SIGNIFICANT DECISIONS

UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT:

 

Hertz Corp. v. Friend, et al. (2010) 130 S.Ct. 1131

In this case, the Court revisited, for the first time in decades, the definition of “principal place of business.” Hertz Corporation sought removal of this wage and hour case to the Federal District Court claiming diversity-of-citizenship jurisdiction. The Ninth Circuit found that Hertz Corporation does substantial business in California and therefore, was a citizen of California (thereby defeating diversity). The U.S. Supreme Court however, held that “principal place of business” is best read as referring to the place where a corporation’s officers direct, control, and coordinate the corporation’s activities, unless the alleged “nerve center” is nothing more than a sham (i.e., a mail drop box, bare office with a computer, etc.)

 

CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT:

 

Williams v. Chino Valley Indep. Fire Dist. (2015) 61 Cal.4th 97

The California Supreme Court held that a trial court may award attorneys’ fees and costs to prevailing FEHA parties, but that an employee may only be required to pay a prevailing defendant-employer’s costs if the court finds the lawsuit was objectively groundless. In civil litigation, the default rule requires each party to bear its own attorneys’ fees, but allows the prevailing party to recover its costs from the losing party. This once acted as a powerful deterrent to employees with legitimate FEHA claims who were required to weigh their right to seek justice against the possibility of being on the hook for substantial costs if they lost. As a result of this case, victims of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation in the workplace may seek justice without the fear of facing bankruptcy if they are not successful.

 

Salas v. Sierra Chemical Co. (2014) 59 Cal.4th 407

The California Supreme Court held that federal immigration law does not preclude California courts from enforcing state protections for unauthorized aliens who work here. For example, the Court’s ruling clarifies that state labor law protections extend to individuals who have obtained jobs by relying on false documents. This decision was particularly important to protect unauthorized alien workers who would otherwise be vulnerable to exploitation. The Court also reversed the Court of Appeals’ conclusion that an “after-acquired evidence defense” is a complete defense, holding that such a defense, if applicable, merely limits the remedies available and does not extinguish the plaintiff’s case altogether.

 

Harris v. City of Santa Monica (2013) 56 Cal.4th 203

In this landmark employment case, the California Supreme Court rejected the defense’s position that plaintiffs who brought FEHA discrimination cases had to prove that, “but for” the defendant’s discriminatory intent, the plaintiff would not have suffered the adverse treatment (e.g. termination) at issue. In recognizing the so-called “mixed motive” defense, the Court also ruled that, contrary to defendant’s argument and the opinion of the Court of Appeal, proof of such a defense was not a complete defense, but rather merely a defense to certain forms of relief the plaintiff might otherwise have received.

 

Roby v. McKesson Corp. (2009) 47 Cal.4th 686

The Court recognized the distinction between the California FEHA statute and its Federal equivalent, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In doing so, the Court removed any doubt that discrimination and harassment are separate and unlawful employment practices under the FEHA and that under each of these claims, an aggrieved employment may obtain full compensation for any resulting injury. The Court also recognized that often the evidence supporting sexual discrimination will also help support a claim for sexual harassment. Therefore, it is error for a court to allocate evidence to one claim and ignore the evidence when analyzing the other claim.

 

Rico v. Mitsubishi (2007) 42 Cal.4th 807

The Court resolved conflicts in the case law concerning the ethical obligations of an attorney who inadvertently receives privileged documents from the other side and also the issue of whether there is a “crime fraud” exception to the work-product doctrine.

 

Green v. State of California (2007) 42 Cal.4th 254

This case resolved two important questions concerning disability discrimination law: (1) what is the prima facie burden of the plaintiff in such cases; and (2) whether the employee has the burden of proving that he or she could perform the job in question with reasonable accommodation, or the employer has the burden of proving that, even with reasonable accommodation, the employee was unable to perform the job.

 

MW Erectors v. Neiderhauser Ornamental & Metal Works Co. (2005) 36 Cal.4th 412

The Court in this case resolved issues of California licensing law, illegal contracts and judicial estoppel. The Court held that the statutory exception for substantial compliance with licensing requirements was not available to a subcontractor. However, the Court also held the subcontractor was not barred from recovering for work performed after compliance with licensing requirements solely because it was unlicensed when the contract was executed.

 

Johnson v. Ford Motor Co. (2005) 35 Cal.4th 1191 (Amicus Curiae)

This case re-defined the scope and breadth of punitive damages law in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Campbell (2003) 538 U.S. 408 [123 S. Ct. 1513.]

 

Little v. Auto Stiegler, Inc. (2003) 29 Cal.4th 1064 (Amicus Curiae)

The Court helped define the reach of Armendariz v. Foundation Health Psychcare Services, Inc. (2000) 24 Cal. 4th 83, concerning compulsory arbitration clauses.

 

White v. Ultramar (1999) 21 Cal.4th 563 (Amicus Curiae)

This case resulted in a key decision defining the broad scope of “managing agent.”

 

Swenson v. County of Los Angeles (1999), formerly published at 75 Cal.App.4th 889 [before review was granted]

The issue of the definition of “mental disability” was fully briefed in the Supreme Court before review was dismissed based on the Legislature’s enactment of the Poppick Act, which confirmed our position on the issue.

 

CALIFORNIA COURT OF APPEAL:

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

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.

 

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 Sch. Dist. (Cal. Ct. App. Jan. 25, 2016) 

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. 

 

Velasquez v. County of Ventura (Cal. Ct. App., Oct. 16, 2013)

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 sufficieny 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 (Cal. Ct. App., Aug. 8, 2013)

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 et al. (Cal. Ct. App., July 29, 2013)

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 upon 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’ unconscionaibility 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 District (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 (Cal. Ct. App., Feb. 9, 2012)

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 unconcsionability. Those arguments were so persuasive that, after plaintiff’s Respondent’s Brief was filed, defendant abandoned its appeal.

 

Allen v. Giles (Cal. Ct. App., Sept. 25, 2012)

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. (2011)

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 (2011)

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 (2010)

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. (2010)

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 (2010)

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, et al. (2010)

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 (2009)

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. (2008)

Our attorneys’ work on appeal culminated in the complete affirmance of a $31 million jury award on behalf of a group a 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 (2007)

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 (2007)

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 (2006)

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 (2005)

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 El Monte (2004)

Our attorneys successfully defended a trespass action against a major outdoor billboard company which 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 which 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.

 

 

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