Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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The State petitioned to commit Nicholas Needham California under the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA). Preparing for trial on the petition, the district attorney retained a psychological expert to evaluate Needham and testify at trial that he qualified as an SVP. Needham moved to exclude the expert’s testimony at trial, but the trial court denied his motion. Needham appealed, seeking a declaration that the SVPA did not permit the State to call a privately retained expert to testify at trial. The Court of Appeal granted relief: “[G]iven the obvious dangers to essential liberty interests inherent in the SVPA, it must be carefully implemented and applied only where there is a high degree of certainty that it is warranted.” The Court found the statutory scheme deliberately limited when an SVP petition could be filed and brought to trial, as well as the evidence available to the prosecution. In light of this system, the Court concluded the expert-witness provisions of the Civil Discovery Act did not apply and that the State had no right to retain an expert witness to testify at trial. View "Needham v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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Defendant Jerry Vang was convicted by jury for multiple crimes against two different victims, including: kidnapping first degree felony murder with a special circumstance, infliction of corporal injury on a cohabitant, making criminal threats with firearm allegations, and firearms possession by a felon. Defendant had a long history of domestic violence, had an argument with his wife. After she fled in her car, defendant followed, eventually forced her to stop, and coerced her (through force or fear) into his vehicle. As defendant was driving away, his wife opened the door and jumped from the moving vehicle, resulting in her death. Defendant argued the trial court erred by permitting the prosecution to proceed on a legally inadequate theory of felony murder. He contends that under the current felony-murder rule, as amended by Senate Bill No. 1437 (2017-2018 Reg. Sess.), he could be liable for felony murder only if he was proven to be the “actual killer.” Because the evidence showed that his wife jumped from the vehicle of her own volition, defendant contends he was not the actual killer and therefore his conviction for first degree felony murder with a special circumstance rested on a legally invalid theory. To this, the Court of Appeal agreed, and reversed that conviction as to first degree felony murder. The judgment and convictions were affirmed in all other respects. View "California v. Vang" on Justia Law

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Appellant Waterhouse Management Corp. is the property manager of Nomad Village Mobile Home Park (the Park), a 150- space mobile home park in Santa Barbara. Appellant Lazy Landing MHP, LLC, owns the long-term ground lease for the Park. Respondents are current and former lessees of mobile homes in the Park. They initially sued Appellants for violations of the Mobilehome Residency Law (Civ. Code, Section 798 et seq.) and the Mobilehome Parks Act (Health & Saf. Code, Section 18200 et seq.), alleging failure to properly maintain the Park. While Respondents’ lawsuit (the original lawsuit) was pending, Appellants filed a malicious prosecution action against Respondents.   One of the mentioned acts was appellants’ filing of the malicious prosecution action. Seizing on this reference to protected activity, appellants filed a special motion to strike respondents’ entire eleventh cause of action as a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation).   The Second Appellate District affirmed the trial court’s order denying Appellants’ special to strike the eleventh cause of action and imposing sanctions of $8,750 for making a frivolous motion. The court explained these allegations “merely provide context, without supporting a claim for recovery . . ..” Respondents’ claim for recovery arises out of their allegations of retaliation in violation of Civil Code section 1942.5, subdivision (d), which does not apply to a lessor’s retaliatory malicious prosecution action against a lessee. View "Alfaro v. Waterhouse Management Corp." on Justia Law

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The City of Malibu formed the Broad Beach Geologic Hazard Abatement District (the District), to protect the homes on the city’s Broad Beach, threatened by longstanding shoreline erosion. The District developed a plan to import sand and maintain a revetment on portions of the beach, in order to fortify the shoreline. To fund this project, it proposed a special assessment on parcels within its boundaries, and homeowners approved the assessment. Litigation ensued, in which the District filed an action seeking to validate the assessment, and the homeowners opposing the assessment claimed it violated the requirements of Proposition 218, which added article XIII D to the California Constitution, limiting local government’s ability to impose assessments.   The trial court ultimately agreed with the challengers on these issues and invalidated the District’s assessment. After the court’s ruling on the merits, the challengers sought attorney fees under Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5, which codified the private attorney general doctrine of attorney fees.   The Second Appellate District affirmed the court’s judgment invalidating the assessment. The court held that Prop. 218 required the District to separate and quantify general benefits from the widened beach, regardless of whether those benefits imposed additional costs and without regard to the District’s subjective intent in designing the project. Further, the court wrote that it discerned no no error in the trial court’s determination and weighing of the challengers’ financial interest in the litigation. View "Broad Beach Geologic Hazard etc. v. 31506 Victoria Point LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, as successor in interest to his brother, sought reversal of a judgment of dismissal following the successful demurrer of Cot’n Wash, Inc. (CW) to a complaint against CW alleging a single violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act (Civ. Code, Section 51 et seq.) (the Unruh Act). The operative complaint alleged CW violated the Unruh Act by intentionally maintaining a retail website that was inaccessible to the visually impaired because it was not fully compatible with screen reading software. On appeal, Martinez argues that the trial court erred in concluding (1) the alleged inaccessibility of CW’s website did not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. Section 12111 et seq.) (the ADA), specifically Title III of the ADA (42 U.S.C. Sections 12181−12189) (Title III) and (2) the complaint did not allege sufficient facts to establish CW’s discriminatory intent, which the Unruh Act requires in the absence of an ADA violation.   The Second Appellate District affirmed the judgment of dismissal. The court held that the trial court was correct on both points. As to intentional discrimination, the California Supreme Court has held that the discriminatory effect of a facially neutral policy or action is not alone a basis for inferring intentional discrimination under the Unruh Act. As to the ADA violation theory, Plaintiff has not alleged, as he must in order for Title III of the ADA to apply, that CW’s website constitutes a “place of public accommodation.” View "Martinez v. Cot'n Wash, Inc." on Justia Law

