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California Case Summaries Monthly™ Organized Succinct Summaries of New California Civil Cases

CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT

Landlord-Tenant

Dr. Leevil, LLC v. Westlake Health Care Center (2018) _ Cal.5th _ , 2018 WL 6597341: The California Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court ruled that an owner of real property that acquires title to property under a power of sale contained in a deed of trust must perfect title by recording the trustee deed before serving a three-day written notice to quit required by Code of Civil Procedure section 1161a(b). (December 17, 2018.)

CALIFORNIA COURTS OF APPEAL

Arbitration

Cox v. Bonni (2018) _ Cal.App.5th _ , 2018 WL 6598930: The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s ruling granting a motion for reconsideration and confirming a judgment for defendant following an arbitration of a claim for medical malpractice where plaintiff alleged that defendant negligently performed a hysterectomy. Although the neutral arbitrator did not provide his disclosures regarding new defense counsel within the time required by statute, plaintiff forfeited her challenge by not objecting to the disclosures until ten months later when the arbitration award was issued. The trial court erred when it initially vacated the judgment based upon the arbitration award due to the neutral arbitrator’s untimely disclosures. It correctly granted reconsideration and affirmed the judgment because plaintiff’s objection to the late disclosure was untimely. (C.A. 2nd, December 17, 2018.)

Howard v. Goldbloom (2018) _ Cal.App.5th _ , 2018 WL 6715755: The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s order denying a petition to compel arbitration. The Court of Appeal ruled that the lawsuit dispute did not fall within any of the four arbitration agreements, all of which related to plaintiff’s employment with Kaggle, Inc. Instead, plaintiff’s claim was rooted in, and any harm he suffered was measured by, his rights as a company stockholder. The dispute was whether defendants wrongfully diluted the value of his shares, breached their fiduciary duties to plaintiff as a minority stockholder, and unjustly enriched themselves at his expense. Defendants’ fiduciary duties to minority shareholders and alleged wrongs existed independently of any employment relationship between plaintiff and Kaggle. (C.A. 1st, December 21, 2018.)

Vasquez v. San Miguel Produce, Inc. (2019) _ Cal.App.5th _ , 2019 WL 364268: The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s order denying a motion to compel arbitration. Plaintiffs were hired by Employer’s Depot, Inc. (EDI), a staffing agency, and they agreed in writing to arbitrate all disputes that may arise within the employment context. EDI assigned plaintiffs to pack produce for defendants San Miguel Produce, Inc. et al. Plaintiffs later sued defendants for labor law violations, and defendants cross-complained against EDI. The Court of Appeal ruled that arbitration was mandated even though plaintiffs did not name EDI as a defendant. Defendants and EDI were co-employers with an identity of interests and mutual responsibility for complying with state law governing employers in the produce packing industry. Plaintiffs agreed to arbitrate all disputes arising from their employment and at all relevant times EDI was their employer. (C.A. 2nd, filed January 3, 2019, published January 30, 2019.)

Attorney Fees

Etcheson v. FCA US LLC (2018) _ Cal.App.5th _ , 2018 WL 6804470: The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s order awarding plaintiff attorney fees and costs of $2,636.90 in response to plaintiff’s motion requesting $89,445 in lodestar attorney fees with a 1.5 enhancement of $44,722.50 plus $5,059.05 in costs in an action brought under the Song- Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (Civil Code, section 1790 et seq.) After admitting the vehicle qualified for repurchase, defendant made two offers to compromise under Code of Civil Procedure section 998 (section 998): one in March 2015, to which plaintiffs objected and the trial court found was impermissibly vague, and a second in June 2016, offering to pay plaintiffs $65,000 in exchange for the vehicle’s return. Following the second offer, the parties negotiated a settlement in which defendant agreed to pay plaintiffs $76,000 and deem them the prevailing parties for purposes of seeking an award of attorney fees. The Court of Appeal, agreeing with plaintiffs that the ultimate recovery was double the estimated value of defendant’s invalid March 2015 section 998 offer, ruled that the trial court abused its discretion and erred by cutting off all attorney fees and costs incurred after that offer. (C.A. 4th, filed December 6, 2018, published December 27, 2018.)

