Jail minimum wage, witness dissuasion opinions filing Monday

On Monday morning, the Supreme Court will file its opinions in Ruelas v. County of Alameda and People v. Reynoza. (Briefs here; oral argument videos here and here.)

In Ruelas, the court agreed in January 2023 to answer this question posed by the Ninth Circuit — “Do non-convicted incarcerated individuals performing services in county jails for a for-profit company to supply meals within the county jails and related custody facilities have a claim for minimum wages and overtime under Section 1194 of the California Labor Code in the absence of any local ordinance prescribing or prohibiting the payment of wages for these individuals?” More about the case here and here.

Reynoza should decide whether Penal Code section 136.1, subdivision (b)(2), which prohibits dissuading or attempting to dissuade a victim or witness from causing a charging document “to be sought and prosecuted, and assisting in the prosecution thereof,” encompasses attempts to dissuade a victim or witness after a charging document has been filed. The court granted review in May 2022. More about the case here.

These two will be the first of four opinions for cases argued in February. The other two cases should be decided by May 6. Additional argued but undecided cases are the six from the March calendar (opinions expected by June 3) and the six on the April calendar (opinions expected by July 1).

The Ruelas and Reynoza opinions can be viewed Monday starting at 10:00 a.m.

April oral argument videos available

The Supreme Court has posted videos of the six arguments heard on the April calendar.

The court earlier posted what was called an “unprocessed video” of one argument because it said “technical issues . . . affected access to the livestreamed oral argument.”

Opinions in all the April cases are expected by July 1.

Early-May calendar is big in more ways than one

The Supreme Court today announced it will hear nine cases on its early-May calendar. (May is the only month with two argument calendars.) There are a number of significant things about this upcoming session.

Nine arguments makes early-May the largest calendar of the 2023-2024 term thus far and goes a long way towards fulfilling Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero’s pledge to increase the court’s opinion output during the term’s second half. After the early-May arguments, the court will have issued opinions, or have opinions in the pipeline, in 42 cases with two later calendars still to be announced. The court still might not match last term’s 55 opinions, which was an historic low. (See here.)

There haven’t been this many arguments during one week since last year’s early-May calendar. Before that, you’d have to go back to June 2020.

Some of the cases to be argued are especially consequential, including the writ petition seeking to prevent the November ballot from including an initiative that would make it more difficult to enact new taxes, a death penalty appeal (or maybe two) with a California Racial Justice Act issue, and a PAGA case.

Three death penalty appeals will be argued. There have been only two capital appeals on the eight calendars already completed this term. In 2017, when it mostly upheld Proposition 66, which was designed to speed California executions, the court said that the initiative’s deadlines for court action on capital cases “must be deemed directive rather than mandatory,” but also that the deadlines are “properly construed as an exhortation to the parties and the courts to handle cases as expeditiously as is consistent with the fair and principled administration of justice.” (Briggs v. Brown (2017) 3 Cal.5th 808, 823, 859.) (Related: “High court hears more death penalty appeals after Proposition 66”.)

A number of the cases on the calendar have been on the court’s docket for a while.

On Wednesday and Thursday, May 8 and 9, in San Francisco, the court will hear the following cases (with the issue presented as summarized by court staff or limited by the court itself):

Legislature v. Weber: (1) Does the Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act constitute an impermissible attempted revision of the California Constitution by voter initiative? (2) Is this initiative measure subject to invalidation on the ground that, if adopted, it would impair essential government functions? The court issued an order to show cause on the original writ petition in November 2023. More about the case here, here, here, and here.

Golden State Water Company v. Public Utilities Commission: The court’s issue summary says only, “The court issued a writ of review regarding notice and due process requirements in proceedings before the Public Utilities Commission.” The writ of review issued in May 2022, but that was 11 months after the water company filed its petition for review. The case is consolidated with California-American Water Company v. Public Utilities Commission. More about the cases here.

Turrieta v. Lyft, Inc.: When the court granted review in January 2022, it limited the issue to: “Does a plaintiff in a representative action filed under the Private Attorneys General Act (Lab. Code, § 2698, et seq.) (PAGA) have the right to intervene, or object to, or move to vacate, a judgment in a related action that purports to settle the claims that plaintiff has brought on behalf of the State?” More about the case here. Horvitz & Levy is Lyft’s appellate counsel in the case.

