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CALIFORNIA COURT OF APPEAL:

Mazik v. GEICO General Insurance Company  (2019) 35 Cal.App.5th 455

After plaintiff was injured in a serious car accident, GEICO unreasonably delayed paying him the policy limits on an underinsured motorist policy. Plaintiff’s action for insurance bad faith resulted in a significant compensatory damages award and a seven-figure punitive damages award. In a published opinion, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment in full. The appellate court held that the evidence was sufficient to show that GEICO’s managing agent had ratified conduct warranting punitive damages and that GEICO had acted with “oppression, fraud, or malice” in disregarding information showing that plaintiff had a permanent, painful injury. Given the reprehensibility of GEICO’s conduct, the appellate court held that the seven-figure punitive damages award was not constitutionally excessive.

Nolasco v. Scantibodies Laboratory, Inc. (Feb. 26, 2019, No. D071923)

Plaintiffs were retaliated against after they disclosed information about the serious safety concerns relating to defendant’s plasma program to the United States Food and Drug Administration. Plaintiffs won a seven‑figure judgment consisting of compensatory and punitive damages. The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment in full, holding that the trial court had properly instructed the jury that whistleblower protection is not limited to the first employee to disclose, that the trial court had properly handled deliberations involving abstaining and alternate jurors, and that plaintiffs had adequately established their retaliation claims.

         

Navarro v. 4Earth Farms, Inc. (Feb. 8, 2019, No. B284853)

In this action for sexual harassment, retaliation, and failure to participate in the interactive process to accommodate disability, the jury awarded compensatory and punitive damages. The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment in full, rejecting defendants’ evidentiary arguments concerning plaintiff’s emotional distress and sexual conduct with other employees. The Court also held that sufficient evidence supported plaintiff’s two theories of sexual harassment—hostile work environment and quid pro quo harassment—and that punitive damages were properly assessed.

 

J.W. v. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. (2018) 29 Cal.App.5th 1142

This child-molestation action resulted in a seven-figure default judgment after defendant refused to produce documents concerning known molesters in the defendant’s church. In a published opinion, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment, holding that plaintiff had adequately alleged proximate cause based on a pedophile church elder having molested her and that terminating sanctions were appropriate given defendant’s discovery abuses.

 

Zissler v. Saville (2018) 29 Cal.App.5th 630

This appeal concerned a dispute between two neighbors concerning the scope of an easement. The trial court improperly concluded that the easement was ambiguous, interpreting it based on extrinsic evidence of historic use and adding language limiting the easement for landscaping purposes. In a published opinion, however, the Court of Appeal reversed. It accepted our contentions that the trial court had erred in relying on extrinsic evidence to interpret an unambiguous easement and that our client’s bona fide purchaser status precluded the alleged interpretation.

 

B.B. v. County of Los Angeles (2018) 25 Cal.App.5th 115, review granted Oct. 10, 2018

In this wrongful death civil rights action, the Court of Appeal affirmed the entire $8 million judgment, rejecting defendants’ arguments regarding causation, misconduct by trial counsel, and excessive damages. The appellate court also reversed and remanded the grant of summary adjudication to defendants on plaintiffs’ Bane Act claim. On the only issue we lost (concerning apportionment of noneconomic damages caused in part by an intentional tortfeasor), we were able to convince the California Supreme Court to grant review.

 

Caldera v. Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (2018) 25 Cal.App.5th 31

Plaintiff Caldera suffers from a stuttering disability. Other state prison employees, including a supervisor, mocked and mimicked his stutter. Plaintiff won a $500,000 judgment for disability harassment and failure to prevent disability harassment in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act. In its published opinion, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment, holding that a dozen incidents of harassment over two years may be both severe and pervasive and that, even if a defendant takes prompt corrective action, it still may be liable for a failure to prevent harassment. The Court of Appeal also reversed the grant of defendant’s new trial motion on the issue of damages.

 

Meeks v. AutoZone, Inc. (2018) 24 Cal.App.5th 855

We were able to obtain a published Opinion from the Riverside appellate court adopting a liberal view of sexual harassment, reaffirming the appropriateness of “me too” evidence, and rejecting hearsay and other objections on key points. The appellate court reversed the summary judgment defendant had obtained, holding that the trial court had erred in excluding plaintiff’s testimony regarding sexual text messages that she had received from a harassing coworker and in excluding “me too” evidence regarding the harassing coworker’s conduct toward other coworkers.

