Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

by
In an earlier appeal, Indiana Lumbermens Mutual Insurance Company (Lumbermens) challenged an order denying its motion to vacate summary judgment on a bail bond forfeiture and to exonerate the bail bond. The day after Lumbermens filed its notice of appeal, American Surety Company (American), the appellant here, filed an undertaking to stay enforcement of the summary judgment during the first appeal. In an unpublished opinion, the Court of Appeal affirmed the order denying Lumbermens’ motion to vacate the summary judgment and to exonerate the bail bond. Six days before the Court of Appeal issued the remittitur in the first appeal, American filed a motion in the trial court to exonerate the undertaking and to be released from liability on the undertaking. The undertaking was filed pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 917.1; because Lumbermens’ appeal was from a postjudgment order denying a motion to vacate the summary judgment, which was not a money judgment or an order directing the payment of money, American argued section 917.1 did not apply, and the undertaking was ineffective at all times. The trial court denied the motion, concluding American forfeited its challenge to the validity of the undertaking by waiting to file its motion until 57 days after the Appeals Court issued its opinion in the first appeal, and six days before the remittitur. In this case, American renewed its argument the undertaking it filed on behalf of Lumbermens was ineffective because Lumbermens appealed from a postjudgment order, and not from the summary judgment itself and, therefore, the stay provided for in section 917.1 was never triggered. In addition, American argued the undertaking never became effective because the trial court did not approve it as required by statute. The Court of Appeal determined American was correct that the undertaking it filed in the first appeal was never effective. Likewise, American was correct that, even if section 917.1 applied to Lumbermens’ appeal, the undertaking was not effective because the trial court did not approve of it pursuant to section 995.840 (a). Nonetheless, the Court agreed with the State that American forfeited its challenge to the validity of the undertaking by waiting until six days before the issuance of the remittitur to file its motion to vacate the undertaking. And, even if the Court concluded American did not forfeit its challenges to the undertaking, the Court agreed with the State that American was estopped from challenging the undertaking on appeal. View "California v. American Surety Co." on Justia Law

by
The Strawns’ home and pickup, which were insured by State Farm were “damaged and destroyed” by fire on June 1, 2009. They immediately notified State Farm. Dennis Strawn was prosecuted for arson, but the case was dismissed in February 2013. In August 2015, State Farm informed the Strawns that it was denying their claims on the ground that Dennis Strawn had intentionally set the fire and Diane Strawn had fraudulently concealed evidence of this wrongful conduct. In August 2016, the Strawns sued, alleging breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy and elder abuse. The claims for invasion of privacy and elder abuse were also alleged against Wood, the attorney who represented State Farm, and MPP, Wood’s law firm. The trial court dismissed the claims against the attorneys. The court of appeal affirmed as to financial elder abuse but reversed as to the claim of invasion of privacy, which alleged that Wood improperly provided the Strawns’ tax returns to State Farm and its accountants despite their assertion of their privilege to not disclose the returns. View "Strawn v. Morris, Polich & Purdy" on Justia Law

by
The employer, Luxor Cabs, obtained workers' compensation insurance through AUCRA under an EquityComp program. The EquityComp workers’ compensation insurance program has garnered nationwide attention from administrative agencies and judicial tribunals. In 2016, the California Insurance Commissioner issued an administrative decision concluding that the EquityComp program violated state insurance laws and that the reinsurance participation agreement (RPA) between AUCRA and the insured employer, in that case, was void as a matter of law. In 2018, the Fourth Appellate District came to a similar decision in a case essentially identical to this one involving arbitrability under an RPA. Luxor, unhappy with AUCRA's handling of claims, filed suit. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of AUCRA’s motion to compel arbitration pursuant to the terms of an RPA between an employer, Luxor Cabs, and AUCRA. The trial court properly rejected an argument that the validity of the arbitration clause should, itself, have been referred to arbitration in accordance with the RPA’s “delegation clause.” Both the delegation clause and the arbitration provision in the RPA were void and unenforceable because they each separately constituted an “endorsement” to the Policy which was not properly vetted and approved as required by Insurance Code section 11658. View "Luxor Cabs, Inc. v. Applied Underwriters Captive Risk Assurance Co." on Justia Law

