Justia California Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Professional Malpractice & Ethics
Samara v. Matar
At issue was the claim and issue preclusive significance in future litigation of a conclusion relied on by the trial court and challenged on appeal but not addressed by the appellate court. The Supreme Court overruled People v. Skidmore, 27 Cal. 287 (1865), holding that Skidmore reflects a flawed view of preclusion and that stare decisis does not compel continued adherence to Skidmore.Plaintiff sued both Dr. Haitham Matar and Dr. Stephen Nahigian for professional negligence and alleged that Matar was vicariously liable for Nahigian’s alleged tort. The trial court granted summary judgment for both defendants in two successive judgments. In the first judgment with respect to Nahigian, the trial court concluded that the suit was untimely and that there was no genuine issue regarding causation. In the second judgment, the trial court concluded that the court’s earlier no-causation determination precluded holding Matar liable for Nahigian’s conduct. The court of appeals affirmed the first judgment on statute of limitations grounds without reaching the no-causation ground. As to Matar, the court of appeal reversed, concluding that claim preclusion was unavailable because Plaintiff sued both defendants in a single lawsuit and that Skidmore was inapplicable to issue preclusion. The Supreme Court held that Skidmore must be overruled and that Matar was not entitled to summary judgment on preclusion grounds. View "Samara v. Matar" on Justia Law
Flores v. Presbyterian Intercommunity Hosp.
Unlike most other personal injury actions, which generally must be filed within two years of the date on which the challenged act or omission occurred, professional negligence actions against health care providers must be brought within one year after the plaintiff discovers, or should have discovered, the injury, pursuant to Cal. Civ. Proc. Code 340.5. Plaintiff was a hospital patient who was injured when one of the rails on her hospital bed collapsed. Plaintiff sued the hospital, claiming negligence in failing to inspect and maintain the equipment. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit, concluding that Plaintiff’s claim was untimely because it sounded in professional, rather than ordinary negligence, and therefore, the action was governed by the special limitations period in section 340.5. The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that the hospital’s alleged failure to take reasonable precautions to make a dangerous condition safe sounded in ordinary negligence. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court correctly determined that section 340.5 was the applicable statute of limitations, and the Court of Appeal erred in holding to the contrary. View "Flores v. Presbyterian Intercommunity Hosp." on Justia Law
Stark v. Superior Court of Sutter County
This case involved serious allegations against Robert E. Stark, the auditor-controller of Sutter County where the Sutter County District Attorney's Office claimed that Stark violated statutes, county rules, and Sutter County Board of Supervisors (Board) resolutions detailing the requirements of his office. At issue were four provisions of Penal Code section 424, all of which proscribe general intent offenses. Three of those provisions criminalize acting without authority or failing to act as required by law or legal duty. The court held that those offenses additionally required that defendant knew, or was criminally negligent in failing to know, the legal requirements that governed the act or omission. The court also held that a claim of misinstruction on the mens rea of a crime could be challenged under Penal Code section 995, subdivision (a)(1)(B) where it raised the possibility that, as instructed, the grand jury could have indicted on less than reasonable or probable cause. The court further held that based on the record, the court need not decide the question of whether willful misconduct under Government Code section 3060 required a knowing and purposeful refusal to follow the law. Stark did not disagree with the instruction on mental state given by the district attorney and accompanying PowerPoint slides invalidated the instruction on mental state, requiring that the accusation be set aside. The court addressed these claims as to the district attorney's argument and PowerPoint slides and concluded that it was without merit. The court finally held that, in a motion to set aside an indictment or accusation, a defendant claiming that the district attorney suffered from a conflict of interest during the grand jury proceeding must establish that his right to due process was violated. Accordingly, the judgment of the district court was affirmed. View "Stark v. Superior Court of Sutter County" on Justia Law
Oasis West Realty, LLC v. Goldman
Plaintiff filed a complaint for breach of fiduciary duty, professional negligence, and breach of contract against defendants, an attorney and his law firm, where the attorney agreed to represent plaintiff in its effort to obtain approval of a redevelopment project, the attorney terminated the representation about two years later, and then the attorney became involved in a campaign to thwart the same redevelopment project by soliciting signatures on a referendum petition to overturn the city council's approval of the project. At issue was whether the court of appeals properly found that plaintiff's claims arose from protected activity in violation of the anti-strategic lawsuit against public participation ("anti-SLAPP") statute, Code Civ. Proc., 425.16, and whether plaintiff had failed to demonstrate a probability of prevailing on them. The court reversed the court of appeals and held that, based on the respective showings of the parties, plaintiff's claims for breach of fiduciary duty, professional negligence, and breach of contract possessed at least minimal merit within the meaning of the anti-SLAP statute.