Thursday, December 14, 2017

People v. Lucero (Cal. Ct. App. - Dec. 14, 2017)

Some people have problems.  Real problems.  Problems that aren't too hard to figure out.

As in today's case.

"Defendant was charged with first degree burglary (Pen. Code, §§ 459, 460) and [another crime]. Attorney Dorr was appointed to represent defendant.

Before trial, on three separate occasions, defendant failed to appear, causing the trial court to issue a bench warrant.

Once trial started, defendant was present for the first two days, but on the third day, he failed to appear. Dorr asserted that defendant was in the hospital. The trial court granted a one-day continuance, but it warned Dorr that defendant would have to produce medical documentation of his unavailability to obtain a further continuance.

On the fourth day, defendant once again failed to appear. Dorr did not attempt to explain why defendant was absent and did not produce any medical documentation. The trial court therefore refused to grant a further continuance. On the fifth day of trial, defendant still did not appear. The jury found defendant guilty as charged.

Dorr filed a motion for new trial, on the ground that defendant had been unable to appear for legitimate medical reasons. At the hearing on the motion, however, Dorr conceded that it was untimely; the trial court denied it as untimely, without reading it. It proceeded to sentence defendant to a total of two years eight months in prison. . . .

Defendant appealed. We requested further briefs on whether defendant’s motion for new trial had, in fact, been untimely. Defendant then argued, not only that the motion was actually timely, but also that Dorr had rendered ineffective assistance by conceding that the motion was untimely. We agreed on both points. We therefore reversed the judgment. . . .

On remand, the trial court set a hearing on defendant’s new trial motion. The hearing, however, was repeatedly continued. In particular, in July 2015, September 2015, and again in January 2016, the hearing was continued based on Dorr’s representations that defendant was in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

While defendant was in ICE custody, Dorr visited him; they discussed the status of the case, including the fact that the judgment had been reversed on appeal. Dorr told him that, if he was released, he needed to let Dorr know.

As of May 14, 2016, defendant evidently was no longer in ICE custody, as he was arrested on [] charges. He signed a citation promising to appear on July 29, 2016.

On May 27, 2016, defendant was arrested on a new misdemeanor [] charge, as well as for misdemeanor resisting an officer. On June 3, 2016, while still in custody, he was arraigned; a hearing was set for July 1, 2016. A hearing in this case was also set for July 1, 2016, specifically so defendant could appear in both cases at the same time. On that date, he failed to appear.

A hearing in this case was then set for July 29, 2016, again so defendant could appear in this case and in his first misdemeanor case at the same time. On that date, he failed to appear. . . . The trial court continued the hearing.

On August 12, 2016, at the continued hearing, defendant failed to appear. Dorr represented that he had not had any contact with defendant since defendant was released. . . . After hearing argument, it denied the motion for new trial; it found that defendant’s claim that he had been unable to appear at trial for medical reasons was not credible. It therefore reinstated the judgment."

You can readily figure out the problem.  My father used to say (quoting, apparently, Woody Allen) that 80% of life was just showing up.  Mr. Lucero unfortunately was not hip to that 80 percent.  Ergo his many problems.

But you can also (potentially) figure out the underlying cause.  I deliberately inserted three separate brackets (omissions) into the portion of the text I quoted.  Those brackets cover the following words and phrases, each of which likely identifies the reason for all the absences:

(1)  "charged with . . . [possession of methamphetamine];"
(2)  "arrested on [drug] charges;" and
(3)  "arrested ona  new misdemeanor [drug] charge.

Yeah.  That stuff's not good for you.  At all.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Kirzhner v. Mercedes-Benz USA (Cal. Ct. App. - Dec. 13, 2017)

"This case under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (Civ. Code, § 1790 et seq., Act), concerned an allegedly defective car which could not be repaired after multiple attempts. Plaintiff Allen Kirzhner accepted an offer of compromise pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 998 (998 offer) from defendant MercedesBenz USA, LLC . . . .The court awarded plaintiff over $47,000 in accordance with the 998 offer. Plaintiff appealed and asserts the court erred because it denied him recovery of approximately $680 in vehicle registration renewal and certificate of nonoperation fees which he incurred in the years after he first leased the car."

Wait.  Are we really filing an appeal in a civil case that revolves exclusively around an additional alleged $680 in damages?

Yes.  Yes we are.

P.S. - Plaintiff doesn't get 'em.  And "Respondent is entitled to its costs on appeal."

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

People v. Rubino (Cal. Ct. App. - Dec. 12, 2017)

Joseph Rubino is caught on surveillance video trying to burn down the office of the mobile home park in which he resides.  He doesn't have a very good defense at all.

He ultimately gets sentenced to probation plus a year in jail.

Which is not a bad result (for him) at all, in my view.  As he most definitely could have received a lot more.

Monday, December 11, 2017

In Re R.G. (Cal. Ct. App. - Dec. 11, 2017)

Your children are rarely perfect.  Perfection is pretty darn hard to achieve.

And, even short of perfection, it's often helpful to remember that things could be far worse.

That's true for sons, and it's true for daughters.  Today brings an example of the latter:

"On October 26, 2016, Minor attempted to slap the victim, accusing the victim of sleeping with Minor’s best friend. . . . On November 22, 2016, the probation department filed a report. The report includes a recitation of Minor’s previous juvenile delinquency history, including an arrest on February 26, 2013, for unlawful sex with a minor; an arrest on June 25, 2013, for receiving stolen property; an arrest on September 1, 2015, for unlawful taking or driving of a vehicle; and an arrest on February 26, 2016, for fighting at school. It is noted in the report that Minor had been suspended from school 13 times for defiance and fighting; she had been expelled three times for nonattendance, truancy, and defiance; and she had 11 unexcused absences during the current school year."

Yeah.  Not good.

As for her life prior to all that:

"Both Minor’s mother and father were drug addicts with criminal histories. Minor reported her mother left her in the care of her father who was using drugs who, in turn, left her in the care of her grandmother. It was reported that Minor had been a victim of frequent sexual assaults by her father at the age of 13 and had suffered physical abuse by both her father and grandmother. Minor reported living in group homes beginning in 2012 when her grandmother no longer wished to care for her."

Not a happy story at all.