by
A jury convicted former United States Postal Service employee Robert Hamilton of three counts of making a false or fraudulent statement for the purpose of obtaining compensation under the California workers' compensation law. On appeal, Hamilton argued: (1) because, as a federal employee, his workers' compensation benefits were provided under the Federal Employment Compensation Act, the doctrine of federal preemption barred him from being prosecuted under California law for any offense alleging fraud in obtaining federal workers' compensation benefits under FECA; and (2) regardless of whether the prosecution was preempted, his conviction was supported by insufficient evidence under Insurance Code section 1871.4 (a)(1) because that statute applied only to false or fraudulent statements made for the purpose of obtaining compensation afforded under the California workers' compensation law, which was not applicable to him as a federal employee. On the issue of federal preemption, the Court of Appeal concluded that Hamilton did not meet his burden to establish that the State's prosecution of him was preempted. With respect to the sufficiency of the evidence, the Court agreed with the State's concession that insufficient evidence supported Hamilton's convictions because he did not receive compensation under the California workers' compensation law. The Court declined to exercise discretion to modify the judgment to impose convictions on a lesser included offense. Accordingly, the judgment was reversed. View "California v. Hamilton" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed suit for breach of an insurance contract and bad faith against State Farm, requesting punitive damages. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of summary adjudication in State Farm's favor, holding that plaintiff forfeited any contention of error regarding the breach of the insurance contract claim because she neither discussed the claim nor suggested that there were unpaid policy benefits. In regard to the bad faith claim, the court held that plaintiff raised no contention that State Farm improperly delayed arbitration under Insurance Code section 11580.2, subdivision (f). The court held that there were no triable issues regarding bad faith where State Farm acted reasonably in delaying payment of uninsured-underinsured motorist benefits. View "Case v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co." on Justia Law

