California Supreme Court

On March 4, 2024, the California Supreme Court ruled in Niedermeier v. FCA that consumers forced to trade in or sell their defective vehicles due to a manufacturer’s failure to comply with the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, California Civil Code section 1793 et seq., (the “Act”) should not have their restitution reduced by the money they received from the trade-in or sale.

During trial, lawyers make many strategic decisions to try to appeal to a jury.  For example, they consider not only the substance of the evidence they present, but also the emotional impact of that evidence.  But the impact of a witness’ testimony can be blunted if your jury is not following the testimony, so the use of demonstrative exhibits can be a useful tool to ensure the jury remains focused on the testimony.

In two prior blog posts, we covered how online marketplaces, like Amazon, are being held responsible for defective and counterfeit products sold on their platforms.  In the latest development in this space, California’s Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District) determined that Amazon could be held strictly liable for injuries a consumer suffered from a defective hoverboard she bought from the retailer, even though Amazon neither manufactured nor sold the product.  Loomis v. Amazon.com LLC.

Trying to collect attorney’s fees based on a void contract? Surprisingly, you can, according to a recent California Court of Appeal case. In California-American Water Co. v. Marina Coast Water Dist., the California Court of Appeal held that prevailing parties were entitled to recover attorney’s fees and costs based on a contract, even though the underlying contract at issue in the litigation was declared – void.

When a contract awards attorneys’ fees to one party in a contract action, California Civil Code § 1717 intervenes by a) directing the attorney’s fees to the prevailing party, regardless of the party awarded fees in the contract, and b) requiring the court to fix the attorney’s fees as an element of the costs of suit. But does § 1717 supplant the right to a jury trial in situations where attorney’s fees are sought as damages, instead of as costs? As the California Court of Appeal recently held in Monster, LLC v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County: No.

The Supreme Court has put an end to a jurisdictional contrivance used by the plaintiffs’ bar to shop for a friendly state forum, even if neither the plaintiff, nor the defendant, nor the actionable conduct took place in those states. In last month’s Bristol-Myers Squibb Company v. Superior Court decision, the Court ruled that out-of-state plaintiffs could not piggyback on the claims of in-state plaintiffs to assert jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant. In doing so, the Court rejected the notion that plaintiffs’ counsel can exploit the claims of a handful of in-state plaintiffs as a hook to bring a nationwide lawsuit against an out-of-state corporation in the plaintiffs’ preferred forum.

It is not uncommon for parties to enter into agreements containing jury waiver provisions. However, enforcing such provisions in California courts may be a losing battle. California has a strong public policy in favor of the right to a trial by jury, and California courts will not enforce a jury waiver except under limited circumstances. The bottom line: unless an advance contractual jury waiver provides for resolution in a nonjudicial forum, like arbitration or binding mediation, it will not be enforced in state and federal courts located in California.

In Disney’s The Lion King, the wise lion Mufasa sits atop a rock crag with his heir, the cub Simba, looking down on the Serengeti below. “Everything the light touches,” Mufasa instructs, “is our kingdom.” A similar scene plays out in countless law firms each year, when newly admitted attorneys are trained on the boundaries of the attorney-client privilege, a realm of communication protected from disclosure to outsiders. The California Supreme Court recently cast a shadow over this privilege, however, calling into question the extent to which it applies to one of the most common forms of attorney-client communication: an attorney’s bill.