Thursday, April 23, 2020

Tilkey v. Allstate Ins. Co. (Cal. Ct. App. - April 21, 2020)

It's a very big verdict for a wrongful discharge/defamation case:  over $18.6 million.  A judgment that got somewhat smaller after this opinion by the Court of Appeal -- in an amount to be determined on remand -- but that remains incredibly large.

The opinion repeatedly mentions that the plaintiff was charged with "criminal damage deface" under Arizona law.  That's a funny phrase.  I get being charged with "criminal damage" or with "defacing property" or the like.  But calling an offence "criminal damage deface" sounds weird, maybe because it ends with a verb, which most criminal offenses do not.

So I looked up the underlying statute.  Which has a straightforward title:  "Criminal damage."  Given that title, I suspect that the right way to label this offense is to call it "criminal damage."

The statute does have subsections.  The first one is for "recklessly defacing or damaging property of another person."  That was the one charged here.  It doesn't matter if you've defaced or damaged the underlying property, so it seems like adding "deface" to a description of the charge is unnecessary.  I would be happy to just continue to call it "criminal damage" -- if you wanted to be more specific, I guess you could say "criminal damage - another person."  That would distinguish it from, say, the third subsection:  "recklessly damaging property of a utility" (which I'd call, if necessary, "criminal damage - utility").  Or the fourth subsection, which is a funny one, and perhaps tells you a little about the backstory of Arizona:  "recklessly parking any vehicle in such a manner as to deprive livestock of access to the only reasonably available water."  I wonder how often that one gets charged.  (For the record, I'd call that "criminal damage - livestock.")

Of course, the police logs can call the offenses anything they'd like.  They can all it "criminal damage farfegnugen" if they'd like.

But were I reporting the offense in a published opinion, at a minimum, I would probably add a dash to the description so it doesn't look so strange.  Either say that the charged offense was "criminal damage" under subsection (a)(1) -- which it was -- or call it "criminal damage - deface" (or "defacing property of another person").  Those would make more sense.

Plus, isn't it strange that in subsection (b) of the statute, in which the relevant sentences for these various offenses are set forth, there's no sentence set forth for "defacing" property?  The statute says that various offenses are higher-level felonies (e.g., if someone "recklessly damages property of another in an amount of ten thousand dollars or more"), but both all of these descriptions as well as the residual clause talk about "damage" to property, not "defacing" it.  (The residual clause, subsection (b)(6), says "In all other cases criminal damage is a class 2 misdemeanor.")  The use of the term "damage" in every one of those clauses amplifies my desire to just call the offense "criminal damage."  At least in published opinions (as opposed to, say, on a police blotter or the like.)  It's not only the title of the statute, but it's the essential predicate of every single punishment provision.  So I think we can call it that.  Without adding a weird verb at the end.