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: Summary Judgments and Summary Adjudications

MSJ Evidence Rulings Are Discretionary, California Appellate Court Holds in Split of Authority

CEB has published my article, “MSJ Evidence Rulings Are Discretionary, California Appellate Court Holds in Split of Authority,” about the recent published opinion in Doe v. Software One, Inc. (D4d3 Oct. 12, 2022 no. G060554) 2022 WL 6901145 holding that evidentiary rulings in connection with summary judgment are reviewed on appeal for abuse of discretion. The article is here: http://bit.ly/3g090pV

The opinion is interesting because ever since the Supreme Court’s holding in Reid v. Google, Inc. (2010) 50 Cal.4th 512, which applied de novo review, practitioners have watched carefully to see if a trend of more rigorous review of evidentiary rulings might emerge in the context of motions for summary judgment.

But most cases have not followed Reid’s opening. Doe v. Software one provides a nice summary of the cases since Reid.

I also offer a comment that the preferable approach would be to treat boilerplate objections as waived, rather than indulging the fiction the trial court actually considered them all.

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Update: Opinion Published in Doe v. Software One, Inc.

In October 2022 the Court of Appeal issued its unpublished opinion in Doe v. Software One, Inc. (D4d3 Oct. 12, 2022 no. G060554) 2022 WL 6901145 (see here: http://bit.ly/3EkEmAQ ). On November 8, the court ordered the opinion be published: https://bit.ly/3WP2Dq0

Doe v. Software One holds that evidentiary rulings in deciding a motion for summary judgment are reviewed under the same deferential standard as given evidentiary rulings at trial—i.e., for abuse of discretion. The challengers urged the Supreme Court’s opinion in Reid v. Google, Inc. (2010) 50 Cal.4th 512 created the possibility for more favorable de novo review, and a couple appellate courts had followed that lead.

I filed the publication request. I noted that this split of authority was likely to come before the Supreme Court. And California Rules of Court rule 8.1115 prohibits litigants from citing to the nice summary of the split in Software One opinion unless the opinion were published. (This phenomenon was discussed on the California Appellate Law Podcast episode 22 with David Ettinger and Dean Bochner, at www.CALPodcast.com )

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How Does a Client Measure Success? Our Conversation with Outside General Counsel Lee Goldberg

Lee Goldberg joins Jeff Lewis and me for a discussion about his perspective on litigation as outside general counsel for his business clients. Lee shares his three decades of experience using litigators to solve business problems, and offers advice for trial attorneys serving corporate clients. We talk about Lee’s recent video series on LinkedIn (available at his website CalLawyers.com), and what a general counsel looks for when hiring trial and appellate counsel.

Some of Lee's lessons:
•On litigation objectives: " My client is never principle over business. Ever."
•On the most common mistake litigators make: " [When] they think that they have the only answers. Sit back, listen to your client. That is the biggest error that I see."
•On hiring the right litigation team: "Local, smaller, dedicated, smart counsel is what I look for."
•On trial counsel handling appeals: "I will never have my trial lawyers handle my appeals. Ever."
•On success: "The thing that people keep coming back to is success. Understand something, success is perception. Success is not a piece of paper. Success is an emotional feeling that you give to the client that they did the best they could in the situation that they had."

Would love to hear your perspectives.

Listen to the episode here: https://lnkd.in/gsteHnG8

Please subscribe to the California Appellate Law Podcast in your favorite podcast player.

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False Declaration Signed Under Pressure Does Not Create a Triable Issue

It is rare that the Court of Appeal will issue a writ instructing the trial court to grant summary judgment. But that is what happened in the published opinion in Forest Lawn Memorial-Park Association v. Superior Court (D4d2 Oct. 7, 2021) ___ Cal.Rptr.3d ___ 2021 WL 4618080 (no. E076549). After the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff's attorney pressured a witness to sign a declaration. Based on that declaration, the court denied the motion. But a later deposition revealed nothing about the declaration was true, and that the witness signed it just to get the attorney to leave her place of employment to avoid trouble.

