Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's holding that, because there was no clear and conclusive evidence of a contrary intent, joint bank accounts passed as a matter of law to petitioner upon her mother's death. The court held that the trial court's finding was supported by substantial evidence where, among other things, mother opened the accounts while daughter assisted with various business affairs, mother indicated to daughter that the money in the two accounts was for daughter's use and daughter had complete access to the accounts; and Wells Fargo confirmed that both mother and daughter had withdrawal rights on the accounts. View "Estate of O'Connor" on Justia Law

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The petition underlying this appeal challenged a trial court order summarily adjudicating a cause of action under the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act (the Act), a cause of action for fraud by concealment, and another for medical battery, while allowing other claims, including one for medical negligence, to proceed to trial. Petitioner Maxine Stewart was the representative of Anthony Carter, a man who died after admission to a hospital owned by real parties in interest, St. Joseph’s Health (et al.). She alleged the hospital “denied and withheld from Mr. Carter the right to refuse an unnecessary surgery, denied and withheld from Mr. Carter the right to be involved in secret hospital meetings to invalidate his designated consent, and denied and withheld from Mr. Carter his right to a second opinion prior to proceeding with an unwarranted surgery that resulted in a hypoxic injury, brain damage, cardiac arrest and his untimely death.” Having concluded the petition might have merit, the Court of Appeal stayed the action in the trial court and requested an informal response. Having received and read the “return by verified answer” that was filed by real parties in interest, the Court then set an order to show cause and requested further briefing on a specific issue. Real parties in interest decided to stand on their informal response in lieu of filing another brief, and Stewart declined to file a traverse. After review, the Court then granted the petition: in the published portion of this opinion, the Court discussed the cause of action for elder abuse to explain how, in its view, a substantial impairment of this right can constitute actionable “neglect” of an elder within the meaning of both the little-invoked catchall definition contained in Welfare and Institutions Code section 15610.57(a)(1), and two of the types of neglect set forth in section 15610.57(a)(2). View "Stewart v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The plain language of the anti-SLAPP statute, Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, applies to a petition to enforce a no contest clause. In this case, a beneficiary filed a petition for instructions as to whether the no contest clause of his mother's trust had been violated after his sister sought to reform the trust to eliminate his interest. The sister, as trustee, filed an anti-SLAPP motion to strike the petition. The trial court granted the motion to strike and awarded attorney fees to the sister. The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that the anti-SLAPP motion should have been denied because the beneficiary established a reasonable probability of prevailing on the merits. Therefore, the order granting attorney fees was also reversed. View "Urick v. Urick" on Justia Law

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In the mid-1990s Martha (now 79) and Fred (now 86) purchased life insurance policies, with $1,000,000 death benefits for a $14,000 annual premium, naming their children as beneficiaries. The policies were held by a revocable trust. The couple put money in the Trust; it was self-sustaining. In 2013, Fred, at the end of his career as a lawyer, was suffering from cognitive decline; Martha had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The defendants provided life insurance advisory services to the couple; they allegedly carried out a scheme that involved arranging the surrender of one policy and the replacement of the other with a policy providing less coverage. Premiums for the new coverage, spread over its term, totaled $800,000; they also paid $100,000 in commissions. The couple and their trustee sued under the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act, Welfare and Institutions Code 15600. Defendants responded that the Trust has always owned the policies and that the commissions were paid by the Trust so that the only proper plaintiff is the Trust, which does not have a “because [it] is not 65 years old.” The court of appeal reversed dismissal of the claims. Defendants deprived the couple of property indirectly, using the Trust as an instrument of their scheme. View "Mahan v. Charles W. Chan Ins. Agency, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Nancy Brenner, individually and in her representative capacity as representative of the estate of Dale Brenner, and Zach Brenner, individually, appealed judgments entered in favor of defendants Universal Health Services of Rancho Springs, Inc., doing business as Southwest Healthcare System - Inland Valley Medical Center (UHS) and Dr. Young H. Lee, M.D. (Dr. Lee or Lee). Dale Brenner, Nancy's husband and Zach's father, was a patient at the Inland Valley Medical Center for approximately 23 days after he suffered a stroke a few hours after arriving at the emergency department of the hospital. He was eventually transferred to another medical facility, where he later died. Approximately a year after Dale Brenner's death, the plaintiffs sued UHS, Lee, and additional defendants, asserting causes of action for wrongful death based on medical negligence; retaliation; and elder abuse. Lee and UHS moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. On appeal, the plaintiffs contended the trial court erroneously granted summary judgment in favor of UHS and Lee. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgments. View "Brenner v. Universal Health etc." on Justia Law