by
Beginning in 2009, plaintiffs sued defendants, including Associated Insulation, for injuries arising out of plaintiffs’ alleged asbestos exposure. Plaintiffs served Associated with the complaints. Associated, which apparently ceased operating in 1974, did not respond. The court entered default judgments, ranging from $350,000 to $1,960,458. Plaintiffs served notice of the judgments on Associated, but not on Fireman’s Fund. After entry of the judgments, Fireman’s located insurance policies appearing to provide coverage for Associated, retained counsel, and moved to set aside the defaults. Fireman’s argued “extrinsic mistake” because service of the complaint on Associated did not provide notice to Fireman’s and that it “never had the opportunity to participate in [the] lawsuit.” Plaintiffs noted that in two cases, they sent a “demand seeking coverage” to Fireman’s which was “acknowledged and denied” in 2012. Fireman’s had responded that it had searched all available records without locating any reference or policies of insurance issued to Associated. Plaintiffs did not respond with evidence of coverage. The court set aside the defaults. The court of appeal affirmed, noting that Fireman’s has a meritorious case and articulated a satisfactory excuse for not presenting a defense. Fireman’s established diligence in “seeking to set aside the default” judgments once they were discovered. View "Mechling v. Asbestos Defendants" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs Travelers Property Casualty Company of America, the Travelers Indemnity Company of Connecticut, and St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Company (collectively, Travelers) filed this action against certain subcontractors to recover attorneys’ fees and costs Travelers incurred in defending developers Westlake Villas, LLC and Meer Capital Partners, LLC (collectively, Westlake) in a prior construction defect action. Travelers' claims were based on alleged subrogation to the rights of its additional insured, Westlake. The Westlake entities were suspended corporations under Revenue and Taxation Code section 23301, and could not assert these claims on their own behalf. Defendant Engel Insulation, Inc. moved for judgment on the pleadings on the basis that Travelers was also barred under this statute from prosecuting these claims. On appeal, Travelers contended the trial court erred in granting Engel’s motion without leave to amend. The Court of Appeal disagreed: an insurer could not file its own action to assert claims solely as a subrogee of a suspended corporation. View "Travelers Property Casualty Co. of Amer. v. Engel Insulation, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Amanda Meleski was injured when Albert Hotlen ran a red light and collided with her vehicle. Unfortunately, Hotlen was deceased at the time of the lawsuit, and he had no estate from which she could recover. However, Hotlen had purchased a $100,000 insurance policy from Allstate Insurance Company (Allstate) covering the accident. Meleski brought her action pursuant to Probate Code sections 550 through 555, which allowed her to serve her complaint on Allstate and recover damages from the Allstate policy, but limited her recovery of damages to the policy limits. Meleski attempted to settle the matter before going to trial by making an offer pursuant to section 998 for $99,999. The offer was not accepted, and at trial a jury awarded her $180,613.86. Because the offer was rejected and Meleski was awarded judgment in excess of her offer to compromise, she expected to recover her costs of suit, the postoffer costs of the services of expert witnesses, and other litigation costs. Meleski argued on appeal that she should have been able to recover costs in excess of the policy limits from Allstate, since it was Allstate that had refused to accept a reasonable settlement offer prior to trial. The trial court disagreed, and Meleski filed this appeal, arguing Allstate was a party within the meaning of section 998 for purposes of recovering costs, and that such costs were recoverable from the insurer despite the limitation on the recovery of “damages” found in Probate Code sections 550 through 555. The Court of Appeal agreed and reversed judgment: "Even though the decedent’s estate is the named defendant in actions under Probate Code sections 550 through 555, this is a legal fiction. The insurance company accepts service of process, hires and pays for counsel to defend the action, makes all decisions regarding settlement of the litigation, is responsible for paying the judgment in favor of the plaintiff if such judgment is rendered, and makes the decision whether or not to appeal an adverse judgment. There is no actual person or entity other than the insurance company to do any of this. This is a reality we will not ignore. Moreover, we find it manifestly unfair that section 998 could be employed by Allstate to recover costs from the plaintiff (which costs it would have no obligation to pay to the estate), but Allstate would have no corresponding responsibility to pay costs merely because it is not a named party." View "Meleski v. Estate of Hotlen" on Justia Law

by
Thee Sombrero, Inc. (Sombrero) owned commercial property. Pursuant to a conditional use permit (CUP), Sombrero’s lessees operated the property as a nightclub called El Sombrero. Crime Enforcement Services (CES) provided security guard services at the club. In 2007, after a fatal shooting, the CUP was revoked and replaced with a modified CUP, which provided that the property could be operated only as a banquet hall. In a previous action, Sombrero sued CES, alleging that CES’s negligence caused the shooting, which in turn caused the revocation of the CUP, which in turn caused a diminution in value of the property. It won a default judgment against CES. Sombrero then filed this direct action against Scottsdale Insurance Company (Scottsdale), CES’s liability insurer. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Scottsdale, ruling that Sombrero’s claim against CES was for an economic loss, rather than for “property damage” as defined in and covered under the policy. The Court of Appeal held Sombrero’s loss of the ability to use the property as a nightclub constituted property damage, which was defined in the policy as including a loss of use of tangible property. View "Thee Sombrero, Inc. v. Scottsdale Ins. Co." on Justia Law

by
The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's grant of summary judgment for Farmers in an action filed by the sons of the insured after Farmers denied them benefits under the insured's policy. The court held that the notice of prejudice rule applied to the waiver of deduction rider and Farmers could not make a showing of prejudice from the delayed notice of the insured's disability. The court held that, because Farmers did not assert that it was prejudiced and there was no dispute that the insured was totally disabled within the meaning of the rider, she was entitled to the benefit promised under the rider: to have the deductions charged to her account waived. Furthermore, because the deductions should have been waived and Farmers' denial of coverage was based solely on those deductions, Farmers failed to establish that, as a matter of law, the insured's policy had lapsed or that it was justified in denying her beneficiaries' claim under the policy. The court held that Farmers' arguments to the contrary were unavailing. View "Lat v. Farmers New World Life Ins. Co." on Justia Law