Friday, December 08, 2017

In Re Marriage of Kagmar (Cal. Ct. App. - Dec. 8, 2017)

Fred Kagmar has a great life.  He's got a couple of businesses, a smart and loving wife, and four great kids.  He's sufficiently rich that he doesn't even have to work any longer.  Awesome.

He enjoys playing the stock market, and is a big believer in Apple.  So he's got $2.4 million in Apple stock, and he plays around with the stuff on Ameritrade.

Then, in 2012, he's convinced that Apple is going to go even higher.  He puts another $8 million into the Ameritrade account, and off he goes.  By the end of February 2012, the account value is up to $13 million.  Not chump change at all!  Then comes August 2012.  He's on fire!  The account's now worth over $16.3 million.  And that's after he takes out another $3 million.  He's doing all this without his wife's knowledge -- she only knows about the $2.5 million -- but he's doing awesome.

Of course, this is a Court of Appeal opinion.  If that was the end of the story, there'd be no lawsuit, right?

You know the next chapter.

He tanks.  Tanks.  By the time he stops trading in the account, the $16.3 million is down to . . . $409,000.

Wow.

During this entire time, by the way, he's in marriage counseling with his wife.  So things are pretty much not going well on any front.

They eventually divorce.

And now he has to reimburse the community for a ton of the money he lost in the account.

Things can change so much.  Even in a tiny little bit of time.






Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Dep't of Forestry and Fire Protection v. Howell (Cal. Ct. App. - Dec. 6, 2017)

Today's opinion seems especially timely given the numerous wildfires raging throughout Southern California.  It's about the protracted (and high profile) litigation surrounding the Moonlight Fire in 2007.

There's so much in there that's fascinating that I shan't attempt to summarize it.  I'll just give you a snippet from the last paragraph of Justice Robie's dissent to whet your appetite:

"Finally, I also cannot agree that any remand be before the same trial judge, who I believe was manifestly biased and did not provide a fair and impartial forum for litigation of an enormously important case with vast ramifications beyond the facts of this proceeding. The conduct of the trial court in making the Cottle ruling, granting judgment on the pleadings and then issuing postjudgment terminating sanctions were not the actions of a fair and impartial judge."

Come on.  You gotta read the whole thing, right?!

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Noel v. Thrifty Payless (Cal. Ct. App. - Dec. 5, 2017)

I really do think that holdings like this one, were they left to stand, would essentially spell the death of consumer class actions in California.

It sufficiently conflicts -- as the opinion itself expressly recognizes -- with plethora of other Court of Appeal opinions that the California Supreme Court should either (1) accept review of the thing, or (2) depublish it.

Because to let something like this stand, in my view, would make justice in California substantially worse.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Fettgather v. Board of Psychiatry (Cal. Ct. App. - Dec. 4, 2017)

It says something when a psychologist facing an investigation is ordered to undergo a psychiatric examination.  And refuses to do so.

That'll get your license suspended.

When I read the opinion, I wondered whether the psychologist represented himself.  Because the opinion says things like this:

"Fettgather challenges the trial court on a number of grounds . . . . While many of his arguments are difficult to discern, Fettgather appears to argue that he should have been afforded the opportunity to challenge the propriety of the Board’s order requiring him to submit to a psychological evaluation under section 820 at the Board’s revocation hearing, despite his noncompliance with that order. . . .

He further argues this court should “overturn” Lee, supra, 209 Cal.App.4th 793, which was relied upon by the trial court in upholding the Board’s license revocation order. While we do not have the authority to “overturn” Lee, we are not bound by that decision.

We will not address arguments not separately stated under a separate heading as noncompliant with California Rules of Court, rule 8.204(a)(1)(B). (See T.P. v. T.W. (2011) 191 Cal.App.4th 1428, review denied (2011) 2011 Cal. LEXIS 3990 [declining to consider undeveloped argument not delineated under separate heading].)"

But, no, Mr. Fettgather was indeed represented by an attorney on appeal, Bruce Ebert.  An attorney who has had his own disciplinary issues.

Apparently Mr. Fettgather is a fairly popular professor at Mission College as well.  Though, in the future, the lesson he might want to teach his students is that when you're ordered to submit to a psychiatric exam, you should follow the order.  Lest bad things happen.

Friday, December 01, 2017

U.S. v. Lummi Nation (9th Cir. - Dec. 1, 2017)

Who gets to fish west of Whidbey Island, in Washington?

That's an issue that's taken a huge amount of litigation to resolve.

But now we know.

Apparently the fishing is pretty darn good out there.  At least according to the locals.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

In Re Marriage and The Grange (Cal. Ct. App. - Nov. 30, 2017)

Which one do you want to obtain:

(A) Insight into the trials and tribulations of the (now former) marriage of famed restaurateur Piero Selvaggio?  If so, read this opinion.  Or,

(B) Insight into the trials and tribulations of the California chapter of The Grange.  (Which, yes, apparently still exists.)  If so, read this opinion.

As they say:  We report.  You decide.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Crime & Justice America Inc. v. Honea (9th Cir. - Nov. 29, 2017)

I'm a little confused about one portion of this morning's opinion by Judge Tallman.

A prison in Montana bars its inmates from receiving unsolicited commercial mail.  That's a problem for one particular magazine, which distributes its product for free to inmates.  That's the magazine's "target market," surprisingly enough.  It's got advertisements for lawyers, bail bondsmen, etc., so that's how the magazine makes its money.

The prison has installed some electronic kiosks where inmates can view various publications.  But you can see why that's not a total substitute.  As many of us can personally attest, it's different to have reading material in your hand as opposed to reading a PDF on a computer.  The former you can take with you physically, page through, read at your leisure, and view on your own time and in your own place; on your couch, in bed, etc.  As opposed to having to read a PDF in public place while you just stand there.

One is better.  Trust me.

But the prison says that it stops these magazines because there's a problem when there's too much paper in the prison.  Prisoners use it to stuff up toilets, block windows, etc.  And prisoners tend to do that with unsolicited stuff (like phone books and donated paperbacks) instead of, say, love letters from their families.

Fair enough.  Mind you, other prisons seem to work just fine with allowing magazines in.  And if the prisoners still have access to phone books and paperbacks, I'm not sure how stopping magazines can really solve this problem.  But okay.