I was surprised to find the court offered no admonition against the conduct of plaintiff's counsel. What counsel did here seems to me very close to suborning perjury. True, the case is not over, and the trial court will have the opportunity to make whatever admonitions are appropriate. But then again, the indulgent trial court would have credited the false declaration — even after the evidence showed it was false — had the Court of Appeal not stepped in. I think a word about ethics was called for here.

Does this surprise you, Donald Patrick Eckler, DAN COTTER, Kansas Gooden, Lindsey Lawton?

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Court Suggests, Surprisingly, That Summary Adjudication Order Could Be Appealable As Collateral Order (But Just Not in This Case)

Devastating trial court orders should be appealable. That is a natural assumption. And that it why it can be disconcerting to learn about appeals dismissed on grounds of nonappealability. (That is why I write about them.)

But actually, the opposite may be true: When more orders are made independently appealable, it means there is more risk that, by the time you get a final judgment, large chunks of your case will now be beyond appellate review. Failing to get review right away is far less devastating than getting no review at all.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal offers a reminder of this in State of California v. Southern California Edison Co. (D4d2 Sep. 30, 2021) 2021 WL 4471627 no. E074138 (nonpub. opn.). The court held an order granting summary adjudication on a declaratory relief claim was not appealable as a collateral order because it did not order the immediate performance of an act or payment of money. The court distinguished a similar case where declaratory relief, also summarily adjudicated, was found to be appealable. In that other case, the trial court also entered an enforcement order. The Edison court noted that, had the underlying MSA been found appealable, then it would have been unreviewable by the time the enforcement order was entered — two years later.

The lesson is that a too-easy rule of appealability could actually make it harder to get review, not easier, because parties would have to file several appeals along the way to a judgment, or else forfeit them as untimely.

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Need More Discovery to Oppose Summary Judgment? Use These Magic Words...

When opposing a motion for summary judgment, seeking a continuance to conduct additional discovery should always be considered. A single piece of evidence may be enough to successfully oppose summary judgment, both in the trial court and on appeal, so even if you don't have that piece of evidence yet, making a record that it might exist is critically important. And all that is required is an affidavit under Code of Civil Procedure section 437c(h), so why not file one?

But some courts may scrutinize this affidavit, as we are reminded in Begley v. Delta Dental of Cal. (D1d3 Aug. 31, 2021) 2021 WL 3878844 no. A159983 (nonpub. opn.). The plaintiff in that employment-discrimination case opposed summary judgment by filing an affidavit explaining she needed to take the deposition of the person most qualified about the employer's reorganization policy that led to the plaintiff's termination. Seems like a sound approach. But while section 437c(h) does not require much more specificity, some cases interpreting it do, and require the opposing party to state the "particular essential facts that may exist."

The plaintiff didn't include those magic words in her affidavit. So discovery denied, summary judgment granted, and affirmed on appeal.

(I offer a critical comment in the article, and would be interested to know your thoughts about it.)

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MSJ Affirmed on New Ground on Appeal; Request for Continuance Denied Because Not Supported by Declaration

There are two important reminders about motions for summary judgment in Steger v. CSJ Providence St. Joseph Medical Center (D2d5 Aug. 16, 2021) 2021 WL 3615548 no. B304043 (nonpub. opn.). The first reminder is that the appellate court may affirm on any ground, even if the trial court never reached that ground. The second reminder is that, if you are opposing an MSJ and you have not had a chance to complete discovery on any of the grounds advanced in the motion, you must say so in a CCP § 437c(h) declaration: just arguing it in the opposition is not enough.

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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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Appeals and Summary Judgments: California Appellate Podcast Episode 3 (Jul. 20, 2020)

TVA's Tim Kowal is a co-host of the California Appellate Law Podcast. Episode 3 of the California Appellate Law Podcast discusses cases, procedure and common pitfalls in appeals involving summary judgments.

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