Friday, September 13, 2019

Calaveras Tel. Co. v. PUC (Cal. Ct. App. - Sept. 13, 2019)

I suspect that opinions like this will seem quaint a couple of decades from now.  The issue is how much of a subsidy rural landline telephone companies should receive, since they (understandably) have higher costs due to the less dense nature of their customers.

I imagine that, in short order, cellular and satellite companies will have largely (if not entirely) replaced these entities.  Making this opinion seem the modern day equivalent of disputes about subsidies for buggy whip manufacturers.

If it doesn't seem that way already.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

In re L.M. (Cal. Ct. App. - Sept. 12, 2019)

It's a heartbreaking case, to be sure.  But also an uplifting one.

On one side, you've got the heartbreak that they take this tiny baby from her parents (particularly, her mother).  But not excruciatingly heartbreaking, on that front anyway.  The mother's homeless, has had two kids (including L.M.) who were taken away after the kids tested positive for methamphetamine, and the father's in custody on weapons and drug charges.  Mother's never even visited the kid.  And then Mother gets arrested on various charges, including vehicle theft.  And Father gets arrested on charges that include robbery.  To say that Mother and Father aren't going to adequately take care of the kids is an understatement.  That's not even really the issue here.

The issue is where you place the kids.

The earlier child of Mother gets placed with Rita and John E.  They eventually adopt her.  It's a beautiful thing.  They're doing great.  They live in Florida, and everything seems wonderful.

When the second child of Mother gets born (L.M.), Rita and John want that new kid placed with them as well.  They'll take care of her while the process with Mother runs in course, and in time, will likely adopt L.M. as well.  And in the meantime, L.M. will be with her biological sister.

Except for one thing.  Rita and John are in Florida, and aren't yet licensed there as foster parents.  So they immediately start that process.

But what to do in the interim?  Obviously they can't place L.M. with Mother.  So they place the kid with Kate and Jaime.

Who are also absolutely wonderful.  The kid bonds, the kid's doing great, fantastic.  Beautiful.

It takes some months for Rita and John to get certified in Florida, but they pass all the background checks, family visits, etc. with flying colors.  In the meantime, though, Kate and Jaime totally bond with L.M. as well, and decide they want to adopt her.

So then we have to decide:  Who gets L.M.?

Is it Kate and Jaime, who have cared for her since birth?  And are awesome.  Or is it Rita and John, who care for L.M.'s sister and who are also awesome?

As both the Court of Appeal and the trial court recognized, it's an incredibly, incredibly tough call.  As the trial court said after closing arguments of the parties at the trial: 

"When one becomes a judge, they send you to new judge orientation for a week, and then a little while after that, they send you to judge's college for two weeks. And then finally, if you get assigned to a[n] area of the law like dependency, they send you to primary assignment training for a week. None of those programs teach you how to make decisions like I have to make today. In making rulings like I have to make today is really the hardest part of this job. I recognize no matter how I rule, there will be people who will be devastated. And I take no joy in that. . . . Prior to making my ruling, I want the record to reflect that this court finds that based on all the evidence, that [Kate] and [Jaime] have done an excellent job of taking care of [L.M.] I believe them both to be good people, and excellent parents. I also want the record to reflect that based on the evidence Mr. and Mrs. [E.] have taken excellent care of [V.E.] and when [L.M.] has visited with them, I find that they have taken excellent care of [L.M.] as well. I believe them both to be good people and excellent parents as well. With or without [V.E.] in the mix, either of these two families would be an ideal family for [L.M.]. The issue here . . . is not whether one family is better than the other, the fact is they are both excellent. Both of them."

Ultimately, the trial court gives L.M. to Rita and John.  Principally because that way she can be with her sister, with whom she has apparently bonded during their visits and so they can be together for the rest of their lives.  Which is, of course, awesome.  And the Court of Appeal affirms.

The heartbreaking thing -- of course -- is that this means the kid gets removed from Kate and Jaime.  Not because they're bad parents.  At all.  And not because they haven't bonded with the kid, because they totally have.

Just because it's an incredibly, incredibly hard call.  One that could go either way.  And it goes against them.

So that's what I mean when I say the case is heartbreaking.

But at the same time, I wish that all the dependency cases that I read were this type of heartbreaking.  Here, there are two awesome families.  Both of whom will totally love the kid.  Both of whom are fully capable of helping the child be the absolute best child she can possibly be.  The world would be a better place if those were the stories that filled the pages of the California Appellate Reports.  In the place of all the terrible, miserable, horrible stories in those same pages in which you can only sigh and hang your head and what's likely to be the eventual outcome for the children at issue.

One final point.  There's a constant undercurrent in this case about race.  All the relevant parental units (John, Rita, Kate and Jaime) are Caucasian.  But L.M. is African-American.  As is her sister (with John and Rita).

The Court of Appeal goes to great lengths to discuss the race of the relevant parents and the kids, as well as how John and Rita "moved from San Diego to Tampa, Florida, which is 26 percent African-American," "reside in a multiracial neighborhood there," and that the first kid (V.E.) "attends a racially diverse school, and the family attends a church having a predominantly African-American congregation."  And there are repeated references as well, particularly in the trial court, by the various experts and witnesses expressing a preference for unifying the kid sisters because that way L.M. will have someone of her own race in the family.

So race is a big deal here.  Even though occasionally the references seem somewhat deliberately veiled.

