Legal Memos

Blaser v. State Teachers Retirement System (2022) 86 Cal.App.5th 507.  This is a fairly significant decision in the area of retirement benefits under the STRS system.  In it the court of appeal determines that the concepts of equitable estoppel and laches are unavailable to members challenging retirement benefit recalculations by STRS because applying those equitable defenses to a continuing miscalculation of pension benefits would be both contrary to law and a prohibited gift of public funds.  The unfortunate outcome of that is that it gives STRS an unlimited period of time to recalculate benefits so potentially a member could be having a particular benefit level for 20 years and STRS all of a sudden determines that there was a mistake 20 years earlier and not only can it readjust the benefit, but it can recapture what it contends are overpayments.

Whitlach v. Premier Valley, Inc. (2022) 86 Cal.App.5th, 673.  In this case, the court held that a real estate agent who had filed a PAGA claim alleging labor code violations could not proceed with the claim because the real estate agent was not an employee, had signed an independent contractor agreement, was paid by commission, and met the three factor test for determining whether the individual was an employee or an independent contractor or real estate sales people.

City of Rocklin v. Legacy Family Adventures-Rocklin, LLC (2022) 86 Cal.App.5th, 713.  This is a SLAPP action.  The developers filed a SLAPP motion to strike a city’s complaint about the construction and operation of a theme park.  The court of appeal rejected the SLAPP motion, holding that the artistic work exception to the commercial speech exception did not apply because the theme park was not an enterprise involving Constitutionally protected artistic works.  The court of appeal also upheld the trial court’s determination to award attorneys’ fees to the city because no responsible attorney would believe that the proposed theme park was an artistic work and the SLAPP motion was entirely devoid of merit.

Bishop v. The Bishops School (2022) 86 Cal.App.5th, 893.  This also is a SLAPP case revolving around defamation claims involving the termination of a teacher’s employment.  Although the letter terminating the teacher’s employment referenced student safety, which was an issue of public interest, the letter did not merit SLAPP protection because it was sent privately to the teacher and did not contribute to public discussion.  Similarly, a breach of contract claim arising from the termination decision did not involve protected activity because terminating the teacher’s employment did not advance the school’s ability to express its views on student safety.  The public statement that the school was committed to the safety and well being of students was protected activity and a defamation claim based on that activity had to be stricken as lacking minimal merit because the statement did not imply a provably false assertion of fact and thus was not defamatory.

Victor Valley Union High School District v. Superior Court (2022) 86 Cal.5th, 940.  Plaintiff sued a school district for negligence and other causes of action arising from an alleged sexual assault while he was a high school student.  The case involved the erasure of a video that allegedly captured some of the events surrounding the alleged sexual assault with the trial court concluding that the erasure was the result of negligence and not intentional wrongdoing.  The trial court denied the plaintiff’s request for terminating sanctions but granted the request for evidentiary, issue and monetary sanctions because it concluded that the school district could have reasonably anticipated that the alleged sexual assault would result in litigation and therefore was under a duty to preserve all relevant evidence, including the video.  The court of appeal, however, issued a writ of mandate and held that the safe harbor provisions of CCP § 2023.030(f) shielded a party from sanctions for the spoliation of electronic evidence only if the evidence was altered or destroyed when the party was not under a duty to preserve the evidence.  The duty to preserve evidence is triggered when the party is objectively on notice that litigation is reasonably foreseeable.  The record did not support a ruling that the district had a duty to preserve the video because litigation was not reasonably foreseeable at the time the video was erased.

Jenkins v. Brandt-Hawley (2022) 86 Cal.App.5th, 1357.  This is another SLAPP matter in which the trial court denied an attorney’s SLAPP motion finding that  homeowners had a probability of prevailing on a malicious prosecution claim.  A homeowner filed a complaint against an attorney who had represented other parties in seeking to forestall or prevent the plaintiffs’ destruction of an existing residence and the construction of a new residence after all planning approvals had been provided.  The court determined that the SLAPP motion should have been granted and that the plaintiffs had met their burden of demonstrating a probability of success on the merits of their complaint.