Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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After prison officials found Rigsby guilty of possessing contraband, they imposed disciplinary actions which resulted in a 30-day loss of inmate privileges and early release credits. The superior court granted Rigsby habeas corpus relief and the Warden appealed. The Court of Appeal reversed the order granting habeas relief and held that the superior court's analysis conflicted with In re Zepeda (2006) 141 Cal.App.4th 1493, 1498. In this case, Rigsby and another inmate jointly occupied a prison cell that was six feet by eleven feet in size; during a search of the cell, prison officials discovered a prohibited item located in a common area accessible to both men; and these facts were not materially distinguishable from those in Zepeda and thus permit an inference that Rigsby was in possession of the contraband. View "In re Rigsby" on Justia Law

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After S.M was adjudicated a Mentally Disordered Offender (MDO) and committed for treatment to the Department of State Hospitals, he appealed from an order that he be involuntarily administered antipsychotic medication by the Department. The involuntary medication order is due to expire, and is a renewal of a prior order that expired in 2018, which the court affirmed. The Court of Appeal held that the Department had standing to petition to renew the involuntary medication order; even if the trial court abused its discretion by denying S.M.'s motion to represent himself, it was not reasonably probable that he would have received a better result had he been allowed to represent himself; S.M. waived his discovery objection and, because he did not accept the trial court's offer to grant a continuance, he could not establish prejudice; and, even if the trial court did erred by admitting the opinion of a non-testifying psychiatrist, the error was not prejudicial. View "People ex rel. California Department of State Hospitals v. S.M." on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from Janice Dickinson's public allegations that William Cosby drugged and raped her in 1982. On remand, Cosby filed a second anti-SLAPP motion seeking to strike claims newly asserted in Dickinson's first amended complaint, and the trial court granted the motion in part, refusing to strike Dickinson's claims premised on two allegedly defamatory statements appearing in press releases issued by Cosby's attorney. The Court of Appeal declined to consider Cosby's arguments related to the November 18 demand letter and November 19 press release, because this court previously determined that issue in Dickinson's favor and Cosby was improperly seeking a second bite at the apple by challenging those claims in his latest anti-SLAPP motion. The court also held that the trial court properly denied Cosby's anti-SLAPP motion, because there was sufficient evidence showing Cosby was directly liable for the alleged defamatory statements contained in the November 20 and 21 press releases; Dickinson produced sufficient evidence showing the November 20 and 21 press release were of and concerning her; and Dickinson produced sufficient evidence showing the November 20 and 21 press releases contained actionable assertions of fact. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Dickinson v. Cosby" on Justia Law

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In 1999, Bontilao was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced by the Santa Clara County Superior Court to 15 years to life in prison. In 2018, Bontilao filed a habeas corpus petition, challenging a 2017 decision by the Board of Parole Hearings denying him parole, Bontilao sent a letter, requesting the identity of the judge assigned to adjudicate his habeas petition. The court notified Bontilao that the petition had been assigned to Judge Weinstein but later notified Bontilao that Judge Weinstein was unavailable, and the matter was reassigned to Judge Zecher “for all purposes.” The order was mailed to Bontilao on June 29, 2018. The court extended the time for the order on Bontilao’s petition. Bontilao received the order on July 3. On July 23, Bontilao delivered for mailing a challenge against Judge Zecher under Code of Civil Procedure section 170.6. On August 16, Judge Zecher struck the challenge as untimely under the all-purpose assignment rule. Bontilao's mandamus petition was summarily denied. The California Supreme Court transferred the matter back. The court of appeal issued an order to show cause, appointed counsel for Bontilao, provided the Board the opportunity to file a return, and gave Bontilao the opportunity to file a reply. The court of appeal then concluded that the order naming the assigned judged constituted an all-purpose assignment under section 170(a)(2) and that Bontilao’s challenge was not timely. View "Bontilao v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of a petition for writ of mandate seeking to set aside plaintiff's expulsion from Occidental College after an outside adjudicator found he had sexually assaulted and engaged in non-consensual sexual contact with another student. The court held that there was no violation of the school policy's notice requirements; there was no procedural unfairness where plaintiff was not prejudice when the policy's 60 day guideline for hearings was exceeded, he had access to all of the evidence against him, and he forfeited his contention that the adjudicator was biased; and there was no abuse of discretion in finding that plaintiff violated the policy by having nonconsensual sexual contact with the student View "Doe v. Occidental College" on Justia Law

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Rubio entered a no-contest plea to possession of a controlled substance with a firearm (Health & Saf. Code 12305) after the trial court denied his motion to suppress evidence found in his converted garage apartment (Pen. Code 1538.5). Police had forcefully entered the apartment after responding to the scene where 11 gunshots had just been fired. The officers found spent shell casings in the driveway and had arrested one person acting aggressively in the yard and another, acting erratically, in the house to which the apartment was attached. The officers thought that the exterior door to the apartment might be barricaded. They were concerned that a shooting victim or suspect might be inside. The court of appeal agreed with the lower court that under the circumstances the warrantless entry was justified under the “community caretaking” exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement. Although the officers were not aware of a specific, known individual who might be in danger or might pose an imminent threat to others, if the circumstances suggest that such a person may be inside a dwelling, the police may reasonably enter to determine whether, in fact, such a person is present. View "People v. Rubio" on Justia Law