Estelle v. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Nov. 17, 2017, B268085)

Plaintiff Estelle sued for failure to accommodate his disabilities and failure to engage in the interactive process to discuss accommodating his disabilities. After a jury trial, plaintiff won a seven-figure judgment consisting of noneconomic damages and attorneys' fees. Defendant appealed, challenging, among other things, the trial court's refusal to apply judicial estoppel to vacate the verdict, the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the damages award, and the application of a lodestar multiplier when awarding attorneys' fees. The Second Appellate District affirmed the judgment in its entirety. After extensive post-appeal briefing and a two-hour oral argument, the superior court awarded appellate attorney's fees consisting of our full lodestar (up to $875 per hour) and a 1.75 multiplier.

Padron v. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. (2017) 16 Cal.App.5th 1246

In this published opinion, the Court of Appeal succinctly stated that the key issue was whether a superior court can impose “a hefty daily monetary sanction” on a party who steadfastly refuses to comply with a discovery order. It emphatically answered yes. In so ruling, the Court rejected the entire array of defense arguments ranging from the alleged interference with Watchtower’s First Amendment rights (including “religious polity and administration”), its claim that it lacked possession or control of the documents, and its alleged concerns for the constitutional privacy rights of third parties. This opinion, which so severely criticized Watchtower’s “cavalier” attitude towards valid court orders and its downright “defiance,” has created a heavy collateral estoppel burden that will plague Watchtower—a litigious party in cases involving sexual abuse—hereafter.

Bhandari v. Washington Hospital (June 14, 2017, A144184)

Plaintiff Bhandari, a physician, sued his employer hospital for retaliation after his appearance in a documentary critical of the hospital led to his removal from office as chief of staff-elect. The trial court granted the hospital's anti-SLAPP motion in part, dismissing several of Bhandari's causes of action. On appeal, PTP assisted co-counsel in (a) obtaining reversal of the dismissal of Bhandari’s libel, libel per se, and false light causes of action; and (b) successfully defending against the hospital's appellate challenges to several of Bhandari's other claims, including for retaliation, breach of contract, interference with prospective economic advantage, and punitive damages.

Lopez v. Watchtower Bible & Tract Soc'y of New York, Inc. (2016) 246 Cal.App.4th 566

In this published opinion, the Fourth Appellate District agreed with the trial court’s determination that the plaintiff, a victim of childhood molestation, was entitled to discovery of documents regarding the perpetrators of child sex abuse, to show that the religious organization had institutional knowledge of widespread, unreported acts of child molestation, including previous acts by Lopez’s assailant, rendering the organization potentially liable for Lopez’s claims. The court rejected the organization’s objections to the discovery-based upon its claims of clergy-penitent privilege and First Amendment religious freedom.  

 

Baez v. Burbank Unified School Dist. (Jan. 25, 2016, B254852) 

After our firm successfully reversed a defense verdict, plaintiff Baez retried her claims against the School District and its CFO, obtaining a jury verdict in her favor as to her claim for sexual harassment in violation of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. When the School District appealed, our firm represented Baez once again, obtaining an affirmance of the jury award, vindicating her right to be free from workplace sexual harassment, and bringing well-deserved closure to Baez as to this long and arduous legal battle. 

 

Jones v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. (Feb. 17, 2015, B237282, B243333)

After defending the underlying $3.5 million jury verdict in a racial discrimination class action (Unruh Act) and obtaining reversal of the wholly inadequate fee award that trial counsel had received, our firm obtained an appellate fee award of $3.2 million (including a 2.5 multiplier) for trial counsel and our firm. Following the double appellate victories, our firm ensured that the new fee awards for all appellate work were adequate to ensure that counsel would take future difficult contingency cases. The 2.5 multiplier is especially noteworthy given that many judges refuse (however erroneously) any multiplier, and many others grant multipliers in the 1.5 range. 

 

Velasquez v. County of Ventura (Oct. 16, 2013, B238939)

Plaintiff Velasquez sued for wrongful constructive termination and retaliation after plaintiff reported discrimination in his workplace. The jury awarded plaintiff $1.356 million in damages. Defendant appealed, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the jury’s verdict. The Second Appellate District found substantial evidence supported plaintiff’s verdict and affirmed plaintiff’s award.

 

Ventura v. ABM Industries, Inc. (2012) 212 Cal.App.4th 258

In this published opinion, the Second Appellate District affirmed a six-figure judgment for plaintiff, holding that the Ralph Act applies to any threat or act of violence against a person “‘because of'” the person’s sex – regardless of whether or not the act was “based on hate.” The opinion also contains important rulings concerning ratification, negligent hiring, and a host of purely appellate issues.