In telling contrast, not a word is spoken about sexuality.  Or even marital status.  The Court of Appeal mentions that John and Rita are married.  But what we know about Kate and Jaime is that they "have had a stable relationship for seven years."  Which is equivalent thereto.  And although the reader may suspects that Kate is a woman -- and the Court of Appeal sometimes uses the word "her" to describe her -- it appears almost certainly deliberately that the Court of Appeal not once mentions the gender of Jaime.  A name often applied to both boys and girls.

That front isn't once mentioned.  Or even hinted at.

Which, of course, is how it should be.  Which shows you in part how far we've come from the bad old days.

I'll mention, though, that even though the opinion only uses first names and initials, it's not that hard to figure out the identity of Kate and Jaime, since we know they're in San Diego.  Looks like they had an absolutely gorgeous (and fun) wedding, and one that's well-documented online.  And even a little digging will also reveal pictures of L.M. on Kate's Facebook page.  Alongside some heartbreaking comments that reflect and understanding that the child now resides elsewhere.

John and Rita and Kate and Jaime did wonderful things.  Each and every one of them.

You feel incredibly bad that something so heartbreaking necessarily had to happen to two of them.

People v. Thomas (Cal. Ct. App. - Sept. 12, 2019)

I suspect that Justice Lui is entirely correct in this one.  There's enough evidence of an intent to cause great bodily injury, so the trial court didn't err in denying the defendant's petition (pursuant to the new initiative) to get out of his three strikes sentence.

Yet I gotta say that -- apart from the merits -- I'm uncomfortable with sentencing the guy to 25 to life for this offense.

What'd he do?  He basically sucker punched a friend of his and broke his jaw.  For no good reason other than they were arguing.  That's (of course) not okay.  As the victim quite artfully said in a letter he wrote to the defendant right before his trial:  "But Ray, you can’t be sucker punching people because things aren’t going your way."  True that.

But it was profoundly meaningful to me that the victim didn't want the guy going away to prison for the punch.  Even though he was the victim and lost 20 pounds when he jaw was broken.  I was struck by this paragraph of the opinion:

"After Chillious [the victim] was released from the hospital, appellant went to Chillious’s apartment and apologized. Chillious was reluctant to testify in the case because he felt sympathy for appellant and his daughter. Before trial, Chillious wrote appellant a letter in which he said, ‘I don’t want you to be sent away. But Ray, you can’t be sucker punching people because things aren’t going your way.’ He also told appellant he planned to lie at the next court hearing by testifying that appellant punched him in self-defense after Chillious pushed appellant. Chillious wrote that he knew appellant did not mean to break his jaw, and he did not ‘want to see [appellant] in the system for something [he] didn’t mean to do.’ Finally, Chillious said that he considered appellant to be a friend, and he hoped appellant would be out of custody within a couple of months."

Now, look, just because the victim sincerely doesn't want the guy prosecuted doesn't mean that we don't prosecute the guy.  There's no veto there.

But, nonetheless, it matters.  Particularly when the dispostive question is whether we send someone to prison for 25 years to life for something that the victim himself forgives -- where the victim doesn't want the guy to do any more than a couple months (if that) in jail.  That's a harsh sentence.  Facially overly harsh, in my view.  What the victim in a case like this genuinely wants matters.  To me, anyway.  At least in a three strikes, rest-of-eternity-in-prison type of situation.

Maybe -- maybe -- I'd feel differently if the guy had committed three prior murders or stuff like that, and the instant offense is proof positive that it's just a matter of time before the guy impulsively kills again.  But there's no indication of substantially harsh criminal history in this opinion at all.

Because it mattered to me, I went back and looked at the guy's prior offenses.  Burglary, grand theft, assault, and possession.  Plus repeated parole violations.  Nontrivial, to be sure, but hardly the worst.  The guy obviously has a significant criminal past, plus a drug and impulse control problem.  So he uses and steals and -- as here -- occasionally gets pissed and punches people.

But 25 to life when it's a single sucker punch and the victim himself legitimately doesn't want the guy to serve pretty much any time?  Wow.

That's not to say, at all, that anything that transpired here was illegal, or contrary to law.  Maybe every single judge did what was totally within their discretion to do.  Probably, even.

But still.  Wow.  Incredibly harsh.

At least to me.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

U.S. v. Campbell (9th Cir. - Sept. 11, 2019)

Students who learn about dubitante opinions sometimes ask me how they differ from concurrences.  I typically tell them that, generally, a dubitante is no different that a concurrence with reservations.

Here's a perfect example.  Judge Berzon joins the judgment.  She just wants the Sentencing Commission to change (and make clear) the rule that she'd prefer.

Which is totally fine.

But there's a judgment.  One from which she doesn't dissent.  Hence she concurs.

Or at least that's my (overly binary) approach to the thing.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Machado v. Myers (Cal. Ct. App. - Sept. 10, 2019)

Never sue your neighbor.

That's an overgeneralization, for sure.  But it's still good counsel.  Lawsuits between neighbors almost invariably last substatantially longer -- and cost far more money-- than any of the parties anticipate.  And when they're eventually over, no one's happy.  Not a single party feels like they've "won" the thing.

Because generally, in the scheme of things, everyone loses.

Today brings yet another example of this general proposition.

Look how long the lawsuit lasted.  Imagine how much money was flushed down the toilet on legal fees.  Look how it ends up.

