Justia California Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court answered a question requested by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit by holding that the provision in Cal. Civ. Code 1916-2 prohibiting lenders from assessing compound interest "unless an agreement to that effect is clearly expressed in writing and signed by the party to be charged therewith" does not apply to lenders exempt under article XV of the California Constitution. Article XV sets the maximum interest rates lenders may charge but exempts specified classes of lenders from those rate restrictions and authorizes the Legislature to regulate the compensation these exempt lenders may receive. At issue was whether exempt lenders are required to obtain a borrower's signed agreement in order to charge compound interest on a loan. The Supreme Court held that exempt lenders are not required to obtain a borrower's signed agreement in order to charge compound interest on a loan. View "Wishnev v. Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Banking
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In this Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA), Cal. Lab. Code 2698 et seq., action seeking civil penalties under Cal. Labor Code 558 the Supreme Court held that the civil penalties a plaintiff may seek under section 558 through the PAGA do not include the "amount sufficient to recover underpaid wages." Real party in interest Kalethia Lawson brought this action naming as Defendants her employer and its parent company (collectively, ZB). Lawson had agreed to arbitrate all employment claims and forego class arbitration with her employer. The court of appeals ordered the trial court to deny ZB's motion to arbitrate that portion of Lawson's claim for unpaid wages, concluding that section 558's civil penalty encompassed the amount for unpaid wages and that Lawson's unpaid wages claim could not be compelled to arbitration under Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC, 59 Cal.4th 348 (2014). The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the amount for unpaid wages is not recoverable under the PAGA, and section 558 does not otherwise permit a private right of action; and (2) therefore, the trial court should have denied ZB's motion. View "ZB, N.A. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that a definitive resolution of the question of whether an arbitral scheme resembling civil litigation can constitute a sufficiently accessible and affordable process was unnecessary in this case because the facts involved an unusually high degree of procedural unconscionability, rendering the arbitration agreement in this case unenforceable. During his employment Employee signed an arbitration clause grafted onto an acknowledgment of at-will employment. After his employment ended Employee filed a complaint with the Labor Commissioner for unpaid wages. Employer filed a petition to compel arbitration. The Labor Commissioner proceeded to the hearing without Employer and awarded Employee unpaid wages and liquidated damages. The trial court vacated the award, concluding that the hearing should not have proceeded in Employer's absence. The court, however, did not compel arbitration, finding that the agreement was both procedurally and substantively unconscionable. The court of appeal reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) even if a litigation-like arbitration procedure may be an acceptable substitute for the Berman process, an employee may not be coerced or misled into accepting this trade; and (2) under the oppressive circumstances of this case, the agreement was unconscionable, rendering it unenforceable. View "OTO, L.L.C. v. Kho" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court considered two questions from the federal court of appeals regarding California's common-law notice-prejudice rule and held (1) the notice-prejudice rule is a fundamental public policy of the state in the insurance context, and (2) the rule generally applies to consent provisions in the context of first party liability policy coverage and not to consent provisions in third party liability policies. The insurance policy in this case contained a choice of law provision designating that New York law should govern all matters arising under the policy. Under section 187 of the Restatement Second of Conflict of Laws the parties' choice of law generally governs unless it conflicts with a state's fundamental public policy. The party opposing the application of the choice of law provision sought to establish that California's notice-prejudice rule was a fundamental public policy for the purpose of choice-of-law analysis. The federal court of appeals issued certified questions to the Supreme Court, which answered as set forth above. The Court left it to the federal court of appeals to decide whether the consent provision at issue in this case was a consent provision contemplated first party or third party coverage. View "Pitzer College v. Indian Harbor Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that when a law enforcement agency creates a so-called internal Brady list, and a peace officer on that list is a potential witness in a pending criminal prosecution, the agency may disclose to the prosecution the name and identifying number of the officer and that the officer may have relevant exonerating or impeaching material in that officer's confidential personnel file. The "Pitchess statutes" restrict a prosecutor's ability to learn of and disclose certain information regarding law enforcement officers. Some law enforcement agencies created Brady lists enumerating officers that the agencies identified as having potential exculpatory or impeachment information in their personnel filed - i.e., evidence that may need to be disclosed to the defense under Brady and its progeny. Petitioner in this case obtained a preliminary injunction preventing the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department from disclosing the identity of deputies on the Department's Brady list, but the injunction included and exception permitting disclosure to prosecutors when a deputy is a potential witness in a pending prosecution. The court of appeal concluded that the exception was impermissible under the Pitchess statutes. