Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Plaintiff Kathleen Carroll sued her former employer, defendant California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (Commission), for terminating her employment in retaliation for her reporting Commission mismanagement to the state auditor. Prior to bringing this action, plaintiff appealed her termination to the State Personnel Board (Board), claiming the Commission fired her in retaliation for her whistleblower activities. She also filed a separate whistleblower retaliation complaint with the Board. The Board denied her claims. After the Commission removed the matter to federal court, the district court dismissed the section 1983 claim and remanded the matter to state court. A jury found for plaintiff and awarded her substantial damages. The Commission appealed, contending: (1) the district court’s judgment was res judicata as to this action; (2) the Board’s decisions collaterally estopped this action; (3) the trial court abused its discretion in evidentiary matters by (a) permitting plaintiff’s counsel to question witnesses on and asking the jury to draw negative inferences from the Commission’s exercise of the attorney-client privilege, (b) denying the admission of the Board’s findings and decisions, (c) denying the admission of after-acquired evidence, and (d) denying the admission of evidence mitigating plaintiff’s emotional distress; and (4) the damages award was unlawful in numerous respects. Although the district court’s judgment was not res judicata and the Board’s decisions did not collaterally estop this action, the Court of Appeal reversed, finding the trial court committed prejudicial error when it allowed plaintiff’s counsel to question witnesses on and ask the jury to draw negative inferences from the defendants’ exercise of the attorney-client privilege and did not timely instruct the jury with the mandatory curative instruction provided in Evidence Code section 913. Because judgment was reversed on this ground, the Court did not address the Commission’s other claims of error. View "Carroll v. Commission on Teacher Credentialing" on Justia Law

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Epstein, an optometrist, entered into a VSP “Network Doctor Agreement.” VSP audited of Epstein’s claims for reimbursement, concluded he was knowingly purchasing lenses from an unapproved supplier, and terminated the provider agreement. The agreement included a two-step dispute resolution procedure: the “Fair Hearing” step provided for an internal “VSP Peer Review.” If the dispute remained unresolved, the agreement required binding arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), under procedures set forth in the policy. A “Fair Hearing” panel upheld the termination.Instead of invoking the arbitration provision, Epstein filed an administrative mandamus proceeding, alleging the second step of the process was contrary to California law requiring certain network provider contracts to include a procedure for prompt resolution of disputes and expressly stating arbitration “shall not be deemed” such a mechanism. (28 Cal. Code Regs 1300.71.38.) He claimed that state law was not preempted by the FAA, citing the McCarran-Ferguson Act, which generally exempts from federal law, state laws enacted to regulate the business of insurance.The court of appeal affirmed the rejection of those challenges. State regulatory law requiring certain network provider agreements to include a dispute resolution process that is not arbitration pertains only to the first step of the dispute resolution process and does not foreclose the parties from agreeing to arbitration in lieu of subsequent judicial review. While the arbitration provision is procedurally unconscionable in minor respects, Epstein failed to establish that it is substantively unconscionable. View "Epstein v. Vision Service Plan" on Justia Law

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The state filed an unverified complaint against the entities and one of their principals, asserting unfair practices and false advertising. The defendants filed an unverified “Answer” with a general denial of the complaint’s allegations and affirmative defenses. The judge struck the answer as to the entities because they failed to verify the answer as required by Code of Civil Procedure section 446 and asserted only a general denial in contravention of section 431.30(d). The court concluded that section 446(a)'s exception to the verification requirement was coextensive with the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and a corporation may not invoke that privilege. In response to a “show cause order” following the defendants’ petition for extraordinary writ relief, the court issued an order noting that the case had been reassigned. After a hearing, a new judge vacated the previous order.The court of appeal agreed that the exception applies to corporations and that the defendants could file a general denial under section 431.30(d), which requires a defendant to answer each material allegation of a verified complaint with specific admissions or denials, but allows a defendant to file a general denial if the complaint is not verified. There is no reason for deeming the state’s complaint verified. The court also noted that an order to show cause, unlike an alternative writ, does not invite the trial court to change the challenged order and that superior court judges generally may not overturn the order of another judge unless the other judge is unavailable. View "Paul Blanco's Good Car Co. Auto Group v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Proposition 65 was enacted by the voters to protect the people of California and its water supply from harmful chemicals. Proposition 65 required the Governor to publish, at least annually, a list of chemicals known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. Proposition 65 added Health and Safety Code section 25249.8, which provided the listing obligations and sets forth four independent “listing mechanisms” by which a chemical could be listed, including the “state’s qualified expert” listing mechanism and the “authoritative body” listing mechanism. At issue in this case was whether the decision by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) to list Bisphenol A (BPA) as a chemical known to cause reproductive toxicity under Proposition 65, was an abuse of discretion. BPA is used primarily to coat food and beverage packaging and containers. The American Chemistry Council (ACC) commenced this action seeking to enjoin OEHHA from listing BPA. In an amended complaint, ACC sought a peremptory writ of mandate directing OEHHA not to list BPA. The trial court denied the requested relief. ACC appealed, asserting that OEHHA abused its discretion in: (1) refusing to consider the arguments against listing BPA; (2) concluding that the National Toxicology Program (NTP) formally identified BPA as a reproductive toxicant in the monograph; and (3) determining that NTP concluded that studies in experimental animals indicated that there was sufficient data to establish that an association between adverse reproductive effects in humans and BPA is “biologically plausible” within the meaning of that term as it was used in OEHHA’s own regulation. The Court of Appeal found OEHHA’s position as to biological plausibility was based on, among other things, the presumption that chemicals that cause harm in experimental animals will also cause similar harm in humans in the absence of evidence to the contrary. The Court concluded OEHHA did not abuse its discretion in listing BPA based on the monograph. Therefore, the Court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying ACC the relief requested in the amended complaint. View "Am. Chemistry Council v. Off. of Environ. Health Hazard Assessment" on Justia Law

