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Tag: Unpublished Opinions

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In October 2022 the Court of Appeal issued its unpublished opinion in Doe v. Software One, Inc. (D4d3 Oct. 12, 2022 no.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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“They Don’t Laugh at My Jokes Anymore.” Justice Lambden’s Lessons from the Trenches to the Benches and Back

As a consensus-maker, Justice James Lambden never published a dissent in his 17 years on the Court of Appeal for the First District, despite sitting between two indomitable personalities in Justice J. Anthony Kline (Gov. Jerry Brown’s legal affairs secretary) and Justice Paul Hearle (Gov. Ronald Reagan’s appointments secretary). Justice Lambden explains why attorneys should direct their briefs to the justice “in the catbird seat,” and what it was like sitting in the catbird seat.

Justice Lambden also talks about his single unpublished dissent.

Justice Lambden also talks about his time as a judge on the Alameda County Superior Court, the great outdoors, finding and wearing a good hat, and what it’s like for judges to transition to private judging: “Going back out among the bar without wearing the robe is kind of intimidating. Like they say, they don’t laugh at my jokes anymore.”

Justice Lambden serves up a lot of sage advice:

• “Litigation is not like preparing for a battle, it’s more like going on an expedition … like taking a trip across the mountains and encountering different places where you have to do different things.”

• Hire your appellate attorney before the verdict!

• Have an elevator-pitch for your case. If you only have arguments but no theme, you’re not ready.

• On unpublished opinions: Who cares? The California Court of Appeal is not bound even by published decisions, as there is no horizontal stare decisis in our system. If you find good reasoning, use it: if the good argument comes from a published case, make the argument, and cite it. If the good argument comes from an unpublished case, make the argument, but don’t cite it. In either event, it’s not the best citation but the best argument that wins. (This reminds me of Johannes Scotus: “Authority sometimes proceeds from reason, but reason never from authority….We should not allege the opinions of the holy Fathers ... unless it be necessary thereby to strengthen arguments in the eyes of men who, unskillful in reasoning, yield rather to authority than to reason.”)

• On the importance of focus letters and oral argument.

• On access to justice, quoting Chief Justice Ronald George: “Without access, there is no justice.”

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Arbitration Not Waived by 13 Months of Litigation? Supreme Court to Weigh In

The California Supreme Court will review a surprising appellate court holding from earlier this year that held that a defendant did not waive the right to arbitrate, even though the defendant had answered the complaint, served multiple sets of discovery, took the employee-plaintiff’s deposition, and otherwise happily litigated for 13 months before finally moving to compel arbitration.

The majority in Quach v. Calif. Commerce Club, Inc. (D2d1 Apr. 14, 2022 no. B310458) 78 Cal.App.5th 470 found that these facts, as a matter of law, do not waive arbitration. The court noted that the California Supreme Court in Saint Agnes Medical Center v. PacifiCare of California (2003) 31 Cal.4th 1187, 1203, had held that mere participation in litigation, and merely driving up court costs and expenses, are not enough to establish waiver of the right to arbitrate.

The dissent would have found a waiver because “all benefits of a speedy resolution [Quach] could have obtained through arbitration [have] been lost.”

David Ettinger notes that the opinion was filed less than two weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court held prejudice to the other side is not essential to finding an arbitration waiver in federal courts. (Morgan v. Sundance, Inc. (2022) 142 S.Ct. 1708.)

Blog Note: The Quach opinion was originally unpublished until I filed an amicus request for publication.

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Promoting Clarity by Requesting Publication of Appellate Opinions

Only a small fraction of cases and issues go up on appeal. That means trial attorneys see things that appellate judges don’t. So when high-profile family-law specialist Christopher Melcher sees an appellate court issue an unpublished opinion tackling a troublesome issue, he asks the court to publish it, for the benefit of the rest of us.

You should, too. Anyone can request publication of an unpublished appellate opinion. Even if you’re not a party to the case. Clear rules help everyone.