Ramirez v. Charter Communications, Inc.: Did the Court of Appeal err in holding that a provision of an arbitration agreement allowing for recovery of interim attorney’s fees after a successful motion to compel arbitration, was so substantively unconscionable that it rendered the arbitration agreement unenforceable? The court granted review in June 2022. More about the case here.

People v. Arellano: When a defendant obtains resentencing of a conviction under Penal Code section 1172.6, subdivision (e), is the trial court permitted to impose not only the target offense or underlying felony, but also corresponding enhancements? The court granted review in March 2023. A response to amicus curiae briefs is not due until April 26. More about the case here.

People v. Lamb: This is an automatic direct appeal from an August 2008 judgment of death. The court’s website does not list issues for death penalty appeals. Counsel was appointed in March 2012. Briefing was completed in April 2016.

People v. Lynch: What prejudice standard applies on appeal when determining whether a case should be remanded for resentencing in light of newly-enacted Senate Bill No. 567 (Stats. 2021, ch. 731)? The court granted review in August 2022. More about the case here.

People v. Wilson: This is an automatic direct appeal from an August 2003 judgment of death. The court’s website does not list issues for death penalty appeals. However, the court in December asked for supplemental briefing on “What is the effect, if any, of the recent amendment to Penal Code section 745, subdivision (b) [part of the California Racial Justice Act (here and here)] on the issues in this case? (Stats. 2023, ch. 464, § 1.)” Last April, the court had said that the parties will have 15 additional minutes of argument time to address a defense motion for a stay of the appeal and a limited remand. We haven’t seen the motion, but it appears to concern the CRJA. (Related: see the discussion of the denial of review in People v. Lashon here.) Counsel was appointed in December 2007. Initial briefing was completed in January 2016.

People v. Frazier: This is an automatic direct appeal from a December 2006 judgment of death. The court’s website does not list issues for death penalty appeals. Counsel was appointed in November 2010. Initial briefing was completed in February 2017. As in Wilson (see above), there’s a pending defense motion for a stay of the appeal and a limited remand, which might concern the California Racial Justice Act. However, unlike in Wilson, the court hasn’t asked for supplemental briefing about a 2023 amendment of the CRJA.

The arguments will be live streamed. Opinions in the cases should file by August 5, but the Legislature v. Weber opinion is likely to issue before June 27 (see here).

Supreme Court will hear another pension case

Some notable Supreme Court actions taken at yesterday’s conference include:

Pensions again. The court will hear another case about the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act of 2013, this time apparently concerning PEPRA’s interpretation rather than its constitutionality. (See here.)

Canal immunity dissenting vote. The court denied review of the Fifth District Court of Appeal’s belatedly published opinion in Perez v. Oakdale Irrigation District, but Justice Leondra Kruger recorded a vote to grant. The Fifth District affirmed summary judgment for an irrigation district in an action for the death of a father and daughter who drowned when their overturned car landed in a drain. The appellate court held the action was barred by Government Code section 831.8(b), which provides irrigation districts are generally immune from liability “for an injury caused by the condition of canals, conduits, or drains used for the distribution of water if at the time of the injury the person injured was using the property for any purpose other than that for which the district or state intended it to be used.” It concluded that, even though the phrase “using the property” could reasonably be construed as “limit[ing] immunity to circumstances where the injured party volitionally interacted with the property,” the Legislature enacting the statute more likely was “evinc[ing] a concern with how foreseeable the injury was to the government, rather than how much responsibility the injured person assumed.” Horvitz & Levy was appellate counsel for the defendant District.

Racial Justice Act procedure. The court denied review in People v. Lashon, handing a renewed defeat to a defendant who has been claiming her murder convictions were tainted by the trial judge’s implicit bias in violation of the California Racial Justice Act (here and here). The First District, Division Three, published opinion came after the Supreme Court had granted review of an earlier opinion and sent the case back for reconsideration in light of new legislation, Assembly Bill 1118. (See here.) Pre-AB 1118, Division Three held the bias claim was forfeited by not filing a motion in the trial court before judgment. AB 1118 amended Penal Code section 745(b) to provide, “For claims based on the trial record, a defendant may raise a claim alleging a violation of [the CRJA] on direct appeal from the conviction or sentence” and “may also move to stay the appeal and request remand to the superior court to file a motion pursuant to this section.” Division Three stuck to its forfeiture decision, stating, “By the AB 1118 amendment, the Legislature did not include any language indicating a section 745 claim could be presented on direct appeal for the first time.” It also declined to remand the case, saying that “it appears the Legislature intended the stay and remand procedure to be available in cases that need further factual development” and that the defendant “both had the opportunity to raise a CRJA violation and develop the record in the trial court and fails to identify what factual development (if any) is now needed in the trial court.” The appellate court noted the defendant has also raised her CRJA claim in a pending Supreme Court habeas corpus petition. (See here.) The Supreme Court denied review in another CRJA case last month. (See here.)