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In November 2018, the voters in San Francisco passed Proposition A, the Embarcadero Seawall Earthquake Safety Bond, by 82.7 percent of the popular vote. The following spring, Denny filed a lawsuit to set aside Proposition A, alleging that the ballot materials were not fair and impartial, and citing Elections Code section 16100. Specifically, he claimed that the digest prepared by the Ballot Simplification Committee was not impartial; the city should not have included paid ballot arguments in the Voter Information Pamphlet; the ballot question did not include the phrase “shall the measure . . . be adopted”; the ballot question was not impartial and the title should not have been printed in upper case letters; and the ballot question was too long. The trial court dismissed without leave to amend.The court of appeal affirmed. Although Denny labeled his claim statutory misconduct by defendants under section 16100(c), his complaint is actually a challenge to the sufficiency and impartiality of Proposition A’s digest and ballot materials, and that is a claim that can only be raised pre-election. The voters were provided with the full text of Proposition A, so it is assumed that any alleged discrepancies in the ballot materials did not affect the voters’ ability to vote intelligently. View "Denny v. Arntz" on Justia Law

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C.V. (Mother) appealed an order issued under Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.261 selecting adoption as the permanent plan for her son N.S. and terminating her parental rights. N.S.’s father was a member of the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians (the Tribe). The Tribe was involved in this case since the juvenile court found that N.S. was an Indian child and that the Indian Child Welfare Act (25 U.S.C. 1901 et seq.) (ICWA) applied. On appeal, Mother contended: (1) the Tribe’s “decree” selecting guardianship as the best permanent plan option for N.S. preempted the statutory preference for adoption under section 366.26; (2) N.S.’s counsel breached his duties under section 317 and provided ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to discover what Tribal benefits or membership rights were available to N.S. before the termination of parental rights; (3) the court erred in finding that the Indian child exception of section 366.26, subdivision (c)(1)(B)(vi)(I) and (II) did not apply to preclude termination of parental rights; (4) there was insufficient evidence to support the court’s finding beyond a reasonable doubt that continued custody in Mother’s care would be a substantial risk to N.S.; and (5) the court erred in finding that the beneficial parent-child relationship exception of section 366.26, subdivision (c)(1)(B)(i) does not apply to preclude termination of parental rights. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "In re N.S." on Justia Law

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Quail's 47,480-square-foot unincorporated Sonoma County property contained two houses, garages, and several outbuildings. In 2013, a building with hazardous and unpermitted electrical wiring, hazardous decking and stairs, unpermitted kitchens and plumbing, broken windows, and lacking power, was destroyed in a fire. Two outbuildings, unlawfully being used as dwellings, were also damaged. One report stated: “The [p]roperty . . . exists as a makeshift, illegal mobile home park and junkyard.” After many unsuccessful attempts to compel Quail to abate the conditions, the county obtained the appointment of a receiver under Health and Safety Code section 17980.7 and Code of Civil Procedure section 564 to oversee abatement work. The banks challenged a superior court order authorizing the receiver to finance its rehabilitation efforts through a loan secured by a “super-priority” lien on the property and a subsequent order authorizing the sale of the property free and clear of U.S. Bank’s lien.The court of appeal affirmed in part. Trial courts enjoy broad discretion in matters subject to a receivership, including the power to issue a receiver’s certificate with priority over pre-existing liens when warranted. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in subordinating U.S. Bank’s lien and confirming the sale of the property free and clear of liens so that the receiver could remediate the nuisance conditions promptly and effectively, but prioritizing the county’s enforcement fees and costs on equal footing with the receiver had no basis in the statutes. View "County of Sonoma v. U.S. Bank N.A." on Justia Law

