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: Mootness

Attachment Not Available for Punitive Damages in Elder Abuse Claims

When a nonagenarian’s new 35-years-junior wife started liquidated his assets, his daughter, Lisa Royals, intervened. In her resulting lawsuit of Royals v. Lu (D1d4 Jul. 18, 2022) 81 Cal.App.5th 328., not only did Royals allege almost $1.1 million in financial elder abuse, she also sought a writ of attachment for three times that amount—apparently based on statutory penalties and attorney fees. And despite the requirement that attachments be based on retrospective rather than prospective debts, the trial court issued a $3.4 million attachment order.

The First District Court of Appeal reversed. Royals’s pleadings and affidavit were “unclear what justified an attachment amount of more than three times the actual damages that Royals pleaded on information and belief.” And even after the appellate court’s request for supplemental briefing on that point, the court found “Royals’s elusiveness” to be “troubling.”

The court held that seeking damages based on penalties and punitive damages, or in “an open-ended way” to justify an inflated damages award, cannot satisfy the attachment statutes.

There was also an interesting procedural quirk when the trial court ordered the attachment vacated, purportedly rendering the appeal moot. That didn’t work: a trial court cannot vacate an order once it’s on appeal.

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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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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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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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Appellate Court Ducks Question Whether Probate Court Loses Jurisdiction to Award Fees Pending Appeal of Judgment

Here is a question I did not realize had not been answered about appellate stays and attorney-fee awards. When the losing party appeals an order that gives rise to a motion for fees, does the appellate stay deprive the court of jurisdiction to award fees? In civil cases, the answer is no. But in probate cases, we do not have an answer one way or another.

And we still don’t, because the Court of Appeal ducked the question In Conservatorship of Bower (D4d3 Feb. 25, 2022 no. G059112) 2022 WL 571011 (nonpub. opn.).

In that conservatorship case, the probate court found the conservator had incurred expenses in bad faith. The court ruled the conservatee’s widow was entitled to attorney fees, the amount to be determined by subsequent motion. The conservator filed an appeal of the order on the accounting, including the finding of bad faith giving rise to attorney fees. The conservator then argued that, based on the appeal and the resulting appellate stay, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to award fees.

But by this time, the appeal of the underlying accounting award and finding of bad faith had been affirmed. So the court ducked the section 1310 stay question. The court explained that “The most we could do with respect to this order, even if Andrea is correct, is to return the order to the probate court to be reissued – a pointless exercise.”

Comment: I disagree that it would be a “pointless exercise.” At a minimum, postjudgment interest has been accruing on the fee award since before the appeal of the underlying order was affirmed. If the appellant is correct that there was no jurisdiction to enter the award before affirmance, then that postjudgment interest also is void.

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Move-Out Order Held Automatically Stayed on Appeal, But Sale Order Required a Bond, And Stipulation Mooted Appeal

When a court orders a party to move out of a residence, that is a mandatory injunction, which is automatically stayed upon appeal. But if the court also orders the sale of the property, the order is stayed on appeal only if a bond is given. And if the parties later stipulate to a different order, then the appeals of both of those orders are moot.

That is the thumbnail of Tearse v. Tearse (D1d4 Sep. 22, 2021) 2021 WL 4304761 (no. A158582) (nonpub. opn.). The really unusual thing about this case is how the court treated the respondent's argument that the appeal was moot. The court agreed, but was also concerned that it would operate to affirm a trial court's order that was void because entered after an automatic stay. So the court reversed that order as moot. That, surely, is not how the respondent expected his mootness argument would be taken. Be cautious with mootness arguments.

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Sale of Property Rendered Appeal Moot; Bond and Stay Were Required to Preserve the Appeal

It is not enough to appeal your case. You have to keep your case alive until the Court of Appeal has a chance to get to it.

That is the lesson of Badea-Mic v. Detres (D3 Nov. 23, 2020) **no. C085459 (nonpub. opn.). The appellant appealed an order authorizing the sale of the property, but the property was sold to a third party before the appeal concluded. Thus, the appeal was moot.

In fairness, the appellant did seek a stay in the trial court, which was the right move. But when the trial court denied that stay, the appellant waited too long to seek a writ of supersedeas (the appellate court's fancy word for stay) in the Court of Appeal. In this case, she had only four days to seek supersedeas before escrow closed. A good reason to have appellate counsel at the ready!

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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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Anti-Foreclosure Advocate Loses Appeal Due to Mootness After Bank Terminates Foreclosure Proceedings

As time passes in litigation, counsel should give a care to changes that may render their client's cases moot. This is particularly common when equitable relief is sought, such as injunctions. And it tends to be more common on appeal.

That is what happened in Brown v. U.S. Bank, N.A. (D5 May 4, 2021) no. F079568 (nonpub. opn.). Plaintiff sued to enjoin a foreclosure, lost, and appealed, but meanwhile the bank terminated foreclosure. Held: appeal of the injunction denial was moot, because the whole point was to stop the foreclosure, which was no longer in play.

In my experience, your mileage will vary greatly in establishing mootness, or an exception to mootness, depending on the circumstances of your case. So do not be misled by this case into thinking mootness is always a straightforward analysis.

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Strategic Opportunity Missed: Appeal of Judgment Would Have Been Dismissed as Moot But For Respondent's Fee Award

In this commercial eviction case in Lee v. Kotyluk (D4d3 Jan. 7, 2021) No. G058631, defendant-tenant filed a motion in limine for judgment on the pleadings, asserting a defect in landlord's three-day […]

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