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: Waiver and Forfeiture

Maxine Waters’ SLAPP, 5pm Filing Deadline, “Snitch Rule” & More Recent Legal News

Our regular roundup of noteworthy appellate decisions and legal news includes these stories:

⚠Did a Covid-era jury cut short its deliberations (to just one hour) because it wanted to get out of the cramped jury room? Plaintiff thought so, but did not make a record of having raised a timely objection. Held: Objection forfeited.

⚠Did the failure to raise an affirmative defense in a joint pretrial order forfeit that defense? The 9th Circuit held it did, but Judge Bumatay thought it was raised indirectly and the lack of a more explicit assertion did not prejudice the plaintiff.

🤚Suit against Maxine Waters for falsely saying her opponent was “dishonorably discharged” may go forward: evidence that Waters was shown a military document refuting her charge, and Waters’ failure to conduct any other investigation, supported plaintiff’s showing of actual malice for purposes of defeating the anti-SLAPP motion.

📃Record defect resulted in California Court of Appeal resulted in affirmative via a rare “memorandum decision.”

✉60-day deadline to appeal is not triggered by file-stamped order unless it attaches a proof of service.

🗣New snitch rule would impose a mandatory duty to report violations of other lawyers.

👩‍⚖️Oral arguments at U.S. Supreme Court run long by average of 30 minutes.

💼Supreme Court makes it easier to preserve issues raised in summary judgment motions in Dupree v. Younger.

🛑Federal courts to wind down remote access as US COVID emergency ends.

🕔3d. Circuit to impose 5:00 p.m. filing deadline.

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Defense not asserted in a pretrial order deemed forfeited in split 9th Cir. decision

In two surprise post-trial moves—likely driven by embedded appellate counsel—a plaintiff first lost her case, then won it back.

The employee won her whistleblower claim after a jury trial in Ivie v. Astrazenica Pharmaceuticals LP, No. 21-35978, 2023 WL 3563007 (9th Cir. May 19, 2023). But then Astrazenica moved for judgment as a matter of law, and won. The grounds: the employee failed to prove a sufficient factual nexus to Oregon to establish a claim under the state’s whistleblower statute.

Tough break for the employee.

But on appeal, the employee argued that Astrazenica never raised its “Oregon-nexus argument” in the parties’ joint pretrial order. So Astrazenia forfeited that argument.

Astrazenica argued that the district court, by granting its motion for JMOL, impliedly amended the pretrial order to include the defense. But that doesn’t work, the majority concluded. While the district court did have discretion to amend the joint pretrial order, it would need to do that explicitly, and give the plaintiff an opportunity to respond to the belatedly-asserted defense. That didn’t happen here.

Dissenting, Judge Bumatay noted that, while Astrazenica did not “explicitly” identify the Oregon-nexus defense, it did assert a “failure to state a claim” defense and pleaded that the employee was not entitled to any relief on the Oregon whistleblower claim. The district court concluded that the lack of explicit mention of the Oregon-nexus defense did not prejudice the employee.

Coming to the point, Judge Bumatay concluded: “That doesn't seem wrong—Ivie hasn't proffered any additional evidence that she would have admitted at trial if she had more express notice of the extraterritorial defense. The district court's ruling then seems to fall within its discretion.”

Judge Bumatay also noted that, while the majority is right that the joint pretrial statement should not be amended after-the-fact if it would prejudice the plaintiff, the majority did not point to any prejudice here. And yet Astrazenica was deprived of a meritorious defense.

Judge Bumatay wonders: “So I'm not sure why *El-Hakem”—and its provision that a defense is preserved if the pretrial order makes any reference to it—*doesn't apply here.”

Takeaway: Pay close attention to the joint pretrial orders before a trial in federal district court. Local rules typically provide that any claims or defenses not mentioned will be deemed waived or forfeited.

But on the other hand, I would not count this result is typical. For every precedent supporting a forfeiture, there is a precedent supporting an exception. If you are going to argue forfeiture, be prepared to show how allowing the belated assertion would result in prejudice. That was not shown here, which makes the majority’s result surprising—and suggests Judge Bumatay is probably correct in his dissent.

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There Is No Such Thing As a “Corporate Representative” or “Person Most Qualified” Witness

A trial court relied on a hearsay declaration when it granted summary judgment to Avon in this talcum-powder case alleging asbestos-exposure. There is a growing consensus that trial court rulings on evidence are reviewed under the more lenient abuse-of-discretion standard, even on summary judgment. And Ramirez v. Avon Products, Inc. (D2d8 Jan. 23. 2023 no. B313982) --- Cal.Rptr.3d --- (2023 WL 354915) supports that consensus.

But the court still reversed. There are limits to what qualifies as evidence that can shift the burden of proof in the summary judgment context to the nonmoving party.

