Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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The case revolves around a lawsuit filed by Masimo Corporation against John Bauche, BoundlessRise, LLC (Boundless), and Skyward Investments, LLC (Skyward), represented by The Vanderpool Law Firm (Vanderpool). The lawsuit was based on Bauche's misappropriation of corporate funds while he was a Masimo employee. Bauche had fraudulently engaged Boundless, a company he solely owned, as an "outside vendor" for Masimo, and later transferred the money paid for fraudulent vendor services to Skyward, another company he solely owned. Masimo's attempts to obtain substantive discovery responses from the defendants were met with boilerplate objections, leading to a motion to compel responses and a request for discovery sanctions.The case was stayed twice, first due to Bauche's appeal from the denial of an anti-SLAPP motion, and then to allow a federal criminal case against him to be resolved. The referee supervising discovery recommended that the motion to compel be granted and Masimo be awarded $10,000 in discovery sanctions. The trial court agreed and entered an order to that effect, awarding sanctions against Vanderpool and the three defendants.In the Court of Appeal of the State of California Fourth Appellate District Division Three, Vanderpool appealed the order, arguing that it had substituted out of the case as counsel before the motion to compel was filed and was therefore unsanctionable. The court rejected this argument, stating that it is not necessary to be counsel of record to be liable for monetary sanctions for discovery misuse. The court affirmed the order, concluding that Vanderpool and its clients were liable for discovery misuse. The court also criticized Vanderpool for its lack of civility in the proceedings. View "Masimo Corporation v. The Vanderpool Law Firm, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this case, the California Board of Psychology revoked the license of Dr. Robert Geffner after it found that he had violated the American Psychological Association’s Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. The violations were based on his evaluation of two children for suicide risk without their father’s consent, failure to consult their existing therapist, making recommendations beyond the scope of an emergency risk assessment, and delegating the duty to warn the father of one child's thoughts about killing him. Dr. Geffner petitioned for a writ of mandamus to vacate the Board’s decision, but the trial court denied the petition. On appeal, the appellate court reversed the trial court's decision, finding that the evidence did not support the trial court’s conclusions. The appellate court clarified that the father's consent was not necessary in cases of emergency, as the circumstances suggested, and that Dr. Geffner did not make any custody recommendations. Moreover, the court found no evidence to suggest that Dr. Geffner had a duty to personally warn the father of his son's threat, and thus did not violate any ethical standards. The court directed the trial court to grant Dr. Geffner's petition and reverse the Board's findings. View "Geffner v. Board of Psychology" on Justia Law

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The case involves Magnus Sundholm, a former member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), who sued the HFPA for breach of contract and other claims after his expulsion from the organization. The HFPA moved to disqualify Sundholm's attorneys from the case, asserting that they had reviewed privileged documents that belonged to the HFPA. The trial court granted the motion, leading to Sundholm's appeal.The Court of Appeal of the State of California, Second Appellate District, Division Seven, found that while Sundholm's attorney had improperly refused to produce documents in response to a subpoena from the HFPA, disqualification of the attorney was not the appropriate remedy. This is because disqualification affects a party's right to counsel of choice and should not be used to punish an attorney for improper conduct. The court further found that there was no evidence that the possession of the HFPA's documents by Sundholm's attorney would prejudice the HFPA in the proceeding.Thus, the court reversed the trial court's order disqualifying Sundholm's attorneys. The summary of this case is based on the court's opinion and does not include any additional information or interpretation. View "Sundholm v. Hollywood Foreign Press Assn." on Justia Law

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The case involves Jennifer Garcia, who was charged with multiple counts, including making threats to a public officer, disobeying a court order, possessing a weapon in a courthouse, attempted murder, and assault with a deadly weapon. After her counsel declared doubt as to Garcia's mental competence, the trial court suspended the criminal proceedings for a determination of Garcia's mental competence. Based on the evaluations of a licensed psychiatrist and a licensed psychologist, the court found Garcia mentally incompetent to stand trial and lacking capacity to make decisions regarding the administration of antipsychotic medication. Garcia appealed the court's order authorizing the state hospital to involuntarily administer antipsychotic medication to her, alleging errors with the order and ineffective assistance of her trial counsel. The Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One, State of California, affirmed the trial court's order. The appellate court found that substantial evidence supported the trial court's order, the psychologist did not exceed the scope of her license in her evaluation, and the psychiatrist's opinion did not lack statutorily required information. The appellate court also found that the error in the trial court's form order was harmless and Garcia was not prejudiced by any ineffectiveness of her counsel. View "People v. Garcia" on Justia Law

