Archive for the ‘Civil Liability’ Category

Contract claims against government agencies must first be submitted to the agency under the Claims Act

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

Although generally referred to as the “Tort Claims Act,” the California Supreme Court has made clear that the claims presentation of Government Code § 905 applies to claims for breach of contract.

The issue was presented to the court in City of Stockton v. Superior Court (Civic Partners).  Civic claimed that Stockton’s Redevelopment Agency had breached a contract and violated Civic’s copyright to architectural plans.  The trial court dismissed the copyright claim, holding that federal courts had exclusive jurisdiction over those issues.  The trial court overruled the city’s demurrer to the contract claim, however, since it believed that the claims statute did not reach contract claims.  Stockton challenged that ruling in a petition for writ of mandate.  The appellate court agreed with the city and issued a writ ordering the trial court to sustain the demurrer.

On review, the California Supreme Court resolved a conflict in the courts of appeal by ruling that claims act (the court refers to it as the Government Claims Act to avoid confusion) applies to nearly all claims for money filed against a public entity.

Failure to secure a ruling on objections constitutes waiver

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

Last week I noted the decision in Reid v. Google with the post “What if the trial court did not rule on your objections?”  The court in Reidrejected what it saw as the weight of authority and ruled that the trial court’s failure to rule on objections does not waive those objections for purposes of appeal.

Demonstrating that the Reidcourt has yet to pick up any converts, Division 7 of the Second District Court of Appeal quoted from earlier rulings yesterday to hold that “where counsel fails to obtain rulings on evidentiary objections in summary judgment proceedings, the objections are waived and are not preserved for appeal.”  (Kasparian v. Avalonbay Communities). 

The conflicting views of the courts of appeal have set the stage for Supreme Court review.

Self-inflicted wounds do not grant standing to sue

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007

Purchasing a product in order to pursue litigation against the manufacturer is not sufficient to establish standing under the Unfair Competition Law (Bus & Prof Code §17200) according to a recent Court of Appeal decision.

The plaintiff, executive director of the Women’s Law Center, filed a declaration in the case stating that she purchased the skin cream both as a consumer and in order to determine the truth of the manufacturers claims.  Since she did not actually rely on any of the manufacturers claims, the court ruled that she could not pursue the claim under the Consumer Legal Remedies Act (Civ. Code §1750) or under fraud or misrepresentation theories.

Analyzing the §17200 claim, the court noted that voters had recently adopted Proposition 64 to restrict claims under that law to individuals who have suffered “injury in fact” and who have lost money as a result of the unfair competition.  As the court noted, voters expressly imported the federal standing requirement into claims under §17200.

Standing issues are often conceptually difficult in state law.  In federal court, standing relates to jurisdiction — the court’s power to hear the claim under the constitution.  Federal courts have limited jurisdiction under the Constitution to hear only “cases or controversies,” a requirement that is enforced through the standing requirement.

State courts do not operate under such a limitation, however.  In California, standing is treated as an element of the cause of action.  Like the jurisdictional standing requirement in federal courts, however, it may be raised at any stage of the proceedings.  Thus, in some instances, it seems to be a jurisdictional requirement and California courts will often look to federal authorities to determine questions of standing.  Nonetheless, the two concepts are very distinct as shown by the state’s treatment of taxpayer actions.

“What emerged was a portrait of litigation misconduct run riot”

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

A number of California attorneys I have spoken to over the years have complained about “Los Angeles attorneys” — asserting that attorneys practicing in the City of Angels are afflicted more than most with “attack-dog” syndrome and a lack of professionalism an civility.  Los Angeles certainly does not have a monopoly on this type of practice, but when you confront attorneys like this, you have to wonder why the courts do not take some action to address the problem.

Well, apparently, there is a line you cannot cross — even in LA.  The Court of Appeal in Stephen Slesinger, Inc. v. Walt Disney Company upheld dismissal of the plaintiff’s case as an appropriate sanction for “egregious” misconduct.  At issue in the case were some unique, and illegal, discovery practices — including breaking and entering.

One can hope that one day, members of our profession will assert themselves and insist on professionalism, civility, and ethical practices.  Until then, however, it is nice to know that the courts are occassionally willing to step in to put a halt to “litigation misconduct run wild.”

California Supreme Court To Hear Body Donation Case

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

On September 12, the California Supreme Court issued an order granting the petition for review in Conroy v. UC Regents.  The Court of Appeal had ruled for the University on the following issues raised by Ms. Conroy:

Conroy contends the Regents breached contractual and legal duties to her when UCI failed to keep track of her husband’s body, failed to contact her before disposing of her husband’s remains, and mishandled or otherwise treated her husband’s body in a disrespectful manner while using it for purposes other than teaching or scientific research.

The appellate court ruled that the matter was governed solely by the donation form executed by her husband.  On that basis, the court upheld the trial court judgment rejecting Ms. Conroy’s claims of negligence, fraud, misrepresentation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of special duty, and breach of implied contract

Stoneridge — a Different View

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

Jim Hamilton describes the argument of some SEC Commissioners that urge finding liability in the Stoneridge case.  The Solicitor General has filed a brief urging the opposite view.

For more background on the case, here is a link to a University of California press release that includes links to a number of the briefs in the case urging liability.

What’s at Stake in Stoneridge?

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

Jim Copeland of the Manhattan Institute offers his view of what is at stake in the Stoneridge case that will be heard by the United States Supreme Court next term.

Is the Landlord Responsible for Gang Violence?

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

The California Supreme Court has granted protection for civil liability (if not the flying bullets) to landlords with its decision in Castaneda v. Olsher.  The court ruled that a mobilehome park landlord had no specific duty to avoid renting spaces to gang members or to evict gang members who were renters.  As the court noted, California law allows park owners only two reasons to refuse rental of a space on which the mobilehome is installed:  inability to pay rent or past history of violating park rules.  Imposing a new duty to avoid rentals to gang members would, in the view of the Supreme Court, require landlords to risk civil liability for basing decisions on ethnicity, clothing, or presence of teenage children.


The court also ruled that the plaintiff had not established enough facts to impose liability for failure to have more street lights or an on-site security guard.  In dissent, Justice Kennard argues that this portion of the court’s decision confuses duty with breach.  In her view, the question was whether the landlord failed to act reasonably (by failing to install more lighting or to hire a security patrol), and that is a question that should be decided by the jury.