 

San Diego Hospital Based Physicians v. el Centro Regional Medical Center (Aug. 1, 2013, D061740)

Defendant’s attempt to dismiss plaintiff’s whistle-blower lawsuit under anti-SLAPP law was rejected by the Imperial County Superior Court and defendant appealed, claiming that its decision to terminate plaintiffs was protected peer review activity and that plaintiffs could not show a probability of prevailing on their retaliation claims. On appeal, the Fourth Appellate District agreed that the peer review was protected activity, but affirmed the trial court’s ruling because it found that plaintiffs met their burden of showing a probability of success on their claims.

 

Wascher v. Southern California Permanente Medical Group (July 29, 2013, G047042)

Defendant Kaiser’s attempt to compel arbitration was rejected by the Orange County Superior Court and defendant appealed on a variety of grounds. Plaintiff Dr. Wascher opposed that effort based on contract formation issues and unconscionability arguments. The Fourth Appellate District affirmed the trial court’s refusal to compel arbitration, holding that it need not even reach the parties’ unconscionability arguments because defendants failed to sufficiently define the dispute resolution terms to which the parties agreed.

 

Fuentes v. Autozone, Inc. (2012) 200 Cal.App.4th 1221

The Second Appellate District affirmed an $860,000 sexual harassment judgment including fees for employee Fuentes, holding that the evidence established that a reasonable person could share Fuentes’ perception that her supervisors created a hostile work environment and that their offensive behavior was focused on Fuentes’ gender.

 

Baez v. Burbank Unified School Dist. (2012) 115 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 10

Our attorneys persuaded the Second Appellate District to vacate the jury’s verdict and order a new trial, to be held before a different judge, for plaintiff Baez in her action for sexual harassment by her supervisor. The Court of Appeal agreed that the trial judge’s permissive admission of evidence about an unrelated consensual relationship was grossly prejudicial and infected the jury’s verdict.

 

Espinoza v. County of Orange (Feb. 9, 2012, G043067)

Defendant Orange County attacked an $820,000 judgment (plus additional fees) against it for disability harassment and failure to prevent such harassment. Defendant’s attacks on the judgment ranged from evidentiary rulings and alleged violations of First Amendment protections to issues about the severity of the conduct and the alleged excessiveness of the damages. On appeal, our attorneys successfully convinced the Fourth Appellate District to reject all of defendant’s attacks and affirm plaintiff Espinoza’s judgment.

 

Taylor v. Western Dental Services, Inc. (2012)

Defendant’s attempt to compel arbitration was rejected by the Orange County Superior Court and defendant appealed on a variety of grounds. Plaintiff opposed that effort based upon contract formation grounds and unconscionability. Those arguments were so persuasive that, after plaintiff’s Respondent’s Brief was filed, defendant abandoned its appeal.

 

Allen v. Giles (Sept. 25, 2012, B226823)

In this appeal from a breach of contract action, our attorneys successfully persuaded the Second Appellate District to reverse judgment for defendants-lessees, where the special verdict form upon which the jury rendered its verdict was fatally inadequate.

 

Sallustio v. Kemper Independent Insurance Co. (July 28, 2011, C062563)

Our attorneys (as co-counsel with Christopher Whelan and David deRubertis) were successful in persuading the Third Appellate District to affirm the disqualification of a major law firm as trial counsel due to its improper disclosure and improper use of confidential documents concerning a third party witness which the law firm had inadvertently received. The case covered a wide range of disqualification issues, including a number of issues raised by the Supreme Court’s decision in Rico v. Mitsubishi (2007) 42 Cal.4th 807.

 

Patrick v. City of Los Angeles (June 29, 2011, B218770)

The Second Appellate District affirmed in full a judgment of approximately $1.2 million in favor of three African-American officers where race was a motivating reason contributing to the City’s decision not to promote them.

 

Sanchez v. Caremore Medical Group (Sept. 8, 2010, B213448)

Our attorneys convinced the Second Appellate District to affirm plaintiff’s $9 million judgment against defendant, Caremore Medical Group. The appeal focused upon agency and respondeat superior issues in the managed medical care context. The plaintiff suffered catastrophic physical damages after a Caremore-contracted neurosurgeon failed to properly treat her for a severely-infected shunt in her brain. The jury rejected Caremore’s claim that the neurosurgeon was an independent contractor, rather than an agent of Caremore, and it, therefore, held Caremore liable for the entire $9 million in damages.