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Fred, age 86, and his 79-year-old wife, Martha, filed suit under the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act. In the 1990s, before the defendants were involved, the couple purchased life insurance policies, which were held by a revocable living trust for their children. The Trust was self-sustaining, with no need for additional cash for ongoing premium costs. In 2013, Fred was suffering from cognitive decline; Martha had Alzheimer’s disease. Defendants allegedly carried out a scheme that involved arranging the surrender of one policy and the replacement of the other with a policy providing limited coverage, at massively increased cost. The premiums for the new coverage were $800,000, forcing the couple to feed cash into the Trust. Defendants argued that the Children’s Trust owned the policies, that the money was paid voluntarily for the benefit of their children, and that the Trust does not have an Elder Abuse Act claim “because [it] is not 65 years old.” The court of appeals reversed dismissal. Regardless of what specific damages may be available to the couple, as distinguished from the Trust, it can be fairly inferred that the couple suffered some damages unique to themselves. The defendants “knew or should have known” of the “likely” harm their scheme would have on the couple. View "Mahan v. Charles W. Chan Insurance Agency" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's judgment in favor of the wife under Code of Civil Procedure section 631.8, holding that despite the form of the bank accounts, when clear and convincing evidence shows funds were transferred to an account owner to hold in an irrevocable trust for a third party beneficiary and the trustee repudiates the trust, a constructive trust may be imposed on the funds for the beneficiary's estate to prevent unjust enrichment. In this case, the wife agreed to hold funds in trust for her husband's elderly stepmother, she changed the form of the accounts after her husband's death and used the funds for her own purposes, and the stepmother's personal representative filed suit seeking to impose a constructive trust on the funds after the stepmother passed away. The Court of Appeal explained that the wife held the funds in the accounts in trust for the stepmother, and her repudiation of the trust by removing the stepmother's name from the accounts and using the funds for her own purposes was a wrongful act supporting the imposition of a constructive trust. View "Higgins v. Higgins" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against her three siblings, on behalf of her 88-year-old mother. Plaintiff claimed that her siblings' actions individually and while serving as trustees of her mother's revocable living trust constituted financial abuse of an elder or dependent adult. The siblings demurred. The mother, separately represented by counsel, intervened and joined the demurrer to the amended complaint. The trial court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend and dismissed the elder abuse action on standing grounds. The court concluded that the trial court did not err in ruling that plaintiff lacked standing to bring the elder abuse action because she has not be personally aggrieved by her siblings' actions. The court rejected plaintiff's claims to the contrary and affirmed the judgment. View "Tepper v. Wilkins" on Justia Law

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The patriarch-settlor appointed defendant Melissa Reynoso (a granddaughter of the settlor) as trustee of his estate. In this proceeding, the trial court determined Reynoso was the most reliable and credible of the family members. The trial court found that other family members were not credible. Reynoso sold real property of the trust to Karen Bartholomew (a daughter of the settlor). Plaintiff Anthony Pizarro (a grandson of the settlor) filed a petition for relief against Reynoso concerning the sale of the real property. The court denied the petition and ordered Pizarro and others to pay the trust’s attorney fees and costs. On appeal, Pizarro contended the trial court erred in finding that Reynoso acted properly as trustee. However, the Court of Appeal found he failed to make a focused, organized, and coherent argument for why the Court should have reversed the order. The Court therefore concluded he forfeited the argument. Pizarro and Bartholomew contended that the award of attorney fees and costs against them was improper. The Court concluded that the attorney fees and costs were properly and lawfully imposed under the trial court’s equitable power over the trust, except to the extent the trial court made Pizarro and Bartholomew personally liable for attorney fees and costs, rather than liable solely from their shares of the trust assets. The award of attorney fees and costs to the extent it imposed personal liability was reversed; in all other respects, the Court affirmed. View "Pizarro v. Reynoso" on Justia Law