with enhancements for prior serious felony convictions. Following an August 2019 mistrial, the court set a new trial for April 2020. Stanley waived his statutory right to a speedy trial until that date. On March 4, 2020, Governor Newsom declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 outbreak,. On March 16, the Contra Costa County Health Officer issued a “shelter in place” order. Days later, the Governor ordered all Californians to stay at home except for limited activities. On March 23, Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye issued an emergency order suspending all jury trials and extending by 60 days the Penal Code 1382 time period for holding a criminal trial, stating that courts cannot comply with health restrictions and that potential jurors would be unavailable. On May 4, Stanley filed an unsuccessful "speedy trial" motion to dismiss. The court determined there was good cause under Penal Code 1382(a) to extend the trial date and set a jury trial for July 13, 2020, and stated the last day for the start of trial under Penal Code 1382 is July 29, 2020. The court of appeal affirmed. While it is unlikely that the orders are unlawful, the court did not address that issue. The severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it has had within the state independently support the trial court’s finding of good cause. View "Stanley v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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In 1998, Haden pleaded no contest to infliction of corporal injury on a spouse and admitted a special allegation of personal use of a deadly weapon The trial court found true special allegations under the Three Strikes Law and sentenced him to 25 years to life. Haden had two robbery convictions in North Dakota The court of appeal affirmed, finding that the convictions could constitute strikes although the elements of robbery under North Dakota law differed from those under California law. Haden unsuccessfully sought habeas relief several times. In 2015, Haden filed another habeas petition, arguing that under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2017 “Descamps” decision, the court made improper factual findings when treating the North Dakota convictions as strikes. In 2016, the California Supreme Court denied his petition “without prejudice to any relief … after this court decides” Gallardo. The 2017 Gallardo decision rejected the court's own 2006 “McGee” decision and held that a trial court considering whether to impose a sentence enhancement based on a defendant’s prior conviction may not make factual findings concerning the defendant’s conduct to impose the enhancement. In 2018, Haden filed another habeas petition, arguing the imposition of the North Dakota robberies as strikes contravened Gallardo because the court examined the record to determine the factual nature of those convictions. The court of appeal denied relief. Gallardo does not apply retroactively to Haden’s conviction. View "In re Haden," on Justia Law

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A plaintiff can sue police in civil court for excessive force after he has been convicted in criminal court. In this case, plaintiff pleaded no contest to disturbing the peace after interacting with an officer at an airport parking lot. Plaintiff then filed a civil complaint for excessive force against the officer, the City of Los Angeles, and Los Angeles World Police Department. The Court of Appeal held that the past conviction did not establish that the officer used only reasonable force and thus the first criminal conviction is consistent with the second civil case. Therefore, the court reversed the trial court's judgment and awarded costs to plaintiff. View "Kon v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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A man parked his car in San Francisco's Sutter-Stockton Garage, leaving his dog in the car. When he returned, he saw his dog had been brutally killed. A security guard viewed video clips from the incident and recognized Best, who was charged with second-degree burglary of a vehicle; killing, maiming, or abusing an animal; and vandalism of the vehicle, plus four misdemeanors. The trial court declared a doubt about Best’s competency; Best apparently refused to face the judge in order to avoid having her image recorded. Experts evaluated Best; the court found Best mentally competent to stand trial. The matter was continued for a Faretta hearing. A different judge confirmed that Best had read and initialed each portion of an “Advisement and Waiver of Right to Counsel” and inquired into Best’s education and awareness of the charges. The court engaged in extensive questioning. Some of Best’s responses betrayed a lack of understanding of legal concepts and procedures. When the court asked Best about possible defenses, her discussion verged on incoherence. Best gave clear, accurate answers to simpler questions. The court denied her motion. Best was convicted. The court of appeal reversed; the trial court erred in denying Best the right to represent herself on the grounds she had not knowingly and voluntarily made that choice. The court rejected arguments that the Faretta motion was untimely and that Best was disruptive and disobedient and noted that the transcript does not show Best was advised of the maximum punishment she faced. View "People v. Best" on Justia Law

