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: Mischief

Why Are Courts Sour on CEQA? Peter Prows Explains

“Something is very wrong with this picture.” This is how the Court of Appeal recently concluded a CEQA case—with finger pointed in CEQA’s direction. Peter Prows, an environmental attorney who handles a lot of CEQA cases, runs down the good, the bad, and the ugly of CEQA. Peter talks with co-hosts Tim Kowal and Jeff Lewis about Tiburon Open Space Comm. v. Cnty. of Marin (May 12, 2022, A159860), which rejected a neighborhood group’s efforts to stymie a development project.

Only law nerds are interested in CEQA? Think again: Former Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi recently penned an article about how CEQA is thwarting California’s ability to provide housing. We discuss that, too.

Peter also supplies Tim’s personal favorite new quote, via Justice Brennan: “See how easy it is to be a City Attorney?… If all else fails, merely amend the regulation and start over again.” (San Diego Gas & Elec. Co. v. City of San Diego (1981) 450 U.S. 621, 655 n.22 (Brennan, J., dissenting).)

Also: The government gets anti-SLAPP protection for free speech? (See Vargas v. City of Salinas (2009) 46 Cal.4th 1.) Come on, SCOCA.

Finally, on the Lightning Round: A persuasive case for two spaces after a period?

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“Ve Haf Vays”: Appellate Court Mediation Programs

Senior Judge Clifford Wallace of the 9th Circuit has said, speaking of appellate court mediation programs, that “we ha[ve] a way to get people to talk.” Appellate mediator John Derrick talks with Tim Kowal and Jeff Lewis about the effectiveness of appellate court mediation programs — and about one unusual way a judge might get parties to talk.

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When Courts Give the Silent Treatment

Judges are rightly frustrated with counsel who do not respond to unfavorable facts and arguments. So when asked what I find frustrating about appellate practice, my answer is: judicial opinions that do not answer the strongest arguments.

On most occasions when an appellate court has not agreed with my client’s position, our courts give excellent analysis. This allows my client (and me) to swallow the bitter pill.

But on several occasions, I have searched in vain for a substantive analysis of my strongest arguments. Going into an appeal, appellants understand their chances are slim. What they should be able to count on is the dignity of an explanation to their positions. It is, after all,

guaranteed by the California Constitution:

Under article VI, §14 of the California Constitution, the appellate courts of this state are required to provide reasons for their rulings: “Decisions of the Supreme Court and courts of appeal that determine causes shall be in writing with reasons stated.” An opinion need not be exhaustive, but “a decision directing the issuance of a peremptory writ in the first instance is a ‘judgment’ ” within the meaning of provisions of Art. VI, “and the court must set forth the grounds for such a decision.” (Lewis v. Superior Court (1999) 19 Cal.4th 1232.) “[A]n opinion sufficiently states ‘reasons’ if it sets forth the ‘grounds’ or ‘principles’ upon which the justices concur in the judgment.”

To paraphrase Orwell, one does not need to be accepted, but merely to be understood. And Epictetus: “To the rational creature that which is against reason is alone past bearing; the rational he can always bear. Blows are not by nature intolerable.”

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Courts Cannot Reconsider Final Orders—But What Is a “Final” Order?

On the topic of judgment enforcement, the new rule announced in Coastline JX Holdings LLC v. Bennett (D4d3 Jul. 7, 2022, No. G059552) --- Cal.Rptr.3d ----, 2022 WL 2527118 is that a judgment-debtor’s profit-sharing plan is exempt from levy under both ERISA and California law, because profit-sharing plans are non-assignable.

And on the topic of civil procedure, while a trial court lacks jurisdiction to reconsider a “final” order, that does not apply to interim rulings whose deadline to appeal has not yet expired. So the trial court’s reconsideration here was valid.

This clarifies a number of recent cases holding trial courts lacked jurisdiction to entertain motions for reconsideration.

But the curious thing about this part of the opinion is that the court seems to allow the trial court to extend its jurisdictional window to reconsider an order indefinitely. Jurisdictional rules ordinarily cannot be extended except by statute. But here, the court held that the time in which the trial court could reconsider the order was extended when the trial court indicated it would “potentially” reconsider it. After that point, the Court of Appeal does not suggest how long this “potential reconsideration” period might last.

This seems to leave nothing of the jurisdictional time limit for the trial court’s period to reconsider the order.

