Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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In 2007, Langi was convicted of the second-degree murder of Martinez. Langi was one of four men who beat and robbed a group that included Martinez, who died after someone in Langi’s group punched him, causing him to fall and hit his head. Langi’s Penal Code section 1170.95 resentencing petition was filed before the 2021 amendment, which authorizes resentencing of persons convicted of murder “under the natural and probable consequences doctrine or other theory under which malice is imputed to a person based solely on that person’s participation in a crime.” Langi contends that another member of his group threw the fatal punch and that, although the trial court did not give an instruction framed in terms of the natural and probable consequences theory, the instructions were ambiguous and allowed the jury to find him guilty of murder under a theory under which malice was imputed to him based solely on his participation in a crime. The trial court summarily denied his petition, finding that a 2009 opinion affirming his conviction established that he was convicted as the actual killer.The court of appeal reversed. Citing the Supreme Court’s 2021 "Lewis" decision, the court concluded that reliance on the 2009 opinion was improper. The record of conviction does not conclusively eliminate the possibility that the jury found Langi guilty of murder on a theory under which malice was imputed to him based solely on his participation in a crime. View "People v. Langi" on Justia Law

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The Acting Warden of the California Institute for Men petitioned a Superior Court for authorization to perform electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) on inmate Rudy Terraza. Convicted of first-degree murder at age 17, Terraza was a 44-year-old with a history of mental illness. According to a prison psychiatrist, Terraza has a “schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type . . . characterized by auditory hallucinations, delusions, and impairment in thought processing, volition and motivation, and social functioning, as well as significant mood swings, depression, and mania.” Despite medication and psychiatric treatment, his mental health had grown worse over time, and he had resided in a psychiatric hospital since September 2019. He had been “consumed” by voices, with no desire to socialize or “practice self-care.” He occupied a single hospital room and was unable to function in standard prison housing. A psychiatrist averred that ECT was the “gold standard” treatment for patients like Terraza; seizures produced by the treatment would "help the brain return to normal functioning." The trial court authorized ECT after making several findings required by the Penal Code, including that ECT would be beneficial and that there was a compelling justification for it. In this habeas proceeding, the inmate argued the state constitutional right to privacy required the appointment of a surrogate to make a consent determination for him, beyond trial court findings of ECT’s suitability. Upon consideration of precedent, the Court of Appeal concluded the state constitutional right to refuse medical treatment did not require appointment of a surrogate decisionmaker. Nevertheless, the Court concluded that a court’s authorization of ECT therapy had to include a consideration of whether the inmate, when he or she was competent, expressed any preferences, views, or beliefs that would operate to preclude consent to the procedure. "By statute, such consideration is required for most medical procedures performed on incarcerated persons lacking capacity to consent." Because the statutory balancing test for ECT did not do so, the Court granted the writ to allow further consideration. View "In re Terraza" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a defamation case against defendant, alleging that defendant falsely told independent insurance agents that plaintiff is dishonest and unethical in her business practices and falsifies insurance documents. Defendant and Auchel World filed an anti-SLAPP motion under Code of Civil Procedure 426.16, which the trial court granted.The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that the anti-SLAPP statute does not protect defendant's statements because they squarely fall within the commercial speech exemption set forth in section 425.17, subdivision (c). Courts are admonished to examine section 425.17 as a threshold issue before proceeding to an analysis under section 425.16. Section 425.17 expressly provides that speech or conduct satisfying its criteria is entirely exempt from anti-SLAPP protection even if "the conduct or statement concerns an important public issue." In this case, the trial court also erred in finding that plaintiff's claims arose from protected activity under section 425.16, subdivision (e)(4). The court explained that defendant's alleged slander of a competitor in a private setting to solicit business is neither speech in furtherance of the exercise of the constitutional right of petition nor the constitutional right of free speech in connection with a public issue. View "Xu v. Huang" on Justia Law

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After a scandal that led to plaintiff's resignation from his positions at Banc of California, plaintiff filed suit against Banc, several individual directors and Banc executives, and Banc's lead auditor. Defendant filed anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation, Code Civ. Proc., 425.16) motions to strike various of the causes of action plaintiff alleged.In the published portion of the opinion, the Court of Appeal affirmed the Brown order granting Defendant Brown's motion in part. The court held that statements in an annual 10-K report filed with the SEC constitute statements "made in connection with an issue under consideration or review by [an] official proceeding" under section 425.16, subdivision (e)(2). View "Sugarman v. Brown" on Justia Law

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After a scandal that led to plaintiff's resignation from his positions at Banc of California, plaintiff filed suit against Banc, several individual directors and Banc executives, and Banc's lead auditor. Defendant filed anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation, Code Civ. Proc., 425.16) motions to strike various of the causes of action plaintiff alleged.In the published portion of the opinion, the Court of Appeal held that statements Banc made in its Forms 8-K and 10-Q filed with the SEC, as well as related investor presentations and conversations, are protected activity under section 425.16, subdivision (e)(2) as matters under review and consideration by the SEC. Furthermore, statements related to financial projections were also protected under section 425.16, subdivision (e)(4), as matters of public interest. View "Sugarman v. Benett" on Justia Law