No fun for anyone.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Jessop v. City of Fresno (9th Cir. - September 4, 2019)

I wrote -- but didn't publish -- the following back in March.  I'll use all-caps when I'm back to the present day:


There are certain things that I would have thought would be totally straightforward.  Let me give you one of them:

The Constitution doesn't permit police officers to steal your property.

To be clear, I'm talking about actual theft.  They come into your home, take $50,000 from you, and put it in their pockets.

I'm uncertain whether that'd violate the Fourth Amendment as an unreasonable seizure.  I'm uncertain whether that'd violate the Fourteenth Amendment as a violation of substantive and/or procedural due process, or perhaps as a taking without just compensation.

But what I nonetheless feel confident about is that our Constitution does not permit state officers to come into your home, steal your money, and then go along their merry way.  I feel pretty strongly that the Founders did not think that such governmental conduct would be permissible under the principles our Republic was founded.

But the Ninth Circuit disagrees.

The facts are totally straightforward.  The police officers at issue execute a search warrant and seize some property pursuant to the warrant, and fill out an inventory form that says that they only took $50,000.  But the owners of the property say that the officers actually took over $150,000 in cash -- plus another $125,000 in rare coins -- and simply pocketed the difference.

To me, there's no way that government officials can do that consistent with the Constitution.  What's the point of the Fourteenth Amendment -- its just compensation clause, its protection of property, etc. -- if the government is permitted to simply take your property from you with utterly no remedy under our foundational principles?! It just doesn't make any sense.

But Judge Milan Smith -- joined by Judges Nguyen and Rastani (sitting by designation from the Court of International Trade -- holds that there's no federal remedy.  Because, to them, it's "unclear" whether the Constitution permits police officers to straight up steal your property, and hence there's qualified immunity.

No way.

To me, this is one of those cases "in which the constitutional right at issue is defined by a standard that is so ‘obvious’ that we must conclude . . . that qualified immunity is inapplicable, even without a case directly on point.” A.D. v. Cal. Highway Patrol, 712 F.3d 446, 455 (9th Cir. 2013)."  For example, I'm sure there's no case on point that says that police officers can't turn you into a flea, or for you to parade naked during the Rose Bowl parade, or a whole plethora of other things that they obviously can't do.  Outright stealing from you is another one of those things that, to me, is so totally obvious that there doesn't need to be a case.  And I'm sure even the police would agree with that principle.  You can't steal.  That's obvious.  Full stop.


Now, today, the Ninth Circuit amends its opinion.  Among other things, Judge Smith -- who authored the unanimous panel opinion -- adds a concurrence that explains that while the result is unfortunate, and while it might appear "at first blush" that this is an obvious violation of the Constitution, that's just not true when one looks in more detail.

Respectfully, though, I think no manner how closely you look, one's intuition here stands.  You can't steal, and everyone knows it.

I'm also not persuaded by the concurrence's argument that since the warrant authorized the officers to take all the money, and that's what they did, no right was violated since the Fourth Amendment only protects the initial seizure, not what happens thereafter.  I think that slices the meat far too thinly.  It's one think to take your property and put it in a court, where you can potentially get it back.  But to flat out steal that property is another.  The rights deprivation resulting from the latter is far more serious than the former.  Moreover, even if this out-of-circuit precedent is right, and the Fourth Amendment doesn't stop the police from stealing your stuff, then I feel fairly confident that other portions of the Constitution -- the Fourteenth Amendment comes to mind -- do.

Maybe the Framers thought:  "We want to make sure that the government doesn't store an army horse in someone's house, and that it doesn't take someone's property without paying for it, but if the state comes into your house and steals all your money, we're fairly cool with that."

But I doubt it.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Arias v. Residence Inn by Marriott (9th Cir. - Sept. 3, 2019)

One problem arising from accepting interlocutory appeals in CAFA cases is that the whole time the appeal is pending in federal court, proceedings on the merits continue apace in state court.  Leading to situations like this.

The state court's sitting on a summary judgment motion only to have the Ninth Circuit reverse and remand so the district court judge can think about whether to reassert federal jurisdiction.  Resulting in yet more delay and complexities as the pending-for-quite-a-while state court litigation potentially gets put on hold.

But at least the panel -- commendably -- got its opinion out ASAP.  Oral argument in August and a published opinion the first business day of September.

Friday, August 30, 2019

In re D.R. (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug. 30, 2019)

Looking for a father before taking away his kids?  You've got to look on Facebook.  Otherwise we're going to reverse you.

So holds the Court of Appeal.

More accurately, you've got to look on Facebook when there's ample reason to believe (as here) that the father's relatives -- to whom you can easily talk -- can point out which Facebook page is father's.  It's not enough to just look on Facebook and say "There are too many people with that name; we can't tell which is Father."  Just ask his brother.  He knows which one.

Not that tough.

Capp v. County of San Diego (9th Cir. Aug. 30, 2019)

San Diego attorney Jonathan Capp receives some good news today from the Ninth Circuit, which reinstates (in part) his lawsuit against the County of San Diego in a matter arising out of its child welfare investigation of his family (while he was in the midst of divorce proceedings).

But be careful what you wish for.

The Ninth Circuit holds that Capp -- who's representing himself -- has adequately pled a retaliation claim.  But the panel repeatedly notes that this doesn't necessarily mean that Capp will survive on summary judgment.  Just that he's adequately pleaded the cause of action.

