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: Finding Compelled as a Matter of Law (Failure of Proof) Standard of Review

“Impossible” Burden Met on Appeal: But Dissent Disagrees

You know about “de novo” and “abuse of discretion” and “substantial evidence.” But most attorneys have never heard of the “finding compelled as a matter of law” standard of appellate review. That is because it rarely comes up. The “compelled finding” standard only comes up when the party with the burden of proof (usually plaintiff) loses at trial, and argues on appeal that its case was so truly overwhelming that only an unreasonable fact-finder would have been left unpersuaded.

With that in mind, there are two interesting things about Missinato v. Missinato (D2d7 Apr. 15, 2022 no. B305989) 2022 WL 1124871 (nonpub. opn.). First, it is surprising because the court found the defendant’s statute-of-limitations defense so overwhelming that only an unreasonable person would be unpersuaded. Second, one of the panel was unpersuaded.

That seems awkward, no?

There are several things about this opinion I find really shocking. #AppellateLinkedIn, take a look and let me know your thoughts.

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Employee Challenging Defense Verdict on Appeal Could Not Overcome the Difficult "Finding Compelled as a Matter of Law" Standard of Review

Another recent case instructs plaintiffs not to think they can reverse a defense judgment by arguing that "substantial evidence" supported a verdict in the plaintiff's favor. Instead, to overcome a defense verdict, a plaintiff must establish on appeal that the evidence was so overwhelming and uncontroverted that findings for the plaintiff were "compelled as a matter of law." Plaintiffs can almost never meet this burden, and the plaintiff in *Snoeck v. ExakTime Innovations, Inc.* (D2d3 Nov. 29, 2021) 2021 WL 5563958 (no. B302178) (nonpub. opn.) could not meet it, either.

Also of note: The plaintiff did prevail on one claim, but did not beat the employer's 998 offer. But when the employer moved to tax costs, it did not attach the 998 offer to the moving papers. It attached it instead to the reply papers. Held: it was an abuse of discretion to consider the 998 offer if not attached to the motion itself.

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The Lesser Known Standard of Review "Finding Compelled As a Matter of Law"

You know about de novo review, and abuse of discretion, and substantial evidence. But have you heard of the "finding compelled as a matter of law" standard of review? Jeff Lewis and I discuss a recent case applying the standard with tenant-rights and appellate specialist Frances Campbell.

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Limited Jurisdiction Appeals, Eviction Tsunamis and HateWriting, our Interview with Frances Campbell

Frances Campbell of Campbell & Farahani, LLP joins Jeff Lewis and me for a discussion about housing law, eviction defense, appeals, and practicing in limited jurisdiction courts. Fran explains some of the common pitfalls in limited civil appeals, and discusses whether the Appellate Division seems sometimes to be shielded from meaningful review. (These courts handle eviction appeals, and because they are usually unpublished the bar still has no clear answer on who has standing to bring UD actions.)

Fran also shares her views on the coming eviction tsunami (spoiler, she says it's a myth) , the term "HateWrite" (verb: the act of drafting, in a single pass, in a state of agitated elan, an entire appellate brief, the editing of which requires only the removal of vituperative adverbs), and the font Cochin for brief writing.

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In a Rare Illustration of the Finding-Compelled-as-a-Matter-of-Law Standard of Review, Appellate Court Reverses a Defense Judgment

Trial attorneys are familiar with the three common standards of appellate review: substantial evidence, abuse of discretion, and de novo. But what standard of review applies when an unsuccessful plaintiff appeals? When the plaintiff is arguing that the trial court should have found its evidence more persuasive, a fourth standard of review applies, something like a summary-judgment standard, in which the appellate court must be satisfied the plaintiff's evidence is so compelling that the plaintiff is entitled to a finding as a matter of law. This is a very difficult burden to overcome, and so it is rarely attempted, and even more rarely met.

But the plaintiff met the high finding-compelled-as-a-matter-of-law standard in King v. May-Wesely (D5 Oct. 22, 2021) 2021 WL 4929912 (no. F080224) (nonpub. opn.).
This almost never happens.

If you are the successful defendant responding to the plaintiff's appeal, keep the finding-compelled-as-a-matter-of-law standard in mind. Unsuccessful plaintiffs sometimes think the substantial-evidence standard of review applies. But as the authorities indicate, this is not only incorrect, it is misleading. It is not enough for the plaintiff to point to the defendant's evidence as insubstantial: the plaintiff must show it met its burden by uncontradicted and unimpeached evidence.

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