Articles Posted in California Supreme Court

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Defendants, two architectural firms, were the sole entities that provided architectural services for a collection of condominium units in San Francisco. The homeowners association sued several parties involving in the construction of the condominiums, including Defendants, alleging that negligent architectural design work performed by Defendants resulted in several defects. The trial court sustained a demurrer in favor of Defendants, determining that because the final decision regarding how the homes would be built rested with the owner, Defendants owed no duty to the future condominium owners. The court of appeal reversed, concluding that, under both the common law and the Right to Repair Act, Defendants owed a duty of care to the homeowners in this case. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) an architect owes a duty of care to future homeowners in the design of a residential building where the architect is a principal architect on the project, and the duty of care extends to such architects even when they do not actually build the project or exercise ultimate control over construction; and (2) the complaint int his case sufficiently alleged the causal link between Defendants’ negligence and the condominium association’s injury. View "Beacon Residential Cmty. Ass'n. v. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill" on Justia Law

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Mary Ann Verdugo died after suffering a sudden cardiac arrest while shopping at a Target department store. Target did not have an automated external defibrillator (AED) in its store. Plaintiffs, Verdugo’s mother and brother, filed suit against Target Corporation, alleging that Target breached its duty of care to Verdugo by failing to have within its store an AED for use in a medical emergency. A federal district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a cause of action, concluding that Target had no duty to have in its stores an AED for the use of its customers. When the matter came before the court of appeals, the court asked the California Supreme Court for guidance on the question of California tort law presented by this case. The Supreme Court answered that, under California law, Target’s common law duty of care to its patrons does not include an obligation to acquire and make available an AED for the use of its customers in a medical emergency. View "Verdugo v. Target Corp." on Justia Law

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Hartford Casualty Insurance Company issued a commercial general liability policy to Ultimate Support Systems, a company that sold the Ulti-Cart. The policy covered “personal and advertising injury,” which included claims arising out of publication of material that "disparages a person’s or organization’s goods, products or services.” Gary-Michael Dahl, the manufacturer of the Multi-Cart, sued Ultimate for patent and trademark infringement, false designation of origin, and damage to business, reputation, and goodwill. Hartford denied coverage on the ground that the suit did not allege that Ultimate had disparaged the Multi-Cart or Dahl. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) a claim of disparagement requires a plaintiff to show a false or misleading statement that specifically refers to the plaintiff’s product or business and clearly derogates that product or business; and (2) because Dahl’s suit did not allege that Ultimate clearly derogated the Multi-Cart, there was no claim of disparagement triggering Harford’s duty to defend. View "Hartford Cas. Ins. v. Swift Distrib., Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant hosted a party at a residence owned by her parents without their consent. Alcohol was available for consumption at the party. Some of the guests, most of whom were under twenty-one, were charged an admission fee. The money collected in entrance fees was used to buy additional alcohol. During the party, an intoxicated guest who was charged a fee to enter, consumed alcohol beverages supplied by Defendant and subsequently, while intoxicated, killed someone in an automobile accident. Plaintiffs, the victim’s parents, filed a wrongful death action against Defendant and her parents. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming Plaintiffs could not show Defendants were liable under Cal Bus. & Prof. Code 25602.1, which permits liability for persons who serve alcohol to obviously intoxicated minors, and that they were entitled to civil immunity under Cal Bus. & Prof. Code 25602(b) and Cal. Civ. Code 1714(c). The trial court granted summary judgment for Defendants. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that there was a triable issue of fact whether Defendant sold alcoholic beverages, or caused them to be sold, within the meaning of section 25602.1, rendering Defendant potentially liable as a person who sold alcohol to an obviously intoxicated minor. Remanded. View "Ennabe v. Manosa" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed an action against Defendant for breach of fiduciary duty and defamation, among other claims. Defendant cross-complained for defamation. Plaintiff later conceded he could not proceed on his cause of action for breach of fiduciary duty. The parties agreed to dismiss as well their respective defamation claims without prejudice and to waive operation of the statute of limitations on the defamation claims. The trial court ordered Plaintiff's action dismissed with prejudice with the exception of the defamation cause of action, which, together with Defendant's cross-complaint, the court dismissed without prejudice. The court then entered judgment in favor of Defendant. The court of appeal held the judgment final and appealable, reasoning that because the defamation counts had been dismissed, they were no longer pending between the parties and the trial court lacked jurisdiction to proceed further on any cause of action. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, under Don Jose's Restaurant, Inc. v. Truck Ins. Exchange, the trial court's judgment was interlocutory, and therefore, not appealable. View "Kurwa v. Kislinger" on Justia Law