I suspect that the district court judge shares the Ninth Circuit's implicit skepticism over whether the County really retaliated against Capp, or was merely (as it will certainly contend on remand) worried about the welfare of Capp's children.

But for now, Capp gets to continue his lawsuit.

Whether that will turn into additional time tilting at windmills remains to be seen.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

In re Conservatorships of M.M. & D.C. (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug. 29, 2019)

The most recent opinions published by the Court of Appeal (here and here) are both conservatorship cases.  Both under the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act (LPS).  Which means they involve individuals with serious problems (and, as a result, serious constraints).

In the first case, M.M. had a history of "schizophrenia and psychotic disorders, was unwilling to accept voluntary treatment, and [was] unable and unwilling to provide for his personal needs for food, clothing, and shelter."  He also had serious medical issues, and was admitted when he passed out on a bus.  His testimony at his hearing was often "rambling and nonsensical," and the jury found him gravely disabled.

In the second case, D.C. had also been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and was placed on a 5150 hold  "after she threatened to hit her mother and 'burn the house down with [her mother] in it.'"  When the responding officers when to her home, furniture was strewn all round the place, and there were holes in the walls.  Her thoughts were tangential and disorganized, and she was so agitated that she had to be sedated.  She also tested positive for amphetamines (which I'm sure didn't help).  And she had an incredibly serious lice problem.  (Yuk.)

To give a sense of D.C.'s thinking, at trial, when she was asked whether or not she agreed with her diagnosis of schizophrenia, she testified:  "I think I know what they’re talking about, but it’s—well, I thought it was like when you don’t understand you yell, and because I used to see them throughout my window, the guys that would come through the burger stand, and I would shut my window and be yelling, and my mom said maybe you are schizophrenic or something. . . . I says no.”  Uh, yeah.  I'm not surprised the jury found her gravely disabled as well.

The depressing thing about these cases is that you wonder whether the people at issue are ever going to get better.  Or whether, instead, they'll be institutionalized forever.  Or, alternately, caught in a vicious and never-ending cycle of being treated, released, going off their meds, being readmitted, retreated, rereleased, readmitted, etc. until they ultimately die.  None of which sounds good.

And how not fun would be it to be a juror in one of these proceedings?  You sit there listening to the horror that is someone else's life and then decide to institutionalize them even though they haven't done anything wrong to anyone -- basically because there's no good alternative.  I'd much, much rather be a juror in a civil or criminal case.  Ditto for being a judge in those proceedings, I suspect.

Of course you want to maximize someone's liberty if you can.  But these cases seem almost invariably depressing.  With, again, not much of an alternative.

So that's how this afternoon has gone so far in the Court of Appeal.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

In re R.C. (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug. 28, 2019)

Justice Currey begins this opinion by saying:  "This case underscores the critical need to educate our youth about the evils of misogyny and sexual bullying, and the virtues of respect, kindness, and compassion."  Laudable goals, to be sure.

But "misogyny and sexual bullying" may understate the nature of the transgression here.

"R.C., then a high school student, used his cellphone to record a video of a classmate, K.V. — without her knowledge or permission — while they were engaged in consensual sex. K.V. repeatedly asked him to delete the video. In response, R.C. unsuccessfully tried to condition deletion of the video on K.V.’s agreement to have sex with R.C.’s friend."

That's not just sexist bullying.  It's disgusting.  The exact opposite -- I agree -- of "respect."

Ultimately, I agree with the Court of Appeal that the camera here was "concealed," though I think the issue's a close one. The cell phone camera wasn't "hidden" like you usually think the word entails.  It was right out in the open.

But R.C. held the camera up (while they were having sex) behind her back, and didn't tell her that he had started recording until after.  Putting it behind her back, where she couldn't see it, counts as that camera being "concealed."  Since a reasonable factfinder could conclude that one reason R.C. put it there, rather than in front of her, when he started recording was to start filming without her consent.

I cannot tell you what I would do to any of my children if they did what R.C. did.  (And that's even without the whole "I'll delete it the video if you have sex with my friend" stuff.)  Because it would involve extraordinary measures.

People v. Buchanan (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug. 28, 2019)

I'm not even going to describe the facts of this kidnapping and sexual assault case.  You can read them for yourself if you'd like.  Suffice it to say that these facts, plus Mr. Bucanan's history as (inter alia) a sex offender, more than explain why he was convicted and sentenced to forever in prison.

Not someone you want out on the streets.  Particularly if you are a woman.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

In re Marriage of Taeb (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug. 26, 2019)

Maybe it's just me.  But if I was an attorney (and I am), I'd rather just pay a $2000 sanction award against me than (1) spend the time and effort to appeal that award, and (2) subsequently endure a 27-page published opinion that mentioned my name 90 separate times (!) and announced to the world in excruciating detail the mistakes I made and why the trial court was fully warranted in sanctioning me.

Especially since I have to pay the $2000 either way.

Sacramento-area attorney Michelle Trigger made a different call.  This opinion was the result.

In retrospect, probably a mistake.  Even if you don't have several thousand dollars lying around within easy reach.

Still better than the alternative.

Benton v. Benton (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug. 27, 2019)

Today's ten-page opinion can be accurately be summarized by saying:  "The statute says you can't appeal here.  So you can't.  Appeal dismissed."

Yep.  That's what it says.  Pretty clearly.

