Justia California Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court held that tortious interference with at-will contracts requires independent wrongfulness and that a rule of reason applies to determine the validity of a settlement provision requiring Forward Pharma to terminate its agreement with Ixchel Pharma, LLC under Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code 16600.Ixchel, a biotechnology company, entered into an agreement with Forward jointly to develop a drug for the treatment of Friedreich's ataxia. Forward later withdrew from the agreement, which was allowed by the agreement's terms. Pursuant to a settlement with Biogen, Inc., another biotechnology company, Forward agreed to terminate its contract with Ixchel. Ixchel sued Biogen in federal court for tortiously interfering with Ixchel's contractual and prospective economic relationship with Forward in violation of section 16600. On appeal, the federal appeals court certified two questions to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held (1) tortious interference with at-will contracts requires independent wrongfulness, and therefore, Ixchel must allege that Biogen interfered with its at-will contract through wrongful means; and (2) the validity of the settlement provision at issue must be evaluated based on a rule of reason. View "Ixchel Pharma, LLC v. Biogen, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the exemption in Cal. Const. art. II, 9, subd.(a) applies to measures setting municipal water rates, and therefore, municipal water rates and other local utility charges are not subject to referendum.To prevent the referendum process from disrupting essential governmental operations, the California Constitution exempts "statutes providing for tax levies or appropriations for usual current expenses" of the government. See Cal. Const. art. II, 9, subd.(a). After the City of Dunsmuir passed Resolution 2016-02 establishing a five-year plan for a $15 million upgrade to the City's water storage and delivery infrastructure Plaintiff submitted a petition for a referendum seeking to overturn the Resolution. The City declined to place the referendum on the ballot, and Plaintiff filed a petition for writ of mandate seeking to compel the City to place the referendum on the ballot. The trial court denied the petition. The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that the exemption did not apply because the water charges were a "property-related fee" and not a "tax." The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the City's water rates, adopted in the Resolution, fall within the exemption for "tax levies" and therefore are not subject to referendum. View "Wilde v. City of Dunsmuir" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of first degree murder, attempted deliberate and premeditated murder, and other crimes, holding that Defendant's statements were improperly admitted in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966) and Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477 (1981), and the error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.On appeal, Defendant argued that his statements to police were taken in violation of his Fifth Amendment right to counsel. Specifically, Defendant argued that his unequivocal request for counsel was not honored. The Supreme Court agreed, holding (1) under Edwards, the officers were required to stop the interrogation once Defendant unequivocally requested counsel, but because the officers did not do so Defendant's statements were inadmissible as substantive evidence at trial; and (2) the erroneous admission of Defendant's statements was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt as to any of the jury's findings. View "People v. Henderson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the California Public Employees' Pension Reform Act's (PEPRA), Stats. 2012, ch. 296, 1, amendment of the County Employees Retirement Law (CERL), Cal. Gov. Code 31450 et seq., did not violate the contract clause under a proper application of the California Rule and declined to reexamine and revise the California Rule.At issue was whether a provision of PEPRA amending CERL's definition of "compensation earnable," which affected the pensions of persons who were first employed by a county prior to the effective date of PEPRA, violated the contract clause. The Supreme Court held (1) county employees have no express contractual right to the calculation of their pension benefits in a manner inconsistent with the terms of the PEPRA amendment; (2) the challenged provisions added by PEPRA met contract clause requirements; and (3) the test announced in Allen v. City of Long Beach, 45 Cal.2d 128 (1955), as explained and applied in this case, remains the law of California. View "Alameda County Deputy Sheriff's Ass'n v. Alameda County Employees' Retirement Ass'n" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that when reviewing a finding that a fact has been proved by clear and convincing evidence, the appellate court must view the record in light most favorable to the prevailing party below and give due deference to how the trier of fact may have evaluated the credibility of witnesses, resolved conflicts in the evidence, and drawn reasonable inferences from the evidence.A probate court appointed limited coconservators for O.B., a young woman with autism. O.B. challenged the order, arguing that the proof did not clearly and convincingly establish that a limited conservatorship was warranted. The court of appeal rejected O.B.'s challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, concluding that the clear and convincing standard of proof "disappears" on appeal. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that when reviewing a finding of fact that has been proved by clear and convincing evidence, the appellate court must determine whether the record as a whole contains substantial evidence from which a reasonable fact-finder could have found it highly probable that the fact was true. View "In re Conservatorship of O.B." on Justia Law