Here's the part I don't entirely understand:

If a prisoner wants the magazine, which is free, he can just ask for it.  We get free magazines at my house.  Do we read those all the time?  No.  But sometimes we do.  It's not a big deal to have them around.  You just send in a postcard and you get the subscription essentially forever.  Presumably this particular magazine could easily do the same thing; e.g., put subscription requests on the kiosk, and if the prisoner filled it out, boom, he's entitled to a monthly (or whatever) magazine, even under the prison's policy.

As a result, any prisoner who wants useless paper (or even wants useless paper lying around) can easily get it.  From himself.  From other inmates.  No problem.  Even the same useless paper that the prison's trying to stop.

Given that reality, what's the huge penal interest in stopping the "unsolicited" stuff?

Judge Tallman says in a footnote:

"Here, Butte County distinguishes between solicited and unsolicited mail because unsolicited mail is far more likely to be used to undermine institutional security than solicited mail. Thus, the regulation is neutral in the Turner sense."

But is that really right?  It's the same magazine.  Prisoner X gets it unsolicited for free in the mail, and never reads it, and simply has it to stuff up toilets.  Prisoner Y filled out a postcard, so it's solicited, but gets it for free in the mail, never reads it, and simply has it to stuff up toilets.  Is it really true that the magazine that Prisoner X has "is far more likely to be used to undermine institutional security" than the magazine that Prisoner Y has?

I'd like to hear what Judge Tallman has to say about this.  Maybe someone would think that prisoners aren't likely to want free magazines just to stuff up toilets with, so would never bother to fill out even the postcard.  But I don't know.  Seems to me they very well might.  Or at least there's some guy ten cells down -- the magazine here is sent to every tenth inmate -- who'll have the magazine anyway, so we're going to get the same amount of toilet-stuffing either way.

With the only difference being that we're deliberately burdening the First Amendment right of the publisher to reach its target audience.

Sure, if I was running a prison, I probably wouldn't want my prisoners having anything.  Paper, combs, whatever.  Prison's an ugly, dangerous place.

But maybe the First Amendment requires a bit more flexibility and accommodation.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Flores v. Southcoast Automotive Liquidators (Cal. Ct. App. - Nov. 27, 2017)

The defendant in this lawsuit sells cars in South Gate as Discount Auto Plaza.  But based on what I read in this opinion, it's a place with which I'd definitely not want to do business:

"Defendant and appellant Southcoast Automotive Liquidators, Inc., doing business as Discount Auto Plaza (Dealer), publishes print advertisements on Wednesdays that advertise low prices for specific cars to attract customers to the dealership. Small print at the bottom of the advertisements states that the price expires at 12:00 p.m. on the day of publication. A customer who calls before noon to inquire about a car in an advertisement will be quoted the sale price. If the customer arrives at the dealership in the afternoon, the advertisement has expired and the car is sold for full price. Dealer also posts the advertisements online for about three hours. The advertisements on the internet do not contain expiration information and are simply taken down after three hours.

In April 2013, plaintiff and respondent Krystal Flores wanted to buy her first car. She saw Dealer’s advertisement on the internet for a black 2009 Dodge Charger for $9,995. She printed the advertisement and asked her parents to call the phone number on it the next day to ask questions. Her mother called and spoke with a male employee named Sergio, who said the car had 42,000 miles and was in excellent condition. Her mother asked if he could go any lower on the price and he said he might be able to drop the price to $9,000. Flores waited an hour and had her father call to see if he got the same answers. A female employee said the car had 42,000 miles on it. Plaintiff’s father explained that they were going to drive an hour and a half to see the car, so he needed her to be honest and not waste their time. She said there were no mechanical issues with the car.

The next day, Flores, her mother, and her sister drove from Oxnard to South Gate to view the car. Upon arriving, they asked for Sergio. A salesperson falsely responded that he was Sergio. Flores showed him the advertisement from the internet. He showed her a black 2009 Dodge Charger with body damage and mileage of 107,000. He said it was the only black Charger on the lot, but the Dealer could repair the damage. Flores was very excited to purchase a car and thought it might still be worth buying. They went inside to discuss the paperwork. Flores’s mother recognized the voice of another salesperson as the real Sergio. He said the price of $9,000 was for a cash payment, so Flores’s price would be the advertised price of $9,995.

Sergio told the assistant manager that Flores wanted to buy the Charger. The assistant manager called the manager and asked what he wanted to sell the Charger for, then put the number in the paperwork as the total cash price. Salesperson Maria Guadalupe Jauregui assisted Flores with the paperwork for the purchase, bringing each document out from the printer. While Flores completed the paperwork, a fight broke out between the male salespeople over credit for the sale, and the police responded.

One document listed the selling price as $16,995. Flores’s mother noticed that it stated the amount financed was $17,401 and asked why the document did not say $9,995. Jauregui said not to worry about it, because they were just throwing numbers out and that number would not stay. . . .

On the drive home, Flores noticed a tire warning light was on. After that, the engine light went on. Flores brought the car to a mechanic the next day and got a list of repairs that were needed. She called Jauregui and told her that the car was going to overheat. Jauregui said to bring it to Dealer with the list of repairs and it would take three days to fix. Flores brought the car with the repair list. She called Jauregui each day to ask if the car was ready. When Jauregui stopped answering her phone, Flores began texting her."

That's really all you need to know.  Even though the opinion has lots, lots more.

General rule:  When the employees of the business get into a fist fight about your sale, and the police are called, take that as a pretty significant warning sign.

There's a reason the place only gets one-and-a-half stars on Yelp.

Monday, November 27, 2017

F.P. v. Monier (Cal. Supreme Ct. - Nov. 27, 2017)

After a long (and happy) holiday break, it's sometimes nice to come back to unanimous decisions by the California Supreme Court that don't require you to do anything more than read the first paragraph of the opinion.  What's easier than that?

So, sure, you could read the subsequent twenty pages.  As I did.  But why bother?  There's no dissent, and all you'd get is the Court's reasoning.  Which is important, to be sure.  And worthwhile.

