Week in Review (June 11, 2018)

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Week of:                      June 04, 2018
Publication Date:       June 11, 2018

Appellate Decisions – Summaries

From the First Appellate District –

  • Mateel Environmental Justice Foundation v. Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment et alterius [With Interveners] California Chamber of Commerce et alterius; in a case involving whether the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment was using the wrong calculation for the levels of lead in drinking water – adopting a standard based on the “maximum allowable dose level” as a reproductive toxicant rather than a standard based on “no observable effect level” – the court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of Mateel’s motion for judgment on the pleadings and a writ of mandate against the Office.  The court held that the Office did not abuse its discretion in setting the lead levels and that the Office’s adoption was based on the best scientific evidence available and authoritative opinions of national scientific bodies.
  • In re D.B., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law [OR] The People v. D.B.; the court of appeals struck a probation condition requiring D.B. to submit to any searches of his electronic devices as unconstitutionally overbroad due to the complete lack of any evidence that electronic devices were related to D.B.’s crime of bringing a folding knife to school and subsequent probation violation of smoking marijuana. The court additionally clarified that the trial court’s order related to legal fees did not require D.B.’s parents to reimburse the County.
  • Ryan Smythe v. Uber Technologies, Inc.; the court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of Uber’s motion to compel arbitration of Mr. Smythe’s unfair competition claims against Uber. In making his argument, Mr. Smythe alleged that, while he worked for both Uber and a competing company Lyft, Uber would encourage its drivers to send Lyft drivers on ‘wild goose chases’ to pick up passengers that did not exist.  Uber moved to compel arbitration under Mr. Smythe’s contract with Uber, but both the trial court and the court of appeals held that because Mr. Smythe was filing in his capacity as a Lyft driver, the claims did not arise from his contract with Uber, and therefore he could not be compelled to arbitrate his claims.

From the Second Appellate District –

  • In re Ronald E. Jenson [on Habeus Corpus]; Mr. Jenson was 19 years old when he was convicted on first degree felony murder in 1979, he subsequently committed three in-prison offenses – two in 1980 for prison escape and possession of a weapon, and one in 1989 for assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer – but has not committed any further crimes since 1989. Now 58 years old, Mr. Jenson was recommended for parole, but was held over for an additional term of years for the crimes committed in prison.  Upon filing the instant habeus corpus writ seeking release, the court of appeals granted the petition in a 2-1 decision on statutory interpretation grounds, holding that the youthful offender laws superseded consecutive term sentencing laws for in-prison offenses, while Justice Egerton dissented, arguing that the two statutory scheme could be reconciled, and that the majority’s opinion would give young inmates “a free pass” to commit crimes in jail.  Ultimately, the court ordered the release of Mr. Jenson.

From the Third Appellate District –

  • James Gund et alterius v. County of Trinity et alterius; the court of appeals affirmed judgment in favor of the County when Sherriff’s deputy cajoled James and Norma Gund into responding to a 911 call that one of their neighbors had made on the false statements that it was likely problems due to inclement weather when, in fact, they happened upon a double-murder in progress. The Gunds were attacked by the murderer and suffered significant physical injuries.  Upon filing suit against the County and other entities, the trial court granted judgment on the basis of Labor Code §3366, which provides that all persons engaged in assisting any peace officer in their duties is deemed an employee and may only recover for any injuries through worker’s compensation.  The courts reasoned that regardless of whether the deputy misrepresented the situation to the Gunds, upon agreeing to investigate the 911 call, they were engaged in the type of activity contemplated by Section 3366, and could not proceed in tort.
  • In re the Marriage of Phillip and Rachelle Spector [OR] Phillip Spector v. Rachelle Spector; when a court reconsidered an order for spousal support sua sponte, resulting in a downward modification for Rachelle, the court of appeals affirmed the modification and the trial court’s sua sponte motion, finding that courts have inherent authority to reconsider prior orders sua sponte pursuant to Le Francois v. Goel (2005) 35 Cal.4th 1094, which held that “while legislation may limit what matters are brought by parties before the court, it may NOT limit a court’s power to reconsider its rulings on its own.”

From the Fourth Appellate District –

  • Von Becelaere Ventures, LLC v. James Zenovic; where the court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s order denying a motion to compel arbitration on a mechanics lien based on Mr. Zenovic’s prior action in Orange County to foreclose the same lien without complying with the procedural requirements in Code of Civil Procedure Section 1281.5, which requires a mechanics lien foreclosure action to be filed as stayed pending arbitration, which Mr. Zenovic did not do.
  • Adrian Camacho v. Target Corporation; in a matter of the interpretation of a general release agreement in a prior settlement between Target and Mr. Camacho, the court of appeals held that the release, by its express terms, only applied to those claims within the ambit of workers’ compensation laws, and did not include Mr. Camacho’s causes of action for discrimination, harassment, failure to prevent the same, constructive termination, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligence.
  • The People v. Jose Epifanio Garcia; after being convicted to a term of nine years on the charge of attempted voluntary manslaughter with a semiautomatic firearm, the court of appeals struck the appellant’s brief with 20 days leave to refile. The court considered the appellant’s apparent attempt to merge the procedures of People v. Wende (1979) 25 Cal.3d 436 and Anders v. California (1967) 386 U.S. 738 in filing a “laundry list of nine ‘claims’… [where] [c]ounsel gives us scant assistance by her inclusion of unorganized, voluminous string citations” as being a misuse of both procedures.

No Cases from the Fifth and Sixth Appellate Districts

Supreme Court – Roundup

This Week, the Supreme Court published 2 cases, including:

  • The People v. Jorge Gonzalez et alterius; in a 5-2 decision on a robbery and felony-murder case involving whether the trial court erred in not instructing the Jury regarding lesser-included offenses, the Supreme Court held that the failure to instruct was harmless error in this case because the jury ultimately found additional special circumstances involving the robbery true that rendered Mr. Gonzalez’s argument that the result would have been different but for the error not sustainable. In a dissenting opinion authored by Justice Liu and joined by Justice Krueger, the dissenters argued that there were numerous evidentiary issues with the main witnesses for the prosecution that could have justified the jury deciding on a lesser conviction, but that the failure to present such an option may have ultimately resulted in an ‘all or nothing choice’ that is impermissible under the circumstances and should be reversed when the result here is life in prison without the possibility of parole – the most severe sentence short of death.
  • Liberty Surplus Insurance Corporation et alterius v. Ledesma & Meyer Construction Company, Inc., et alterius; In a 6-1 opinion with a concurrence, the Supreme Court considered a question certified from the Ninth Circuit involving the application of California Insurance Law in the case of whether an insurer is required to defend and indemnify its insured on a negligent hiring, retention, and training cause of action when one of the insured’s employees sexually assaulted a 13 year old Doe plaintiff while working on a project for the insured. The Supreme Court answered the question posed by stating that there is a distinction between acts that are not covered – here the acts of sexual assault – and the acts for which coverage may attach – in the negligent supervision of the person engaging in the acts.  Here, the court ultimately decided that Mr. Hecht’s molestation of Doe may be deemed an unexpected consequence of L&M’s independently tortuous acts of negligence, thus making coverage preferred in these situations in order to prevent insurers from disclaiming coverage any time an employee’s conduct is framed as deliberate even though California law recognizes liability is possible in such cases.  In the concurring opinion, Justice Liu made efforts to clarify the jurisprudence of the term ‘accident’ and the caselaw relied upon by the Court, but otherwise joined the opinion of the majority.

In the Supreme Court’s Weekly Summary of Accepted Cases, the court has announced that no cases were accepted this week.

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