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Defendant The Irvine Company owned various retail centers in California, including the Fashion Island Shopping Center in the City of Newport Beach, and the Irvine Spectrum Center in the City of Irvine. Both centers draw a large number of visitors each year, with the former visited by more than 13 million people annually and the latter by more than 15 million annually. Plaintiffs, self-proclaimed anti-abortion activists, wished to engage in certain picketing activity at the Centers, believing the parent companies of some of the stores in the Centers “permit[] business entities under [their] corporate control to donate money to Planned Parenthood, [an] abortion provider[,]” and, thus, they desired “to conduct boycott picketing in close proximity to [them.]” The issue this case presented for the Court of Appeal's review centered on whether certain restrictions applicable to noncommercial speech and expressive activities at two large outdoor retail centers owned by defendant were constitutional under the free speech protections established in article I, section 2 of the California Constitution. The trial court concluded some of the challenged restrictions were unconstitutional and enjoined their enforcement. But it upheld restrictions on: (1) “grisly or gruesome displays;” (2) the locations in which speech and expressive conduct may occur; and (3) the use of body-worn cameras while engaging in such activities. The Court of Appeal held there was "no constitutional deficiency" in the latter two restrictions, and the trial court did not err in denying the statutory damages requested by plaintiffs pursuant to Civil Code section 52.1. "The ban on grisly or gruesome displays is a different matter: it is a content-based restriction that does not survive strict scrutiny review." So the Court reversed the portion of the judgment finding the restriction on grisly or gruesome displays constitutional, and remanded to the trial court with directions to enter an amended judgment declaring it unconstitutional and enjoining its enforcement. View "Center for Bio-Ethical Reform v. The Irvine Co." on Justia Law

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JRE filed suit against defendants in an action stemming from a dispute concerning a television production based on the life of the Mexican-American celebrity Jenni Rivera. JRE filed suit against Rivera's former manager, the program's producers, and the program's broadcaster. JRE alleged that the manager breached a nondisclosure agreement by disclosing information to the producers and the broadcaster. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's order denying the producers' special motion to strike under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, holding that JRE satisfied its burden to demonstrate a prima facie case, with reasonable inferences from admissible evidence, that the producers had knowledge of the nondisclosure agreement before taking actions substantially certain to induce the manager to breach the agreement. However, the court held that the First Amendment protected the broadcaster's use and broadcast of the information in the series, and the court reversed the trial court's order denying the broadcaster's special motion to strike. In this case, although First Amendment protection for newsgathering or broadcasting does not extend to defendants who commit a crime or an independent tort in gathering the information, it was undisputed that the broadcaster did not know of the nondisclosure agreement at the time it contracted with the producers to broadcast the series, and JRE did not show that the broadcaster engaged in sufficiently wrongful or unlawful conduct after it learned of the nondisclosure agreement to preclude First Amendment protection. View "Jenni Rivera Enterprises, LLC v. Latin World Entertainment Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law

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LeRoy Guillory and 11 other plaintiffs appealed the denial of their 42 U.S.C. 1988 motion for attorney fees as prevailing parties in their civil rights claim against defendant Orange County Sheriff’s Department Investigator Michele Hill. In 2007, following a huge Halloween party, 100 special weapons and tactics (SWAT) officers raided the mansion where the party had taken place. The SWAT team forcibly detained plaintiffs and restrained their hands behind their backs with zip ties. About an hour later, Hill and a team of around 40 officers entered the mansion to conduct a warrant-based search for evidence of illegal gaming. Hill coordinated the search. At various times that day, she interviewed and released each plaintiff separately. Plaintiffs sued Hill and other defendants for allegedly violating plaintiffs’ civil rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Eventually, “several defendants including the various SWAT teams, unnamed ‘Doe’ police officers, and County of Orange defendants dropped out, either by plaintiffs’ failure to name the ‘Doe’ defendants or by settlement or summary adjudication,” leaving Hill as the sole remaining defendant. At the close of evidence, the trial court granted Hill’s motion for a directed verdict. On appeal from the first trial, the Court of Appeal reversed the directed verdict solely as to plaintiffs’ “section 1983 claims based on the prolonged detention of the plaintiffs” after the search ended. The Court affirmed, however, the directed verdict on plaintiffs’ other constitutional claims, “including the SWAT team and other officers’ allegedly excessive force in entering and securing the premises” and “restraining the detainees with excessive force before Hill questioned them.” The jury awarded damages to nine plaintiffs; the jury found in Hill’s favor on the three remaining plaintiffs. Plaintiffs contended the trial court abused its discretion when it denied their request for attorney fees. The Court of appeal found, "in light of plaintiffs’ minimal success and inflated fee request," the trial court properly exercised its discretion to deny their section 1988 motion. Plaintiffs originally sought over $1 million in damages but ultimately obtained an award of less than $5,400. Plaintiffs then moved for almost $3.8 million in attorney fees in a 392-page motion containing, in the trial court’s words, “bloated, indiscriminate,” and sometimes “‘cringeworthy’” billing records. View "Guillory v. Hill" on Justia Law

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J.M., a minor, was adjudged a ward of the court and placed on probation with various terms and conditions after he made a false report that a bomb or other explosive device would be placed in his school. In the published portion of the opinion, the Court of Appeal held that J.M.'s words were not protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Penal Code section 148.1, subdivision (c) is not unconstitutionally overbroad. The court held that subdivision (c) of section 148.1 criminalizes the malicious communication of knowingly false information about placement of a bomb or other explosive, and such utterances are not constitutionally protected speech. View "People v. J.M." on Justia Law