But as for just knowing the rule, yeah, you can stop after a single paragraph:

"Section 632 of the Code of Civil Procedure1 provides that “upon the trial of a question of fact by the court,” the court “shall issue a statement of decision explaining the factual and legal basis for its decision as to each of the principal controverted issues at trial upon the request of any party appearing at the trial.” We granted review in this case to decide whether a court’s error in failing to issue a statement of decision as this section requires is reversible per se. The Court of Appeal held that such errors are not reversible per se, but are subject to harmless error review. The court based its conclusion on article VI, section 13 of the California Constitution (article VI, section 13), which provides: “No judgment shall be set aside, or new trial granted, in any cause, on the ground of misdirection of the jury, or of the improper admission or rejection of evidence, or for any error as to any matter of pleading, or for any error as to any matter of procedure, unless, after an examination of the entire cause, including the evidence, the court shall be of the opinion that the error complained of has resulted in a miscarriage of justice.” For reasons explained below, we agree with the Court of Appeal and affirm its judgment."

Sometimes it's just fine to take the easy way out.  Today's an example.

Thankfully.




Monday, November 20, 2017

Klem v. Access Ins. Co. (Cal. Ct. App. - Nov. 20, 2017)

I do feel a little bit bad for people who drive objectively terrible vehicles and are then involved in accidents.  Maybe that's in part because I drive a 2000 Nissan Altima -- one that has rust holes in it that are covered with duct tape and that leak water when it rains.

Kelly Blue Book says that the trade-in value of my vehicle is . . . $335.  And that's after totally lying and saying that it's in "good" condition.

Here's the problem:  Let's say that someone rear ends me.  Not hard, but enough to make it (1) look even uglier, and (2) unable to move.  They're at fault, so their insurance company has to pay.  It'll cost, say, $5000 to fully repair the thing.

Obviously, the insurance company shouldn't have to pay me $5000.  That'd be a windfall.  I'd surely keep the money and not repair the car.

But, on the other hand, geeze.  I had a working car.  Now the insurance company is going to pay me a whopping $335.  What the hell am I supposed to do with that?!  I can't (really) buy another car.  That would cost, in reality, more than $335.  I doubt there's even a clunker that runs that costs $335, and even if there was, we all know it'd run for around two weeks before it stopped.  That's why they're selling it.  If it still ran, they'd keep driving it.  Just like I did with mine before I got rear ended.

So what am I supposed to do?  Particularly if I don't have an extra grand or so sitting around that'll enable me to get an actual (albeit crappy) working car?

What am I really likely to do?  I'm likely to fix up my existing, rear-ended car.  Not enough to get it back in "perfect" (i.e., $5000) shape.  But just enough to get it to run.  Say that'll cost $800.  It'll look even worse than before; huge smashed parts, wrong color back panel, etc.  But it'll get me where I want -- or, more accurately, need -- to go.

But we don't require the insurance company to pay this amount.  We only make 'em pay the $335.  And then, to add insult to injury, after they declare the vehicle a "total loss", they report that fact to the DMV and I get a "salvage title".  Which declares to the world that my vehicle is worth nothing.

Thanks a lot.

That's the world in which we live.  And it's a terrible one -- at least for the person who's rear ended -- but you see why that's also our rule.  We don't want to make the insurance company pay the $5000, because that'd be crazy.  Even if the guy wanted $5000 in repairs.  It's just not socially optimal to pay that amount to repair the thing.

And, yes, in the perfect world, maybe we'd create a rule that says the insurance company has to pay, say, whatever is the "minimum" amount to get it running, if the owner really was going to repair the thing.  But that leads to extortionate demands, difficulties about figuring out what a "minimum" repair job would be, etc.  So that's too difficult a rule to apply in the real world.  That might be what we'd do among friends.  But as a principle of insurance law, it doesn't really work.

Which leave the innocent, poor person who's been rear ended up the creek without a paddle.  Or, more literally, down the road without a car.

So it's a social problem.

Nonetheless, it seems to me that the Court of Appeal gets this one right.  An insurance company is permitted to do all of the above; in particular, to declare the vehicle a "salvage" job to the DMV, even if the owner -- as here -- actually ends up repairing the vehicle.  Yes, that's a bummer to the owner.  Amongst the many bummers of the whole experience.  And, yes, no one's likely to buy a car that only has a salvage title.

But it's not the salvage title that makes the car worth squat.  It's the fact that the car stinks.  The two are correlated, to be sure.  But the one doesn't cause the other.

Hence the anti-SLAPP motion here should have been granted.  Because reporting to the DMV is a protected act, and the plaintiff isn't likely to prevail.

Notwithstanding my profound and personal sympathy with his situation.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Hefczyc v. Rady Children's Hospital (Cal. Ct. App. - Nov. 17, 2017)

I wish the California Supreme Court would either grant review of this opinion or depublish it.

It's a state court class action where the dispute's about certification.  There's fairly established law on the federal side that says that the requirements for a "damages" class action (i.e., a (b)(3) suit) are X, Y and Z, whereas the requirements for other types of class actions (e.g., injunctive, prejudice, or declaratory -- under (b)(2) or (b)(3)) are only X and Y.

Plaintiff says that his suit's a declaratory one, and that California should have the same rules with respect to such suits as the federal side.  Defendant disagrees, and says that California should impose the full requirements (X, Y and Z) to all class actions instead.

To be clear:  there's no statute or rule here.  It's all common law.  And California courts basically follow federal law in this area.

Plus, just so you know, one of the "extra" requirements -- "Z" (superiority) -- on the federal side comes from the text of (b)(3).  Text that California doesn't have.  So you can see not only why there's an argument that California should do the same thing that the federal side does, but also that it'd be inappropriate to incorporate a different requirement (Z) in California since (1) the federal side does not even do that, and (2) that requirement comes from text that not only doesn't apply this case, but doesn't even exist in California in the first place.

But the Court of Appeal disagrees.  It holds that all of the federal "(b)(3)" requirements (X, Y, and Z) apply to all class actions in California, and thereby departs from the federal rule.

The opinion is super long.  But it's not at all complicated.  It just says, basically, we've always had those three rules, and seem to apply 'em in all class actions, so we reject plaintiff's argument.

Okay.  I understand that.

But this is common law stuff.  We can change it.  And it's also clearly dicta that we're talking about.  I think it's abundantly clear that there's no controlling California Supreme Court precedent that governs the issue as to whether California requires the (b)(3) prerequisites to be met even in (b)(2) -- or, for that matter, (b)(1) -- cases.

