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

Court Holds Every One of Appellant's Arguments Waived

About 3-4% of appeals are dismissed on technical grounds. But in addition to that, many more go through full briefing on the merits, but still ultimately fail on technical grounds. Here is an appellate effort that failed for purely technical reasons. Ghannoum v. Sevier (D2d2 Apr. 7, 2021) no. B304026 (unpublished). (The court also clearly was not excited by appellant's arguments.)
Ultimately, a loss is a loss. But one wants to avoid losing by way of all arguments being deemed waived.

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9th Cir. Holds Appellate Issues Waived for Failure to Raise Them Both Before and After Submission to Jury

On the latest episode of the California Appellate Law Podcast (available Tuesday, Mar. 30 at www.CALPodcast.com), co-hosts Jeff Lewis and I discuss with guest Cory Webster the importance of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50, governing motions for judgment as a matter of law, which must be made both before submission to the jury and after judgment. If appellant could have raised an issue in a motion for judgment as a matter of law but failed to do so, that issue is waived on appeal.

The Ninth Circuit helpfully furnishes a recent example in Brown v. County of San Bernardino, 2021 WL 1054561 (9th Cir. Mar. 19, 2021). Brown appealed after her civil rights claim failed on grounds of qualified immunity. On appeal, she ran into several waiver and forfeiture issues.

While Brown was pro se, trial attorneys' job of persuading juries often leaves good appellate arguments underdeveloped until it is too late. In federal trial practice it is especially important to consult appellate counsel before and during trial.

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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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Judgment Against Nonparties Reversed; Respondent Held to Have Waived Arguments

Waiver or forfeiture of arguments is a big concern for appellants on an appeal. But rarely do courts find that a respondent had waived or forfeited an argument.
In Travis v. Brand (D2d8 Mar. 19, 2021) 2021 WL 1049863 (published), involving a local redevelopment project, awarded almost $1 million in fees and costs against the losing plaintiffs.

The twist? The court also entered judgment against several nonparties, who had funded plaintiffs' litigation efforts. The trial court called plaintiffs the "shills" of the nonparties, The nonparties were the proverbial man behind the curtain.

Nope. Violation of due process. And respondents forfeited an "agency" argument to try to justify the nonparty ruling by failing to raise it below.

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Tip When Defending a Judgment on Appeal: Do Not Argue Issues the Appellant Waived

Here is a tip if you are defending a judgment: If appellants fail to raise an issue, do not raise it for them. That is what happened in Foster v. American Marine Svs Group Benefit Plan, 2021 WL 930257 (9th Cir. Mar. 11, 2021). As a result of respondent/appellee's helpful assist in raising the dispositive issue whether an employer's ERISA plan failed to give notice of a lapse in benefits, an issue appellant had failed to raise in her brief, the court was able to reach the issue. Held: summary judgment reversed.

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Stipulated Judgment and Waiver of Right to Appeal Did Not Result in Dismissal of Appeal

Settlements of litigation sometimes involve a provision to enter a stipulated judgment in the event the defendant fails to perform. A judgment entered upon stipulation typically is not subject to challenge on appeal. But that was not the case in Park Lane Assocs., LP v. Alioto (D1d4 Mar. 5, 2021) No. A155781 (unpublished). There, the parties agreed to a stipulated judgment and an express waiver of tenants' right to appeal. Yet when the unhappy tenants did appeal, the First Appellate District did not dismiss the appeal and instead reviewed appellants' arguments on the merits (but still affirmed the judgment).

But: tenant-appellants would have been better off had the Court of Appeal simply dismissed, as the court also found tenants were liable for landlord's attorneys' fees on appeal.

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Judgment on Section 998 Agreement Vacated Because Offer Did Not Contain Signature Line for Acceptance

In a hyper-formalistic holding in Mostafavi Law Group, APC v. Larry Rabineau, APC (D2d4 Mar. 3, 2021) No. B302344 (published), a judgment entered on an agreement under Code of Civil Procedure section 998 was vacated because the defendant's 998 offer did not include a signature line for the plaintiff to sign, even though the plaintiff signed it anyway. In a case of first impression, the Second District affirmed, holding a judgment may not be entered on a section 998 agreement in which the offer does not provide an acceptance provision.

I find this a very bizarre case. I would not be surprised if other District Courts of Appeal declined to follow it.

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Judgment Affirmed Due to Waived Arguments, Incomplete Record, Conclusory Arguments, and Improper Attack on Judgment Affirmed in Prior Appeal

...But that's nitpicking, innit? In the lease dispute in KJ Investment Group v. American Heritage College, (D4d3 Oct. 1, 2020) No. G058270 (unpublished), defendant, fresh off a loss on its challenge […]

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Forfeiting Your Best Arguments on Appeal

You have a deep bag of tricks as a respondent on appeal to win affirmance of your judgment. One of those tricks is forfeiture: if appellant did not raise an […]

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