Week in Review (May 21, 2018)

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Week of:                      May 14, 2018
Publication Date:       May 21, 2018

From the First Appellate District –

  • Kerrie Reilly v. Marin Housing Authority; the court of appeals upheld the trial court’s sustaining a demurrer in favor of Marin Housing Authority, ultimately terminating Ms. Reilly’s Section 8 housing payments due to Ms. Reilly’s failure to make payments to Marin Housing Authority under a payment plan when she received money through the In-Home Supportive Services program due to her severely disabled daughter. Reilly challenged the payment plan’s calculation of her income as improperly including the payments from IHSS, but both the trial court and the court of appeals agreed that the IHSS payments were income rather than reimbursements.
  • The People v. Lonnie James Kerley; where the court of appeals upheld Mr. Kerley’s conviction on the second degree murder of his former girlfriend, Danna Denver, when the evidence at trial showed that he had a long history of physical abuse, and the trial court had not committed any prejudicial error.
  • The People v. Matthew Enrique Meza; where the court of appeals upheld the trial court’s decision permitting the admittance of a blood test taken from Mr. Meza without a warrant, but cautioned the court in holding that exigent circumstances were not demonstrated in this case that prevented a warrant from being obtained when two hours passed between the accident and the blood draw. The error was nevertheless held to be constitutionally harmless here when a doctor testified that the blood alcohol content of Mr. Meza was 0.128 percent when it was drawn by the hospital 40 minutes after the accident.
  • The People v. Gregory Hall; here, the court of appeals reversed Mr. Hall’s conviction on first degree murder with personal use of a knife when the trial court improperly allowed in evidence of a prior misdemeanor conviction where Mr. Hall had threatened a person with a large knife. The error occurred when the trial court reversed itself after determining the misdemeanor was likely more prejudicial than probative, and the prosecutor improperly argued in closing statements that the prior misdemeanor was evidence of Mr. Hall’s character rather than using the admitted evidence merely for impeachment purposes.

From the Second Appellate District –

  • The People v. Jose Antonio Espinoza; where the Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction of Mr. Espinoza on drug charges and denied Mr. Espinoza’s challenge to an expert’s identification of certain drugs as methadone and clonazepam pills based on the internet website ‘Ident-A-Drug,’ which the court held fell within the published compendium exception to the hearsay rule.
  • Shelly Albert v. Truck Insurance Exchange; in an underlying case, Ms. Albert’s neighbor had sued her for erecting a fence partially blocking a road that served as an easement to her neighbor’s property. When Ms. Albert tendered the claim to her homeowner’s insurance, it declined to cover the claim, and so Ms. Albert tendered the claim to her umbrella insurer.  While the trial court determined that the insurance contract did not cover this claim, the court of appeals held that the language of the insurance contract was ambiguous, and because is “may include non-physical invasions of rights in real property” the summary adjudication of the action should be reversed.
  • Thomas Darion Davis v. Appellate Division of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County [Real Party in Interest] The People; in seeking to suppress evidence gained through multiple warrantless searches that occurred during a traffic stop, the court of appeals held that Mr. Davis was required to describe with some specificity which search he was seeking to suppress out of the several that occurred. Without such information, Mr. Davis’ petition was denied by the court of appeals.
  • The People v. Alexander Jeffrey Vannesse; here, the court of appeals held that while a peace officer is required to inform a person arrested for driving under the influence of their option to take a blood test or a breath test, when an officer only informs the arrestee of the option of the blood test and they take it voluntarily, there is no violation of constitutional or statutory law prohibiting the use of the voluntarily provided test at trial. Vannesse’s motion to suppress such evidence was accordingly, denied.
  • Michael Benaroya v. Bruce Willis et alterius; in a payment dispute between Mr. Willis and Mr. Benaroya for a movie that was intended to be stared in by Mr. Willis and produced by Mr. Benaroya’s film company, Benaroya Pictures, the dispute proceeded to arbitration where the arbitrator awarded judgment against Benaroya Pictures and additionally determined that Mr. Benaroya was the alter-ego of Benaroya Pictures and subject to liability even as a non-signatory. Benaroya petitioned the trial court to vacate the judgment as to him personally, arguing that an arbitrator does not have the authority to make a determination as to alter-ego.  While the trial court affirmed the arbitration decision, the court of appeals reversed and remanded with instructions to vacate the award against Mr. Benaroya individually, in doing so the court of appeals held that “while the relevant JAMS rule here permits an arbitrator to determine whom among signatories to an arbitration agreement are proper parties for the dispute to be arbitrated, the rule cannot (and does not) permit the arbitrator to determine whether a nonsignatory to the arbitration agreement can be compelled to arbitrate.”