Monday, August 26, 2019

U.S. v. Town of Colorado City (9th Cir. - Aug. 26, 2019)

When was the last time you saw the United States sue an entire city.  Not the residents.  But the actual city itself?

And when was the last time you saw a lawsuit that claimed that an entire city had been taken over by a particular religious organization, and that town's police power abused to advance the interests of that religion (and its members) -- to the detriment of "apostates," no less?

And it'd be even worse if the religious group in question was a particular sect that believed in child marriages and actively helped the leader of that group evade an FBI warrant for sexual misconduct with children, right?

Yet that's all here.

Not something you see every day.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Edmo v. Corizon (9th Cir. - Aug. 23, 2019)

It's fairly unusual for a high-profile, 84-page opinion to be per curiam rather than signed by its author.

Yet here you go.

I wonder if the author of the opinion prefers to remain anonymous, for professional or other reasons.

Read the subject matter and try to figure out why the author of such a lengthy (and careful) opinion might want to just be part of a panel opinion.

Rank speculation, of course.

Huerta v. City of Santa Ana (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug. 23, 2019)

It's undeniably tragic that three little girls were run and killed on Halloween night in 2014 as they crossed the street in a marked crosswalk.  The person who hit them fled the scene but was captured two days later.

The dissent says that the accident might have been caused by a tree that cast shadows that evening onto part of the crosswalk.  But that's the dissent.

The majority says there isn't a genuine issue of material fact; the shadows didn't cause the accident, which was instead caused by a hit-and-run driver who was going between 50 and 70 miles per hour -- on Halloween evening, no less -- on a street that had trick-and-treaters dressed in all black and a posted speed limit of 25 mph when kids were present (and 45 mph otherwise).

Just because you have an expert doesn't mean that you'll necessarily get to trial.  As here.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Nicholson v. Gutierrez (9th Cir. - Aug. 22, 2019)

The Ninth Circuit gives the plaintiffs in this case some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that they get to go to trial on the theory that they shouldn't have been detained in handcuffs for five hours.  Which is nice, since all they were doing was hanging around before school listening to rap music and getting on their school uniforms.

The bad news is that they don't get to seek relief for something far more serious:  Getting shot in the back by a police officer for no good reason.  Yes, it violated the Constitution.  Yes, a police officer should not shoot someone in the back, even if he has a plastic airsoft gun (with an orange tip) that's not being pointed at anyone as he and his friends hang out before school.  But the Ninth Circuit says that wasn't really clear before now, so there's qualified immunity.

So no relief for being shot.  But feel free to get damages for the five hours you spent in handcuffs.

Small "victory".

Ray v. County of Los Angeles (9th Cir. - Aug. 22, 2019)

How many cases do you see that decide whether a lawsuit is barred by the Eleventh Amendment?

Not many.  But you get one today.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Williams v. Superior Court (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug. 20, 2019)

I don't know.  Maybe.

A prosecutor makes a mistake.  There's a grand juror who finds out she's not going to get paid for her time, so she asks to be excused, and the prosecutor says okay and excuses her.

That's wrong.  The prosecutor can't do that.  Only a judge can.  (Of course, there's no judge there at the time, which is why the prosecutor thought it was his job.  Even though it's not.)

So the question is whether that requires dismissal of the indictment.

The Court of Appeal says it does, because having the prosecutor be the one who dismisses the grand juror makes it look like the prosecutor is controlling everything and the grand jury might accordingly be beholden to him.

Hmmm.  Maybe.  Though I suspect that's not what most of the grand jurors think.  At all.  The basic structure of the grand jury already gives the prosecutor a "lead" function, at least perceptually.  When you're dealing with what seems like a routine thing -- a hardship request -- I doubt whether the grand jurors think that having the prosecutor say "That's fine, you're excused" is anything more than a pure administrative function.  I'm not sure it really makes the grand jury think that the prosecutor is totally in charge, or akin to a judge.  Or at least not more than the preexisting fact that the prosecutor is the only key government official that the grand jury typically sees on any given day.

So, yeah, a mistake definitely transpired.  But it was an honest mistake, and one that I'm not certain really mattered at all.  Particularly since there were still 18 grand jurors left, and it only took 12 to return an indictment.

So maybe the grand jury was really swayed by what transpired here.

But I tend to doubt it.

Dryoff v. Ultimate Software Group (9th Cir. - Aug. 20, 2019)

Have a sports injury. Get addicted to opioids. Buy heroin online. Die when it's unknowingly laced with fentanyl.  Sue.  Lose.

A life in twenty words.

Monday, August 19, 2019

U.S. v. Shayota (9th Cir. - Aug. 19, 2019)

"Counterfeit Five-Hour Energy Bottles and the Fifth Amendment."

Available for your review here.  Courtesy of Judge O'Scannlain.

U.S. v. Cuevas-Lopez (9th Cir. - Aug. 19, 2019)

An Obama appointee writes an opinion that says that someone should be locked up longer for illegal reentry after deportation, and a Bush appointee dissents, saying that he should be locked up for less.

What a world.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

People v. Sanchez (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug. 15, 2019)

A 33-year old (Adult) hangs out with a 13-year old (Kid). At 3 a.m., Adult and Kid have seven or eight French-kisses.  During the next three months, Adult and Kid -- now 14 -- engage in a ton of secretive text and instant messages, with Adult repeatedly expressing love for Kid, buying presents, etc. On the night before the Super Bowl, Kid sneaks out of the house and meets up with Adult, and they French kiss again, Adult kisses (and leaves a hickey) on Kid's bare breast, etc.  Kid eventually tells the story to a teacher, who reports the whole thing to police. Adult is criminally charged and convicted.