Linton v. County of Contra Costa (2019) _ Cal.App.5th _ , 2019 WL 290982: The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s order denying plaintiff’s request for attorney fees after defendants accepted plaintiff’s Code of Civil Procedure, section 998 offer to settle her complaint alleging violations of the California Disabled Persons Act (DPA; Civil Code, section 54 et seq.) and the Unruh Civil Rights Act (Unruh Act; Civil Code, section 51 et seq.). The 998 offer included the language “attorney’s fees allowed by law as determined by the court.” The trial court properly ruled that both the Unruh Act and the DPA require a finding of liability under the statutes for an award of attorney fees. Because the 998 offer was silent as to liability under the statutes, plaintiff was not entitled to attorney fees. (C.A. 1st, January 23, 2019.)

Civil Procedure

Berkeley Cement, Inc. v. Regents of the Univ. of Cal. (2019) _ Cal.App.5th _ , 2019 WL 117310: The Court of Appeal affirmed a judgment, following a lengthy jury trial, finding for defendant on plaintiff’s complaint for breach of contract because defendant did not breach the contract or any implied covenant, and finding for defendant on its cross-complaint but holding that defendant was not harmed by plaintiff’s breach. However, the Court of Appeal ruled that the trial court erred in awarding defendant, as costs, $6,486.25 for deposition fees paid to plaintiff’s expert witnesses. California Code of Civil Procedure, section 1033.5 (b)(1) clearly provides that fees of experts not ordered by the court are not allowable costs, “except when expressly authorized by law.” (C.A. 5th, January 7, 2019.)

Court Reporters

Dogan v. Comanche Hills Apartments (2019) _ Cal.App.5th _ , 2019 WL 275564: The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s order granting defendant’s motion for nonsuit in a personal injury/premises liability action. Plaintiff was granted a fee waiver on grounds of indigency. Based upon then-existing court policy, plaintiff’s later request for a waiver of court reporter fees was denied. Based upon the California Supreme Court decision in Jameson v. Desta (2018) 5 Cal.5th 594, holding that the San Diego Superior Court’s policy on providing court reporters was invalid as applied to fee waiver recipients, the Court of Appeal reversed and remanded for a new trial at which an official court reporter is to be provided. (C.A. 4th, January 22, 2019.)

Employment

Furry v. East Bay Publishing (2019) _ Cal.App.5th _ , 2018 WL 6930903: The Court of Appeal affirmed in part and reversed in part the trial court’s judgment, after a bench trial, concluding that plaintiff was not entitled to damages in a wage and hour action because his testimony was too uncertain to support a just and reasonable inference that he performed work for which he was not paid, and finding that plaintiff was provided with uninterrupted meal and rest breaks as required by law. The Court of Appeal held it was error to completely deny plaintiff relief on his overtime claim because imprecise evidence by an employee can provide a sufficient basis for damages when the employer fails to keep accurate records of the employee’s work hours. It ruled that plaintiff was not entitled to premium or regular pay for missed meal breaks because he failed to demonstrate that defendants reasonably should have known he was working through authorized meal breaks. (C.A. 1st, filed December 12, 2018, published January 4, 2019.)

Torts

Moreno v. Visser Ranch, Inc. (2018) _ Cal.App.5th _ , 2018 WL 6696021: The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of two corporation defendants in a personal injury action. Plaintiff was injured while a passenger in a pickup truck involved in a single vehicle, rollover accident. He sued the driver (his father), the corporation that employed the driver, and an affiliated corporation that owned the vehicle. The evidence showed defendants required the driver to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to respond immediately to cell phone calls for repairs and maintenance needed at the ranches, farms and dairies operated by defendants. There was also conflicting evidence about whether the driver was required to use the company-owned vehicle, which contained tools and spare parts, at all times so he could respond quickly to call for repairs at defendants’ various locations. Based on this evidence and other details about the driver’s job, the Court of Appeal ruled that a reasonable trier of fact could find the driver was acting within the scope of his employment when the accident occurred. (C.A. 5th, December 20, 2018.)

Mike O'Horo

Mike O'Horo is a serial innovator in the law business. His current venture, RainmakerVT, is the world's first interactive online rainmaking training for lawyers, by which lawyers learn how to attract the right kind of clients without leaving their desks. For 20 years, Mike has been known by lawyers everywhere as The Coach. He trained more than 7000 of them, generating $1.5 billion in new business. Mike can be reached at mikeohoro@rainmakervt.com

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About the Author: Mike O'Horo is a serial innovator in the law business. His current venture, RainmakerVT, is the world's first interactive online rainmaking training for lawyers, by which lawyers learn how to attract the right kind of clients without leaving their desks. For 20 years, Mike has been known by lawyers everywhere as The Coach. He trained more than 7000 of them, generating $1.5 billion in new business. Mike can be reached at mikeohoro@rainmakervt.com

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