So there's flexibility there.

And there's substantial reason to make the rules different.  Want proof?  How about the fact that the federal system does precisely that.  For a reason.  Pretty darn good reasons, in my view.

But the Court of Appeal's opinion here doesn't really engage at all with those reasons.  Or why we should allegedly have a different rule in California -- a state that generally follows the federal rules on class issues -- on this particular point.

The opinion instead just basically says:  "This is the way it is.  So there."

That's a fine answer sometimes.  Sometimes the Supreme Court has said X, so there's little more that's worthwhile to be said on the subject.

But not here.

This is a legitimately open issue.  Reasonable people could disagree.  There are real arguments to be said on both sides.  And it's not that text or precedent clearly forecloses one side.

So to simply say that The Law Is X, to me, doesn't seem that compelling of a response to this debate.

(And I say that not to minimize the import, or to insult in any way, the members of the panel.  I'm sure they believe what the opinion says.  Personally, though, I just really don't see it that way.  This is an area with far, far more flexibility than I think is evident from the opinion.)

Now, maybe, on the merits of the class action, plaintiff should lose.  Or maybe this is a bad vehicle for the California Supreme Court to decide the issue.  Or maybe that tribunal would, after (hopefully) deep thought on the issue, would agree with the Court of Appeal's ultimate conclusion.

But to leave things as they are here, with just a skimpy (albeit long) opinion that simply purports to say what the law is, would be suboptimal.  Substantially suboptimal, IMHO.

So I'd either grant review, and decide once and for all whether we think the federal side has it right (which tends to be my view) or has it wrong (which I could totally understand as well).

That'd be a super valuable addition to the law.

But, even barring that, I'd depublish this opinion.  Because no opinion, in my view, would be better than an opinion that just takes the law as purportedly X when I think the actual law regarding X is much, much more open to dispute and unclear.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

People v. Solorio (Cal. Ct. App. - Nov. 16, 2017)

Francisco Solorio and Albert Ramos were neighbors.  Close neighbors.  Or, as the Court of Appeal puts it, they "lived on same side of the same block in Brawley, California. Their residences were separated by two houses."  So not next-door neighbors, or one-house-away neighbors, but otherwise as close as you can get.

But they don't like each other.  At all.

Amongst other reasons, Solorio doesn't like Ramos because, four months earlier, the latter allegedly stabbed the former's brother.  Definitely a reason to dislike someone.

Sure, you could go to the police to deal with your brother's stabbing.  But why do anything so simple as that?  Instead, after his brother was stabbed, Solorio told his neighbors that he would 'handle matters on his own rather than approach law enforcement' and that he intended to ""cap" Ramos, "blast him," and "kill him"."

Yeah, that's one approach, I guess.  Though one with obvious downsides.

But one positive thing about Solorio is that, apparently, he's good to his word.

"In March 2013 Tamara and Sara had just returned from a one-hour shopping trip with Ramos. Both had a clear line of sight and saw the incident unfold as Ramos walked from their parked car toward his house across the street. As Ramos was walking, Solorio stepped outside his property, walked toward Ramos, pointed a gun wrapped in a bandana at him, and said, "remember what you did to my brother?" Ramos said, "Fuck you" and threw a plastic cup he was holding at Solorio. Solorio grabbed Ramos around the neck, and shot him three times in the arm, head, and chest, killing him."

Pretty bold to do all that in front of witnesses.

But fear not.  Solorio had a plan.

"Tamara immediately called 911. Solorio could be heard in the background exclaiming, "He had a knife!" Tamara could be heard saying, "That's bullshit Javier. That's bullshit. I saw it." A knife was recovered at the scene, and Solorio had a superficial knife wound on his arm. The prints on the knife did not match Ramos or Solorio and instead were a possible match for Solorio's brother, Steven."

I said it was a plan, not necessarily a good plan.

At trial, Solorio is convicted of first-degree murder, and sentenced to a boatload of years in prison.

But he's going to get a retrial.  Since the jury improperly discussed at some length his refusal to testify at trial.  Which is a definite no-no, as well as contrary to the judge's instructions.

Now, in my mind, Solorio isn't looking all that great at the retrial either.  At least if the same witnesses are around.

But this time, at least, he'll have a jury that'll follow the instructions they're given.

At least we hope.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Whitehall v. County of San Bernardino (Cal. Ct. App. - Nov. 15, 2017)

"Plaintiff, Mary Anna Whitehall, was a social worker for the San Bernardino County Children and Family Services (CFS or the County) who sought legal advice pertaining to any liability she might have for submitting misleading information and doctored photographs to the juvenile court at the direction of her superiors."

Good for her.  We want people to get legal advice.  We don't want people to submit misleading information and/or doctored photographs to a court.  Right?

"Her counsel prepared a filing for the juvenile court to apprise it of the falsified information, and plaintiff was immediately placed on administrative leave for disclosing confidential information to an unauthorized person."

Wait.  What?!  Your lawyer and/or the court is an "unauthorized person"?!  Seriously?

"Upon being informed she would be terminated for the breach, plaintiff resigned her position."

Wow.  That is not how I would have thought that one would end.

Or at least end short of litigation.  Needless to say, the plaintiff files a lawsuit.

Which is looking very, very good.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Vasilenko v. Grace Family Church (Cal. Supreme Ct. - Nov. 13, 2017)

It's not incredibly easy writing introductions.  To briefs, to law review articles, or to anything.  It's hard to capture complicated issues comprehensively in a couple of paragraphs.

So when I see an introduction done well, it jumps out at me.

When you read the introduction, you not only know what the case is about (and what it holds), but you also get a keen sense that the result makes sense.  And hence that the opinion might well be a unanimous one.

Which it is.

Check it out:

"Plaintiff Aleksandr Vasilenko was struck by a car as he crossed a public street between the main premises of defendant Grace Family Church (the Church) and the Church’s overflow parking area. Vasilenko contends that the Church owed him a duty of care to assist him in safely crossing the public street and that the Church was negligent in failing to do so. The Church argues that it had no control over the public street and therefore did not owe Vasilenko a duty to prevent his injury under the principle that landowners have no duty to protect others from dangers on abutting streets unless the landowner created the dangers. (See Sexton v. Brooks (1952) 39 Cal.2d 153, 157–158 (Sexton).)