 

South Beverly Park Homeowners Assoc. Inc. v. North Beverly Park Homeowners Assoc. Inc. (Aug. 19, 2010, B216652)

Our attorneys convinced the Second Appellate District to affirm a judgment upholding an easement permitting guests, employees, and invitees of the residents of South Beverly Park access through the North Gate of North Beverly Park.

 

Hill v. City of Los Angeles (Mar. 8, 2010, B214210)

Our attorneys convinced the Second Appellate District to affirm in full a judgment of approximately $3.8 million, not including appellate attorneys fees, in favor of a police officer who was retaliated against for complaining about racist comments made by a superior officer. In affirming the judgment, the court applied the “cat’s paw” theory and rejected the claim that the decision-makers lacked illegal intent. The City vigorously fought this case, including seeking review by the California Supreme Court.

 

Core Wealth Management, LLC v. Ronald Heller (Apr. 13, 2010, B199366)

Our attorneys convinced the Second Appellate District to affirm a $4 million judgment based on breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, misappropriation of trade secrets and other claims stemming from defendants’ leaving the plaintiff company and starting a competing business.

 

Villa v. [Confidential] Insurance Company (2010)

Our attorneys’ briefing on appeal and oral argument resulted in a $1 million settlement (an offer that was about three times the policy limits) in a bad faith insurance case. The underlying case stemmed from an accident involving an 11-year old girl who suffered devastating injuries when she fell off a golf cart. Our attorneys raised novel legal theories on appeal attacking the lower court’s summary judgment ruling, which were met by a vigorous defense. Immediately following oral argument at the Court of Appeal, defendant insurance company made a $1 million settlement offer.

 

Boston v. Penny Lane Centers, Inc. (2009) 170 Cal.App.4th 936

Our attorneys were successful in obtaining full affirmance of a wrongful termination verdict of $500,000 in compensatory damages and $200,000 in punitive damages. Among other issues, the court rejected the defense argument that expert report and writings must be created by the specified expert exchange date or not at all. The court held that expert witnesses are not required to refrain from creating new or additional reports after the specified date for any demanded production of writings.

 

Bressler v. City of Los Angeles (Jan. 29, 2009, B199435)

The appellate court affirmed over $1.7 million in damages, exclusive of attorneys fees, for retaliation against a fire captain for complaining about discrimination and harassment.

 

Harsco Corp. v. Kiewitt Pacific Co. (June 11, 2008, B190127, B194481)

Our attorneys’ work on appeal culminated in the complete affirmance of a $31 million jury award on behalf of a group of seriously injured workers. Plaintiffs were injured by the collapse of a 50′ sewage digestion tank in the City of Carson while concrete was being poured. Our attorneys successfully negated the claims of multiple defendants that the accident was “not their fault.”

 

Lozano v. Alcoa Global Fasteners, Inc. (2008)

Our attorneys defended against defendant’s appeal of an employment law verdict and filed a cross-appeal of the judge’s decision taking away the eight-million dollar punitive damages award (leaving about one-million dollars in compensatory damages). Following our attorneys' briefing of the cross-appeal issues, a settlement conference was arranged, which resulted in a highly confidential (at defendant’s insistence) settlement for the client.

 

McGee v. Tocoemas Federal Credit Union (2007) 153 Cal.App.4th 1351

In a published opinion, the Fifth Appellate District (Fresno) upheld a $1.2 million punitive damages award (plus attorney’s fees) in a disability discrimination case, holding that: (1) Federal Credit Unions are not immune from punitive damages; and (2) a reduction in compensatory damages by the trial court did not mandate a similar reduction in the amount of punitive damages by either the trial or the appellate court. Not only did the California Supreme Court deny review, the United States Supreme Court denied defendant’s Petition for Certiorari.

 

Medina v. City of Fontana (June 12, 2007, E037446)

Our attorneys successfully defended on appeal liability against the City of Fontana for the wrongful death claim of a minor killed on her way home from school. The jury’s $30 million verdict was substantially based on the theory that City’s failure to spend tax money to build sidewalks on the route to school constituted a dangerous condition. Despite vigorous attacks on this “unprecedented theory” by the defense, our attorneys were able to convince a relatively conservative Court of Appeal (in Riverside) to uphold the liability verdict. The City’s Petition for Review on the liability issue (bemoaning that every street in every city would require paved sidewalks) was rejected by the California Supreme Court.

