Legal News and Appellate Tips

Each week, TVA appellate attorney Tim Kowal reviews several recent decisions out of the appellate courts in California, and elsewhere, and reports about the ones that might help you get an edge in your cases and appeals.

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Tag: Dismissals

Following Demurrer Ruling, Plaintiff Voluntary Dismisses Claims to Expedite Appeal, but Dismisses Without Prejudice: Appeal Dismissed

Nine out of every ten appeals are pretty straightforward, simply appealing from a judgment after a trial. But every tenth appeal or so is a headscratcher. This happens a lot in the case of interlocutory orders – critical orders like demurrers and preliminary injunctions that occur before a final judgment. These can devastate the case, yet evade direct appellate review.

There are strategies available to get direct appellate review of certain interlocutory orders. But they should be used with caution.

In the racial discrimination case of Brown v. Arizona Diamondbacks (D3 Aug. 9, 2021) no. C091629 (nonpub. opn.), the trial court sustained the Diamondbacks' demurrer to the plaintiff's claim for racial harassment. Rather than amend, the plaintiff voluntarily dismissed his claims to expedite the appeal. This strategy was sound – or would have been, had he dismissed with prejudice. But he dismissed without prejudice. That was his undoing. His appeal of the demurrer ruling was dismissed.

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Motion to Dismiss Appeal Denied? Give It Another Shot in the Merits Briefing

I was just wondering this myself: What happens to your arguments – your sound, cogent, and trenchant arguments – in a motion to dismiss an appeal, after the Court of Appeal summarily dismisses your motion? Are your arguments dead and gone? Or may you raise them again in your respondent's brief?

The answer is: You may re-argue your motion to dismiss in your respondent's brief. And, as was the case in Casey v. Sacramento Public Law Library (D3 Jul. 12, 2021) no. C089936 (nonpub. opn.), the court may re-deny your motion.

But even though you may raise your motion to dismiss again in your merits briefing, should you? Or will you just annoy the court? You might consider having an appellate attorney review your motion first.

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Defective Appeal Results in Loss of Entire Case to Five-Year Rule

One of the first questions an appellate attorney tries to answer is whether there is an appealable order. It is pretty obvious why this is important: if the order is not appealable, your appeal will lose.

But have you also considered: if you appeal from a nonappealable order, your entire case might lose?

That is what happened in Villegas v. Six Flags Entertainment Corporation (D2d4 Jun. 29, 2021) no. B295352 (nonpub. opn.). The appellants appealed from the denial of their class certification motion. These normally are appealable under the "death knell" doctrine, because it effectively kills the class action.

But it was not appealable here, and the appeal was dismissed. By the time it was dismissed, the five-year statute had run and the plaintiff-appellants had not brought their case to trial. Case dismissed.

Takeaway: It can be difficult to predict the problems that can arise from appealing a nonappealable order. In this case, at least, it certainly would have been worth consulting an appellate attorney before filing the notice of appeal.

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$1 Million Cost Denial Reversed on Appeal for Failure to Exercise Discretion

A recent case shows how recovery of costs can involve large dollar amounts – over $1.5 million – and the application of subtle legal principles and appellate procedure.

After four years of litigation in City of Los Angeles v. Pricewaterhousecoopers, LLP (D2d5 Jul. 8, 2021) no. B305583 (nonpub. opn.), the city eventually dismissed the case, and the contractor sought nearly $1.1 million in costs for electronic discovery. The trial court denied them all, and the contractor appealed.

After an interesting discussion on the appealability of the cost order, the Court of Appeal noted the trial court's statements on the record were ambiguous whether it misunderstood the scope of its authority, or whether it was exercising discretion. But the court ultimately held the trial court misunderstood its authority and thus committed reversible error. What convinced the Court of Appeal the trial court had erred on the law? "Although it is a close question in this case," the court noted, "given the City's [incorrect] primary argument that the costs ... are never recoverable ... we cannot presume the trial court understood the extent of its discretion...."

Takeaway: If you manage to persuade the trial court of your legal proposition, why not ask the trial court to exercise its discretion in your favor as well, just to be safe? Had the trial court also based its ruling on its discretion, the outcome likely would have been much different.

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Two Appeals Dismissed Where Entity Appellants Owed Taxes or Not in Good Legal Standing

Two recent appeals were dismissed because the entity defendants were not in good legal standing. One was crosswise with the taxing authorities. (H.T.L. Properties, LLC v. Speck (D2d2 May 4, 2021) no. B299160 (non-pub.).) Another never formally organized. (Dennis Mitchell Oil v. Buehler Family Bakersfield, LLC (D5 Jun. 1, 2021) no. F074897 (non-pub.).) As a result, both their appeals were dismissed.

But the nonexistent entity gets the judgment against it vacated as part of the dismissal. How's that for failing upward?

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Strategic Dismissals to Expedite Appeal Are No Longer Appealable, Ninth Circuit Holds

We recently discussed strategic dismissals following devastating, but nonappealable, interlocutory orders to expedite an appeal in California state court.

But beware if you are in federal court: A recent Ninth Circuit decision in Langere v. Verizon Wireless Services , No. 19-55747 (9th Cir. Dec. 29, 2020) warns that federal Courts of Appeals may reject any such appeals as an attempt to manufacture appellate jurisdiction.

If you are developing a strategy after a devastating order before a final judgment has been entered, that is an excellent time to consult appellate counsel.

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Appeal Dismissed Because Trial Court Forgot to Sign the Dismissal Order on Appeal

Approaching the 60-day deadline to appeal the trial court's dismissal of her action, plaintiff filed a notice of appeal. But the Court of Appeal in Lee v. Medrano (D2d5 Feb. 24, 2021) No. B305536 (unpublished), dismissed her appeal.

Why? Because the dismissal was not signed, as required under Code of Civil Procedure section 581d, and thus not appealable.

While this is technically the correct outcome, I cannot fault the plaintiff-appellant here. Technically nonappealable orders are often deemed appealable, and in such cases, failing to appeal would prove fatal. It just so happens that for this particular type of nonappealable order, the courts have decided never to treat them as appealable.

(But, being a cynic, and averse to malpractice exposure, I would not bank on it.)

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Can You Appeal an Order Denying Leave to Amend a Complaint?

Practitioners know that amendments to pleadings are liberally allowed. But every now and then, they are denied. What can you do then?

An order denying leave to amend is not directly appealable. So that's out.

You could try your case on the existing complaint and appeal if you are unsuccessful. But in that case, it would be difficult to establish any error in denying leave was prejudicial – after all, the trier of fact rejected your evidence.

There's always a writ petition. Good luck with that.

The solution: Strategic voluntary dismissal to expedite an appeal.

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Dismissal of Voluminous "Shotgun Complaint"​ Affirmed by 11th Circuit, Even Though Containing Some Valid Claims

"Shotgun pleading," the practice of overpleading a complaint with vague and irrelevant facts, and so annoying a lot of people who never did the plaintiff any harm, is prohibited in […]

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