Grant-and-hold disposal. The court dismissed review in Winick v. Noble LA Events, Inc., which had been a grant-and-hold (see here) for TriCoast Builders, Inc. v. Fonnegra (2024) 15 Cal.5th 766 (see here).

Criminal case grant-and-transfer. The court granted the prosecution’s petition for review (and denied the defendant’s) in People v. Browder and transferred the case back to the Second District, Division Eight, for reconsideration in light of People v. Clark (2024) 15 Cal.5th 743 (see here).

Criminal case grant-and-holds. Uncommonly there were none this week.

Challenge to anti-tax initiative to be heard in less than three weeks

The Supreme Court today announced it will hear oral arguments in Legislature v. Weber on May 8. The case concerns an original writ petition filed by California’s Legislature and its Governor seeking to prevent the November ballot from including an initiative that would make it more difficult to enact new taxes.

Although the 90-day rule gives the court until early August to issue an opinion, the petition says that, because of a California Secretary of State deadline, the court must rule by June 27 to keep the initiative off the ballot.

Related:

Former Governor Brown is an amicus in the challenge to an anti-tax initiative

Supreme Court might order anti-tax initiative off the ballot

Supreme Court asks for response to challenge to anti-tax initiative

Former Justice Grodin is one of many amici curiae in the Prop. 22 case

In Castellanos v. State of California the Supreme Court is expected to decide the validity of Proposition 22, the 2020 initiative — heavily financed by Uber and Lyft — that classifies app-based drivers as independent contractors instead of employees. (See here.) Specifically, the court has limited the issue to: “Does Business and Professions Code section 7451, which was enacted by Proposition 22 (the ‘Protect App-Based Drivers and Services Act’), conflict with article XIV, section 4 of the California Constitution [which gives the Legislature the “plenary power . . . to create, and enforce a complete system of workers’ compensation”] and therefore require that Proposition 22, by its own terms, be deemed invalid in its entirety?” (Links added.)

Castellanos is a high profile case by any measure. One measure is the number of amicus curiae briefs it has attracted. There are 21 of them.

Former Justice Joseph Grodin is a named amicus on one of the briefs. He has been an amicus in U.S. Supreme Court cases (see here and here) and a number of other California Supreme Court cases as well.

Here’s a list of the amici.

Amici supporting the plaintiffs, who are challenging Prop. 22:

  1. Dave Cortese and Liz Ortega
  2. California Applicants’ Attorneys Association
  3. National Employment Law Project, California Labor Federation, Rideshare Drivers United, Gig Workers Rising, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, Asian Americans Advancing Justice Southern California, PowerSwitch Action, Worksafe, Action Center on Race & the Economy, the Economic Policy Institute, Bet Tzedek, and the California Immigrant Policy Center
  4. David R. Henderson, Keith Chen, Jeffrey R. Hummel, Ethan Ligon, Michael Marlow, Lee E. Ohanian, Damian Park, Valerie Ramey, Abbylin H. Sellers, William F. Shughart II, Brian P. Simpson, Robert S. Taylor
  5. City and County of San Francisco, the City of Oakland, the City of San Diego, and the County of Santa Clara
  6. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 396, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 542, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 848, and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO
  7. Sameer Ashar, Veena Dubal, Catherine Fisk, Charlotte Garden, Joseph Grodin, William B. Gould IV, Stephen Lee, Leticia Saucedo, Reuel Schiller, Katherine Stone, and Noah D. Zatz

Amici supporting the defendants who are defending Prop. 22:

  1. Robert Timothy Leslie and James Stephen Peace
  2. California Constitution Scholars
  3. Crum & Forster Holding Co.
  4. Independent Drivers Alliance for California, Kelly Rickert, Ali Mazhin, and Stephanie Whitfield
  5. Citizens in Charge and The Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California
  6. T. Anthony Quinn, Daniel Schnur, and Robert M. Stern
  7. William R. Berryhill
  8. California Chamber of Commerce
  9. Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association
  10. California Asian Pacific Chamber of Commerce, California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, NAACP California Hawaii State Conference, National Action Network Los Angeles, National Action Network Sacramento Chapter Inc., and National Diversity Coalition
  11. Marketplace Industry Association, Inc.
  12. Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America
  13. Chamber of Progress, NetChoice, Asian Industry B2B, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, and sf.citi
  14. Amicus Populi

The court last week granted extensions to June 3 for the parties to respond to the amicus briefs.

The court sent its oral argument letter seven weeks ago. Based on counsel’s responses to the letter and the court’s responses to the responses, it appears the Castellanos argument will not be on the June calendar, but could be on the early-May or late-May calendars. It is not unheard of to have an oral argument before the filing of responses to amicus briefs. If the case is not argued in May, it probably won’t be heard until September, the next calendar after June.

Related:

Bob Egelko wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle, “As Prop. 22 heads to California Supreme Court, support doesn’t break along ideological lines.”

The Supreme Court is back in the pension business [Updated]

The Supreme Court today granted review in Ventura County Employees’ Retirement Association v. Criminal Justice Attorneys Association of Ventura County. The Second District, Division Six, Court of Appeal’s belatedly published opinion upheld a Retirement Association resolution the appellate court described as “excluding compensation for accrued, but unused, hours of annual leave exceeding employees’ calendar year allowance . . . for purposes of calculating their retirement benefits.”

Division Six applied the Supreme Court’s decision in Alameda County Deputy Sheriff’s Assn. v. Alameda County Employees’ Retirement Assn. (2020) 9 Cal.5th 1032 (see here), which upheld the constitutionality of statutory changes — the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act of 2013 — limiting the ability of those public employees who started their jobs before the changes took effect to increase their pension benefits.

The resolution’s challengers claimed upholding the resolution improperly relied on dicta in the Alameda County case that discussed the legislative intent behind PEPRA. Although Division Six said the Supreme Court in that case “reached well beyond the holding necessary to its opinion to express its broader view,” it found the Alameda County statements to be persuasive and followed them. Quoting that opinion, the appellate court concluded, “the legislative history reveals the PEPRA exclusions were intended to eliminate pension spiking by ‘excluding income designed to artificially inflate a pension benefit’ and ‘limiting the inclusion of other types of compensation that were reasonably viewed as inconsistent with [the County Employees Retirement Law of 1937’s] general approach to pensionable compensation.’ ”

After the Alameda County case and another one the year before — Cal Fire Local 2881 v. California Public Employees’ Retirement System (2019) 6 Cal.5th 965 (see here) — had addressed constitutional issues, the court expressed little interest in PEPRA cases. (See here, here, and here.) The Ventura County case appears to concern only the interpretation of a part of PEPRA, not the legislation’s constitutionality.

[April 19 update: The issue in the Ventura County case, as summarized by court staff, is: “For purposes of calculating retirement benefits for members of County Employees Retirement Law of 1937 (Gov. Code, § 31450 et seq.) retirement systems, does Government Code section 31461, subdivision (b)(2) exclude payments for accrued, but unused hours of annual leave that would exceed the maximum amount of leave that was earnable and payable in a calendar year?”]

Justice Liu spoke at Hofstra Law about bias

Justice Goodwin Liu was in New York yesterday to deliver the 2023-2024 Kaplan Lecture at Hofstra University’s Maurice A. Deane School of Law. The school reports, “The insightful presentation focused on the connection between implicit and structural bias & the ways we as a society can mitigate their effects.”

Related:

Justice Liu speaks about bias at Penn

Supreme Court asks for preliminary opposition to anti-death penalty writ petition

The Supreme Court is not rejecting out of hand an original writ petition seeking a declaration that California’s death penalty scheme is unconstitutional as racially discriminatory. (See Heavyweight writ petition asks Supreme Court to declare death penalty unconstitutional.) Instead of summarily denying the petition at the outset, the court today asked State Attorney General Rob Bonta, who is the lone respondent named in the petition, to file a preliminary opposition. (See rule 8.487(a)(1).)