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In this case where Plaintiff selected the remedy of restitution under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, Cal. Civ. Code 1790 et seq. after Mercedes-Benz USA LLC (Mercedes) was unable to repair defects in the vehicle Plaintiff leased from Mercedes the Supreme Court held that Mercedes was required to reimburse vehicle registration renewal and nonoperation fees Plaintiff paid if the fees were incurred as a result of Mercedes' breach of its duty to promptly provide a replacement vehicle or restitution.At issue was whether the Act required Mercedes to reimburse the vehicle registration renewal and nonoperation fees Plaintiff paid after the initial lease of his vehicle either as collateral charges or as incidental damages. The trial court excluded the vehicle registration renewal fees and the nonoperation fee from the restitution award. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding (1) the fees at issue were not recoverable as collateral charges because they were not auxiliary to and did not supplement the price paid for the vehicle; but (2) the fees were recoverable as incidental damages if they were incurred as a result of the manufacturer's breach of its duty to promptly provide a replacement vehicle or restitution under the Act. View "Kirzhner v. Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Consumer Law
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The Supreme Court answered a question from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit regarding which presumption governs the characterization of joint tenancy property in a dispute between a couple and the bankruptcy trustee of one of the spouses.The Supreme Court held (1) Cal. Evid. Code 662 does not apply when it conflicts with the Cal. Fam. Code 760 community property presumption; (2) when a married couple uses community funds to acquire property with joint tenancy title on over after January 1, 1975 the property is presumptively community property under Cal. Fam. Code 760 in a dispute between the couple and a bankruptcy trustee, and for properly purchased before January 1, 1975, the presumption is that separate property interests arise from joint tenancy title; and (3) joint tenancy titling of property acquired by spouses using community funds on or after January 1, 1985 is not sufficient by itself to transmute community property into separate property. View "Speier v. Brace" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal affirming Defendant's sentence in connection with his convictions for several offenses, including five counts of second degree robbery, holding that the trial court erred in imposing five twenty-five-year-to-life enhancements in connection with counts as to which the enhancements had not been alleged.As to each of the five counts of second degree robbery, the information alleged personal firearm use enhancements. After the close of the evidence, however, the trial court instructed the jury on a set of more serious firearm enhancements based on the theory that Defendant was vicariously responsible for a coparticipant's harmful discharge of a firearm. None of the vicarious firearm discharge enhancements had been alleged in connection with the robbery counts. The jury returned true findings. The trial court enhanced Defendant's sentence for the robberies by five consecutive additional terms of twenty-five years to life. The court of appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court committed a pleading error because Defendant did not receive adequate notice that the prosecution was seeking to impose additional punishment on the robbery counts, and the error was not harmless. View "People v. Anderson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court answered a question posed by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit regarding the time gap between the denial of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in a lower California court and the filing of a new petition in a higher California court raising the same claims for purposes of determining whether a claim was timely presented.The Court summarized the procedures relevant to gap delay and then answered that, during the process, the delay between the filing of a habeas corpus petition challenging a state court judgment in a high court after the lower court denied relief is relevant to the overall question of timeliness of the claims presented in the petition, but no specific time limits exist. Specifically, delay of up to 120 days would not be considered substantial delay and would not alone make the claim untimely if the petition had otherwise presented the claim without substantial delay. Gap delay of more than 120 days is not automatically considered substantial delay but is a relevant factor in a court's analysis under In re Robbins, 18 Cal.4th, 770 (1998). View "Robinson v. Lewis" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court granted the emergency petition filed by the Legislature for a peremptory writ of mandate seeking relief from redistricting deadlines set by California law in light of the delay of census data collection and processing, holding the Legislature was entitled to a one-time adjustment to the deadlines.Under California law, the Citizens Redistricting Commission has the task of redistricting and draws new maps based on the federal census data. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal Census Bureau delayed census data collection and processing. Consequently, the data required to draw new district maps would not be released to states in time for the Commission to meet the redistricting deadlines. The Supreme Court issued a peremptory writ of mandate directing the Commission to release the first preliminary statewide maps for public display and comment no later than November 1, 2021, notwithstanding Cal. Gov't Code 8253, subdivision (a)(7), and directing the Commission to approve and certify the final statewide maps by no later than December 15, 2021. View "Legislature of State of California v. Padilla" on Justia Law