Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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The law firm of Crowell & Moring (Crowell) was vicariously disqualified from this insurance coverage action based on a newly-hired, but disqualified discovery associate in a geographically distant office. Then, while the disqualification appeal was pending with the California Court of Appeal, the associate left Crowell. At that point, Kirk v. First American Title Ins. Co., 183 Cal.App.4th 776 (2010) became the controlling authority. "Kirk" also involved a disqualified attorney who left a vicariously disqualified law firm during the pendency of an appeal, and the result was that the order of disqualification had to be reversed and remanded back for reconsideration by the trial court. In the process Kirk outlined a number of factors that controlled the case on remand with regard to the efficacy of what is called an ethical screen in retroactively deciding whether any of a former client’s confidential communications had been actually disclosed. Following Kirk, the Court of Appeal reversed the disqualification order and returned the case to the trial court with directions to reevaluate its disqualification decision in light of Kirk – specifically the Kirk factors as to whether any confidential information has actually been disclosed. View "Fluidmaster v. Fireman's Fund Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Defendants Peter Holt, Holt Law Firm, and Bethany Holt (collectively Holt) appealed the denial of their special motion to strike (also known as an anti-SLAPP--Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation--motion). Peter Holt and his law firm briefly represented Charles and Victoria Yeager and successfully sued Victoria Yeager to obtain his fees in an action known as Holt v. Yeager (Super. Ct. Nevada County, No. L76533). Yeager then sued Holt, alleging professional negligence, misappropriation of name, and other claims. Holt moved to declare Yeager’s suit to be a SLAPP suit. The trial court found this suit did not chill protected expressive conduct or free speech on an issue of public interest. The Court of Appeal agreed and affirmed. View "Yeager v. Holt" on Justia Law

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The Board of Directors (the Board) of Bear Valley Community Hospital (Bear Valley) refused to promote Dr. Robert O. Powell from provisional to active staff membership and reappointment to Bear Valley's medical staff. Dr. Powell appealed the superior court judgment denying his petition for writ of mandate to void the Board's decision and for reinstatement of his medical staff privileges. Dr. Powell practiced medicine in both Texas and California as a general surgeon. In 2000, the medical executive committee of Brownwood Regional Medical Center (Brownwood), in Texas, found that Dr. Powell failed to advise a young boy's parents that he severed the boy's vas deferens during a hernia procedure or of the ensuing implications. Further, the committee found that Dr. Powell falsely represented to Brownwood's medical staff, on at least two occasions, that he fully disclosed the circumstances to the parents, behavior which the committee considered to be dishonest, obstructive, and which prevented appropriate follow-up care. Based on the committee's findings, Brownwood terminated Dr. Powell's staff membership and clinical privileges. In subsequent years, Dr. Powell obtained staff privileges at other medical facilities. In October 2011, Dr. Powell applied for appointment to the medical staff at Bear Valley. On his initial application form, Dr. Powell was given an opportunity to disclose whether his clinical privileges had ever been revoked by any medical facility. In administrative hearings generated by the Bear Valley Board’s decision, there was a revelation that Dr. Powell had not been completely forthcoming about the Brownwood termination, and alleged the doctor mislead the judicial review committee (“JRC”) about the circumstances leading to that termination. Under Bear Valley's bylaws, Dr. Powell had the right to an administrative appeal of the JRC's decision; he chose, however, to bypass an administrative appeal and directly petition the superior court for a writ of mandamus. In superior court, Dr. Powell filed a petition for writ of mandate under Code of Civil Procedure sections 1094.5 and 1094.6, seeking to void the JRC's/Board's decision and to have his medical privileges reinstated. The trial court denied the petition, and this appeal followed. On appeal of the superior court’s denial, Dr. Powell argued he was entitled to a hearing before the lapse of his provisional staff privileges: that the Board surreptitiously terminated his staff privileges, presumably for a medical disciplinary cause, by allowing his privileges to lapse and failing to act. The Court of Appeal determined the Bear Valley Board had little to no insight into the true circumstances of Dr. Powell’s termination at Brownwood or the extent of his misrepresentations, thus the Board properly exercised independent judgment based on the information presented. In summary, the Court of Appeal concluded Bear Valley provided Dr. Powell a fair procedure in denying his request for active staff privileges and reappointment to the medical staff. View "Powell v. Bear Valley Community Hospital" on Justia Law

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On September 28, 2016, the Medical Board filed an accusation against Alfred Adams, M.D., alleging that he prescribed himself controlled substances, failed to cooperate with the board, and failed to provide an accurate address. The accusation was served by certified mail on his Emeryville address of record. The unopened mail was returned, stamped “Return to Sender, Unable to Forward.” On November 1, the board sent notice of default by certified mail, which was also returned. After a Lexis search, the board served the accusation by certified mail to another Emeryville address. On January 20, 2017, the board issued a default decision, revoking Adams’s medical license, which was served by certified mail and first class mail to both addresses. On April 7, 2017, Adams sought mandamus relief, claiming that no evidence established service. The court directed the board to set aside its default decision. The court of appeal ruled in favor of the board. Section 11505(c) authorizes service of a document adversely affecting one’s rights by registered mail and “does not require proof of service in the form of a return receipt signed by the party or other acknowledgement of receipt by the party.” Section 8311 authorizes “any other means of physical delivery that provides a receipt” but does not impose this requirement if service is made by certified mail. View "Medical Board of California v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The Chois consulted in 2003 with defendants, who advised the Chois that an IRC 412(i) Plan retirement account would provide tax advantages, asset protection, and steady income. It required several steps including the purchase of “whole life” insurance for eventual exchange for American General Universal Life “Platinum” policies. The initial purchase was $1,275,000; a second purchase cost $439,000. The policies comprised 70-75 percent of the Plan portfolio. The IRS audited the Chois in 2006. Defendants changed their advice. Plaintiffs sued, alleging cash losses attributable to loss in value and that they were required to pay $440,000 in back taxes and interest, plus $60,000 in penalties, and faced future payments to the Franchise Tax Board of California and anticipated IRS penalties of $600,000. Defendants cross-complained for indemnity and comparative fault against American General. The trial court found the claims time-barred. The court of appeal affirmed, upholding a determination that the limitations period began to run in September 2007, when plaintiffs were “on notice” that the IRS would impose penalties, not in 2010 when penalties were assessed; the court declining to consider any tolling effect created by the ongoing fiduciary relationship; and application of the 2007 “notice” date as a bar to all claims. View "Choi v. Sagemark Consulting" on Justia Law

