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Cal. Attorney Sanctioned $50,000 for Reckless and Malicious Conduct at Deposition

Posted on: February 18th, 2019

By: Jenny Jin

A California Court of Appeal upheld a $50,000 sanction against an attorney based on conduct at a deposition.

On February 4, 2019, the Court of Appeal issued its opinion in the case Anna Anka v. Louis Yeager. This case involved a child custody dispute between Paul Anka’s ex-wife, Anna Anka, and her first husband, Louis Yeager. As part of this dispute, the trial court had ordered that a confidential child custody and evaluation report be performed. Mrs. Anka was then subsequently involved in a second child custody dispute with her second husband/now ex-husband, Paul Anka.

Mrs. Anka was represented by the same attorney in both custody disputes. Mrs. Anka’s attorney took Mr. Yeager’s deposition as part of Mrs. Anka’s second custody dispute. During the deposition, Mrs. Anka’s attorney asked Mr. Yeager a series of questions to attempt to elicit confidential information regarding the contents of the evaluation and report from the first child custody dispute. Mr. Yeager testified that he could not recall the information. However, the trial court still sanctioned Mrs. Anka and her attorney $50,000 jointly and severally for her attorney’s reckless and malicious line of questioning that was orchestrated to elicit confidential child custody information.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the $50,000 sanctions against the attorney, but reversed the sanctions award as to Mrs. Anka. The Court found that the disclosure of confidential information was due solely to the attorney’s reckless and malicious conduct during the deposition. The Court opined that “besides being an advocate to advance the interest of the client, the attorney is also an officer of the court” and further that “counsel’s zeal to protect and advance the interest of the client must be tempered by the professional and ethical constraints the legal profession demands.” The Court held that the attorney’s conduct in eliciting confidential information during the deposition was not only reckless, but was intentional and willful.

The takeaway from this case is that in both California and across all states, there are real ethical limitations to zealous representation during depositions. Attorneys must remember to balance their duty to zealously represent their client’s interests with their duty as officers of the court to conduct themselves with integrity, courtesy, and professionalism.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Jenny Jin at (415) 352-6451 or [email protected].

Phony Fakes Fall (Allegedly)

Posted on: February 15th, 2019

By: Kevin Stone

The fictional Mike Moffitt famously called Jerry Seinfeld a phony. The reasons remain unknown. A non-fictional New Jersey man, however, appears to be a bona fide phony. Surveillance video of a company breakroom appears to capture the man throwing ice on the floor and then gently laying down next to it. He then filed an insurance claim for the ambulance ride and hospital treatment that followed the “fall.” Unlike the fall, the filing of the claim may actually harm him, as he was arrested for filing a false claim.

This incident is a great reminder to maintain surveillance cameras where appropriate. Cases often come down to the credibility of the plaintiff. But cameras don’t lie.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Kevin Stone at (770) 303-8643 or [email protected].

Serving That Whiskey Might Be Risky – Liability Of Social Hosts In DUI Accidents

Posted on: February 15th, 2019

By: Stacey Bavafa

Under California Civil Code Section 1714, social hosts and other third parties may be held to be partially liable in the event of a drunk driving accident depending on the circumstances that led up to the accident. Under Sec. 1714, everyone is responsible for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for injuries sustained by another by a want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person.

California courts have held that the furnishing of alcoholic beverages is not the proximate cause of injuries resulting from intoxication, but rather that the consumption of alcoholic beverages is the proximate cause of injuries inflicted upon another by an intoxicated person. Vesley v. Sager (1971) 6 Cal.3d 153; Bernhard v. Harrah’s Club (1976) 16 Cal.3d 313; and Coulter v. Superior Court (1978) 21 Cal.3d 144.

Therefore, social hosts who provide alcoholic beverages to a person may not be held legally accountable for damages suffered by the intoxicated person, or for damages the intoxicated person inflicts on another person resulting from the consumption of alcoholic beverages. In other words, if John Doe had 5 glasses of whiskey at a bar and ends up swerving in and out of his lane due to his inebriated state, and hits another vehicle causing injury to a third person, the bar who provided John Doe the 5 glasses of whiskey will not be required to pay for damages sustained by the third party.

There are however, two exceptions to the rule outlined above:

If an adult, including a parent or guardian, who knowingly serves alcoholic beverages at his or her residence to a person whom he or she knows, or should have known, to be under 21 years of age, the adult may be held liable for actions the minor takes as a result of the consumption of alcohol.

Further, if a business sells alcohol to an obviously intoxicated minor, in such that a reasonable person would be able to tell the minor was intoxicated, the business may face liability for harm arising out of the minor’s actions.

In the case of the underaged drinker, both the underaged drinker and the person who was harmed by the actions of the underaged drinker can file a civil claim against the social host or business to obtain recovery of his or her medical bills, property damage, pain and suffering, loss of income, and legal fees.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Stacey Bavafa at (213) 615-7026 or [email protected].