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The case involves the district attorneys of Los Angeles and San Francisco (the People) filing a complaint against the law firm Potter Handy, LLP and several of its attorneys (collectively, Potter) for violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). The People allege that Potter Handy has filed numerous ADA complaints containing false standing allegations as part of a scheme to extract settlements from small business owners in California. The People claim that this conduct constitutes an “unlawful” business practice under California's unfair competition law (UCL).Potter Handy demurred on the ground that the litigation privilege, which generally protects communications made as part of a judicial proceeding, immunizes their alleged conduct. The People argued that the litigation privilege does not bar their UCL claim as it is predicated on violations of a regulatory statute or rule that is itself exempt from the privilege. The trial court sustained Potter’s demurrer without leave to amend, and the People appealed.The Court of Appeal of the State of California, First Appellate District, Division Three, affirmed the trial court's decision. The court held that the litigation privilege does apply to the People's UCL claim. The court concluded that carving out an exception to the litigation privilege for the People’s UCL claim would not be proper because the Legislature’s prescribed remedies—prosecution directly under section 6128(a) and State Bar disciplinary proceedings—remain viable. View "People v. Potter Handy, LLP" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and Defendant both members of the State Bar, represent opposing parties in a dissolution/annulment proceeding pending in Los Angeles Superior Court. Following an incident at Plaintiff’s office relating to the canceled deposition of Defendant’s client, Plaintiff obtained a three-year civil harassment restraining order pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 527.6 protecting her, as well as her paralegal and office receptionist, from further harassment by Defendant.   On appeal Defendant argued, in part, that all of the conduct upon which the trial court based its findings of harassment was constitutionally protected activity and there was insufficient evidence his actions, to the extent not constitutionally protected, were directed at Plaintiff, caused Plaintiff substantial emotional distress, or would cause a reasonable person substantial emotional distress as required to support issuance of the restraining order. Defendant also argued that the court erred in including in the order members of Plaintiff’s office staff as protected individuals.   The Second Appellate District reversed and directed the trial court to enter a new order denying Plaintiff’s request for a restraining order. The court explained that Defendant’s Emails regarding his client’s deposition constituted constitutionally protected activity. The court explained that because the emails were constitutionally protected, it was an error for the trial court to conclude they were properly considered part of a course of conduct of harassment. Further, the court found that the evidence of Defendant’s nonprotected conduct did not support the court’s findings of a willful or knowing course of conduct that would cause a reasonable person and did cause Plaintiff substantial emotional distress. View "Hansen v. Volkov" on Justia Law

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The Center for Scientific Integrity (CSI) was an organization that reported on academic retractions and accountability. CSI wrote an article about plaintiff-respondent Constance Iloh, a professor at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), after several academic journals retracted articles Iloh had written due to concerns about possible plagiarism or inaccurate citation references. In a follow-up to that article, CSI sent UCI a records request under the California Public Records Act (CPRA) requesting Iloh’s postpublication communications with the journals and UCI. Iloh petitioned for a writ of mandate, declaratory relief, and injunctive relief against UCI to prevent disclosure of her communications, and later added CSI as a real party in interest. She then filed a motion for preliminary injunction to prevent disclosure. Meanwhile, CSI filed a motion to strike Iloh’s petition under the anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) statute. The Court of Appeal’s first opinion in this case concerned Iloh’s motion for preliminary injunction. The trial court denied that motion on the grounds that Iloh had not established a likelihood of prevailing on the merits, and the Court affirmed that order. In this case, the Court considered CSI’s anti-SLAPP motion. The trial court denied the motion, finding that although protected activity may have led to the petition, it was not the “basis” for the petition. To this, the Court disagreed: in issuing the CPRA request, CSI was engaging in newsgathering so it could report on matters of public interest, such as how a public university funded largely by taxpayer dollars resolved quality or integrity problems in its professors’ publications. CSI was therefore engaged in protected activity when it issued the CPRA request. Iloh filed her petition for mandamus relief to prevent UCI from complying with the CPRA request. “This is the type of lawsuit the anti-SLAPP statute is designed to address, and it should be stricken if Iloh cannot demonstrate a probability of prevailing on her petition.” The Court of Appeal found the trial court had not performed the second prong of the anti-SLAPP analysis. Therefore, the Court reversed the order denying CSI’s anti-SLAPP motion and remanded this case with directions that the trial court consider prong two of the anti-SLAPP statute. View "Iloh v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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Berry sued Frazier, a veterinarian, for nominal and punitive damages based on the circumstances surrounding the euthanasia of her cat. Her complaint alleged that Berry secured Frazier’s services to perform humane euthanasia on her cat. Instead, and without Berry’s informed consent, Frazier performed the euthanasia by means of an unnecessary and unjustified intracardiac injection, resulting in a horrific and painful death for her cat and great emotional distress to Berry. The trial court dismissed, without leave to amend, claims for fraud/deceit/intentional misrepresentation, conversion/trespass to chattels, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violation of Civil Code section 3340, which allows for an award of exemplary damages for wrongful injuries to animals committed willfully or with gross negligence in disregard of humanity. Berry voluntarily dismissed the sole remaining claim.The court of appeal reversed; the complaint contained sufficient allegations to withstand demurrer to the causes of action for fraud/deceit/intentional misrepresentation, conversion/trespass to chattels, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Berru should be allowed to allege a request for section 3340 exemplary damages in connection with other pleaded causes of action. View "Berry v. Frazier" on Justia Law