The important thing to take away from the published Ramirez opinion is that corporate litigants cannot get around hearsay and foundation problems by designating their witnesses “corporate representatives” or “persons most qualified.” These are deposition tools, not end-runs around the rules of evidence. As the court put it:

“There is no special category of “corporate representative” witness, as the trial court suggested. There is no exemption from the Evidence Code for a witness who has conducted an “independent review,” whatever the trial court meant by that phrase.”

Comment: The opinion is not clear how the trial court “abused its discretion,” as opposed to merely commit legal error, **in overruling the hearsay and foundation objections to Avon’s evidence—other than that the evidence was, in fact, hearsay and devoid of foundation. The upshot is that the distinction between de novo and abuse of discretion when it comes to evidentiary rulings may come down to more of a mood or nuance than a legally measurable difference.

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Plan to Exclude an Expert Under Sargon? Don’t Forget Kelly

Preparing for an expert witness at trial? You probably are ready with the key cases of Sanchez (preventing experts from testifying about case-specific hearsay) and Sargon (prohibiting speculative opinions). Sargon has become the go-to objection for out-there expert opinions.

The talcum-powder manufacturer defendants raised Sargon in the mesothelioma case of Bader v. Johnson & Johnson, No. A158868 (D1d4 Dec. 23. 2022). The plaintiff recovered a $12 million verdict based in part on plaintiff’s expert’s novel opinion that fibrous talc causes cancer. The defendants argued that the broader consensus of experts did not agree with the plaintiff’s expert. So the defendants objected on the basis of Sargon Enterprises, Inc. v. University of Southern California (2012) 55 Cal.4th 747, 769.

But that was the wrong objection. The Court of Appeal noted that Sargon “does not speak to whether a theory has achieved a consensus in the field sufficient to render it "generally accept[ed].”” If the defendants wanted to object that the expert’s opinion was a novel theory not generally accepted within the relevant scientific community, “their motion to exclude did not challenge his testimony based on Kelly and its progeny.” So the objection was forfeited.

The Upshot: Don’t stop at Sargon! Sargon is not a substitute for objections to novel and not-generally-accepted scientific theories. For that, make sure to keep People v. Kelly in your expert-witness toolkit.

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Skip Arguments in Your Brief, Lose Your Appeal

In one of those familiar scenarios where the costs make all the difference, the plaintiff in GI Excellence, Inc. v. Padda (D4d2 Nov. 7, 2022) No. E076843 (nonpub. opn.) won a modest $65,000 award after trial, but then sought over $755,000 in contractual attorney fees. When the trial court denied the fee motion in its entirety, the plaintiff appealed. (The record did not reflect the trial court’s for the denial.)

But in its Appellant's Opening Brief, the plaintiff failed to address all of the arguments in opposition to the fee motion.

Instead, the plaintiff-appellant addressed only one of the defendants’ arguments in its Appellant's Opening Brief, and then addressed others in its Appellant's Reply Brief. This was, the Court of Appeal held, “a day late and a dollar short.”

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Zoom Trials Are Not (Yet) the New Normal

Jeff and Tim discuss some recent cases to add to your attorney toolkit:

1. For personal injury attorneys, a recent civil-criminal crossover case dealing with victims’ right to restitution warns: the right to restitution is not waived unless the criminal case is over or the DA signs off.

2. Quashing a subpoena based on free speech gives a right to attorney fees. But caution: the court regarded the fees as purely mercenary in this case, and denied them.

3. No, Zoom trials are not a substitute for real trials — not unless the Legislature says so before July 1, 2023.

4. Beware dismissing appeals, because they’re almost always “with prejudice.”

5. How to lose your appeal by flubbing the Rule 8.108 appeal extensions.

We also discuss the Onion’s amicus brief in the US Supreme Court, and the California Supreme Court’s order declining to review whether bees are fish (but which the media interpreted as affirming that bees are, indeed, fish).

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Challenge to Extraordinarily Large $25M Mesothelioma Verdict Rejected on Appeal Because Challenge Not Based on "Minutes of the Court"

When a jury returns a large verdict, the unhappy defendant has to file a motion for new trial to reduce the verdict. (You can't just appeal directly, or else you'd waive the excessive-damages issue.) One way to argue the damages are excessive is to demonstrate the amount is the result of passion or prejudice. And one way to demonstrate that might be to compare verdicts in similar cases.

That is what the defendant-appellant tried after it was hit with a $25 million noneconomic verdict in the mesothelioma case of Phipps v. Copeland Corp. (D2d7 May 18, 2021) 278 Cal.Rptr 3d 688 (2021 WL 1973560). The appellant compiled 15 comparable cases into a report, and submitted that with a declaration in support of its motion for a new trial. But the trial court excluded the report as irrelevant and denied the motion. On appeal, the appellant argued the trial court erred in this ruling because verdicts in other cases were relevant.