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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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Celebrity Attorney Christopher Melcher on What Gets the Courts’ Attention

High-profile and celebrity family law attorney Christopher Melcher has represented some of the largest divorce cases in California, including multiple cases ending in published appellate decisions. Chris talks with Jeff Lewis and Tim Kowal about how celebrity-driven cases shape the law, such as the #FreeBritney movement against conservatorship abuse.

Chris then talks about a way to bring more attention to non-celebrity cases through requests for publication of nonpublished opinions that raise important issues. And what kinds of cases pique the Supreme Court’s interest? It is often not what you think, says Chris, which is where bar networks come in handy in keeping up on legal trends.

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Why unpublished opinions probably should remain non citable

In defense of the prohibition on citing unpublished opinions, attorney Ryan McCarl notes to Jeff Lewis and me that, so long as California appellate judges continue “nonpublishing” opinions on the assumption practitioners not understand them to be real judicial decisions, we’d have to change their assumption before we change our understanding.

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Published Opinions Are Well-Thought-Out: Shouldn't They All Be?

In their article calling for relaxation of the no-citation rule, appellate attorneys David Ettinger and Dean Bochner point to this interesting quote explaining how much effort goes into a published appellate opinion: it “is an exacting and extremely time-consuming task” and “few, if any, appellate courts have the resources to write precedential opinions in every case that comes before them.” (Hart v. Massanari (9th Cir. 2001) 266 F.3d 1155, 1177.)

But doesn’t every case deserve the same quality of consideration?

How would the reasoning be different if Congress were to say, “you know, this bicameralism and presentment business is an exacting and extremely time-consuming task, and really, what legislature has the resources to go through all that for every important policy matter that comes before it?”

(Of course, a federal court would respond: “No one is saying you cannot cite to unpublished cases. We just don’t like it very much, is all.” But California Rules of Court rule 8.1115 absolutely prohibits any citation to unpublished opinions.)

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Proper and improper ways to get around the no-citation rule

Here are two ideas for getting round the “no-citation rule” that prohibits California attorneys from citing unpublished cases. But careful! Only one of them is actually a good idea.

First, I ask appellate attorneys David Ettinger and Dean Bochner if attorneys may reference an unpublished case the same way a recent published case did: by naming the appellate district that issued the on-point unpublished case. (Bad idea, don’t try it it. I realized it was probably too mischievous when I couldn’t even say it with a straight face.)

Second, simply crib the persuasive reasoning of the unpublished case. (This gets a thumbs-up from both David and Dean and co-host Jeff Lewis.)

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How the No Citation Rule Is Routinely Violated

Did you know you are forbidden to cite unpublished cases — even when urging the Cal. Supreme Court in a petition for review that there is a split of authority? Appellate attorneys David Ettinger and Dean Bochner note that this use of unpublished cases are routinely employed, but it violates California Rules of Court rule 8.1115.

They explain to Tim Kowal and Jeff Lewis on the California Appellate Law Podcast that the rule should be amended so attorneys need not risk becoming “scofflaws” just to continue engaging in this customary and needful practice.

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Two Proposals to Amend the No-Citation Rule

Attorneys are prohibited under CRC rule 8.1115 from citing unpublished cases for any reason. But not even the Supreme Court takes the rule seriously. Practitioners routinely cite unpublished cases in petitions for review to demonstrate the existence of splits of authority, even though rule 8.1115 clearly prohibits this practice.

Attorneys David Ettinger and Dean Bochner join hosts Tim Kowal and Jeff Lewis to explain their two proposals to amend rule 8.1115, and allow citations to nonpubs in appropriate circumstances.

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Law Is What Courts Do, Not What They Say

Appellant expert Myron Moskovitz explains why unpublished opinions are a sleight of hand. Courts do one thing in one case, and the opposite in another case, and then tell you only the first case is “precedent” because the second was not “published.” But ALL cases are published online. We can all we what the court is doing. “Unpublishing” cases is a bad magic trick.

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