From the Third Appellate District –

  • The People v. Michael Williams; the court of appeals reversed Mr. William’s conviction for the first degree murder of his wife by stabbing her twice in the neck, causing her to bleed to death. The court of appeals held that the trial court impermissibly allowed in evidence underlying a prior conviction from 1992 for shooting with intent to kill in Oklahoma to be used by the prosecution to argue premeditation in the instant case.  Due to the scant relevance to the fact of this case and the significant prejudice of the introduction of the underlying facts, the court of appeals reversed and remanded for a new trial.
  • Charles E. Yeager et alterius v. Peter Holt et alterius; in a case predicated on a dispute between attorney’s fees owed by and between an attorney and a client, the trial court and the court of appeals both denied Mr. Holt’s Anti-SLAPP motion on the grounds that the Yeager’s compliant is fundamentally about the legal malpractice associated with the prior litigation on attorney’s fees, and is not a suit designed to punish speech. While the merits of the action itself may be “frivolous, vexatious, or untimely (based on the date of the termination of the attorney-client relationship), as Holt variously contends, that does not mean it chills expressive conduct.”

From the Fourth Appellate District –

  • Jorge Fierro et alterius v. Landry’s Restaurant Inc.; where the court of appeals reversed and remanded the trial court’s sustaining a demurrer on Mr. Fierro’s wage and hour claims on the grounds that the action was barred by a prior class action involving substantially the same issues. On review the court of appeals held that because the class action was merely ‘dismissed’ the dismissal does not act as res judicata precluding a later action by Mr. Fierro.
  • Carl Taswell, M.D. v. The Regents of the University of California; Dr. Taswell alleged that he was retaliated against for whistleblowing activities related to patient safety in the brain imaging center of UC Irvine. Taswell received a full and fair hearing before the administrative board of the UC system, but ultimately lost his appeal.  Rather than seeking an administrative writ, Dr. Taswell instead filed separate litigation in the superior court.  On appeal from dismissal by the trial court, the court of appeals held that Dr. Taswell was not required to seek a writ of mandamus to challenge the University’s rejection of his retaliation claims, and that he was authorized by statute to file the instant litigation in superior court.
  • In re Marriage of Linda M. and Bryan S. Marshall [OR] Linda M. Marshall v. Bryan S. Marshall; where the court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s division of assets in a divorce, particularly a 2006 community debt owed to the IRS on a capital gains liability and proceeds on a disability insurance policy that was purchased by the community and was intended to serve as retirement income. Accordingly, the court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s determination in favor of Mr. Bryan Marshall.
  • In re Nicandro Galaviz on Habeus Corpus; the court of appeals granted Mr. Galaviz’s petition for writ of habeus corpus. In 1996 Mr., Galaviz was committed to a term of 60 years to life on drug possession and assault charges, and after the trial court determined that he was incompetent to stand trial.  At the instant habeus corpus hearing, the court of appeals held that the 1996 commitment had improperly determined Mr. Galaviz’s incompetence to stand trial by failing to hold a competency hearing, and that absent evidence from 1996 that Mr. Galaviz was incompetent at the time of that trial, current evidence that he is presently incompetent to stand trial cannot prevent him from withdrawing his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
  • Duncan E. Prince v. Invensure Insurance Brokers, Inc. [And Cross-Defendant] ERM Insurance Brokers, Inc.; in a business dispute between three former partners in an insurance company, a jury found in favor of one of the partners who left the insurance firm, determining that the other partners had failed to pay him amount due and owing from an older transaction merging Prince’s company with Investsure Insurance Brokers. After returning a judgment of over $600,000.00, the trial court then denied Prince’s attorney’s fees and expert witness costs.  The court of appeals ultimately affirmed the jury’s verdict, but reversed and remanded on the issues of attorney’s fees and costs, finding that Prince had submitted a valid, and rejected, settlement offer under Code of Civ. Proc. §998, thereby entitling Prince to attorney’s fees and expert costs.

No published opinions from the Fifth or Sixth Appellate Divisions.