While the court has asked for a preliminary opposition, Bonta’s filing might not be a full-throated defense of capital punishment in California. The Attorney General’s “duty” is “to see that the laws of the State are uniformly and adequately enforced.” (Cal. Const., art. V, sec. 13.) However, the crux of the petition is that the death penalty statutes are not being uniformly enforced and the petition reports Bonta “acknowledges that ‘ “[s]tudies show” ’ the death penalty has ‘ “long had a disparate impact on defendants of color, especially when the victim is white.” ’ ”

The court set May 6 as the due date for the preliminary opposition and said the petitioners will have 10 days after that date to reply. The court will then at some point (there’s no deadline) decide whether to hear the petition on the merits. If it does, there will be fuller briefing from the Attorney General and most probably a number of amicus briefs. (Rule 8.487(b) & (e).)

A summary denial of the petition without a decision on the merits is still an action option. Today’s request shouldn’t be seen as anything more than a determination that the petition is not obviously meritless.

Another action option is for the court to issue an order to show cause, but send the petition to a superior court for a decision. The petition relies on “[e]xtensive empirical evidence” to establish racial discrimination and the Supreme Court might conclude a trial court is the more appropriate forum for an evaluation of that evidence, at least in the first instance.

“An argument for zero-based state constitutional interpretation” [Updated]

Nick Scheuerman writes on SCOCAblog, the online publication of the California Constitution Center at Berkeley Law and of the UC Law Journal, that “the California Supreme Court generally does not interpret the California constitution independently [of the federal constitution]. Instead, the state high court generally follows the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of analogous constitutional provisions unless there are ‘cogent reasons’ not to do so.”

He’s critical of that approach “because it violates the will of the California voters to have the California constitution serve as an independent guarantee of rights, and it offends the California’s independent sovereignty from the United States.” Instead, Scheuerman argues, California courts should “actively ignor[e] the federal constitution and federal case law when interpreting California’s constitution.”

The essay might not be giving the California Supreme Court enough credit when it says the court generally doesn’t interpret the State Constitution independently. A pair of 2019 decisions are good examples of the court ruling without regard to what the U.S. Supreme Court has said or might say.

In Gardner v. Appellate Division (2019) 6 Cal.5th 998, the court unanimously found a state constitutional right to appointed counsel for a misdemeanor defendant who is the respondent in a prosecution appeal of an order suppressing evidence. (See here.) Significantly, after the parties had focused their briefing on the federal Constitution, the court specifically requested briefing on the California Constitution’s relevant provision and then based its decision on that alone, finding it “unnecessary . . . to decide whether the same result would obtain under the federal Constitution.” (Id. at p. 1004.) “[I]n California courts, the federal Constitution is not the sole source of a criminal defendant’s right to representation,” the court said. (Id. at p. 1003.)

People v. Aranda (2019) 6 Cal.5th 1077 saw the California Constitution expressly diverge from the U.S. Constitution. (See here.) The court held California Constitution’s double-jeopardy clause requires trial courts to accept a jury’s acquittal verdict on a charge even though the jury has hung on uncharged lesser included offenses, a partial verdict that protects the defendant from being retried on the acquitted charge. Seven years earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted the federal Constitution as having no such requirement.

Quoting from an opinion it issued in 1996, the Aranda court said, “ ‘[T]he California Constitution is a document of independent force and effect that may be interpreted in a manner more protective of defendants’ rights than that extended by the federal Constitution, as construed by the United States Supreme Court.’ ” (6 Cal.5th at p. 1087.) It was the lone dissenter who contended “ ‘there must be cogent reasons for a departure from a construction placed on a similar constitutional provision by the United States Supreme Court.’ ” (Id. at p. 1101.)

Related:

Former Chief Justice on advisory board to new State Court Report

Justice Kruger speaking about state constitutions at the ABA annual meeting

Supreme Court highlighted in column saying “state courts offer liberals hope”

A conservative SCOTUS and the “much more liberal” California Supreme Court

Justice Liu on independent state constitutions

“Now more than ever we need the California Supreme Court”

50 years since Loving; 69 years since Perez

[April 16 update: Another related post is California’s independent constitution.]

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