No prior criminal history for Adult. What's the appropriate sentence for Adult?

(A) 20 years in prison.
(B) 12 years in prison.
(C) 5 years in prison.
(D) 2 years in prison.
(E) Probation.

No actual sex.  But a fairly long history of grooming and molestation.  And Adult is 33 and Kid is 13 and 14.  Big gap.

Oh, and if it matters:  Kid is Adult's step-grandfather's niece.  So it's a familial thing.

So what's right?

Got your answer?

Now for the actual sentence that gets imposed in this case.  I suspect it's not the same as the choice you made.  The actual sentence is at one of the two extremes of the options I gave.  (A) or (E).

Which do you think?

Answer:  Probation.  Straight up.

Does it matter that Adult's a woman, and so is Kid?

You don't see many probation sentences these days when a 33-year old repeatedly molests a 13-year old extended family member.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

In re NFL Sunday Ticket (9th Cir. - Aug. 13, 2019)

Do you watch DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket?  If so, today's Ninth Circuit decision may ultimately get you a check.  Way, way down the line.  Maybe.

The Ninth Circuit holds that the forced bundling of all the NFL games might violate the Sherman Act.  It's a split opinion, but at least for now, the district court's dismissal of the suit is reversed.  I'm confident there will be an en banc petition and a petition for certiorari.  Both non-frivolous.

But for now, the case is revived.

Monday, August 12, 2019

People v. Flores (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug. 12, 2019)

The distinctions that we draw in search and seizure jurisprudence are sometimes such fine ones.

The Supreme Court says that "headlong flight" plus "narcotics area" plus "has a bag" lets you search. At least at night.  But what if it's just a normal "flight" -- not really all that speedy?  What if it's only described as a "high crime" area?  What if it's during the day?  What if there's no bag?

Here, the Court of Appeal says "normal" flight plus "high crime area" plus "during the day" doesn't give you the right to search.

At a more abstract level, it seems like the police just wanted to swoop down on this one alleyway -- where gang members gathered -- and search everyone there. Maybe on the theory that they had probable cause just because there was, typically, a lot of crime there. Or maybe in the hope (and expectation, likely) that someone would run, and boom, all of the sudden, probable cause.

Which works from a policing standpoint. Less so for the citizens standing in the alleyway.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

ClipperJet, Inc. v. Tyson (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug 7, 2019)

Here's proof that common sense sometimes prevails.

The usual rule is that removal to federal court is self-activating (e.g., you don't need permission of either tribunal) and that, post-removal, the state court lacks jurisdiction to do anything unless and until the case is remanded. Makes sense, and a well-known principle.

But, here, the defendant removes (frivolously), gets remanded, and then later removes again. And the second removal is even more frivolous than the first one.

Now, to be honest, what the state court should have done was to simply waited until the second remand. Which would have come fairly quickly. But, instead, since a motion to strike was fully briefed and in front of it for a hearing -- even though the second removal had transpired three days earlier -- the state court went ahead and decided it.

The Court of Appeal holds that's okay. There's an exception to the general rule. When the removal is totally frivolous, the state court's not deprived of jurisdiction. That'll stop people from, say, removing the case a thousand different times.

Just as the general rule makes sense, so does the exception.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Sheen v. Wells Fargo Bank (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug. 5, 2019)

Justice Wiley authors an extremely well-written (and relatively concise) opinion today. One that admittedly creates split in the Court of Appeal. 

As Justice Wiley frames the issue (and its proper resolution):

"Homeowners in mortgage trouble may try to negotiate a better deal. If mortgage modification negotiations fail and the borrower falls behind, the lender may foreclose, sell the house, and evict the homeowner. In a nutshell, this happened to borrower Kwang Sheen with his lender Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. (Wells). Sheen sued Wells in tort for negligent mortgage modification and other claims. The trial court sustained Wells’s demurrer, partly because Wells did not owe Sheen a duty in tort during contract negotiation.

The issue of whether a tort duty exists for mortgage modification has divided California courts for years. The California Supreme Court has yet to resolve this division. We must take sides.

We join with the old rule: no tort duty during contract negotiations. Our small contribution to this extensive debate is to use the general approach of the recent Supreme Court decision in Southern California Gas Leak Cases (2019) 7 Cal.5th 391 (Gas Leak Cases). The Gas Leak Cases decision was not about mortgage modifications, but it gives us guiding sources of law about whether to extend tort duties when, as here, there is no personal injury or property damage. Seeking wisdom, the Supreme Court considered decisions from other states as well as the Restatement of Torts. We do likewise.

These sources of law decisively weigh against extending tort duties into mortgage modification negotiations. The majority of other states are against it, and the most recent Restatement counsels against this extension because other bodies of law—breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation, promissory estoppel, fraud, and so forth—are better suited to handle contract negotiation issues. We therefore affirm."

That's an important, and recurring, issue. I don't have a definitive view as to what the right rule should be, though Justice Wiley's opinion does an outstanding job of arguing for the "old rule."