The parties do not dispute that the Church did not control the public street and did not create the dangers on the street. But the Church, by locating its parking lot on the other side of the street and directing Vasilenko to park there, foreseeably increased the likelihood that Vasilenko would cross the street at that location and thereby encounter harm. Thus the circumstances here are different from when a landowner merely owns property abutting a public street.

We conclude, however, that a landowner does not have a duty to assist invitees in crossing a public street when the landowner does no more than site and maintain a parking lot that requires invitees to cross the street to access the landowner’s premises, so long as the street’s dangers are not obscured or magnified by some condition of the landowner’s premises or by some action taken by the landowner. Because Vasilenko does not allege that the Church did anything other than maintain a parking lot on the other side of that street, we find that the Church did not owe him a duty to prevent his injury."

Yep.  That pretty much tells it like it is, eh?

Friday, November 10, 2017

Hewlett-Packard v. CIR (9th Cir. - Nov. 9, 2017)

It's a (judicial) holiday today, so no opinions.  But lest you think that there's not a lot of money to be made by circumventing your tax obligations, read this one from yesterday:

"Despite the boundless ingenuity of financial engineering, tax law insists on pretending that an instrument is either debt or equity, then treating it accordingly—with sharply different consequences for the taxpayer. A corporation’s interest payments on debt are deductible, for example, while the dividends it pays to equity holders are not. This black-or-white tax treatment gives taxpayers an incentive to conjure up complex instruments that give them the perfect blend of economic and tax benefits. Taxpayer gamesmanship, in turn, puts courts in the ungainly position of casting about for bright lines along an exceedingly cloudy spectrum. . . .

Here, Hewlett-Packard (“HP”) wants its investment in a foreign entity to be treated as equity, so that HP will be entitled to the foreign tax credits that the entity—a so-called “FTC generator”—produces. The United States taxes the worldwide income of domestic corporations, but gives them a credit against their domestic taxes for foreign taxes they (or a subsidiary) pay. FTC generators are entities that churn out foreign credits for U.S. multinationals, which companies typically desire if they pay foreign taxes at a lower average rate than domestic taxes. . . . No small sum is on the line: The transaction here saved HP (and lost Treasury) millions of dollars. . . .

The tax borscht at issue was cooked up in the 1990s by AIG Financial Products. The arrangement took advantage of the fact that contingent interest—interest payments that depend on future developments, and may never be paid at all—was immediately taxable in the Netherlands but not in the United States. This allowed AIG to create a Dutch company—called Foppingadreef Investments, or “FOP”—that would (and could) do little else than purchase contingent interest notes."

Taxes for the "little people" are fairly straightforward, and you basically have to pay.  Taxes for people who can afford really good tax professionals; not so much.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Oregon State University v. Superior Court (Cal. Ct. App. - Nov. 8, 2017)

Wait.  Did I click on the wrong bookmark?

I thought I was on the California Court of Appeal's website.  Yet here I am, looking at a caption that begins with "Oregon State University" as the first party.  I must be in the Ninth Circuit, right?

But wait.  It's a writ.  That generally means state court.  And it's a writ against the Superior Court.  So I guess we're indeed in state court.

State court in San Diego?!  Yep.  That's what it says.

What in the world is Oregon State University doing in San Diego?  I mean, I know that the Pacific Plate is slowly -- or at least usually slowly -- moving northward.  And Oregon is going to move its own way as well (this, by the way, is a great article).

But still.  I'm pretty sure that Oregon State University isn't anywhere near San Diego.  At least last time I checked.

So what gives?  What's OSU doing down here?

Ah.  That.  Apparently Oregon State owned a stack container, and someone employed at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography was using a crane to load it onto a ship at UCSD when the container caused the crane to tip over, injuring the plaintiff.  Who accordingly sued here.

Our interconnected world.  Even in academia.

It's one ocean, after all.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Saldivar v. Sessions (9th Cir. - Nov. 7, 2017)

One of the words in the following list does not appear in today's dissent by Judge Kozinski to a Judge Reinhardt immigration opinion.  Can you guess which one?

Contronym, specious, rubbish, snicker, illogical, fool, nonsense, malaprop, perverse, trample, loophole, rabbit.

The correct answer is . . . the eighth of those words.  I added that one.

The rest are there.




Monday, November 06, 2017

People v. Dean W. (Cal. Ct. App. - Nov. 3, 2017)

"The juvenile court found that Dean W. (the ward) had committed a misdemeanor violation of Vehicle Code section 23152, driving under the influence. The court later found that the ward had successfully completed his probation and terminated his wardship. The court granted the ward’s request to seal his juvenile court records, except for one document regarding his acknowledgement that he knew driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol was dangerous to human life. The Welfare and Institutions Code allows minors who have completed their rehabilitation to have “all” records of their juvenile adjudication sealed. The Vehicle Code authorizes criminal prosecutors to use a criminal defendant’s acknowledgement of the dangerousness of driving under the influence as evidence of implied malice in a later second degree murder case. We publish this case because, based on the words of the statutes and their underlying purposes and policies, the ward’s right to have all of his juvenile records sealed includes the ward’s acknowledgement of the dangerousness of driving under the influence. Therefore, we reverse the juvenile court’s order, with directions to seal the entirety of the ward’s records, to ensure that other government agencies specified in the statute seal the ward’s records, and to consider whether other government agencies also be ordered to do so."

Or, somewhat more concisely:  "All" means all.

Friday, November 03, 2017

People v. Perez (Cal. Ct. App. - Nov. 3, 2017)

I've made mistakes like this one in a blog post before.  Maybe even on an exam in the past couple of decades.  Never in a brief, though.  I don't think.  Definitely not in an opinion.

"On page 11, in the third full paragraph, delete the sentence: 'Defendant Chavez was driving Alvarado’s pickup, with Rodriguez as his passenger.' and substitute the sentence: 'Rodriguez was driving Alvarado’s pickup, with defendant Chavez as his passenger.'"