 

Porter v. Vincenti (Sept. 5, 2007, B186093)

The Second Appellate District affirmed a $2 million judgment in a personal injury accident where the defendant claimed she did not have a fair opportunity to put on her case. Defendant, inter alia, attacked in limine rulings precluding evidence of “other similar incidents,” and also attacked the court’s refusal to allow an affirmative defense which had been pleaded obliquely. Our attorneys won a total appellate victory.

 

Haluck v. Ricoh Electronics, Inc. (2007) 151 Cal.App.4th 994

Our attorneys helped convince the Fourth District Court of Appeal to reverse a defense jury verdict after concluding that the trial judge had been guilty of gross judicial misconduct, both in allowing the trial to degenerate into a “circus” and in seeming to favor the defense which demeaned plaintiffs and their counsel.

 

Conney v. Regents of the University of California (Sept. 26, 2006, B179099, B180451)

In an incredibly thorough, 64-page opinion, Justice Croskey, writing for a unanimous court, fully dispatched the multi-leveled attack Reed, Smith launched against the plaintiff’s $4.5 million (including attorneys’ fees) victory in a retaliation and gender discrimination case. To defend the judgment, our attorneys had to master a record consisting of thousands of pages.

 

Butler v. The Vons Companies, Inc. (2006) 140 Cal.App.4th 943

Our attorneys obtained reversal of summary judgment in an employment discrimination case where there was a triable issue of fact regarding the scope of a prior release agreement relating to an altercation plaintiff had with a co-employee.

 

Hope v. State of California, Dept. Of Youth Authority (2005) 134 Cal.App.4th 577

Our attorneys successfully defended against an appeal of a judgment obtained by a former gay employee who suffered illegal sexual orientation harassment. The judgment on the jury verdict was approximately $2 million in economic damages and non-economic damages. In a colorful published opinion, the Second Appellate District upheld the verdict in all respects and, thereafter, the trial court awarded all of the attorney’s fees requested, along with a 2.0 multiplier.

 

Zevada Enterprises v. Sasson (Oct. 25, 2005, B173009)

Our attorneys were successful in reversing summary judgment in a multi-million dollar dispute concerning the terms of a commercial strip mall lease.

 

Bettelman Recreation Enterprises v. City of South El Monte (Aug. 11, 2004, B155511)

Our attorneys successfully defended a trespass action against a major outdoor billboard company that illegally erected a billboard on plaintiff’s property.

 

Herr v. Nestle USA (2003) 109 Cal.App.4th 779

Our attorneys successfully defended against Paul, Hastings’ appeal of the approximately $7 million verdict for damages and trial court attorneys’ fees which were won in this age discrimination action. Our attorneys' work resulted in a published decision on the Section 17200 issues and withstood challenge to the California Supreme Court. The final result was that, including appellate attorney’s fees and interest, Nestle had to pay a judgment totaling $10.2 million.

 

Gunther v. MTV Networks (2001)

In an entertainment case involving the right to the cartoon “Angry Beavers,” our attorneys were able to reverse the summary judgment that Irell & Manella had obtained. A confidential settlement was thereafter obtained.

 

Romo v. Y-3 Holdings, Inc. (2001) 87 Cal.App.4th 115

Our attorneys were successful in convincing the appellate court to place limits on an employer’s ability to compel arbitration of employment claims.

 

Gonzalez v. Purvis (2000)

Our attorneys successfully convinced the Second Appellate District to reverse a new trial order and fully reinstate a $3 million verdict in favor of the plaintiff, a 21-year old college student who suffered permanent brain damage while jet-skiing when she was negligently hit by a speed boat. Our attorneys were successful in opposing the defense appeal which vigorously pressed an assumption of risk defense and in defending the damages award.

 

Chen v. Mercedes Benz (2000)

Our attorneys were successful in defending what Mercedes claimed was the “largest ever” judgment ($1 million-plus) in a California Lemon Law case.

 

NINTH CIRCUIT:

 

Bautista v. Park West Gallery (9th Cir. 2010) 388 Fed.Appx. 635

Our attorneys successfully defended the District Court’s denial of attorney’s fees and costs where the plaintiff’s action for breach of contract was dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction and her subsequent action was dismissed on the basis of collateral estoppel on the issue of personal jurisdiction.

 

Carpinteria Valley Farms, Ltd. v. County of Santa Barbara (9th Cir. 2003) 344 F.3d 822 

Our attorneys successfully prosecuted an appeal which reversed summary judgment against a client whose constitutional rights were trampled upon by local government bodies pursuing a political agenda against him.