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The Supreme Court affirmed in its entirety the judgment of the trial court imposing a sentence of death after a jury convicted Defendant of first degree murder, holding that no reversible error occurred in the proceedings below. Defendant was convicted of first degree murder, robbery, and grand theft. The jury found that the murder occurred during a robbery and that Defendant personally used a firearm. The jury then returned a verdict of death. The trial court imposed that sentence, as well as an aggregate determinate sentence of eight years four months. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that no prejudicial error occurred during the pretrial proceedings, the guilt phase proceedings, or the penalty phase proceedings. Further, the Court held that Defendant’s death judgment did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment in light of his youth and intellectual shortcomings, that Defendant’s challenges to the constitutionality of California’s death penalty statute failed, and that Defendant’s claim of cumulative prejudice must be rejected. View "People v. Powell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the passage of Proposition 47, which reclassified various drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, did not entitle Appellants, juveniles who were declared wards of the court based on conduct that was felonious when committed but was now reclassified from felonies to misdemeanors, to have their DNA samples and profiles removed from the databank maintained by the California Department of Justice (Department). The Department maintains a databank of DNA samples and genetic profiles collected from certain juvenile offenders who have been declared wards of the court. Juveniles declared wards based on felony conduct must submit samples but need not do so for most misdemeanor offenses. After the passage of Proposition 47, Appellants argued that because their acts are now misdemeanors, they were entitled to have their DNA samples and profiles expunged from the databank through the procedure established by the Legislature. The motions for expungement were denied. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Proposition 47 did not authorize the relief sought by Appellants, nor did the statutory scheme allowing retention of Appellants’ samples in the databank deprive them of equal protection under the state and federal Constitutions. View "In re C.B." on Justia Law

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In this dispute between a law firm and the party it previously represented, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeal insofar as it reversed the superior court’s judgment entered on an arbitration award but reversed the Court of Appeal’s judgment insofar as it ordered disgorgement of all fees collected, holding that the law firm's conduct rendered the parties' arbitration agreement unenforceable but that the ethical violation did not categorically disentitle the law firm from recovering the value of services it rendered to the opposing party. A law firm agreed to represent a manufacturing company in a federal qui tam action. The law firm was later disqualified, and the parties disagreed as to the manufacturer’s outstanding law firm bills. The dispute was sent to arbitration in accordance with the arbitration clause in the parties’ engagement agreement, and the arbitrators ruled in favor of the law firm. The superior court confirmed the award. The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding (1) the law firm committed an ethical violation that rendered the parties’ agreement, including the arbitration clause, unenforceable in its entirety; and (2) the law firm was disentitled from receiving any compensation for the work it performed for the manufacturer. The Supreme Court agreed that the law firm’s conduct rendered the parties’ agreement unenforceable but concluded that the ethical violation did not categorically disentitle the law firm from recovering the value of the services it rendered to the manufacturer. View "Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, LLP v. J-M Manufacturing Co." on Justia Law

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At issue was whether evidence of industry custom and practice may be introduced in a strict products liability action. William Jae Kim (Kim) and his wife brought this strict products liability suit against Toyota Motor Corporation alleging that the Toyota Tundra pickup truck Kim was driving he was injured was defective because its standard configuration did not include a vehicle stability control (VSC), which they claimed would have prevented the accident. During trial, evidence was admitted that no vehicle manufacturer at the time included VSC as standard equipment in pickup trucks. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Toyota. The Court of Appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) evidence that a manufacturer’s design conforms with industry custom and practice is not admissible to show the manufacturer adopted reasonably in adopting a challenged design and therefore cannot be held liable; (2) however, evidence of industry custom and practice may be admitted for the strict products liability inquiry, including the jury’s evaluation of whether the product is as safely designed as it should be; and (3) the evidence in this case was properly admitted. View "Kim v. Toyota Motor Corp." on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury

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The Supreme Court held that voter approval was not required for a transfer from a utility’s enterprise fund to the city’s general fund. Cal. Const. art. XIIIC prohibits local governments from imposing or increasing any tax without voter approval. Any charge imposed for a service or product that does not exceed the reasonable costs of providing it is excepted from the definition of tax. The City of Redding operated an electric utility as a department of its city government. At issue was whether an annual interfund transfer from the utility’s enterprise fund to the city’s general fund required voter approval where the transfer was intended to compensate the general fund for costs of services that other city departments provide to the utility. The Supreme Court held that because neither the budgetary transfer nor the rate the city charged its utility customers constituted a tax, voter approval was not required. View "Citizens for Fair REU Rates v. City of Redding" on Justia Law