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Sheriff's deputies came to the home of Shane Hayes in response to a call from a neighbor. When the deputies arrived, Hayes's girlfriend informe them that Hayes was suicidal. The deputies then entered the house, where Hayes came toward them with a large knife raised in his right hand. The deputies simultaneously drew their guns and fired at Hayes, who died from the gunshot wounds. Hayes's daughter filed a complaint in federal district court against the County of San Diego and the deputies, alleging three federal law claims and two state law claims. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendants on all claims, finding that the deputies owed Plaintiff no duty of care with respect to their preshooting conduct. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals asked the California Supreme Court to answer a question of state law. The Court answered by holding that, under California negligence law, liability can arise from tactical conduct and decisions employed by law enforcement preceding the use of deadly force if the conduct and decisions leading to the use of deadly force show, as part of the totality of the circumstances, that the use of deadly force was unreasonable. View "Hayes v. County of San Diego" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether insurance practices that violate the Unfair Insurance Practices Act (UIPA) can support an Unfair Competition Law (UCL) action. In 1988, the Supreme Court held in Moradi-Shalal v. Fireman's Fund Insurance Companies that the Legislature did not intend to create a private cause of action under the UIPA for commission of various unfair practices listed in Cal. Ins. Code 790.03(h). In this case, Plaintiff sued Insurer for, among other causes of action, violation of California's unfair competition law (UCL) for engaging in false advertising. The trial court concluded that the UCL claim was an impermissible attempt to plead around Moradi-Shalal's bar against private actions for unfair insurance practices under section 790.03. The court of appeal reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) private UIPA actions are absolutely barred, and litigants may not rely on the proscriptions of section 790.03 as the basis for a UCL claim; (2) however, when insurers engage in conduct that violates both the UIPA and obligations imposed by other statutes or the common law, a UCL action may lie; and (3) here, Plaintiff alleged causes of action that provided grounds for a UCL claim independent from the UIPA. View "Zhang v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Until 2001, the federal Truth in Savings Act (TISA), 12 U.S.C. 4310 et seq., allowed civil damages to be sought for failure to comply with its requirements. The provision authorizing lawsuits was later repealed, however. After Congress's repeal of section 4310, Plaintiffs filed a class action against Bank of America, alleging unlawful and unfair business practices based on violations of TISA disclosure requirements. The trial court sustained the Bank's demurrer, and the court of appeal affirmed, concluding that Congress's repeal of section 4310 reflected its intent to bar any private action to enforce TISA. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that TISA posed no impediment to Plaintiffs' claim of unlawful business practice under California's unfair competition law, where by leaving TISA's savings clause in place, Congress explicitly approved the enforcement of state laws such as the unfair competition law. View "Rose v. Bank of Am., N.A." on Justia Law

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Decedent was already married when he and Plaintiff obtained a marriage license and held their wedding ceremony. Three years later, Decedent was killed in an accident at a construction site. Plaintiff filed this wrongful death action against Defendant, claiming she was the putative spouse of Decedent. Defendant moved for summary judgment, contending that Plaintiff lacked standing to sue in this case because she did not have the requisite "good faith belief" under Cal. Civ. P. Code 377.60 that her marriage to Decedent was valid. The trial court granted summary judgment for Defendant after applying an objective test for putative spouse status. The court of appeal reversed, holding that Plaintiff's subjective state of mind, if found credible by the trial court, could support a finding of good faith belief and establish putative spouse status. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) section 377.60 contemplates a subjective standard that focuses on the alleged putative spouse's state of mind to determine whether she had a genuine belief in the validity of the marriage; and (2) the trial court erred in applying a reasonable person test that required Plaintiff's belief in the validity of the marriage to be objectively reasonable. View "Ceja v. Rudolph & Sletten, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, Raymond and Gloria Martinez, sued Defendant for damages arising out of an electrical explosion that severely injured Raymond. Before trial, Plaintiffs served on Defendant two successive settlement offers pursuant to Cal. Civ. Proc. Code 998. Defendant failed to accept or reject the offers within the statutory thirty-day period. After a trial, judgments were entered in favor of Plaintiffs that were not more favorable to Defendant than either offer. Plaintiffs sought costs pursuant to section 998, including expert fees. Section 998 encourages the settlement of lawsuits prior to rial by providing that a defendant cover the plaintiff's postoffer costs of expert witness services when the judgment is not more favorable than the plaintiff's settlement offer. However, the statute is silent as to the effect of a party's multiple offers. The trial court disallowed the expert fees incurred by Gloria after her first settlement offer but before her second offer, finding that the most recently rejected offer is the only pertinent offer. The court of appeal reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, under the circumstances presented here, allowing the recovery of expert fees incurred from the date of the first offer is consistent with section 998's language and purpose. View "Martinez v. Brownco Constr. Co." on Justia Law