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Under California Welfare and Institutions Code, a person previously designated as a "sexually violent predator" ("SVP") may be unconditionally discharged if they no longer meet the definition under Sec. 6604.9(d). However, to directly petition for unconditional discharge, an SVP must be evaluated by the Director of State Hospitals. The Second Appellate District held that California Sexually Violent Predator Act does not authorize a "sexually violent predator" to directly petition for unconditional discharge without a favorable evaluation from the Director of State Hospitals. Thus, the court affirmed the lower court, finding that the court's denial of Defendants' request for unconditional discharge did not deny them due process. View "P. v. Peyton" on Justia Law

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After June 30, 2021, juvenile courts were no longer able to commit juveniles to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). Jason V. was committed to DJJ prior to June 30, 2021, but the trial court erroneously ordered an impermissible maximum term of confinement. In July 2021, the court entered a nunc pro tunc order stating the correct maximum period. Jason contended the commitment order had to be vacated because judicial error could not be corrected by a nunc pro tunc order and, on the date the order was entered, he could not be committed to DJJ. He also contended he was entitled to additional days of credit for time spent in local confinement that the juvenile court failed to award. The Court of Appeal remanded the case for recalculation of the credits Jason was entitled to, but otherwise affirmed the dispositional order. View "In re Jason V." on Justia Law

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A superior court granted diversion to real party in interest, Jessica Ortiz, on misdemeanor DUI charges pursuant to Penal Code section 1001.95. In prior writ proceedings, the appellate division of the superior court upheld the diversion order for Ortiz and two other defendants who had also been granted diversion on misdemeanor DUI charges. The State petitioned the Court of Appeal for mandamus relief, to vacate the diversion order for Ortiz. They claimed the diversion order was unauthorized because Penal Code section 1001.95 did not impliedly and partially repeal Vehicle Code section 23640 to the extent that the older statute prohibits diversion for misdemeanor (as opposed to felony) DUI charges. Thus, they argued, Vehicle Code section 23640 rendered misdemeanor DUI charges categorically ineligible for diversion under Penal Code section 1001.95. To this, a majority of the Court of Appeal agreed and granted the State's petition. View "California v. Super. Ct. (Ortiz)" on Justia Law

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In 2008, a jury convicted Sadiq Saibu and Antonio Valentino for their roles in committing a robbery of a video store, two attempted robberies of a liquor store, and a murder and attempted murder in the same liquor store during one of the attempted robberies. In 2019, Saibu filed a petition for resentencing under Penal Code section 1172.63 as to his murder conviction, contending he was not a major participant in the underlying felony murder and did not act in reckless indifference to human life. The superior court granted the requested relief. Further, he argued the trial court prejudicially erred in failing to instruct the jury with CALCRIM No. 703 with respect to the felony murder special circumstances allegation. While this case was pending, the California Legislature enacted and the Governor signed into law Senate Bill No. 775 (Senate Bill 775) (Stats. 2021, ch. 551). Senate Bill 775 amended section 1170.95 to expand eligibility for resentencing to persons convicted of attempted murder. The State conceded that Saibu’s conviction for attempted murder was eligible for resentencing under Senate Bill 775. However, it pointed out the parties did not address that issue, and argued it should be given the opportunity to present additional evidence. Saibu argued that the Court of Appeal should find he was entitled to relief based on the superior’s court’s finding that he did not act with reckless indifference to human life. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal agreed with Saibu on the jury instruction contention and reversed the jury’s true finding on the robbery-murder special circumstance. Regarding the superior court’s determination that Saibu was entitled to relief under section 1172.6 as to his murder conviction, the appellate court determined the State could not show that the court committed reversible legal error. As such, the order was affirmed. The Court remanded this case for the superior court to issue a show cause order and to hold a hearing as to whether Saibu was entitled to relief under section 1172.6 as to his attempted murder conviction. View "California v. Saibu" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Scotlane McCune appealed an order awarding victim restitution. McCune crashed his cousin’s car into a tree, totaling the car’s front end and injuring his passenger. He pled no contest to felony hit and run involving injury, and the court dismissed a charge of misdemeanor driving without a license. As part of his plea, McCune agreed to pay restitution to the victim (the passenger). In June 2018, the court suspended imposition of sentence and placed McCune on five years’ probation. Two and one-half years later, the probation department filed and served notice that the victim sought $30,166.23 to recoup medical expenses related to his injuries. Effective the following day, January 1, 2021, the California Legislature enacted Assembly Bill No. 1950 (AB 1950) ((2019- 2020 Reg. Sess.), Stats. 2020, ch. 328, § 2). With exceptions not pertinent here, the new law amended Penal Code section 1203.1 (a) to reduce the maximum felony probation term to two years. Accordingly, two weeks later the probation department (with the district attorney’s concurrence) petitioned to terminate McCune’s probation. The petition stated McCune would remain liable for victim restitution. The court granted it the same day. McCune contended the trial lost jurisdiction to order restitution when it terminated his probation early following a change to the Penal Code that shortened his probationary term from five years to two. To this, the Court of Appeal disagreed: the court retained jurisdiction to determine and award victim restitution under Penal Code sections 1202.4 and 1202.461 irrespective of McCune’s probation status. View "California v. McCune" on Justia Law