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While hospitalized after giving birth, Kumari fell and broke her shoulder. Four months later, Kumari sent ValleyCare Health System a detailed letter describing her injury and the basis for her “medical negligence” claim. Kumari requested $240,000 and stated she would “move to the court” if she did not receive a check within 20 days. ValleyCare denied Kumari’s claim. More than a year after her injury, Kumari and her husband sued, alleging medical negligence and loss of consortium. The court granted ValleyCare summary judgment, concluding Kumari’s letter constituted a notice of intent to sue pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 364, which precludes a plaintiff from filing a professional negligence action against a health care provider unless the plaintiff has given that provider 90 days notice of the intention to commence the action. No particular form of notice is required; subdivision (d) tolls the statute of limitations for 90 days if the notice is served within the last 90 days of the one-year limitations period. The court of appeal affirmed that the complaint was time-barred, rejecting plaintiffs’ claim that an author’s subjective motivation for writing a letter to a health care provider is relevant when determining whether that letter is a notice of intent to sue under section 364. View "Kumari v. Hospital Committee for Livermore-Pleasanton Areas" on Justia Law

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IAR believed that defendant, its former CEO, had embezzled money. IAR, represented by Valla, sued defendant. Valla, on behalf of IAR, reported the crimes to the Foster City Police. The district attorney charged defendant with felony embezzlement. In response to defendant’s subpoena, Valla produced over 600 documents and moved to quash other requests on attorney-client privilege grounds. Defendant filed another subpoena, seeking documents relating to an email from the district attorney to Valla, discussing the need for a forensic accountant. Valla sought a protective order. Defendant asserted Valla was part of the prosecution team, subject to the Brady disclosure requirement. Valla and deputy district attorneys testified that Valla did not conduct legal research or investigate solely at the request of the police or district attorney, take action with respect to defendant other than as IAR's attorneys, nor ask for assistance in the civil matter. IAR retained a forensic accountant in the civil action, who also testified in the criminal matter, after being prepared by the district attorney. IAR paid the expert for both. There were other instances of cooperation, including exchanges of legal authority. The court found Valla to be a part of the prosecution team. The court of appeals reversed. The focus is on whether the third party has been acting under the government’s direction and control. Valla engaged in few, if any, activities that would render it part of the prosecution team. View "IAR Systems Software, Inc. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against its former attorneys for legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty arising from defendants' representation of plaintiff in an earlier breach of contract action. In the published portion of this opinion, the court affirmed the trial court's grant of nonsuit on plaintiff's breach of fiduciary claim because plaintiff did not adduce any evidence in support of that claim beyond the evidence offered in support of its malpractice claim for professional negligence. The court affirmed in all other respects. View "Broadway Victoria, LLC v. Norminton, Wiita & Fuster" on Justia Law

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In this original proceeding, the issues presented for the Court of Appeal’s review related to a confidential attorney-client communication. The trial court found that plaintiff and real party in interest Richard Hausman, Sr. (Dick), did not waive the attorney-client privilege by forwarding a confidential e-mail he received from his personal attorney to his sister-in-law because Dick inadvertently and unknowingly forwarded the e-mail from his iPhone, and therefore lacked the necessary intent to waive the privilege. The trial court also impliedly found that Dick’s sister-in-law did not waive the privilege when she forwarded the e-mail to her husband, who then shared it with four other individuals, because neither Dick’s sister-in-law nor his brother-in-law could waive Dick’s attorney-client privilege, and Dick did not consent to these additional disclosures because he did not know about either his initial disclosure or these additional disclosures until a year after they occurred. In a separate order, the trial court disqualified Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP (Gibson Dunn) from representing defendants-petitioners McDermott Will & Emery LLP and Jonathan Lurie (collectively, Defendants) in the underlying lawsuits because Gibson Dunn failed to recognize the potentially privileged nature of the e-mail after receiving a copy from Lurie, and then analyzed and used the e-mail despite Dick’s objection that the e-mail was an inadvertently disclosed privileged document. The Court of Appeal denied the petition in its entirety. Substantial evidence supported the trial court’s orders and the court did not abuse its discretion in selecting disqualification as the appropriate remedy to address Gibson Dunn’s involvement in this matter. “[R]egardless of how the attorney obtained the documents, whenever a reasonably competent attorney would conclude the documents obviously or clearly appear to be privileged and it is reasonably apparent they were inadvertently disclosed, the State Fund rule requires the attorney to review the documents no more than necessary to determine whether they are privileged, notify the privilege holder the attorney has documents that appear to be privileged, and refrain from using the documents until the parties or the court resolves any dispute about their privileged nature. The receiving attorney’s reasonable belief the privilege holder waived the privilege or an exception to the privilege applies does not vitiate the attorney’s State Fund duties.” View "McDermott Will & Emery v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law