January 17, 2014

Summary of January 15, 2014 conference report for civil cases

The following is our summary of the Supreme Court’s actions on petitions for review in civil cases from the Court’s conference on Wednesday, January 15, 2014.  The summary includes those civil cases in which (1) review has been granted, (2) review has been denied but one or more justices has voted for review, or (3) the Court has ordered depublished an opinion of the Court of Appeal.  This week we note that the Court has sua sponte limited the issues in a case in which it had previously granted review.  The Court also granted review of an unpublished decision of the Court of Appeal.  As we have noted in the past, that is a somewhat rare occurrence.

Review Granted

Rashidi v. Moser, S214430—Review Granted—January 15, 2014

The question presented is:  If a jury awards the plaintiff in a medical malpractice action non-economic damages against a healthcare provider defendant, does Civil Code section 3333.2 entitle the defendant to a setoff based on the amount of non-economic damages in a pretrial settlement entered into by another healthcare provider, or does the general statutory rule that liability for non-economic damages is several only (not joint and several) bar this type of setoff?

The Court of Appeal, Second District, Division Four, held in a published opinion, Rashidi v. Moser (2013) 219 Cal.App.4th 1170, that a plaintiff’s jury award for non-economic damages against one healthcare provider defendant should be setoff based on the non-economic damages amount of a pretrial settlement entered into by another healthcare provider defendant. The court explained that whenever a more specific statute is inconsistent with a general statute, the specific statute should be interpreted as an exception to the more general one. Civil Code section 3333.2 sets a total maximum amount of $250,000 on a plaintiff’s non-economic recovery against all healthcare provider defendants in a single action. Although the general statutory rule is that each defendant is only severally liable for non-economic damages, section 3333.2 is more specific in prohibiting a plaintiff from recovering more than a specified maximum for non-economic losses from all healthcare providers in the same action.

Friends of the College of San Mateo Gardens v. San Mateo County Community College District, S214061—Review Granted—January 15, 2014

The issue presented is:  When an agency performs a subsequent environmental review of a modified construction project, and prepares a subsequent environmental impact report, a subsequent negative declaration, or an addendum, is the agency’s decision to continue with the modified project reviewed under a substantial evidence standard of review, or is the agency’s decision subject to a threshold determination whether the modification of the project constitutes a “new project altogether,” as a matter of law?

The Court of Appeal, First District, Division One, held in an unpublished opinion that when the record of a case shows that the modifications to a construction project make the nature of the project fundamentally or qualitatively different from what was initially proposed, an agency’s actions are not simply reviewed under a substantial evidence standard.  Such cases present a threshold determination, and the court must rule, as a matter of law, whether the project is a “new project” that requires the agency to fully and adequately examine the environmental impact of the new project.

Review Denied (with dissenting justices)



Aspiras v. Wells Fargo Bank, S214297—Depublished Court of Appeal Opinion—January 15, 2014

The issues in this case were: (1) whether the pleading specificity requirement in fraud cases requires a borrower to provide the name of the lender’s customer service representative who allegedly made fraudulent representations; (2) whether a lender’s alleged “dual tracking” of borrowers (a practice where a lender engages a borrower in a loan modification process at the same time it pursues foreclosure) was an unfair business practice under the Unfair Competition Law, specifically when the alleged dual tracking occurred before the planned January 1, 2018, operative date of a statute prohibiting dual tracking; and (3) whether a lender owes a duty of care not to make negligent misrepresentations to borrowers.

The Court of Appeal, Fourth District, Division One, held in a published opinion, Aspiras v. Wells Fargo Bank (2013) 219 Cal.App.4th 948, that: (1) absent evidence of superior knowledge by the lender of the representative’s identity or authority to speak, a borrower’s omission of the customer representative’s identity who allegedly made fraudulent representations violates the specificity requirement for fraud actions; (2) the alleged “dual tracking,” aside from not being supported by the evidence of the case, could not be deemed an unfair business practice unless it violated an applicable constitutional, statutory, or regulatory provision (the court also held that upholding the claim solely based on a future statutory prohibition would be a retroactive application of the law); and (3) under California law, a financial institution does not owe a duty of care to a borrower when the institution’s involvement in the loan is simply that of a lender of money, as opposed to a party who actively participates in the financed enterprise.

Issues Limited

Nickerson v. Stonebridge Life Insurance Co., S213873—Issues Limited—January 15, 2014

The Court limited this case to one issue: Whether an award of attorney fees under Brandt v. Superior Court (1985) 37 Cal.3d 813, is properly included as compensatory damages when calculating the ratio between punitive and compensatory damages if the fees are awarded by the jury, but excluded from compensatory damages if they are awarded by the trial court after the jury’s verdict.

The Court of Appeal, Second District, Division Three, held in a published opinion, Nickerson v. Stonebridge Life Insurance Company (2013) 219 Cal.App.4th 188, that Brandt fees should not be included as part of the compensatory damages total when calculating the ratio between compensatory and punitive damages if the fees are awarded by the trial court after the jury renders its verdict.

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