At its conference yesterday, a double one, the Supreme Court’s actions of note included:
- Taxpayer standing. The court granted review in Raju v. Superior Court, where a First District, Division Four, Court of Appeal published opinion reinstated a lawsuit brought by taxpayers against San Francisco’s Superior Court “for declaratory and injunctive relief to remedy alleged violations of Penal Code provisions that impose a duty on the courts (and others) to expedite criminal proceedings, including by prioritizing them over civil cases, and to follow specific procedural steps before a criminal trial may be continued beyond statutory time limits.” The delays at issue began after a three-month COVID-pandemic shutdown of the superior court. Division Four said the plaintiffs “acknowledge the pandemic’s role in precipitating the backlog, but allege that defendants unnecessarily exacerbated the backlog and prolonged its effects.” The trial court had dismissed the action on demurrer, ruling that one superior court cannot direct a writ of mandamus to another superior court. Division Four found the plaintiffs had adequately pleaded common law and statutory taxpayer claims, rejecting the trial court’s reasoning and other alternative arguments why the taxpayers couldn’t sue. The Supreme Court has previously shown little interest in addressing the merits of pandemic-related trial-delay claims, denying petitions for review in a number of individual criminal cases. (See cases number 14, 17, 18, 36, 37, 38, 41, 56, and 60 on our list of the court’s pandemic docket; see also People v. Navarro below.)
- Murder resentencing. The court will also hear People v. Emanuel, another case concerning a resentencing petition under Senate Bill 1437, legislation that limited criminal liability for felony murder and eliminated it for murder under the natural-and-probable-consequences doctrine. The Sixth District’s unpublished opinion rejected a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the trial court’s finding that the defendant, who did not shoot the victim, was a major participant in the underlying crime (a robbery-murder) and acted with reckless indifference to human life. The appellate court did so even while it “acknowledge[d] that some . . . factors” from two governing Supreme Court opinions — People v. Banks (2015) 61 Cal.4th 788 and People v. Clark (2016) 63 Cal.4th 522 (see People v. Strong (2022) 13 Cal.5th 698 [see here]) — “are either neutral or do not support a finding of reckless indifference.”
- Geofence warrant. The court denied review in Price v. Superior Court over the recorded dissenting vote of Justice Goodwin Liu. The published portion of the Fourth District, Division Two, opinion in the case upheld the denial of a motion in a murder prosecution to suppress evidence that had been obtained by a geofence warrant. Division Two explained that such a warrant “allow[s] law enforcement agencies to identify suspects and witnesses to crimes by obtaining location data and identifying information associated with electronic devices traversing the geofence and carried by the suspects or witnesses.” Last month, Justice Liu (joined by Justice Kelli Evans) filed a separate statement dissenting from the denial of review in another geofence warrant case.
- Berkeley student housing. In Make UC a Good Neighbor v. Regents of University of California, pending on review, the court ordered supplemental briefs “addressing the significance, if any, of Assembly Bill No. 1307 (2023-2024 Reg. Sess.) . . . on the issues in this case.” (Link added.) The case raises these issues: (1) Does the California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq.) (CEQA) require public agencies to consider as an environmental impact the increased social noise generated by student parties that a student housing project might bring to a community? (2) Under CEQA, when a lead agency has identified potential sites for future development and redevelopment in a programmatic planning document, is the agency required to revisit alternative locations for a proposed site-specific project within the program? According to the Legislative Counsel’s digest, the bill, which was signed by the Governor last week and took effect immediately, “specif[ies] that the effects of noise generated by project occupants and their guests on human beings is not a significant effect on the environment for residential projects for purposes of CEQA” and “that institutions of public higher education, in an EIR for a residential or mixed-use housing project, are not required to consider alternatives to the location of the proposed project if certain requirements are met.” Horvitz & Levy represents the Regents and other defendants in the Supreme Court.
- PAGA grant-and-hold dispositions. The court disposed of eight cases that had been on hold for July’s decision in Adolph v. Uber Technologies, Inc. (2023) 14 Cal.5th 1104. The court sent Sanchez v. M C Painting (see here) and Wing v. Chico Healthcare & Wellness Centre (see here) back to the Courts of Appeal for reconsideration in light of Adolph, and it dismissed review in Galarsa v. Dolgen California, LLC (see here), Gregg v. Uber Technologies (see here), Piplack v. In-N-Out Burgers (see here), Quintero v. Dolgen California, LLC (see here), Seifu v. Lyft, Inc. (see here) (Horvitz & Levy is appellate counsel for Lyft in the case), and Silva v. Dolgen California, LLC (see here).
- ICWA grant-and-hold. In re M.R. is a grant-and-hold for In re Ja.O. (see here), which is expected to decide whether the duty of a child welfare agency to inquire of extended family members and others about a child’s potential Indian ancestry applies to children who are taken into custody under a protective custody warrant. In M.R., the Fourth District, Division Two, in an unpublished opinion followed its Ja.O. decision and answered the question in the negative.
- Dependency grant-and-hold. In re Kieran S. is a grant-and-hold for In re N.R. (see here). N.R., which will be argued next month, raises these issues: (1) What is the definition of “substance abuse” for purposes of declaring a child a dependent under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (b)(1)? (2) Where a child is under the age of six, does a finding of parental substance abuse alone provide sufficient evidence to warrant juvenile court jurisdiction? In Kieran S., a Second District, Division Seven, unpublished opinion found substantial evidence supported the trial court’s finding that a mother’s substance abuse put her two-year-old son at a substantial risk of serious physical harm. It thus affirmed orders declaring the boy a dependent of the court and removing him from his parents.
- Pandemic speedy trial claim. The court denied a defendant’s petition for review in People v. Navarro. Among other things, the Sixth District’s unpublished opinion rejected the defendant’s claim that his right to a speedy trial was violated by a postponement during the COVID pandemic under the authority of emergency orders by the Chief Justice. Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero and Justice Carol Corrigan were recused, probably because they are, respectively, the chair and a member of the Judicial Council, which issued jury-trial-suspension orders during the pandemic. The Supreme Court, however, did grant the Attorney General’s petition for review, making the case a grant-and-hold for People v. Lynch, which raises a sentencing issue. (See below.)
- Criminal case grant-and-holds. There were five criminal case grant-and-holds: one more waiting for a decision in People v. Faial (see here), two more on hold for People v. Lynch (see here), one more holding for People v. Hardin (see here), and one waiting for People v. Patton (see here).