In the Roman Republic, the right to appeal (provocatio, as in “provocation”) from a magistrate’s summary use of power was regarded as one of the most important safeguards of liberty. The democratic force of the right to appeal survives today. (See, e.g., Griffin v. Illinois (1956) 351 U.S. 12, 18; Cassandra Burke Robertson, The Right to Appeal (2013), 91 N.C. L. Rev. 1219.) Indeed, it is often said that everything may be reviewed on appeal, but as in almost every aspect of law, there is an exception: In California, a trial judge’s refusal to be recused by way of a peremptory challenge is reviewable only by writ. (Code Civ. Proc., § 170.6.) Here are some practical tips for optimizing the chances of obtaining review.
I’ve been watching the ripple effects of People v. Sanchez (2016) 63 Cal.4th 665, which has been labeled “a paradigm shift” regarding out-of-court statements and expert testimony under California hearsay law. (People v. Ochoa, 7 Cal. App. 5th 575, 588 (2017).) Sanchez boils down to the difference between an expert relying on hearsay case-specific facts (which has always been permissible) and an expert relating those facts to the jury (which Sanchez now prohibits unless the hearsay problem is solved). But what about summary judgment motions?
In People v. Sanchez (2016) 63 Cal.4th 665, the California Supreme Court held that expert testimony involving case-specific facts is subject to exclusion as hearsay—just like any other testimony. In so holding, the Court overruled its prior decisions, including People v. Montiel (1993) 5 Cal.4th 877, which permitted courts wide latitude in allowing experts to base their opinions on case-specific facts that are hearsay. Montiel’s relaxed approach rested upon the use of limiting instructions informing the jury that they could consider hearsay as going to the basis of the opinion, but not for the truth. Thus, under Montiel, “there was no longer a need to carefully distinguish between an expert’s testimony regarding background information and case-specific facts.” (Sanchez, 63 Cal.4th at p. 679.)
According to Sanchez, Montiel ignored an undeniable truth, that “when any expert relates to the jury case-specific out-of-court statements, and treats the content of those statements as true and accurate to support the expert’s opinion, the statements are hearsay. It cannot logically be maintained that the statements are not being admitted for their truth.” (Id. at p. 686.) As a result, if an expert will testify to case-specific out-of-court statements as part of the facts supporting the opinion, then “like any other hearsay evidence, such statements will only be admitted through an applicable hearsay exception.” (Ibid.)
Winning on appeal can sometimes spawn further litigation, including the launching of a malicious prosecution action. Indeed, if your client has prevailed in defeating a Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“UTSA”) case, been awarded attorney fees because the trial court found that action was brought in bad faith by the former employer, and the trial court’s decision upheld on appeal, malicious prosecution jumps out as the next logical step, right?
Maybe not. According to the California Supreme Court’s recent decision in Parrish v. Latham & Watkins, 2017 DJDAR 7724 (8/10/17), it all depends on whether your client (the former employee) brought a motion for summary judgment (or other ruling on the merits but not on technical or procedural grounds) which the former employer defeated on the merits (made a minimal showing of issues of fact requiring trial). In Parrish, a former employer sued former employees for misappropriation of trade secrets under the UTSA. After defeating the employees’ motion for summary judgment on flimsy evidence but albeit arguably meritorious, the employer lost a full evidentiary trial because the employer was shown to have no factual basis for bringing the action and did so for anti-competitive reasons. The former employees obtained substantial attorney’s fees on the grounds of bad faith as defined in the UTSA. Then, of course, they filed a malicious prosecution action against the employer’s lawyers. But that action was dismissed by way of an anti-SLAPP motion.
Probate and trust disputes are fertile grounds for appeal. That is because under Probate Code section 1300, most categories of probate orders, including orders instructing a fiduciary to act, are immediately appealable. That, coupled with automatic stay rules, allows litigants to delay the administration of trusts and estates indefinitely, simply by filing a notice of appeal. (Probate Code §§ 1300, 1310(a).)
The United States Supreme Court recently ruled in Kindred Nursing Centers v. Clark that a Kentucky Supreme Court holding barring attorneys-in-fact from signing arbitration agreements on behalf of their principals because it infringed on their principal’s constitutional right to a trial by jury, was pre-empted by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). What is remarkable about the opinion authored by Justice Elena Kagan, is that it puts virtually the entire court (save for Justice Clarence Thomas who dissented and newly appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch who did not participate) on the same page in support of arbitration in a consumer action, here a health care case. Even AT & T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion (Concepcion), heavily relied upon in this decision, was decided on a 5-4 split with Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan dissenting. Thus, Kindred Nursing Centers demonstrates how a majority of the Justices now broadly accepts the FAA’s pre-emption of “any state rule discriminating on its face against arbitration.” (Justice Thomas’ dissent was based solely on his belief that the FAA does not apply to state court actions.)
A decision from the Sixth District Court of Appeal is worth a look. (Heimlich v. Shivji (May 31, 2017) 2017 WL 2351269). The opinion rests on the premise, recognized in at least one prominent practice guide as well, that Code of Civil Procedure section 998(b)(2) prevents a party from breathing a word about a 998 offer until after the arbitrator renders an award. Those perusing the statute have probably noticed the language, and perhaps wondered about its scope:
If the offer is not accepted prior to trial or arbitration or within 30 days after it is made, whichever occurs first, it shall be deemed withdrawn, and cannot be given in evidence upon the trial or arbitration. (Emphasis added.)