Thursday, August 27, 2020

Gund v. County of Trinity (Cal. Supreme Ct. - Aug. 27, 2020)

Every time I look in more depth into the backstory of today's opinion by the California Supreme Court things seems to get curiouser and curiouser.

The question presented is whether Norma and James Gund were engaged in "active law enforcement" when they responded to a request by the Trinity County Sheriff's Department to check up on their rural neighbor after the neighbor made a 911 call in which she whispered "Help me."  (If the Gunds were so engaged, they are entitled to workers compensation benefits from the vicious attack to which they were subjected once they reached that home.)  The majority, in an opinion by Justice Cuellar, concludes they were; by contrast, Justices Groban and Chin dissent.

What's surprising is not the result; rather, it's how the case gets there in the first place.

It's largely a fact-sensitive opinion.  So it's not one for which you'd normally think the California Supreme Court would grant review.  And, indeed, the losing party in the Court of Appeal did not seek review.  Even though there's presumably a large amount of damages at stake.

The matter instead first formally came to the California Supreme Court's attention pursuant a "pro per" filing by John Hsu that requested that the opinion be depublished.  Here's a copy of his letter.  There's no indication anywhere who exactly John Hsu is -- there's no California attorney by that name -- and the only address for Mr. Hsu is a P.O. Box in Berkeley.

But someone who read the opinion didn't like it and asked that it be depublished.  That's allowed, and perfectly fine.  Just not what normally happens.

Then the California Supreme Court decides to review the opinion on the merits on its own motion.  That's fairly unusual as well.  Though -- again -- entirely permissible.

But usually, the California Supreme Court isn't going to grant review of a fact-specific opinion merely in order to affirm.  What's the point?  Why not just leave the opinion as it is in the Court of Appeal?  So one typically thinks that cases granted review on the Court's own initiative (unless there's an underlying split in the Court of Appeal) are very likely to be reversed.

Nope.  Not here.  Not even particularly close.  Affirmed on a 5-2 vote.

Basically, nothing in this case played out in the normal fashion.  So interesting to see.

POSTSCRIPT - Curiouser and courioser indeed.  I'm told by multiple loyal readers that Mr. John Hsu in quite well known in certain circles, and is a quite "active" in the legal community despite being a non-lawyer. In this regard, there's also a "John Hsu" in Alameda on the vexatious litigant list.  Until now, I hadn't thought about the ability of vexatious litigants to file pro se requests for depublication or review with the California Supreme Court.  Perhaps this is one of Mr. Hsu's biggest legal victories?