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The Commission on Teacher Credentialing (Commission) and its Committee of Credentials (Committee) (collectively, defendants) appealed the grant of mandamus relief to petitioner Russell Earnest, setting aside the Committee’s disciplinary recommendation against him and enjoining the Commission from acting on that recommendation. Defendants argued the trial court erred in finding: (1) Earnest was excused from exhausting his administrative remedies; and (2) the Committee lacked jurisdiction to conduct a formal review pursuant to Education Code1 section 44242.5 (d). They further asserted the trial court should have denied the petition under the doctrine of judicial restraint. In the unpublished portion of the opinion, the Court of Appeal concluded all three factors outlined in Coachella Valley Mosquito & Vector Control Dist. v. California Public Employment Relations Bd., 35 Cal.4th 1072 (2005) weighed in favor of excusing Earnest from exhausting his administrative remedies. In the published portion of the opinion, the Court found that although section 44242.5 (b)(3) generally provided a jurisdictional basis for the Committee to commence initial reviews, as discussed post, the provision was also incorporated in section 44242.5 (d)(3) to provide a jurisdictional basis for the Committee to commence formal reviews. It was this jurisdictional provision the Committee relied upon in commencing a formal review of Earnest’s fitness to hold a credential. The Court thus concluded the plain language of section 44242.5(b)(3) imposed the onus on the employer to determine whether to provide a notifying statement to the Committee, and thus only the employer may determine whether an enumerated action was the “result of an allegation of misconduct,” triggering the Committee’s jurisdiction. Applying that interpretation to the facts of this case, the Court concluded the Committee did not have jurisdiction to commence a formal review of Earnest’s fitness to hold a credential. The grant of mandamus relief was thus affirmed. View "Earnest v. Com. on Teacher Credentialing" on Justia Law

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A patient filed a complaint concerning Dr. Dore, a Board-certified psychiatrist. The Board discovered suspected irregularities in Dore's prescription of controlled substances. Dore declined to answer questions. The Board served her with an investigative subpoena seeking medical records supporting the prescription of the controlled substances to a family member and with investigative interrogatories requesting information about the family member's treatment and employment with Dore. Dore refused to produce the records and objected to the interrogatories. Her family member objected to the subpoena.The Board sought an order compelling compliance and provided reports from the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES) database. A Board-certified psychiatrist opined it was necessary to obtain the family member’s medical records to evaluate whether Dore complied with the standard of care, noting an AMA ethics opinion counseling physicians against treating family members except in emergencies. Dore's expert, a psychiatrist and licensed California attorney, disagreed with the assertion that prescribing controlled substances to family members presumptively violates the standard of care. The family member explained his reason for seeking treatment from Dore, identifying the medications she prescribed, and describing the treatment she provided.The court of appeal affirmed the trial court, which ordered compliance, impliedly concluding the Board established good cause to justify the production of the family member’s private medical information. The Board had a compelling interest in investigating Dore’s allegedly improper conduct. View "Kirchmeyer v. Helios Psychiatry Inc." on Justia Law