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The Contra Costa County Public Guardian was appointed as the conservator of J.Y.’s person in 2004. The conservatorship was continued 12 times. The guardian filed a petition for reappointment in November 2018. J.Y. objected, requested a jury trial, and objected to the guardian calling her as a witness at trial, arguing that such compelled testimony would violate her due process and equal protection rights. The court overruled that objection. A jury trial was held and J.Y. testified. A psychiatrist testified that J.Y. suffered from schizophrenia; a licensed psychologist testified that J.Y was gravely disabled. The court reappointed the guardian as the conservator of her person and imposed special disabilities depriving J.Y. of the rights to refuse treatment, enter into contracts, and possess or own firearms. The court also designated her current placement in a skilled nursing facility, where she had lived for 10 years, as the least restrictive alternative placement. The court of appeal dismissed an appeal as moot because the one-year conservatorship has terminated but agreed that conservatees are similarly situated to persons found not guilty by reason of insanity in proceedings to extend their civil commitment. Considering the serious liberty interests at stake in involuntary civil commitments, the guardian did not offer a compelling reason why conservatees’ procedural protections should not include the right against compelled testimony. View "Conservatorship of J.Y." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant James Willis, a peace officer employed by the Carlsbad Police Department (Department), sued defendant-respondent City of Carlsbad (City) alleging in part that it engaged in whistleblower retaliation against him in violation of Labor Code section 1102.5 (b) by denying him promotions after he reported what he perceived was misconduct by another officer and complained about a Department program he believed was an unlawful quota system. Before trial, City successfully moved to strike allegations of other retaliatory acts within Willis's cause of action on grounds he had not timely presented a government tort claim within six months of the acts as required by the Government Claims Act. The trial court in limine excluded evidence of any violations by City of the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act while at the same time permitting City to present evidence Department had denied Willis promotion because of a June 2012 e-mail he wrote under an assumed name lodging the officer misconduct accusations. The jury returned a verdict finding in favor of Willis that his reporting of City's violation of law was a contributing factor in City's decision to deny him the promotion. However, it also found City would have denied Willis his promotion anyway for legitimate independent reasons. Accordingly, the court entered judgment in City's favor on the whistleblower retaliation claim. On appeal, Willis argued the trial court erred as a matter of law by striking those portions of his section 1102.5 cause of action because the Government Claims Act's six-month statute of limitations was either equitably tolled or his cause of action had not accrued by reason of the continuing tort/continuing violation doctrine. Furthermore, he argued the court's evidentiary rulings were a prejudicial abuse of discretion. We conclude the trial court did not err, and accordingly affirm the judgment. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Willis v. City of Carlsbad" on Justia Law

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Augustine Caldera was a prison correctional officer who sometimes stuttered when he spoke. In 2010, Caldera filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and his supervisor alleging disability discrimination. The trial court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The Court of Appeal reversed, holding a stutter constituted a disability under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). A jury found in Caldera’s favor and awarded $500,000. The court granted a motion for new trial because it found the damage award excessive. The Court of Appeal reversed on procedural grounds. After nearly a decade of litigation, Caldera sought about $2.4 million in statutory attorney fees (a $1.2 million “lodestar” and a 2.0 “multiplier”). The court awarded a little over $800,000. Caldera appealed. The Court of Appeal determined Caldera could not find a local attorney to take his discrimination lawsuit, so he hired an out-of-town firm. But when calculating attorney fees, the court set the attorneys’ hourly rate based on a lower local rate, rather than a higher out-of-town rate. The court then applied the extrinsic "Ketchum" factors to the hourly rate, rather than applying a multiplier to the lodestar. "In sum, Caldera’s attorneys were not adequately compensated consistent with the purposes of the FEHA." Thus, the Court reversed the trial court’s order for attorney fees. View "Caldera v. Dept. of Corrections & Rehabilitation" on Justia Law