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When Judges Rely on Unpublished Opinions

Lawyers in California courts may not rely on unpublished cases. But federal courts may. And California courts may rely on federal courts—even when the federal court relies on an unpublished California case. In Meza v. Pacific Bell Telephone Co. (D2d3 Jul. 12, 2022 case no. B317119) 2022 WL 2680080, that’s just what a California court did.

Meza filed a class action against his employer, Pac Bell, over meal and rest violations. The trial court denied class certification as to certain of the claims and Meza appealed from this order (among others).

The Court of Appeal reversed, finding that the claims were common among the class members. As part of its analysis, the court relied on a Ninth Circuit decision.

But as the Meza court acknowledged, the Ninth Circuit relied on two unpublished California appellate decisions in its analysis of the issue. Meza further acknowledged that “we are not permitted to rely on such cases.” But, the resourceful court went on, “a federal court may do so.”

This is one of the many ways courts commonly disregard the no-citation rule under California Rules of Court rule 8.1115.

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When Appellate Rules Lie: Order Granting Summary Judgment, Which Is Not Appealable, Held Appealable Anyway

Appellate rules are treated as jurisdictional. So it is important for appellate rules to be very clear. One such nice and clear rule is: Orders granting summary judgment are not appealable.

Except, the rule is a lie, as it proved in Reed v. Aviva USA Corp. (D1d1 Jun. 16, 2022 no. A158535) 2022 WL 2165479 (nonpub. opn.). The trial court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment. But for some reason, the court did not enter a formal judgment. So the plaintiff appealed from the order granting summary judgment.

The Court of Appeal acknowledged that an order granting summary judgment is not appealable. But the court reviewed the order anyway because the order “showed a clear intent to finally dispose of Reed's complaint against respondents.”

Here is the problem with making exceptions to jurisdiction rules like this. If an appellant were to take the rule at face value that orders granting summary judgment are not appealable, then the appellant would file a motion under Code of Civil Procedure section 664 to have the clerk enter a judgment. But this would put the appellant to the risk of blowing the deadline to appeal from the order.

So now the plaintiff is in a darkly ironic conundrum: On the one hand, the plaintiff has blown the deadline to appeal from the order, which, on its face, showed a clear intent to finally dispose of the complaint, and thus was appealable under the logic of Saben and many other cases like it. And as we know, the deadline to take an appeal from an appealable order is jurisdictional.

But on the other hand, the plaintiff now has a judgment, which is explicitly an appealable order under Code of Civil Procedure section 904.1(a)(1).

What does this mean? That there two appealable judgments? And the latter judgment restarts the time to appeal? But that would violate the rule — again, jurisdictional — that the time to appeal cannot be restarted by a subsequent order or amendment.

What the Court of Appeal should have done here was to catch the problem when the plaintiff filed the Civil Case Information Statement. The court should have instructed the plaintiff to go back to the trial court and get a judgment. Yes, it may seem fussy. But jurisdictional rules are fussy. They impose heavy burdens on litigants. So something seems off when courts treat them lightly.

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Are the Courts Split on Untimely Appeals?

You have heard courts say that a timely notice of appeal is a prerequisite. As in, non-negotiable. As in, the court doesn’t even have jurisdiction to consider your appeal, so don’t even ask, ok?

But do the courts really mean it when they say that a timely notice of appeal is a jurisdictional prerequisite? This week, two cases give reason for doubt.

In one case, an appellate court held a belated appeal from a judgment may be resurrected by appealing from a subsequent cost award in an amended judgment.

And in another case, the court held an appeal filed after the 60-day deadline after a notice of entry is timely if the notice of entry does not attach the judgment.

The Upshot: Before these recent cases, I would have uniformly advised against taking an untimely appeal. Filing an untimely appeal and asserting off-the-wall theories that the appeal was timely filed after an amended judgment for costs, or that the notice of entry was invalid for not including attachments, might have been frivolous and subject to sanctions. Now, I am not so sure. Arguments supporting untimely appeals may be “on the wall.” Watch this space.

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Read This Before Using a Settled Statement for Your Appeal

The mother appealing the parentage order in R.M. v. J.J. (D3 Apr. 29, 2022 no. C090018) 2022 WL 1301801 (nonpub. opn.) had a solid issue on appeal: her ex-husband had made frequent angry outbursts and hostile gesticulations throughout the day-long hearing. The mother thought this display of her ex-husband’s rather obvious need of anger management confirmed that giving him custody of a young child was not in the child’s best interests. But the trial court refused to consider the ex-husband’s outbursts. This admitted refusal to consider these angry outbursts, mother argued, was an abuse of discretion.

