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: Statements of Decision

Statement of Decision Missteps in Three Recent Appeals

Did you request a statement of decision?

Did you object to the proposed statement of decision?

These are among the first questions I ask after there has been a bench trial. Three recent appellate decisions demonstrate how easy it can be to forfeit strong issues on appeal by failing to request a statement of decision, or even when a statement of decision has been issued, by failing to object to omissions or defects to give the trial court the opportunity to correct them.

By failing any of the procedural steps in perfecting the record on the statement of decision, the deadline "implied findings" doctrine will be invoked, by which the Court of Appeal will simply infer that the trial court quietly implied any and all findings needed to affirm the judgment. That doctrine almost guarantees affirmance.

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Appeal of Excessive Damages Rejected Because Not First Raised in New Trial Motion

The first question any trial attorney must be able to answer is: What is the theory of my case at trial? Once you've answered that, the next question to consider is: What is the theory of my case on appeal? The attorneys in Mahanuntawong v. Kittithanyaphak (D1d1 Jul. 9, 2021) no. A158610 (nonpub. opn.) had a pretty good answer to that question, but it came too late, and so the court held it was waived.

The court held the appellant forfeited any challenge to defects in the statement of decision by failing to object in the trial court, and forfeited the arguments that the award was excessive because it was not raised in a motion for new trial.

The moment a verdict or tentative decision is released is when an appellate strategy can take shape. But appellate issues may be waived beginning just days later, such as failing to cultivate the statement of decision, or failing to raise key issues in a new trial motion. This is a crucial time to consult appellate counsel.

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Selecting Issues for Appeal? Look for Misapplication of the Legal Standard, Like in This Attorney Fee Case

One of the most effective pieces in winning an appeal is issue selection. Most attorneys know, for example, that "de novo" issues are best on appeal: the Court of Appeal will not pay any deference to a trial court on issues of law.
And most attorneys also know that "abuse of discretion" issues are lousy on appeal. That is because the Court of Appeal will pay great deference to a trial judge's discretionary decisions.
But there is a significant minority of discretionary cases where the trial court so botches its analysis, or misunderstands the law, that the Court of Appeal will pay its orders no deference at all. Instead, on appeal the court will conclude that the trial court failed to exercise discretion. And a failure to exercise discretion is an abuse of discretion.
That is what happened in Southern Cal. School of Theology v. Claremont Graduate Univ. (D2d1 May 3, 2021) no. B302452 (non-pub.). The trial judge thought she did not have authority to apply a "negative multiplier" to reduce block-billed fees. That was incorrect. So back down the case goes.

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Appellate Court Holds Respondent Forfeited Issues and Failed to Establish Implied Findings

In another cautionary tale for respondents on appeal, the Second District in this appeal of an order denying arbitration holds the trial court erred in finding an arbitration agreement unenforceable. The opinion in Alvarez v. Altamed Health Servs. (D2d8 Feb. 4, 2021) No. B305155 (published) suggests a couple ways respondents might try to shore up potential defects in their judgments before exposing them to the crucible of appeal.

Upshot: Do not overlook the statement of decision process at the end of a critical hearing or bench trial. The statement of decision is often the single most important document the Court of Appeal will review. Either party may drastically alter the meaning and effect of that document by making a strategic request for findings under Code of Civil Procedure section 632 and Rules of Court rule 3.1590.

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Spousal Support Order Reversed on Appeal for Lack of Explicit Findings

In this dissolution proceeding in Nevai v. Klemunes (In re Marriage of Nevai) (D3 Dec. 29, 2020) No. C086584, wife, who had quit her engineering career to raise the couple's child, asked […]

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Cal Appellate News for Lawyers (Aug. 31, 2020)

TVA appellate attorney Tim Kowal publishes this weekly update of legal news for trial attorneys. In this edition: appellate tips on preliminary injunctions, summary judgments, and statements of decisions. And: appellate bonds... without collateral?!

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