Supreme Court – Roundup

This Week, the Supreme Court published 3 cases, including:

  • United Riggers & Erectors, Inc. v. Coast Iron & Steel Co.; where the Supreme Court held that a direct contractor cannot withhold payments to a subcontractor for completed work when there exits a good-faith dispute regarding other work. The case was ultimately decided as a matter of the statutory construction of Civil Code Section 8814, where the court ultimately determined that the legislature did not create a broad statutory right to withhold payments from subcontractors, but rather that the purpose of the statute was intended to be a limited remedial exception to the general purpose of paying subcontractors for the work they perform.
  • The People v. Jesus Manuel Rodriguez and Edgar Octavio Barajas; where the Supreme Court acquitted Mr. Barajas on his convictions for murder, conspiracy to commit murder and participation in a street gang upon the Attorney General’s concession that accomplice testimony was not sufficiently corroborated to maintain the convictions, and remanded the issue of Mr. Rodriguez’s case to the court of appeals to provide him an opportunity to make a record as to his youthful offender parole hearing in 25 years, with his constitutional challenge to his 50 years to life sentence deemed moot upon the enactment of the new statutory schema for youthful offenders.
  • The People v. Feliz Corral Ruiz II; where the Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeal’s determination that a conviction for conspiracy to transport a controlled substance may properly be punished by the imposition of criminal laboratory analysis fees due to a portion of the Penal Code that imposes persons convicted of conspiring to commit a felony in the same manner and to the same extent as is provided for the punishment of that felony.

In the Supreme Court’s Weekly Summary of Accepted Cases, the court has announced that 6 cases were accepted this week:

  • Gonzalez v. Mathis, S247677. Petition for review after the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment in a civil action.  This case includes the following issue:  Can a homeowner who hires an independent contractor be held liable in tort for injury sustained by the contractor’s employee when the homeowner does not retain control over the worksite and the hazard causing the injury was known to the contractor?
  • People v. Anderson, S248208. Petition for review after the Court of Appeal modified and affirmed a judgment of conviction of a criminal offense.  The court ordered briefing deferred pending decision in People v. Ruiz, S235556 (#16-312), which presents the following issue:  May a trial court properly impose a criminal laboratory analysis fee (Health & Saf. Code, § 11372.5, subd. (a)) and a drug program fee (Heath & Saf. Code, § 11372.7, subd. (a)) based on a defendant’s conviction for conspiracy to ommit certain drug offenses?
  • Duchan v. Los Angeles Unified School Dist., S247573. Petition for review after the Court of Appeal affirmed an order granting in part a special motion to strike in a civil action.  The court ordered briefing deferred pending decision in Wilson v. Cable News Network, Inc., S239686 (#17-83), which presents the following issue:  In deciding whether an employee’s claims for discrimination, retaliation, wrongful termination, and defamation arise from protected activity for purposes of a special motion to strike (Code of Civ. Proc., § 425.16), what is the relevance of an allegation that the employer acted with a discriminatory or retaliatory motive?
  • People v. Esquivel, S247832. Petition for review after the Court of Appeal remanded and affirmed a judgment of conviction of criminal offenses.  The court ordered briefing deferred pending decision in People v. Canizales, S221958 (#14-134), which presents the following issue:  Was the jury properly instructed on the “kill zone” theory of attempted murder?
  • People v. McDuffy, S247616. Petition for review after the Court of Appeal dismissed as moot an appeal from a judgment of conviction of criminal offenses.  The court ordered briefing deferred pending decision in People v. Mendoza, S238032 (#17-32) and People v. Padilla, S239454 (#17-34), which present issues as to the requirements under Montgomery v. Louisiana (2016) 577 U.S. __, 136 S.Ct. 718, 193 L.Ed.2d599, and Miller v. Alabama (2012) 567 U.S. __, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407, for imposing a sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of parole on a juvenile offender.
  • People v. Wallace, S247488. Petition for review after the Court of Appeal affirmed a judgment of conviction of criminal offenses.  The court ordered briefing deferred pending decision in People v. Bullard, S239488 (#17-64), which presents the following issue:  Does equal protection or the avoidance of absurd consequences require that misdemeanor sentencing under Penal Code sections 490.2 and 1170.18 extend not only to those convicted of violating Vehicle Code section 10851 by theft, but also to those convicted for taking a vehicle without the intent to permanently deprive the owner of possession?  (See People v. Page (2017) 3 Cal.5th 1175, 1188, fn. 5.)

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