But the Court of Appeal held: Outbursts? What outbursts? We see no record of any outbursts. Order affirmed.

You see, when you appeal, you have to show the Court of Appeal what happened during the trial court proceedings. The best way to do that is to have a court reporter transcribe every word of the proceedings. But that is expensive. Acknowledging this expense, the rules give financially-constrained litigants another way to provide an appellate record. This alternative is called a settled statement.

But in this case, the settled statement became a heavily-litigated affair, resulting in a version expurgated of the matters relevant to the mother’s appeal. In short, the worst of both worlds.

The Upshot: Do not count on a settled statement. Yes, it is in the rules. But this is not the first time I have heard that a trial judge refused to provide a settled statement, and that a Court of Appeal refused to do anything about it. Do not be misled into thinking there is a way to furnish an appellate record other than a reporter's transcript. Yes, this sets up an access-to-justice problem. The Legislature needs to fund court reporters, or re-institute its audio-recording program (which was nixed, by the way, at the behest of the reporters’ lobby, as a presiding justice recently confirmed for me.)

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“Stump Tim,” Do Sympathetic Parties Get Better Results? And Other Recent Cases

After Jeff quizzes Tim on a bit of appellate esoterica about the automatic 15-day default extension for appellate briefs, the co-hosts discuss whether appellate justices modulate their approaches to sympathetic cases. The conversation also covers recent cases and news involving:

• An appeal that became moot due to pending litigation
• One federal judge issues a nationwide injunction against the CDC mask mandate, and another federal judge sounds off against nationwide injunctions
• Law firm sued for alleged Unruh Act abuse
• SLAPP suits and... SMACC suits?

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“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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Dismissing an Appeal Means the Judgment Is Affirmed—But Not in This Unusual Case

When I first read Art Works Studio & Classroom, LLC v. Leonian (D2d7 Apr. 12, 2022 no. B304461) 2022 WL 1090984 (nonpub. opn.), something seemed odd about it. I had to read it again to be sure: it is definitely odd.

In this commercial lease dispute, there is an appeal of an anti-SLAPP order against the tenant. The tenant claims on appeal that there was at least minimal merit for its interpretation of the estoppel certificates. But there was a subsequent judgment in a UD action that ultimately rejected tenant’s interpretation.

So you can guess what the landlord did next: The landlord moved to dismiss the appeal as barred by res judicata based on the UD judgment. And the Court of Appeal agreed. “Because these issues were fully litigated in the unlawful detainer actions, appellants are barred from relitigating these issues.”

Now here is the odd part. The Court of Appeal has granted the landlord’s motion to dismiss the appeal. So that means what happens next is the appeal is dismissed and the anti-SLAPP order is affirmed, right?

But that’s not what happened. The court did not want to affirm the judgment. So it did not dismiss the appeal. The court reversed the SLAPP order and the fee order. In other words: The respondent landlord loses.

How did this happen? In the post, I explain why I think the landlord’s mootness argument was technically wrong: the tenant’s appeal was not moot, but its case was. Also, the court apparently did not want landlord getting its fees against tenant in two cases. One was enough.

Still, this was a really weird way for the court to go about it.

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Case May Not Be Dismissed During Appeal

Can you dismiss your lawsuit while it’s on appeal? No. That is the surprising holding of Curtin Maritime Corp. v. Pacific Dredge & Const. (D4d1 Mar. 22, 2022) no. -- Cal.Rptr.3d ---- 2022 WL 841760. The plaintiff had successfully opposed the defendant’s anti-SLAPP motion, and the defendant appealed the order denying its motion. The plaintiff decided to dismiss its claims. But the Court of Appeal held it could not dismiss until it was done with the appeal.

This holding is wrong on the law, as I explain in the post. And Prof. Shaun Martin agrees the holding “seems fairly revolutionary,” and links to “tons of cases that, in fact, got dismissed while the matter was on appeal.”

But now we have at least one published case that holds a plaintiff may not dismiss pending appeal. And when there’s a conflict — no matter how lopsided — trial courts may "exercise discretion under Auto Equity Sales, Inc. v. Superior Court (1962) 57 Cal.2d 450, 456, to choose between sides of any such conflict.”

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