I'm nonetheless confident that whether you have a valid lawsuit shouldn't depend on the vagaries of which appellate panel you draw. So the California Supreme Court should grant review of this opinion and settle the matter once and for all.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Ranch at the Falls LLC v. O'Neal (Cal. Ct. App. - July 31, 2019)

A picture is sometimes worth a thousand words. So I appreciated the Court of Appeal's attachment to this opinion of a map -- in color, no less -- the describes the various properties, streets, and alleged easements.

Unfortunately, at least to me, the map is only worth around fifty or so words. In part because the big blue line ("Fern Ann Falls Road") doesn't seem to connect to the big green line (the alleged easement route) like it seems like it should. Unless that little blue, umarked line, which looks like a stream or a lot line, is an actual road that the opinion doesn't discuss.

Still, at least there's a map. Even if I can't 100% follow it.

We appreciate the effort, Justice Grimes.

Lee v. Department of Parks and Recreation (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug. 1, 2019)

In a world with more internet access I'd do a quick study, but for now, I'll just pose the question:

When an opinion begins by saying that a plaintiff "injured herself" (or himself) in a particular accident, does that tend to suggest that the Court of Appeal is going to find for the defendant?

That's the sense I got when reading the first sentence of this opinion.  ("Plaintiff Michele Lee injured herself on a stairway in the Bootjack Campground within Mt. Tamalpais State Park . . . .")  And it turned out to be right; the grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant was affirmed.  (Though the Court of Appeal did reverse the fee award against the plaintiff.)

Saying that someone "injured herself" suggests that the fault was with the plaintiff.  "Was injured" is more neutral. I suspect that use of the former may give some insight into the mindset of the author.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Wilson v. County of San Joaquin (Cal. Ct. App. - July 30, 2019)

It's a tragic case on a plethora of levels, and involves the death of a child. The trial court holds that the County isn't liable because anything a firefighter does -- even if it doesn't involve fighting fires (here, performing paramedic services) -- is covered by statutory "firefighter" immunity.

The Court of Appeal reverses.

I'm not certain the plaintiffs will prevail on remand. But they'll get their shot.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Davis v. Guam (9th Cir. - July 29, 2019)

I'm in the Canadian wilderness on vacation, but it's a testament to our interconnected world that there is still sporadic Internet access. What a world.

Meanwhile, as a reminder that the United States spans a great deal of territory, there's this opinion from the Ninth Circuit. It's another case in which Guam has attempted to run an election in which (essentially) only Chamorro people can vote. Prior attempts have described the franchise in express racial terms. This time, Guam attempts the same thing, but in different language, limiting voting to "Native Inhabitants of Guam."

The Ninth Circuit says: "Nice try. No dice."

We've got a history with race and voting here in the United States. As well as the use of proxies to attempt to accomplish the same thing the Fifteenth Amendment prohibits.

So we're pretty sensitive to it at this point. Since they definitely were not our proudest moments.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Cole v. Hammond (Cal. Ct. App. - July 24, 2019)

Check out the facts in this one.  Which seem like a huge procedural clusterfart (pardon my French):

"In a prior action, Neil Gieleghem and respondent Gregory Cole, both attorneys, obtained a $500,000 judgment against Anthony Sheen, a landlord, based on unpaid fees for legal services they rendered to Sheen. In satisfaction of that judgment, Cole and Gieleghem obtained an assignment of rent from Sheen for a residential property.

Appellants Betty and Ruth Hammond (the Hammonds) were Sheen’s tenants. Cole and Gieleghem demanded that the Hammonds pay their rent directly to them pursuant to the assignment. The Hammonds refused, and Cole sued, alleging breach of contract and related claims. Gieleghem appeared as Cole’s attorney in the lawsuit.

A few months after the initiation of the lawsuit in 2011, the Hammonds began paying their rent to Cole and Gieleghem. After the parties conducted some initial discovery, the case languished for several years. In January 2018, the Hammonds moved for mandatory dismissal of the action for failure to bring the case to trial within five years, pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 583.360. A mandatory dismissal would be considered a determination on the merits entitling the prevailing party to attorney fees under Civil Code, section 1717. However, at the hearing on the motion, Cole sought to voluntarily dismiss the case without prejudice pursuant to section 581, subdivision (b)(1). The court granted Cole’s oral motion and dismissed the case. The court subsequently denied the Hammonds’ motion to vacate the dismissal. This appeal followed.

The parties dispute whether this appeal is timely. We conclude that it is. Substantively, the Hammonds contend the trial court erred in granting Cole’s motion for voluntary dismissal, arguing that they had the right to a mandatory dismissal and the resulting attorney fees. We agree and therefore reverse and remand for further proceedings."

The lesson is:  If you're going to sue, sue.

Monday, July 22, 2019

People v. Gentile (Cal. Ct. App. - May 30, 2019)

Here's a brief little quiz from a recent case (but not today) while I'm off watching some water polo up in Orange County:

Guillermo Saavedra was beaten to death while he was living in the back of the La Casita restaurant in Indio (which has apparently now closed).  Which of the following was he beaten to death with:

(A) A Golf Club.
(B) A Wooden Chair.
(C) A Beer Bottle.
(D) Fists.

Answer?  All four.

Friday, July 19, 2019

In re A.M. (Cal. Ct. App. - July 19, 2019)

Yeah, I feel like if you sexually abuse your daughter, your chances of overturning a restraining order that prevents you from having contact with her for two years has extraordinarily little chance of success.

And I'm right.

