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: Ethical Duty of Candor

Don’t Seek Default Without Notifying Opposing Counsel. Just Don’t.

If you have served a summons and complaint and the defendant has not answered, don’t get too excited. Attorneys have a duty—an ethical duty, and a statutory duty—to warn opposing counsel before requesting default.

But the plaintiff’s attorney in Shapell Socal Rental Properties, LLC v. Chico’s Fas, Inc. (D4d3 Oct. 17, 2022 no. G060411) ___ Cal.Rptr.3d ___ didn’t do that. Far from it. Instead, counsel “calculated to keep [the defendant] in the dark” to obtain a default judgment.

In a published opinion, the Court of Appeal reversed the order refusing to set aside the default judgment, and pointedly noted counsel’s ethical shortcomings in the trial court. The Court of Appeal said the trial court’s failure to grant the motion to set aside the default was “inexplicable,” and on remand, disqualified the trial judge from hearing the case further.

The court also was unhappy with appellate counsel for refusing to acknowledge the ethical shortcomings below.

Driving the dagger even deeper into the landlord, the court noted that the tenant may seek an award of restitution against the landlord. This could include restoring possession to the tenant-appellant, or awarding money damages.

So bookmark Shapell Socal and consider restitutionary remedies if you are an appellant.

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Counsel Admonished for Failing to Note Order on Appeal Was Not Appealable

The appellate court in People v. Williams (2022) 75 Cal.App.5th 584 admonished a criminal defendant’s attorney for failing to tell the court about a relevant case that had held the kind of order involved there was not appealable.

The court warned that any future violation “may warrant disciplinary review by the State Bar or other corrective action.”

The Upshot: If you are an appellant, this is a good reminder that the Court of Appeal pays close attention to your Statement of Appealability in your opening brief. Do not gloss over it. If there is doubt about appealability, be prepared to raise the collateral-order doctrine, or to seek review on a writ basis. If you are unsure whether your order is appealable, consider consulting an appellate specialist.

In the post I also note one thing that bothers me. Remember that California has no horizontal stare decisis: no Court of Appeal opinion is binding on any other Court of Appeal. So why do we require attorneys to tell appellate courts about other appellate decisions that they have no obligation to follow?

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False Declaration Signed Under Pressure Does Not Create a Triable Issue

It is rare that the Court of Appeal will issue a writ instructing the trial court to grant summary judgment. But that is what happened in the published opinion in Forest Lawn Memorial-Park Association v. Superior Court (D4d2 Oct. 7, 2021) ___ Cal.Rptr.3d ___ 2021 WL 4618080 (no. E076549). After the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff's attorney pressured a witness to sign a declaration. Based on that declaration, the court denied the motion. But a later deposition revealed nothing about the declaration was true, and that the witness signed it just to get the attorney to leave her place of employment to avoid trouble.

I was surprised to find the court offered no admonition against the conduct of plaintiff's counsel. What counsel did here seems to me very close to suborning perjury. True, the case is not over, and the trial court will have the opportunity to make whatever admonitions are appropriate. But then again, the indulgent trial court would have credited the false declaration — even after the evidence showed it was false — had the Court of Appeal not stepped in. I think a word about ethics was called for here.

Does this surprise you, Donald Patrick Eckler, DAN COTTER, Kansas Gooden, Lindsey Lawton?

Get a weekly digest of these articles delivered to your inbox by subscribing here: https://lnkd.in/g23bc4Y.

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"Related"​ Appealable Orders May Be Reviewed Even If Appellant Fails to Appeal Them

One reason I like to read unpublished opinions is they are a little bit less guarded in their analyses. Even if the outcomes would not be different had the opinion been published, the courts sometimes offer analyses that seem somewhat unusual, or incomplete, and these can give a glimpse into how the justices and their research attorneys are struggling through the issues in the case.

I got this impression reading San Felipe Farms L.P. v. LLY Ranch (D4d3 Jul. 8, 2021) no. G060126. It involves an appeal that seems clearly moot, and from an order that seems clearly nonappealable. But the court for some reason did not want to dismiss the appeal on either of those grounds – and in so doing suggests a possible loophole in the appealability doctrine that may be larger than typically advertised.

The court also noted the appellant had put its toes right on the line of its duty of candor.

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Reversing Summary Judgment, Court Faults Respondent for "Specious"​ Assertions That "Wholly Mischaracterize"​ Ruling and Appellant's Arguments

Sensing reversal of its summary judgment, the respondent in Lubke v. Automobile Club of S. Cal. (D2d7 Jan 6, 2021) No. B302782, engaged in desperate arguments that earned it some unfavorable comments in the Second District's opinion.
We are used to seeing appellate courts take a critical view toward an appellant's arguments. Here, however, the Second District took the respondent to task for its less-than-candid arguments attempting to rehabilitate a moribund judgment. The court faulted respondent for "wholly mischaracteriz[ing] the court's ruling," and making an "equally specious assertion" about appellant's argument.

After remand, there may be another opportunity in this case for an appeal, and before the same panel. Persuasion is a tough business as it is. Conducting that business before jurists who remember you as having made "specious" arguments that "wholly mischaracterize" the court is tougher still.

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Court Rejects Appeal Based Entirely on New Case Counsel Chose Not to Mention

During appellate briefing in Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Ass'n v. City of San Francisco (D1d5 Jan. 27, 2021) No. A157983, a case concerning whether a recent local tax increase on a voter initiative […]

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