But that's what edits are for.  Nice change.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Lichtman v. Siemens Industry (Cal. Ct. App. - Nov. 2, 2017)

"On the night of plaintiffs’ accident, there were no batteries in a traffic signal’s battery backup unit. During a power outage, plaintiffs’ vehicle entered the dark intersection and was struck by another car. Plaintiffs sued the entity responsible for maintaining the battery backup system, alleging its negligence proximately caused their injuries."

I didn't know that traffic lights had backup batteries, but upon reflection, yeah, that makes sense -- it's why/how they blink when the power's out.  And, yeah, if there's someone in charge of maintaining the battery backup system, and they leave out the batteries, I can see how that might well give rise to tort liability.

The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendant, holding that there was no duty.  The Court of Appeal reverses.

Which was my intuition as well.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Pearson Ford v. WCAB (Cal. Ct. App. - Nov. 1, 2017)

You occasionally see public service advertisements against workers' compensation fraud around town and on television.  There's even a billboard right down the street from my office that essentially looks like this one:


Which is pretty neat.  I'm not sure these things are at all effective -- if they did, maybe we should put up signs that make similar exhortations not to commit murder -- but it at least reflects a claim that we take these types of cases seriously.

Commit Workers' Comp Fraud, Go To Jail.

Catchy.

Though then there are opinions like today's.  Which, like the billboard and advertisement above, all come out of San Diego.  And which, if you had to summarize in a motto, would probably read:

Commit Workers' Comp Fraud, Get a Slap On The Wrist.  Then Get More Workers' Comp Benefits.

A motto that's probably not an especially effective deterrent.

It's a neat little case:

"On March 24, 2006, while working at Pearson Ford, Leopoldo Hernandez accidentally slammed the trunk of a car on his left hand and crushed one of his fingers. Although no bones in his hand were broken, he was unable to continue working at Pearson Ford because of continuing pain in his hand and shoulder. Hernandez applied for and received workers' compensation benefits.

From 2006 through 2010, Hernandez was treated and examined by a number of physicians for severe pain related to his injury and with respect to his workers' compensation claim. . . .

The parties designated Dr. Byron F. King, an orthopedic specialist as an agreed medical examiner (AME). Dr. King examined Hernandez on March 31, 2009. Hernandez required the assistance of a Spanish-speaking interpreter. Dr. King had some difficulty in examining Hernandez's left arm and hand; in particular, although Hernandez complained about his inability to use his left hand and arm, he would not permit Dr. King to perform grip or pinch strength tests on the hand. In his March 31, 2009 report, Dr. King stated that Hernandez presented "a very difficult diagnostic dilemma in that he does not appear to make any effort to cooperate with requests for left upper extremity use activities." Dr. King also noted that the condition of the soft tissue on Hernandez left hand was not consistent with Hernandez's total lack of use of it, which Dr. King observed during the examination."

Well, okay.  Maybe the guy was faking it, so didn't want an incredibly detailed examination.  But just maybe he didn't want a stranger poking around a hand that totally hurt.  Tough to say.

So let's see . . . .

"Some months after Dr. King's examination, between January 11, 2010, and May 5, 2010, Hernandez was examined three times by Dr. Walter Strauser. Dr. Strauser is a pain specialist and had been treating Hernandez. Dr. Strauser prescribed a number of medications for Hernandez, including opiates. On each of his visits to Dr. Strauser, Hernandez wore a sling on his left arm and complained of continuing severe pain and an inability to use his left arm and hand.  After each examination, Dr. Strauser continued to provide Hernandez with pain medication, including an opiate.

Pearson Ford's workers' compensation carrier retained the services of a private investigator, who conducted video surveillance of Hernandez following each of the three visits to Dr. Strauser in early 2010. Following each visit, Hernandez was observed taking off his sling, using his left hand to get in and out of his truck or a car, using his left hand to steer his truck or car, and on one occasion stopping at a grocery store and using his left hand to carry a bag of groceries.

During the period Hernandez's visits to Dr. Strauser were being surveilled, he also had one appointment, on February 18, 2010, with an orthopedist, who specialized in treatment of the arms and hands, Dr. Greg M. Balourdas. Dr. Balourdas was acting as Hernandez's primary physician and working with Dr. Strauser in providing care for Hernandez. As he did when he was examined by Dr. Strauser, Hernandez appeared at his appointment with Dr. Balourdas wearing a sling on his left arm. . . .

Following his visit to Dr. Balourdas, Hernandez was observed once again taking off his sling, driving his car and stopping at an appliance store where, using both hands, he lifted a washing machine into the back of the car he was driving. "

Okay, then.  That may provide some helpful explanatory context.

So Hernandez gets prosecuted for workers' compensation fraud.  He pleads guilty.  And he's sentenced to (1) 90 days of summary probation, and (2) repaying $9000 in benefits he obtained.

Not exactly "Commit Fraud, Go to Jail".

But then guess what?  Hernandez continues to say, despite the fraud conviction, that his hand still really doesn't work, and continues to ask for benefits.  And the Court of Appeal agrees.  The fact that he's been convicted of fraud for this exact injury doesn't deprive him of the right to get benefits if he can prove that, despite his criminal fraud, he's still a "little bit" injured (although not in the way that he previously defrauded people).

I'm not saying that's right or wrong.  You can see why the Court of Appeal might come out that way.

But such a result definitely gives new meaning to the slogan "Commit Workers' Comp Fraud, Get a New Outfit."  Cause the "new outfit" Hernandez got wasn't a jail uniform.  At all.  That new outfit was instead probably a nice new suit -- or at least an attractive set of sweatpants.  All paid for by his brand new workers' comp benefits.  Benefits he receives notwithstanding his fraud.

Not quite the same deterrent effect as the billboard, eh?

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

People v. Lee (Cal. Ct. App. - Oct. 31, 2017)

Pao Lee is driving a vehicle that's obviously stolen; its steering wheel is cracked open and a different type of key has been jammed into the ignition.  It's an old, 90's style Honda -- the most commonly stolen vehicle in Sacramento (in part because it's just so darn easy to steal).

He's convicted of four wobblers (i.e., misdemeanor/felonies):  unlawfully driving or taking a vehicle (Veh. Code, § 10851, subd. (a); count 1), receiving a stolen vehicle (§ 496d, subd. (a); count 2), and carrying a concealed dirk or dagger (§ 21310; counts 3 & 4).  It's one of the easiest captures (as well as convictions) in the history of mankind:

"On August 18, 2013, Michael A., the owner of a 1999 red Honda Civic, got up in the morning and discovered his car was missing from the driveway. He called the police immediately.