Best Practices for HOA Elections

Posted on: February 13th, 2019

By: Charles McCurdy

In California, as communities with HOAs have proliferated, so has the thicket of statutes, rules and regulations that apply to their operations. For example, just holding an election for an HOA’s Board of Directors implicates California’s Civil Code, its Corporations Code and an HOA’s governing documents, including its bylaws and CC&Rs. Additionally, since 2006, HOAs must have separate documents setting forth their voting rules. As HOA elections frequently morph into contentious affairs, it is often a good idea to provide as much clarity as possible on the standards and procedures to be used in advance of the election. This can help elections run more smoothly and may enable HOAs to avoid disputes and even costly litigation about the results.

To further this goal of more agreeable elections with more definite outcomes, HOAs should update their governing documents, particularly bylaws and voting rules. The Civil Code (§ § 5105 – 5130) relating to HOA elections has changed twice in the somewhat recent past (2006 and 2013), while many HOA’s governing documents date from their founding. In many instances, amended statutes may supersede outdated governing documents. This can sow confusion when members rely on governing documents that no longer control to understand how the election will be run, who are eligible candidates, and other important election-related considerations. Once governing documents comport with current statutes, HOAs should distribute them to their members in the lead up to elections. For example, HOAs can include these documents as part of an election package that may also include ballots, candidate information and other instructions or regulations. HOAs should also remember the law mandates equal access to association media (such as newsletters) and meeting space for campaigning.

While HOA elections may not always bring out the best in their members, a bit of anticipatory drafting and information sharing can go a long way to avoiding litigation over their results.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Charles McCurdy at (415) 352-6416 or [email protected].

Waiving the Right to Remove State Court Actions

Posted on: February 13th, 2019

By: Justine Baakman

Boilerplate Demands for Relief in Pennsylvania Complaint Alone Sufficient to Support an Amount in Controversy Exceeding $75,000

The Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania recently held that one may waive the right to removal to federal court even when there exists uncertainty as to whether the amount in controversy exceeds the $75,000.00 threshold for diversity citizenship. In Hutchinson v. State Farm Fire & Casualty, on January 17, 2018, the plaintiffs filed a breach of contract suit against the defendant in Pennsylvania state court. In their state action, the plaintiffs sought minimal damages totaling approximately $25,000.00 for specific costs relating to property damage they allege to have suffered. Despite those specifically-pled damages, the complaint included the nearly always pled boilerplate demands in Pennsylvania complaints for compensatory and punitive damages along with interest and attorneys’ fees against the defendant. Moreover, the plaintiffs filed their state court action in the Pennsylvania major trial division, thereby acknowledging the potential for the damages they sought to exceed the Pennsylvania compulsory arbitration cap of $50,000.00.

About three months following initiation of the state action, in April 2018, the defendant served the plaintiffs with requests for admission seeking an admission that the plaintiffs damages either exceeded or did not exceed the $75,000.00 threshold for removal. About one month later, in May 2019, the plaintiffs served their responses to those requests for admission. Although the plaintiffs admitted that their actual damages fell well below the $75,000.00 threshold, they indicated that once punitive damages, interest, and attorneys’ fees were accounted for, “their total damages could very well exceed $75,000.00.”

About one month later, in June 2018, the defendant removed the matter to the Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiffs moved to remand the matter back to state court. The basis for that remand was the defendant’s untimely removal. In support of their request for remand, the plaintiffs argued that the defendant had known since initiation of the action in January 2018 that the amount in controversy exceeded $75,000.00. In arguing so, the plaintiffs focused on the boilerplate language in the complaint wherein they sought punitive damages, interest, and attorneys’ fees. In arguing against remand, the defendant focused on the boilerplate language of the relief sought in the complaint. Specifically, the defendant argued it was not legally certain that the damages the plaintiffs sought exceeded the $75,000.00 threshold until the plaintiffs answered its requests for admission. The Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania ultimately remanded the matter back to state court for the defendant’s failure to timely remove the action.

The impact of the Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania’s ruling on removal of state court actions is yet to be seen. It certainly leaves open the possibility that nearly all state court complaints in Pennsylvania could support a reasonable finding that the amount in controversy exceeds the $75,000.00 threshold for removal based on diversity of citizenship. And, more importantly, that failure to remove Pennsylvania state court actions – most of which are initiated via complaints seeking similar boilerplate relief as was at issue in the Hutchinson matter – within thirty (30) days of service of the complaint could result in waiver of the right to remove.

For additional information related to this topic and for advice regarding how to navigate removal of Pennsylvania state court actions, including torts, products liability, and catastrophic loss litigation, you may contact Justine Baakman at 267-908-7882 or [email protected]