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The city council for respondent City of Sacramento adopted a resolution in 2007 approving the destruction of records as allowed under Government Code section 34090, and authorizing its city clerk to adopt a new records retention policy. Acting pursuant to this resolution, Sacramento’s city clerk adopted in 2010 a new records retention schedule allowing the destruction of all correspondence, including e-mails, older than two years old, subject to certain exceptions. But because Sacramento lacked the technological ability to automatically delete older e-mails at the time, it delayed implementing this policy for several years. In 2014, Sacramento finally attained the technological ability to automatically delete older e-mails under its 2010 policy. Before moving forward to delete these e-mails, the City informed various media and citizen groups around December of 2014 that it would begin automatically deleting e-mails under its 2010 policy on July 1, 2015. In late June of 2015, less than a week before Sacramento planned to begin deleting its older e-mails, appellants each submitted requests to the City for records set for destruction pursuant to the Public Records Act ("PRA"). At the time, Sacramento was retaining about 81 million e-mail records; appellant Stevenson’s request targeted about 53 million of these records, and appellant Grimes’s request concerned about 64 million. Sacramento staff estimated it would take well over 20,000 hours to comply with appellants’ requests. Though appellants agreed to narrow the scope of their requests, they still sued Sacramento for “refus[ing] to provide Petitioner’s [sic] access to the records they request” in violation of the PRA and the California Constitution. A trial court enjoined the City from destroying 15 million potentially responsive e-mails. Over appellants’ objection, the court conditioned the grant of the injunction on appellants posting an undertaking per Code of Civil Procedure section 529, initially set at $80,000, later lowered to $2,349.50, following supplemental briefing in which Sacramento said it in fact anticipated expending as little as $2,349.50 to comply with the injunction. Appellants contended the section 529 undertaking requirement conflicted with the PRA's requirements, and requiring a party to post an undertaking before obtaining an injunction was an unlawful prior restraint under the First Amendment. Finding neither contention availing, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's condition of an undertaking. View "Stevenson v. City of Sacramento" on Justia Law

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The Riverside County Department of Public Social Services (department) filed a petition seeking to remove an 18-month old girl based on mother’s substance abuse and mental health issues and noncustodial father’s failure to provide for her. However, after the child was detained, father came forward and said he had been trying to reunify with her since mother took the child when she was about four months old. He also said he had established his paternity through a genetic test and had been paying child support to mother throughout their separation. Father said he couldn’t yet take custody of the child because his housing, transportation, and employment weren’t stable, but he indicated he had obtained work and was attempting to find suitable housing. He also indicated he would return to Chicago, his home city, and live with relatives who were willing to help him raise her once he obtained custody. The department amended the petition to remove the allegations against father before the jurisdiction and disposition hearing, nonetheless maintained the child should be removed from both parents, and asked the trial court to find by clear and convincing evidence that placing the child with her parents would pose a substantial danger to her health, safety or well-being. Rights to the child were ultimately terminated, but the father appealed, averring his situation had changed: he obtained full-time employment with benefits and a permanent place to live. The court denied his motion, concluding he had shown his circumstances were changing, but had not changed. Before the Court of Appeal, father argued the entire procedure violated his due process rights and there wasn’t adequate support for the trial court’s finding that giving him custody would be detrimental to the child. The Court held a juvenile court could not terminate parental rights based on problems arising from the parent’s poverty, "a problem made worse, from a due process standpoint, when the department didn’t formally allege those problems as a basis for removal." Absent those impermissible grounds for removal the Court found there wasn’t clear and convincing evidence that returning the child to father would be detrimental to her. Termination of father’s rights was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "In re S.S." on Justia Law

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Williams and a friend began a 30-mile bicycle ride. As they biked down a hill on a road maintained by Sonoma County, they encountered a pothole measuring four feet long, three feet four inches wide, and four inches deep. Williams was traveling at least 25 miles per hour and, by the time she saw the pothole, was unable to avoid it. She was thrown to the pavement, incurring serious injuries. The pothole had been reported to the County more than six weeks earlier. Williams sued the County for the dangerous condition of public property (Gov. Code 835). A jury found for Williams, allocating 70 percent of the fault to the County and 30 percent to Williams. Williams was awarded about $1.3 million in damages.The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting the County’s argument that Williams’s claim was barred by the primary assumption of risk doctrine, which precludes liability for injuries arising from those risks deemed inherent in a sport. Because the County already owed a duty to other foreseeable users of the road to repair the pothole, the policy reasons underlying the primary assumption of risk doctrine support the conclusion that the County owes a duty not to increase the inherent risks of long-distance, recreational cycling. View "Williams v. County of Sonoma" on Justia Law