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Lange drove past California Highway Patrol Officer Weikert, who noticed Lange was blaring music and honking unnecessarily. Weikert followed Lange, activating his overhead lights to signal that Lange should pull over. Seconds later, Lange arrived at the driveway of his home and drove into his attached garage. Weikert followed Lange into the garage and began questioning him. Lange appeared intoxicated. Weikert conducted field sobriety tests, which Lange failed. Lange’s blood-alcohol content was over three times the legal limit. Lange, charged with DUI and operating a vehicle’s sound system at excessive levels, unsuccessfully moved to suppress all evidence collected after Weikert entered Lange’s garage.In 2019, the court of appeal affirmed the denial of the motion to suppress, reasoning that an officer’s hot pursuit into the house to prevent the suspect from frustrating the arrest is always permissible under the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement. The U.S. Supreme Court held that the “flight of a suspected misdemeanant does not always justify a warrantless entry into a home”; an “officer must consider all the circumstances in a pursuit case to determine whether there is a law enforcement emergency,” and vacated for reconsideration.The court of appeal again affirmed the denial of the motion. Weikert followed binding state appellate law when he entered the garage in pursuit of Lange. The exclusionary rule does not require exclusion of the evidence seized in Lange’s home, even though under the Supreme Court’s new pronouncement. View "People v. Lange" on Justia Law

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Joanne R., a conservatee subject to a conservatorship under the Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS) Act, contends that the trial court provided her an inadequate jury trial waiver advisement and improperly induced her to waive her right to a jury trial by stating she could either have a court trial that day or a jury trial nine months later.The Court of Appeal concluded that, although it is concerned by the delay in providing conservatees jury trials during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no violation of Joanne's statutory right to a jury trial. However, the court cautioned the superior court that a nine-month delay for a conservatee to have a jury trial where the conservatorship would otherwise end in a year, absent a health emergency, raises serious constitutional concerns in light of the significant liberty interests at stake. The court urged the superior court to dedicate the necessary additional resources to LPS jury trials so that conservatees may exercise their right to a jury trial in a timely manner. The court noted that failure to do so likely violates a conservatee's constitutional right to due process. View "Stusser v. Joanne R." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a writer, filed suit against the CAA parties for breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, alleging they had mishandled their representation of him in several different ways.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's order denying the CAA parties' special motion to strike allegations in the complaint pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure 425.16. Although the court agreed that the challenged conduct arises from protected speech activity, the court concluded that when the context and content of the specific allegedly wrongful statements are considered, their degree of connection to a topic of public interest is insufficient to warrant protection under section 425.16, subdivision (e)(4). In this case, the creative aspects of his work that plaintiff claims were misappropriated, privately communicated to a targeted audience of one, did not contribute to the public conversation about a matter of public interest. View "Musero v. Creative Artists Agency, LLC" on Justia Law

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Washington was convicted of five sexually violent offenses that occurred in 1984. Before Washington’s 2014 release, the state sought to commit Washington as a sexually violent predator (SVP) under the Sexually Violent Predator Act, The trial court declared Washington to be an SVP and committed him to the California Department of State Hospitals for an indeterminate term.The court of appeal remanded, first rejecting Washington’s argument that the trial court violated the Act by failing to advise him of his right to a jury trial and to obtain a knowing and intelligent waiver of that right. The Act provides that trial will be “before the court without a jury” if the defendant or attorney “does not demand a jury trial.” The statute does not provide for advisement of the alleged SVP’s right to a jury trial. Washington also argued that failure to obtain a knowing and intelligent waiver of his right to a jury trial violated his right to due process, and the Act’s failure to provide protections for his jury trial right, unlike statutes governing other types of civil commitments, violated his equal protection rights. The court questioned whether the dangerousness of SVP’s is a constitutionally valid justification for differential treatment with respect to procedural protections of their jury trial right but remanded for evaluation of that challenge. View "People v. Washington" on Justia Law

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Harris is charged with a violent rape that occurred in 1989. DNA from the crime scene and a vaginal swab matched Harris’s. A “pretrial services court report” indicated that Harris appeared to be an appropriate candidate for release on his own recognizance with enhanced monitoring. Harris asked for release on his own recognizance with nonfinancial conditions, e.g., a no-contact order, limitation of his use of dating websites, and GPS tracking. Harris argued that he is indigent, there is no indication he is a flight or safety risk, the alleged crimes occurred 32 years ago, he has not tried to contact the victim, he had a limited criminal history in the interim years, and he had community ties. The prosecution offered testimony by the victim that she feared for her safety, the doctor who treated the victim, and several women who reported that Harris liked to tie women up during sex and enact rape fantasies.Ultimately, the trial court denied Harris bail. finding that the charged felony offenses involved acts of violence on another person and that there is clear and convincing evidence of a substantial likelihood that Harris’s release would result in great bodily harm to others. The court of appeal remanded. The court erred in failing to set out reasons on the record why less restrictive alternatives to detention could not reasonably protect the public or victim safety. View "In re Harris" on Justia Law