Justia California Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court held that a company that hired the contractor that hired the injured plaintiff in this case, owned the premises, and operated the electrical equipment, was not liable for the plaintiff's injuries.Plaintiff, an electrical parts specialist, sustained burns to a substantial portion of his body after he triggered an arc flash from a circuit he did not realize was live with flowing electricity. A jury concluded that the contractor for whom Plaintiff had been working and who had removed the protective cover on that live circuit while work was underway acted negligently and was liable for Plaintiff's injuries. At issue was whether Defendant, the entity that hired the independent contractor, owed a tort duty to Plaintiff, who was working for Defendant at the time of Plaintiff's injuries. The Supreme Court held that Defendant owed no tort duty to Plaintiff because Defendant neither failed to sufficiently disclose the hazard nor affirmatively contributed to the injury. View "Sandoval v. Qualcomm Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the trial court committing Petitioner as a sexually violent predator, holding that hearsay evidence in a psychological evaluation report in finding probable cause to commit a petitioner under the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA), Cal. Well. & Inst. Code, 6600 set seq., is not admissible in expert evaluations.At issue was what kind of evidence a trial court may consider in making its initial SVPA probable cause determination. Petitioner argued that the trial court admitted inadmissible hearsay in two evaluations in finding probable cause, including facts underlying two offenses that he had been charged with but not convicted of and resulted in convictions that did not qualify as predicate offenses for commitment under the SVPA. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that the introduction of this hearsay evidence prejudicially affected Defendant's ability to challenge the basis of the State's petition and the sufficiency of the evidence. View "Walker v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court held that Defendant, which terminated one of the life insurance policies at issue in this case because the policy owner had failed to make a payment, had no right to terminate the policies without complying with the newly codified statutory protections against termination.In 2013, protections to shield consumers from losing life insurance coverage because of a missed premium payment went into effect. The protections were codified in Cal. Ins. Code 10113.71 and 10113.72. Thereafter, Defendant terminated the subject life insurance policy. Plaintiffs brought this action arguing that Defendant had no right to terminate the policies, which predated sections 10113.71 and 10113.72, without complying with the sections. The court of appeal concluded that the newly codified statutory protections against termination did not apply because they appeared to affect only policies issued or delivered after the sections' effective date. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that sections 10113.71 and 10113.72 apply to all life insurance policies in force when these two sections went into effect, regardless of when the policies were originally issued. View "McHugh v. Protective Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of two counts of first degree murder, two counts of attempted murder, and possession of a firearm by a felon, holding that there was no reversible error.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the prosecutor's use of a peremptory strike during jury selection prior to the guilt phase did not violate Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), or People v. Wheeler, 22 Cal. 3d 258 (1978); (2) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress the gun discovered during a traffic stop; (3) the trial court did not err in admitting hearsay evidence that was the basis for the gang enhancement; (4) there was sufficient evidence to support Defendant's gang enhancement conviction; and (5) the court erred in admitting evidence of the victim's cancer diagnoses during the penalty phase, but there was no reasonable possibility that the victim impact testimony affected the verdict. View "People v. McDaniel" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's convictions of two counts of first-degree murder, holding that the district court erred in failing to initiate the competency procedures set forth in Cal. Penal Code 1368 and 1369.During pretrial proceedings and at the request of the court, a psychologist examined Defendant and issued a report finding Defendant incompetent to stand trial. The trial court rejected the psychologist's opinion without initiating the competency procedures set forth in sections 1368 and 1369. At both the guilt and penalty phases of trial, Defendant represented himself. Defendant was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment in its entirety, holding that the trial court erred by failing to initiate the formal competency procedures set forth in sections 1368 and 1369. View "People v. Wycoff" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court held that a landowner may not be liable for injuries to an independent contractor or its workers that result from a known hazard on the premises where there were no reasonable safety precautions the landowner could have adopted to minimize or avoid the hazard.Plaintiff's company was hired by Defendant to clean his home's skylight. While Plaintiff was walking on the edge of the roof he slipped and fell, sustaining serious injuries. Plaintiff brought this action, contending that his accident was caused by certain dangerous conditions on Defendant's roof. The trial court granted summary judgment for Defendant, finding that Defendant owed no duty to Plaintiff pursuant to the Privette doctrine, or the presumption that the hirer of an independent contractor delegates to the contractor all responsibility for workplace safety. The court of appeal reversed, concluding that a landowner may be liable to an independent contractor for injuries resulting from known hazards. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, unless a landowner retains control over any part of the contractor's work and negligently exercises that retained control in a manner that affirmatively contributes to the injury, it is not liable to an independent contractor or its workers for an injury resulting from a known hazard on the premises. View "Gonzalez v. Mathis" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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In this case involving the In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeal concluding that sections 631 and 683 of the Unemployment Insurance Code exclude from coverage a provider who is the recipient's minor child, parent, or spouse under the state's unemployment insurance program, holding that the court of appeal did not err.The IHSS program authorized certain Californias, who were disabled or elderly, to receive in-home services from third parties or family members paid for with public funds. Under one program option, service recipients hire their own providers and the providers are paid either by a public entity or by the recipients with funds they have received from a public entity. At issue was whether such a provider qualified for unemployment benefits. The Supreme Court answered the question in the negative, holding that provider who is the recipient's minor child, parent, or spouse is not covered by the state's unemployment insurance program. View "Skidgel v. California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court answered two questions certified by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals by holding that publicly funded work on rolling stock, like train cars, does not fall under the statutory definition of "public works" and that the work on rolling rock in this case did not qualify as "public work."At issue were two aspects of a project to design and install a comprehensive communications network to prevent train collections and other dangerous movements called field work and onboard work. Field work included building and outfitting radio towers on land adjacent to train tracks, and onboard work involved installing electronic components on train cars and locomotives. Plaintiff was an employee of Defendant, which subcontracted to install system components on trains and rail cars. Plaintiff sued Defendant for failing to pay prevailing wages. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendant, concluding that onboard work did not fall within the scope of the prevailing wage law. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit asked whether the onboard work for the project fell within the definition of "public works" under Cal. Labor Code 1720(a)(1). The Supreme Court answered that the onboard work performed in this case was not itself "public work." View "Busker v. Wabtec" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court answered a question certified to it by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit by holding that Cal. Labor Code 1772 does not expand the categories of public work that trigger the obligation to pay at least the prevailing wage under Cal. Labor Code 1771.Plaintiffs, unionized engineers who operated milling equipment to break up existing roadbeds, brought a suit in federal court alleging, inter alia, failure to pay the prevailing wage for loading an equipment from an offsite location onto trailers and bringing it to the job site - known as mobilization - done in connection with public works projects. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendants, ruling that mobilization was not covered by prevailing wage protection. Plaintiffs appealed the mobilization decision, and the Ninth Circuit certified the question of whether the mobilization activity was covered by section 1772. The Supreme Court held that, where there was no contention that mobilization qualified as "public work," section 1772 did not provide a basis for requiring Plaintiffs to be paid the prevailing wage for that work. View "Mendoza v. Fonseca McElroy Grinding Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeal rejecting Appellant's challenge to the denial of his motion to disqualify A. Robert Singer as a hearing officer in a peer review proceeding, holding that the record did not establish that Singer should be disqualified for financial bias under Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code 809.2, subdivision (b).A medical executive committee adopted a recommendation to terminate Appellant's medical staff membership and hospital privileges. Appellant requested a peer review hearing to review the recommendation, and the hospital president exercised authority delegated by the medical staff to select Singer to serve as the hearing officer. Appellant challenged Singer's appointment on grounds of financial bias, but Singer denied the challenge. The peer review panel upheld the revocation of Appellant's staff membership and privileges. The superior court denied Appellant's petition for a writ of administrative mandate, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circumstances surrounding Singer's appointment did not create an intolerable risk of bias that would require disqualification under section 809.2(b). View "Natarajan v. Dignity Health" on Justia Law