Held: The compilation of other cases was not based on "the minutes of the court" under Code of Civil Procedure section 658, and thus could not be considered as a basis to reduce damages on a motion for new trial. Affirmed.

This analysis seems harsh, but it is based on the statutes. Do not rely on declarations in a new trial motion. Support your motion based on the court minutes.

I find it noteworthy the court decided this case the way it did. The court apparently did as well, as it published the opinion. This signals a bigger uphill climb for defendants challenging large jury verdicts. This is an important reason to have appellate counsel present at trial.

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Choose Your Appellate Issues Wisely: Appeal Rejected Because Most Issues Were Forfeited or Improperly Briefed

Specifically, most of the appellants' arguments here were rejected as forfeited. The court also disregarded challenges because the appellants' briefing improperly cited to postjudgment matter in the appellate record in their challenge of the judgment.

The upshot is that great care must be given to the selection of issues on appeal, and whether they are property supported and preserved. Consulting an appellate attorney prior to trial and on appeal may prevent against findings of waiver and forfeiture on appeal.

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Court Imposes $32,000 in Sanctions For Frivolous Appeal in Acrimonious Probate Dispute

The Court of Appeal awarded over $25,000 in appellate attorney fees as sanctions against the unsuccessful appellants in Trumble v. Kerns (D4d1 Jun. 28, 2021) no. D076490 (nonpub. opn.), and an additional $8,500 in court costs as further sanctions.

The appellants are sisters, and one side of a "dysfunctional family" engaged in a ten-year dispute over their mother's estate. (Anyone bothering to put their assets in a trust ought to give a thought to appointing an independent fiduciary as successor trustee. Otherwise, the trust might as well name the attorneys as beneficiaries.)

The Fourth District Court of Appeal concluded the appellants had forfeited all their arguments by failing to raise them in the trial court and by failing to include a proper statement of facts, supported by record citations, in their appellate brief. What sealed the deal for sanctions: in their opposition to the motion for sanctions, the appellants made their own (untimely) request for $4 million sanctions (based on a precluded issue). That did not sit well with the court.

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Appellate Tips Involving Waiver, Arbitration, and Satan: California Appellate Law Podcast Episode 11

In episode 11 of the California Appellate Law Podcast, TVA appellate attorney Tim Kowal discusses some recent cases with co-host Jeff Lewis in which state and federal appellate courts have found waivers and other errors made by attorneys and parties in the trial court. Like reading a high school yearbook, appellate decisions often capture attorneys making themselves unintentionally conspicuous.
Some of the cases discussed involving "bad yearbook photos" include waiving the right to arbitration by failing to reference it in CMC statements; waiving issues by failing to include them in pretrial statements, trial motions, and posttrial motions; and failing to preserve evidentiary objections.

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No Record, No Problem! Appellant Reverses Alter Ego Judgment Using Settled Statement

I confess I probably would have turned away the defendant in this case had he asked me to take up his appeal from a judgment finding him liable as the alter ego of his company on a loan obligation. Alter ego findings are very difficult to reverse, and the defendant in Creation Harmony Trading, Inc. v. Li (D2d4 May 27, 2021) no. B301004 (non-pub.) personally promised to repay the obligation. And not only is the finding reviewed on the very deferential substantial-evidence standard, but there was not even a court reporter at the trial! Game, set, and match, I would have concluded.

Yet, the defendant got the judgment reversed on appeal. And the defendant showed there are limits to the alter ego doctrine.

The Upshot: In the appropriate case, the Court of Appeal may reverse for lack of substantial evidence supporting all the necessary elements of a claim. And a settled statement can be a viable substitute for a reporter's transcript on appeal. But, still, and although, I would not bet on it.

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Evidence on Appeal: Just Because It Is in the Appellate Record Does Not Mean It Is in the Evidentiary Record

One thing about appeals that can potentially can be deceptive is the record on appeal. When you appeal, all your evidence goes in the record. That means the Court of Appeal will consider all your evidence, right?

Not necessarily, as the appellant learned in Epstein v. Prescott Neighborhood Partners, LLC (D1d1 May 13, 2021) no. A159185 (non-pub.). The trial court dismissed the plaintiff's complaint on an anti-SLAPP motion under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16. The trial court also refused to admit the plaintiff's evidence in opposition to the motion.

But the plaintiff failed to challenge the trial court's evidentiary rulings refusing to admit his evidence. "As a result," the court held, "we can consider only the admitted evidence, and plaintiffs have forfeited any argument that the evidence they unsuccessfully sought to introduce established a probability that their claims would succeed.

Also, arguments raised at oral argument don't count.

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