(Though, contrary to how the first page of the opinion currently reads, I suspect the order restrains contact via, inter alia, electronic means, not electronic "meas.")

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Flores v. Barr (9th Cir. - July 18, 2019)

Here's how the Ninth Circuit describes the petitioner in this case:

"Petitioner Daniel Flores is a native and citizen of Mexico. He came to the United States as a lawful permanent resident in 1962 . . . . Starting in the 1970s, Flores began serving as a confidential informant for law enforcement, participating in undercover controlled drug buys and testifying against members of various gangs. Also around that time, Flores began to amass a lengthy criminal record that culminated in his pleading guilty in 1990 to two felony counts of committing lewd and lascivious acts on a child under the age of 14 in violation of California Penal Code § 288(a). Flores’s conviction carried with it a six-year prison sentence, of which he served three. He was released from prison on parole in 1994, discharged from parole in 1997, and has no further criminal record.

After his release from prison, Flores worked in the corporate security industry until 2002, when he stopped working for health reasons. He resumed his role as a confidential informant for law enforcement in 2008 but was forced to discontinue his assistance in 2011 following foot surgery. Today, Flores spends his time taking care of his mother, who suffers from several serious medical conditions, including epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia."

That's a fairly positive description of the fellow.  You could definitely write those same facts a different way to make him look far worse.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

In re Harley C. (Cal. Ct. App. - July 16, 2019)

Next time you get in trouble for violating a local rule, at least peruse this opinion.  It sets forth a plethora of reasons why the local rule may be invalid.  Like the local rule here that says you have to give advance notice that you're going to call witnesses at trial.

There are a ton -- ton -- of requirements for local rules.  Right down to format requirements, a table of contents, publication to the local bar, etc.  I suspect that there are lots of local rules that don't quite meet these prerequisites.

Monday, July 15, 2019

People v. Marsh (Cal. Ct. App. - July 15, 2019)

What's weird about this case -- and what's never explained -- is why the defendant would go ahead and sever the brake lines of the victim's Jeep.  It doesn't seem like the defendant even knew the guy; he just parked his car in a parking space outside a fitness club in Pacific Beach, and when he comes out of the club, he notices a pool of brake fluid under his car, and a guy (later identified as defendant, another member of the gym) sitting in a white van nearby.

The victim's a Navy SEAL and, presumably, a fit guy.  Not someone you'd normally want to mess with.  Or cut his brake lines.


It's also somewhat strange that this counts as "assault with a deadly weapon."  Messing with a car is not normally the situation you envision when you think about someone committing that offense.

But it counts.

P.S. - I'm not saying it's the same guy; who knows.  But the defendant's name is Spencer Alan Marsh, and the opinion says he's in San Diego, and here's a random posting on a "Paranormal" web site that reads (in its entirety):  "For 17 months I have been criminally stalked, my time taken for granted, run out of work & money so I look a drug addict. IVE ALSO SEEN MAGIC AND PSYCHIC POWERS. So here's my attempt to get help: The CIA train on and hurt good people here in San Diego, CA. They reside at Beachcomber Shores & above Turquoise Street Coin Laundry in Pacific Beach, CA. Watch around early morning. My name: Spencer Alan Marsh."  So maybe that helps "explain" things?

People v. J.S. (Cal. Ct. App. - July 11, 2019)

Here's the rare case involving a juvenile offense that occurred entirely within Contra Costa County and that's nonetheless decided in the San Diego Superior Court with a San Diego judge and an appeal in the Fourth Appellate District.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

People v. Bay (Cal. Ct. App. - July 10, 2019)

See what you think about this one.

The backpack in the car almost certainly belonged to one of the three people in the vehicle.  (I'm deliberately not going to tell you which one of the three is the defendant.)

The backpack was located behind the center console of a parked vehicle.  The car was "packed tight" and incredibly messy.  Inside the backpack was (1) some marijuana, and (2) a gun.

The person in the driver's seat knew there was marijuana in the backpack but said nothing about the gun.  He also gave a false name when asked by the police.

The person in the passenger's seat was the girlfriend of the (recently deceased) registered owner of the gun, and inside the gun case was a slip of paper with the (dead) boyfriend's name on it.

The person in the back seat was the brother of the (recently deceased) registered owner of the gun; the guy whose name was on the slip of paper.  There was also a disassembled rifle in a gun case next to the person in the back seat.

There are no fingerprints on the gun or backpack or anything in it.  The police took some DNA swabs from the backpack and its contents but never tested them.

Three groups of questions:

(1)  What's your bet as to whose backpack it was?  In other words, if you had to guess, who'd you put your money on as the actual owner of the thing?

(2)  How confident are you of that assessment.  What are the odds you're right?  Is it a one in three thing?  More likely than not you're right?  Virtually certain you're right?  Correct beyond a reasonable doubt?

(3)  Assume the driver was convicted for possessing the gun.  Do you think the evidence against him proves his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt?  Now assume the woman in the passenger seat was convicted.  Is the same also true for her; e.g., is she the owner beyond a reasonable doubt?  Ditto for the person in the back seat; is the evidence clear that he owned the backpack?  (There's little or no evidence that the backpack belonged to all of them, or anyone else, so assume it's gotta be one of the three.)

Needless to say, only one of the three was actually charged with possessing the gun.  And the Court of Appeal concluded that the evidence against this person was sufficient.

Which one do you think it was?

And do you agree that the evidence against this person established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt?