October 24, 2013

Summary of October 23, 2013 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, October 23, 2013. 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.

Review Granted

Hampton v. County of San Diego, S213132—Review Granted—October 23, 2013

The question presented concerns an alleged dangerous condition of public property and the defendant government entity’s affirmative defense of design immunity.  While driving his vehicle, the plaintiff collided with another vehicle at an intersection.  He and his wife sued the driver of the other vehicle and also sued the County of San Diego, alleging a dangerous condition of public property.  The County asserted that the claims were barred by the affirmative defense of design immunity and successfully moved for summary judgment.

The Court of Appeal, Fourth District, Division One, held in a published opinion, Hampton v. County of San Diego (2013) 218 Cal.App.4th 286, that the County established the affirmative defense of design immunity as a matter of law, and that the accumulation of foliage on an embankment, which allegedly limited sight distance, was not evidence of a dangerous condition.

Curtis v. County of Los Angeles, S213275—Review Granted & Held—October 23, 2013

A motorist brought an action against the County of Los Angeles for injuries sustained in a vehicle collision caused by another driver, alleging that the lack of a center median space or barrier on the highway constituted a dangerous condition. The Court of Appeal, Second District, Division Four, held in a published opinion, Curtis v. County of Los Angeles (2013) 218 Cal.App.4th 366, that: (1) the lack of a median space or barrier was not the proximate cause of the collision; and (2) the County was immune from liability for not including a median space or barrier in the design of the highway.

The Supreme Court granted review, but ordered further action deferred pending disposition of a related issue in Cordova v. City of Los Angeles, S208130, which presents the following limited issue:  “May a government entity be held liable if a dangerous condition of public property existed and caused the injuries plaintiffs suffered in an accident, but did not cause the third party conduct that led to the accident?”

Review Denied (with dissenting justices)

Malin v. Singer, S213006—Review Denied [Kennard, J., voting for review]—October 23, 2013

This was a case alleging extortion based on an attorney’s prelitigation demand letter.  The question presented was whether the trial court properly denied the attorney defendants’ anti-SLAPP motion.  The plaintiff, Malin, brought an extortion claim against the law firm of Lavely & Singer and two of its lawyers for sending Malin a prelitigation demand letter on behalf of their client, co-defendant Arazm.  The Lavely & Singer defendants moved to strike the extortion claim under the anti-SLAPP statute on the ground it was based on protected petitioning and speech activities.  The trial court denied the anti-SLAPP motion and refused to strike the claim, concluding it fell within an illegality exception carved out by Flatley v. Mauro (2006) 39 Cal.4th 299, for activities conclusively established to be illegal as a matter of law.

The Court of Appeal, Second District, Division Four, reversed in a published decision, Malin v. Singer (2013) 217 Cal.App.4th 1283, holding: (1) the illegality exception was inapplicable to Malin’s extortion claim because the demand letter simply outlined the allegations that would be contained in a lawsuit absent a settlement; and (2) Malin could not show a probability of prevailing since the transmission of such a letter was absolutely protected by the litigation privilege.  The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s order as to the cause of action for extortion and remanded with directions to grant the special motion to strike as to that cause of action.  It affirmed the denial of the anti-SLAPP motion as to other causes of action for invasion of privacy and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

[Full disclosure: Horvitz & Levy LLP represented defendants Lavely & Singer, Martin D. Singer, and Andrew B. Brettler in this case.]



Leave a Reply