On August 24, 2013, around midnight, Fresno Police Officer Vincent Zavala was driving behind a 1999 red Honda Civic driven by defendant. Zavala checked the license plate number and learned the car was stolen. He requested backup, then conducted a traffic stop. He told defendant to remove the keys and drop them outside the door. He ordered defendant out of the car and arrested him. When Zavala searched defendant, he found a sheathed, fixed-blade knife in his right rear pocket and another knife in his right front pocket. When Zavala searched the car, he noticed the center console of the dashboard had been cracked and pulled away, and the stereo had been forcibly removed. The key chain held a Toyota car key and two nonvehicle keys, but no Honda key. Zavala tried all the keys in the Honda ignition. Only the Toyota key worked, but it did not fit easily. It required force and inserted only halfway.

Zavala read defendant his Miranda3 rights and defendant agreed to talk. He said the car belonged to him; his cousin had given it to him for free. Zavala told him he thought that was weird. Defendant said he had had the car for three weeks. Zavala told him that was not possible because it had been reported stolen only about seven days earlier. Defendant said he got the key from his cousin and was using it to drive the car. When Zavala told him it was a Toyota key that only inserted halfway, defendant said he did not know much about cars. He said he was homeless."

Uh, yeah.  You're gonna get convicted on that one.

What's the sentence?

25 years to life.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Isayeva v. Barry (9th Cir. - Oct. 2, 2017)

The district court denied summary judgment, and when the defendants filed an appeal claiming that they were entitled to qualified immunity, the district court said that this appeal was "frivolous."

The Ninth Circuit panel unanimously agreed with the defendant that the appeal was not only not frivolous, but was affirmatively meritorious.  Finding that the defendant was entitled to qualified immunity as a matter of law.

Proof positive that you shouldn't always believe whatever the district court says.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Baxter v. Genworth North America (Cal. Ct. App. - Oct. 26, 2017)

The Ninth Circuit published . . . nothing today.  The California Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal published . . . nothing as well.

Gotta love those Fridays.

So I'll reach back to yesterday with a brief reminder that pigs get fat whereas hogs get slaughtered.

Which, in the arbitration context, translates into the principle that arbitration clauses are great when you can essentially compel your employees into giving up their rights to sue you, but if you get too greedy, and make the arbitration clause even more onerous than normal, you get holdings like this one, and the entire arbitration provision gets invalidated.  Welcome to court.

So be a pig, not a hog.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

People v. Harrison (Cal. Ct. App. - Oct. 26, 2017)

It's so nice when the Court of Appeal includes an introduction that's simultaneously concise and comprehensive.  It makes reading the remainder of the opinion so easy.

As in today's opinion:

"The Brady rule (Brady v. Maryland (1963) 373 U.S. 83 (Brady)) is over 50 years old. It is alive, well, and as we explain, it is self executing. There need be no motion, request, or objection to trigger disclosure. The prosecution has a sua sponte duty to provide Brady information."

Couldn't be clearer.

Particularly in this context.  The police officer testified that defendant waived his Miranda rights before admitting that he used a firearm to threaten the victim.  But there's a dashcam video that establishes the opposite.  A video that the prosecution didn't provide to the defendant.

The Attorney General says that's not error because the defendant never asked for the video, and hence waived the error.  No dice.  "The Attorney General cites no authority, and we have found none, that Brady error is waived by defendant’s failure to object."

Concise and comprehensive again.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

U.S. v. Wallen (9th Cir. - Oct. 25, 2017)

We do not get many fact patterns like this one down here in San Diego:

"In the spring of 2014, local residents reported the presence of three grizzly bear cubs to Tim Manley, a grizzly bear management specialist with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP). These bears were “food conditioned” and “habituated,” meaning they wanted unnatural foods like chicken feed and were not afraid of approaching humans to get them. Residents observed the bears frolicking in backyards, eating grass and “just being bears.” Others reported the bears for ransacking chicken coops. None reported aggressive behavior toward humans.

On the morning of May 27, 2014, Wallen discovered a number of dead chickens in his yard. The culprits had rammed through the fence to his chicken coop and killed two-thirds of his chickens. One perpetrator left behind a paw print that Wallen concluded belonged to a bear.

Neither Wallen nor his wife, Alison, called Manley or any other authority after discovering the dead chickens and the paw print. Instead, they went to work and returned home that afternoon.

Later that evening, Wallen and Alison watched their two boys (ages 8 and 11), their 16-year-old daughter (A.B.) and A.B.’s boyfriend play outside. The three bears then returned, heading for the chicken coop. The chickens scattered and the bears gave chase, running within 100 feet of where Wallen’s daughter stood. A.B. screamed and ran into the house through a glass back door as Wallen got in his truck and chased the bears away. Meanwhile, Alison called Manley’s cell phone and left a message telling him the grizzlies had come for their chickens twice and that her husband was trying to chase them away with the truck. She asked for advice as to what she and her husband could do about the bears.

The bears returned for a second time 10 to 15 minutes later. Again, the chickens ran, the bears gave chase and Wallen frightened them away with his truck.

After Wallen chased the bears, they entered the property of the Wallens’ neighbor, Tom Clark. Clark videotaped them milling about and crossing a nearby highway. At no point did the bears behave aggressively toward him. He stopped recording at 9:14 p.m. Shortly thereafter, he heard shots fired, followed by a roar from the direction of Wallen’s property. As later became clear, the sounds Clark heard were Wallen shooting and killing the three grizzlies.

Wallen has never denied shooting the three bears with an “old, rusty .22 caliber rifle” after they returned to his property for a third time that night. He has also never denied causing the bears’ deaths."

I must admit that when I first noticed that the opinion was about someone who had killed three grizzly bears, I wondered who would do such a thing.  A sentiment that was only magnified when I read that the grizzly bears were grizzly bear cubs.

Mr. Wallen testified that he shot the bear cubs in self-defense, but the judge didn't believe him, and found him guilty.  Because it's not okay to kill an endangered species without a darn good reason.

And the fact that they've killed some of your chickens doesn't count.