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McIntyre’s California Civil Law Update

Organized Succinct Summaries


Constitution/Civil Rights

Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder _ U.S. _ (2013): The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals. Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is unconstitutional because of the failure of Congress to update the coverage formula. The Fifteenth Amendment commands that the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged on account of race or color, and it gives Congress the power to enforce that command. The Amendment is not designed to punish for the past; its purpose is to ensure a better future. To serve that purpose, Congress—if it is to divide the States—must identify those jurisdictions to be singled out on a basis that makes sense in light of current conditions. It cannot rely simply on the past. (June 25, 2013.)


University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar _ U.S. _ (2013): The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and remanded for further proceedings. The text, structure, and history of Title VII demonstrate that a plaintiff making a retaliation claim under section 2000e3(a) must establish that his or her protected activity was a but-for cause of the alleged adverse action by the employer. (June 24, 2013.)

Vance v. Ball State University _ U.S. _ (2013): The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. An employer may be vicariously liable for an employee’s unlawful harassment under Title VII only when the employer has empowered that employee to take tangible employment actions against the victim, i.e., to effect a significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits. (June 24, 2013.)


Hollingsworth v. Perry _ U.S. _ : The U.S. Supreme Court vacated the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal because petitioners did not demonstrate standing to appeal the judgment of the district court. The Ninth Circuit was without jurisdiction to consider the appeal. The judgment of the district court, finding California’s Proposition 8 unconstitutional and enjoining the enforcement of Prop. 8, is now the final judgment. (June 26, 2013.)

United States v. Windsor _ U.S. _ : The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the Second Circuit Court of Appeal.

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) singles out a class of persons deemed by a state entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty. It imposes a disability on the class by refusing to acknowledge a status the state  finds to be dignified and proper. DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others. The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the state, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment. (June 26, 2013.)

Torts/Product Liability

Mutual Pharmaceutical Company, Inc. v. Bartlett _ U.S. _ (2013): The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision of the First Circuit Court of Appeal. State-law design-defect laws that effectively require generic drug manufacturers to change generic drug labeling to provide stronger warnings in violation of federal law prohibiting generic drug manufacturers from independently changing their drug labels are pre-empted by federal law under PLIVA, Inc. v. Mensing, 564 U. S. ___ (2011). (June 24, 2013.)



City of Buenaventura v. Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania _ F.3d _ : The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s summary judgment for the defendant carriers. The district court properly found no coverage under the policies because they were issued after the occurrence that led to the underlying litigation. The condominium buyers’ complaints allege that they were damaged by the City’s negligence when they purchased their units in early 2001, over a year before the 2002-2003 Great Lakes policy and two years prior to the 2003-2004 Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania policy. They do not allege that they were wrongfully damaged by the City’s affordable housing program, or that the program was in any way unlawful. They merely ask that the program be suspended as to them because of the City’s 2001 negligence. Also, both policies expressly exclude coverage for declaratory or injunctive relief, so those claims by the condominium buyers cannot provide a basis for duties to defend or indemnify. (June 26, 2013.)



In re Marriage of Green (2013) _ Cal.4th _ : The California Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeal and affirmed the trial court order requiring the husband to pay the wife one-half of the amount, plus interest, that the community expended to obtain additional retirement credit for the husband’s premarital military service. What matters in determining whether retirement benefits are community or separate property is the person’s marital status when the services on which the benefits are based were rendered. Because the husband rendered the military service before the marriage, the California Supreme Court concluded that, except for the community’s contribution to the cost of obtaining the credit, the four years of additional credit were the husband’s separate property. (June 24, 2013.)



Roberts v. Packard, Packard & Johnson (2013) _ Cal.App.4th _ : The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s award of attorney fees to defendant after it prevailed on a motion to compel arbitration. Because only one side—plaintiffs or their former attorneys—can prevail in enforcing the contingency fee agreement in question, the determination of the prevailing parties must await the resolution of the underlying claims by an arbitrator. Attorney fees can be awarded only to the parties that prevail in the “action.” (See Civil Code section 1717(a), (b)(1).) The trial court erred in awarding interim attorney fees to the former attorneys for filing a successful petition to compel arbitration. (C.A. 2nd, July 3, 2013.)


Deluca v. State Fish Co., Inc. (2013) _ Cal.App.4th _ : The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s granting of a motion to disqualify plaintiff’s counsel. Plaintiff informed defendant he would be using an expert witness who had testified on behalf of the defendant in a prior trial of issues between the parties. Defendant objected on the ground the expert possessed confidential attorney-client and work-product information learned when retained on behalf of the defendant. The defendant moved to disqualify plaintiff’s counsel from further representing plaintiff on the basis that plaintiff’s counsel had obtained access to the confidential information possessed by the expert. The trial court granted the motion and disqualified plaintiff’s counsel. The Court of Appeal, however, concluded that defendant failed to satisfy its burden of establishing that the expert possessed confidential information materially relevant to the pending proceedings. (C.A. 2nd, June 27, 2013.)

Real Property/CEQA/Land Use/Environment/Homeowners Association

Wittenberg v. Beachwalk Homeowners Association (2013) _ Cal.App.4th _ : The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s denial of a writ petition seeking to void an election to amend bylaws. The trial court erred in ruling that, under Civil Code 1363(a)(1), the homeowners association board did not have to give members with opposing viewpoints equal access to media used by the board to explain its actions. The trial court also erred in finding that the board did not violate Civil Code section 1363.03(a)(2) when it did not permit free access to common areas for purposes reasonably related to an election. On remand, the trial court should consider both violations in deciding whether an election to amend the bylaws needed to be voided. (C.A. 4th, June 26, 2013.)

Torts/Personal Injury/Wrongful Death

Cann v. Stefanec (2013) _ Cal.App.4th _ : The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s summary judgment for defendant. The trial court properly ruled that the primary assumption of risk doctrine applied to this situation where plaintiff was injured after her UCLA swim team teammate/defendant dropped weights when she lost her balance. The Court of Appeal found that weight lifting involves an inherent risk of injury to persons in the vicinity of lifters who drop weights because of a loss of balance, injury suffered during a lift, or other reasons. Because weight training involves the risk that the weight will be dropped, defendant’s conduct after she lost her balance was not totally outside the range of ordinary activity of the sport. (C.A. 2nd, June 24, 2013.)

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