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

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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Failure to Make Required Findings Held Reversible Per Se

Trial courts are required to make findings after certain proceedings. So is a court’s failure to make findings reversible error? A few years ago, the California Supreme Court answered No in F.P. v. Monier. Instead, to be reversible, the trial court’s failure to make findings must prejudice the appellant.

But the Fourth District held the opposite in a published opinion in Abdelqader v. Abraham (Mar. 10, 2022 D4d1) --- Cal.Rptr.3d ----. The trial court failed to make required findings, and on that basis, the Court of Appeal reversed. Although the respondent argued the error was harmless, the court disagreed. The court essentially concluded the failure to make findings was a structural defect — the precise argument the Supreme Court rejected in Monier.

Comment: While I strongly agree that litigants deserve reasons for a court’s decision, the court’s analysis in Abdelqader is unsatisfying. The court furnished no basis to distinguish the Supreme Court’s Monier holding. In fact, the court did not even mention Monier.

The Upshot: In any custody matter in which the presumption under Family Code section 3044 is triggered, look hard for any missing findings. Under Abdelqader, that defect is reversible per se.

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The 9th Circuit’s Skewed 2nd Amendment Scorecard

Judge VanDyke recently criticized the 9th Circuit’s practice of granting en banc review in every recent pro-2nd Amendment decision—and denying review of every pro-gun control decision. And he’s right, says 2nd Amendment litigator Sean Brady. Sean talks with Jeff Lewis and me about his recent amicus brief on that very phenomenon, cataloguing 9th Cir. cases that:
🤔 Rely on the Heller dissent rather than the SCOTUS majority’s holding.
🤔 Hold there is no right to concealed carry even when there is no right to open carry, either.
🤔 Effectively hold there is no right to bear arms, only to keep them.

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About That Cheeky Concurrence by Judge VanDyke

Legal commentators were taken aback by Judge VanDyke’s concurring opinion mocking the 9th Circuit’s inevitable en banc review of the majority opinion—also authored by Judge VanDyke. But Second Amendment litigator Sean Brady explains why he thinks Judge VanDyke will be vindicated in his criticism of the 9th Circuit’s trend of late on Second Amendment cases. And Jeff Lewis and I—while disagreeing on the merits of the gun rights question—also agree that satire and a bit of cheek can be valid tools to bring attention to an important issue that might otherwise be ignored.

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A Second Restraining Order Made Appeal of Earlier Restraining Order Moot

The appellant in Singh v. Bains (D5 Mar. 10, 2022 no. F082506) 2022 WL 714679 (nonpub. opn.) was in pro per, so don’t read too much into this, but something does not sit right about this memorandum opinion (an abbreviated form of opinion when a cause raises “no substantial issues.”)

The trial court entered a civil harassment restraining order against Bains. Bains appealed. But sometime later, the trial court entered a second, identical restraining order. It even expires on the exact same date. (You might be wondering: what, exactly, was the point of the second order, then?)

Noting that Bains did not appeal the second restraining order, the court denied the appeal from the first restraining order as moot: “If we reversed the challenged CHRO, defendant would still be subject to the second CHRO. Therefore, this appeal is moot and should be dismissed.”

Here is why the court’s opinion does not sit right with me: Why is the trial court entering duplicate identical restraining orders? What was the point of a second, identical restraining order, other than to spring a procedural trap on the appellant on appeal? And doesn’t the appellate stay under Code of Civil Procedure section 916 render the second identical order void?

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“Prophet Without Honor”: Sean Brady on Judge VanDyke’s Controversial 2nd Amendment Prediction

“I’m not a prophet,” Judge Lawrence VanDyke wrote in his controversial concurring opinion in McDougall v. County of Ventura. Second Amendment attorney Sean Brady disagrees. Joining Jeff Lewis and me, Sean says Judge VanDyke will be proven correct: the Ninth Circuit in the last several years has granted en banc review of every panel decision favorable to the Second Amendment, and has denied review to every unfavorable decision.

(And a few days after taping, On March 8, 2022 the Ninth Circuit granted en banc review of McDougall.)

Sean explains how the Ninth Circuit, and other circuits, have adopted a line of Second Amendment analysis that follows more closely Justice Breyer’s dissent in D.C. v. Heller than the Supreme Court’s majority. That is why, after writing the opinion for the panel, Judge VanDyke also wrote a concurrence, reaching the same conclusion but using this alternative line of analysis.

But wasn’t Judge VanDyke’s concurrence jarring and off-putting? Perhaps. And it is an unusual style for a judge to resort to. But all of us agreed that Judge VanDyke meant it, quite deliberately, to be at least slightly offensive: an affront to the modern taste for cool and logically seamless forms of persuasion. Judge VanDyke genuinely believes that, however it happened, the train has gone off the tracks, and it will take some shoving and heavy breathing to put it back again.

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Another Untimely Appeal Excused in Dependency Case Based on Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

In 2021, the California Supreme Court issued a surprising opinion. The Court held that an untimely appeal is not an absolute bar to appellate jurisdiction, at least in juvenile dependency cases. (*[In re A.R.](2021) 11 Cal.5th 234.)

The reason this was surprising is because, until then, a uniformity of California cases had held that an untimely appeal *was* an “absolute bar” to appellate jurisdiction.

But *A.R.* had noted there was a statutory right to “competent counsel” and a habeas right in dependency proceedings, so the Court would let slide the four-day untimeliness.

The recent case of *In re B.P.* (D5 Jan. 26, 2022 no. F082863) 2022 WL 224811 (nonpub. opn.), took *A.R.* quite a bit further. That case involved a four *month* untimeliness. Also: no habeas petition. The court still allowed the untimely appeal.

As I said before discussing *A.R.*, courts will continue citing the "jurisdictional" prohibition against considering untimely appeals. But, we may continue to wonder whether they are in earnest.

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