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At issue was what relationship, if any, must exist between a person’s convictions for forgery and identity theft for the identity theft conviction to result in denial of the relief an individual could otherwise receive under Cal. Penal Code 473(b). Defendant pled guilty to multiple offenses, including four counts of check forgery and one count of identity theft. After Proposition 47 was enacted, Defendant filed a petition to reduce his forgery convictions to misdemeanors under section 473(b). The trial court denied the petition because forgery is therefore ineligible for reclassification as a misdemeanor for “any person who is convicted both of forgery and of identity theft.” The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that section 473(b) precludes relief only if the identity theft offense is “transactionally related” to a forgery conviction. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that there must be a connection between both the forgery and the identity theft convictions to disqualify an offender from resentencing. Because Defendant’s offenses were unrelated, they were not subject to exclusion under section 473(b), and Defendant was eligible for resentencing. View "People v. Gonzales" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Supreme Court held that the people of a county or city can challenge by referendum a zoning ordinance amendment that would bring the ordinance into compliance with a change to the county’s or city’s general plan, at least where the local government has other means available to make the zoning ordinance and general plan consistent. Cal. Gov. Code 65860(a) requires zoning ordinances to “be consistent with the general plan of the county or city.” When the general plan is amended without also changing the corresponding zoning ordinance, the city or county must amend the zoning ordinance within a reasonable time to make it consistent with the general plan. At issue was whether the people may challenge by referendum a zoning ordinance amendment that would bring the ordinance into compliance with a general plan, even though the referendum would temporarily leave in place a zoning ordinance that does not comply with the general plan. The Supreme Court held in this case that the Court of Appeal did not err in holding that a referendum can invalidate a zoning ordinance amendment to achieve compliance with a general plan amendment, where other general-plan-compliant zoning designations are available that would be consistent with a successful referendum. View "City of Morgan Hill v. Bushey" on Justia Law

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In this action alleging that a utilization reviewer caused Plaintiff additional injuries by denying his treating physician’s request to continue prescribing certain medication for his injuries without authorizing a weaning regimen or warning him of possible side effects of abruptly ceasing the medication, the Supreme Court held that the workers’ compensation law provided the exclusive remedy for the employee’s injuries and thus preempted the employee’s tort claims. Plaintiff sustained a work-related back injury that caused him chronic pain, anxiety and depression. A mental health profession prescribed Klonopin to treat the anxiety and depression. Two years later, a utilization reviewer determined that Klonopin was medically unnecessary and decertified the prescription. After Plaintiff immediately stopped taking the medication he suffered a series of four seizures. Plaintiff filed a complaint asserting several tort claims. Defendants demurred, arguing that the claims were preempted by the Workers’ Compensation Act. The trial court sustained the demurrer. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment insofar as it permitted Plaintiffs to amend their complaint to bolster their claim that Defendants were liable in tort for failure to warn, holding that because the acts alleged did not suggest that Defendants acted outside of the utilization review role contemplated by statute, Plaintiff’s claims were preempted. View "King v. CompPartners, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeal concluding that some overlap between the Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act (ICRAA), Cal. Civ. Code 1786 et seq. and the Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies Act (CCRAA), Cal. Civ. Code 1785.1 et seq., does not render ICRAA unconstitutionally vague as applied to employer background checks when the statutes are otherwise unambiguous. In this class action, Plaintiff sued Defendants, investigative consumer reporting agencies, for violating ICRAA because Defendants did not obtain her written authorization to conduct a background check. Defendants moved for summary judgment, claiming (1) ICRAA was unconstitutionally vague as applied to Plaintiff’s claim because it overlapped with CCRAA, and (2) Defendants satisfied CCRAA. The trial court granted the motion. The Court of Appeal reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed and remanded, holding (1) the background check that Defendants conducted was an investigative consumer report under ICRAA; and (2) although the CCRAA also applied here, Defendants were not exempted from the requirement that they obtain Plaintiff’s written authorization under ICRAA before conducting or procuring a background investigation. View "Connor v. First Student, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal upholding the ruling of the superior court denying the requests of Bianka M., a minor, for an order placing her in her mother’s sole custody and for findings that would enable her to seek “special immigrant juvenile” (SIJ) status under federal immigration law, holding that the superior court erred in concluding that it could not issue either a custody order or findings relevant to SIJ status unless Bianka first established a basis for exercising personal jurisdiction over her father and joined him as a party to the action. Bianka entered the United States unaccompanied and without prior authorization. In a family court action, Bianka asked to be placed in the sole custody of her mother, who had left Honduras for the United States years before, and sought findings enabling her to seek special immigrant juvenile status, alleging that her father, who resided in Honduras, abandoned her. The superior court denied the requests. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the superior court erred in requiring Bianka’s father to be joined as a party in her parentage action seeking SIJ findings because he received adequate notice and took no steps to participate; and (2) the action may proceed regardless of Bianka’s perceived immigration-related motivations for filing the action. View "Bianka M. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law