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Pitchess statutes merit such disclosure. View "Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeal affirming Defendant's conviction of attempted kidnapping where Defendant was charged with completed kidnapping, holding that reversal was not warranted by the mere fact that Defendant was charged with completed kidnapping but convicted of attempted kidnapping. In affirming the conviction, the court of appeal cited the Supreme Court's decision in People v. Martinez, 20 Cal.4th 225 (1999), which treated attempted kidnapping as a lesser included offense of completed kidnapping. On appeal, Defendant asked the Court to overrule Martinez and rule that he could not constitutionally be convicted of attempted kidnapping because that offense includes an element that completed kidnapping lacks. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) because attempted kidnapping requires an additional intent element, attempted kidnapping is not a lesser included offense of completed kidnapping; but (2) reversal was not warranted in this case because Cal. Penal Code 1159 states that a defendant may be convicted of an attempt despite being charged only with the completed crime. View "People v. Fontenot" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal finding that the trial court's error in permitting the jury to consider a box cutter an inherently deadly weapon was prejudicial, holding that the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. A jury convicted Defendant of assault with a deadly weapon and found true that Defendant personally used a deadly and dangerous weapon. The court of appeal reversed the conviction of assault with a deadly weapon and the true finding on the weapon allegation, finding that the trial court erred in permitting the jury to find the box cutter to be an inherently deadly weapon, and the error required reversal of the conviction. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "People v. Aledamat" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeal affirming the judgment of the trial court denying Defendant's motion to dismiss his recommitment as a mentally disordered offender (MDO) on the basis that the redesignation of his theft offense meant he no longer had a qualifying offense for his MDO recommitment, holding that the applicable statutes did not afford Defendant the relief he sought. Defendant pleaded guilty to one count of felony grand theft. After Defendant had completed his sentence he was admitted to a state hospital as an MDO as a parole condition. Since his initial commitment, Defendant was recommitted as an MDO annually. In 2016, after voters approved Proposition 47, Defendant successfully petitioned to have his felony conviction redesignated as a misdemeanor. Thereafter, Defendant moved to dismiss his recommitment as an MDO, arguing that the redesignation of his theft offense meant he no longer had a qualifying offense for his MDO recommitment. The trial court denied the motion, and the court of appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the redesignation of Defendant's theft offense as a misdemeanor did not undermine the continued validity of his initial commitment or preclude Defendant's continued recommitment as an MDO. View "People v. Foster" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeal affirming the finding of the City of San Diego that adoption of an ordinance authorizing the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries and regulating their location and operation did not constitute a project, holding that the court of appeal misapplied the test for determining whether a proposed activity has the potential to cause environmental change under Cal. Pub. Res. Code 21065. The City did not conduct any environmental review when adopting the ordinance, finding that adoption of the ordinance did not constitute a project for purposes of the California Environmental Quality Act, Cal. Pub. Res. Code 21000 et seq. (CEQA). Petitioner filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging the City's failure to conduct CEQA review. The trial court denied the petition. The court of appeal affirmed, concluding that the City correctly concluded that the ordinance was not a project because it did not have the potential to cause a physical change in the environment. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for further findings, holding that the City erred in determining that the adoption of the Ordinance was not a project. View "Union of Medical Marijuana Patients, Inc. v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal finding the City of Oroville liable in inverse condemnation for property damage suffered by a dental practice when raw sewage began spewing from the toilets, sinks, and drains of its building, holding that where the dentists did not install a legally required backwater valve on their premises the City was not liable for the property damage. The dentists argued that the City was legally responsible for the property damage because it was caused by the sewer system's failure to function as intended. The City argued in response that the damage occurred because the dentists failed to install the backwater valve that would have prevented sewage from entering their building in the event of a sewer main backup. The trial court concluded that an inverse condemnation had occurred. The court of appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the damage was not substantially caused by the sewer system when the dentists failed to fulfill a responsibility to install a backwater valve that would have prevented or substantially diminished the risk of the mishap that occurred in this case. View "City of Oroville v. Superior Court of Butte County" on Justia Law