Archive for the ‘Mediation’ Category

Mediation Message No. 129

MICHAEL D. MARCUS’S MEDIATION MESSAGE NO.  129

THE ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGE IS NOW DIMINISHED

The simple question in Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors v. Superior Court (2016) 2 Cal.5th 282 (L.A. County) is whether invoices by an outside law firm to a governmental agency are covered by the attorney-client privilege and, therefore, exempt from disclosure under the California Public Records Act (PRA). L.A. County’s supposedly narrow holding that the privilege may not extend to such invoices in inactive matters has, however, much broader implications.

In L.A. County, the ACLU submitted a PRA request to the County for invoices specifying the amounts the County had been billed by any law firm in connection with nine different lawsuits alleging excessive force against jail inmates. The County agreed to produce copies of the requested invoices related to lawsuits that were no longer pending, with attorney-client privileged and work product information redacted, but declined to provide invoices for the pending lawsuits. The ACLU filed a petition for writ of mandate, seeking to compel the County to comply with the PRA and to disclose the requested records for all nine lawsuits because the public had a right to know whether taxpayer money had been appropriately spent in defending the lawsuits. The trial court granted the petition and the Court of Appeal, upon petition, vacated the superior court’s order.

Justice Cuellar, writing for the 4-3 majority (joined by Chin, Lui and Kruger), reversed the Court of Appeal and remanded the matter to that court consistent with the opinion in L.A. County. He recognized that the attorney-client privilege “protects the confidentiality of invoices for work in pending and active legal matters” but “does not categorically shield everything in a billing invoice from PRA disclosure,” particularly those invoices where the matter is no longer active. He began by looking at the attorney-client privilege in Evidence Code section 954, which confers a privilege on the client “to refuse to disclose, and to prevent another from disclosing, a confidential communication between client and lawyer.” Next, Cuellar concluded that the “privilege only protects communications between attorney and client made for the purpose of seeking or delivering the attorney’s legal advice or representation,” since Evidence Code section 952 “twice states that the privilege extends only to those communications made ‘in the course of [the attorney-client] relationship,’ a construction suggesting a nexus between the communication and the attorney’s professional role.” (Id. at pp. 293-294.) Thus, he reasoned, the mere fact that an attorney has transmitted a communication to a client does not make it protected by the attorney-client privilege. (Id. at p. 296.) Justice Werdegar, dissenting for herself, the Chief Justice and Justice Corrigan, observed that “The majority’s decision to add consideration of a communication’s purpose as an additional, nonstatutory element to the Legislature’s definition of a ‘confidential communication’ is unsupported in law.” (Id. at p. 302.) She then added, “this court is simply not free to add elements and prerequisites to a statutory rule of evidentiary privilege. Whether it might be wise policy to find a ‘confidential communication’ within the meaning of section 952 must be one ‘made for the purpose of seeking or delivering the attorney’s legal advice or representation’ is a question more properly consigned to the discretion of the Legislature and not this court.” (Id. at p. 306.)

Having looked at the standards for the attorney-client privilege, Cuellar then applied them to current and former billing invoices from attorneys to their clients and held that the privilege encompasses everything in billing invoices in pending and active cases, even if not made for the purpose of legal representation, because the information, even if general in nature, “may come close enough to this heartland to threaten the confidentiality of information directly relevant to the attorney’s distinctive professional role.” (Id. at p. 297.) However, “In contrast to information involving a pending case, a cumulative fee total for a long-completed matter does not always reveal the substance of legal consultation. … Instead, the privilege turns on whether those amounts reveal anything about legal consultation.” (Id. at p. 298.) Werdegar, in dissent, noted that this holding conflicts with Costco Wholesale Corp. v. Superior Court (2009) 47 Cal.4th 725 that Evid. Code section 954 prohibits courts from parsing a communication between lawyer and client in order that those parts not involving a legal opinion or advice can be disclosed. (Id. at pp. 304-305.) She further noted that the attorney-client privilege “survives the termination of litigation and continues even after the threat of liability or punishment has passed.” (Id. at p. 305.)

The implications of L.A. County go far beyond PRA or FOIA requests for old public agency invoices or any attorney invoices, for that matter. As Werdegar warned in her dissenting opinion, “The majority’s suggestion the protective power of the attorney-client privilege under section 954 may not continue to encompass all portions of a document that previously qualified as a ‘confidential communication’ under section 952 is mischievous in the extreme. Following today’s decision, attorneys in this state must counsel their clients that confidential communications between lawyer and client, previously protected by the attorney-client privilege, may be forced into the open by interested parties once the subject litigation has concluded. If a limiting principle applies to this new rule, it is not perceptible to me.” (Id. at p. 305.)

Judge Michael D. Marcus (Ret.)
ADR Services, Inc.
1900 Avenue of the Stars, Suite 250
Los Angeles, California 90067
(310) 201-0010

Copyright Michael D. Marcus, January 2017

Mediation Message No. 128

MICHAEL D. MARCUS’S MEDIATION MESSAGE NO.  128

SEVENTH ANNUAL YEAR-END REVIEW

This year’s Mediation Messages and Arbitration Insight combine observations about mediation, procedural law that impacts litigation or settlement, expert testimony, rules of evidence at arbitration and trial tactics. Refer to the Mediation Messages identified below on my website (www.marcusmediation.com) if the following summaries are not sufficient.

MEDIATION

The parties only caucus (April – Mediation Message no. 121): This is a process in which no attorneys are present. It should be used sparingly where the mediator believes a meeting between responsible and mature principles can “clear the air.”

Binding mediation (May- Mediation Message no. 122): This is a procedure in which a mediator, if the mediation is not successful, can become an arbitrator. It can occur if the parties select the neutral beforehand to mediate the dispute and, if it is not resolved, agree that the neutral can render a final and binding award. Alternatively, the parties may choose, after the mediation process has broken down, to have the neutral issue an award.

Mediation briefs should be shared (October – Mediation Message no. 126): In most instances, mediation briefs should be shared before the commencement of mediation. The only sound reason for not exchanging a mediation brief is if it contains either a fact (perhaps a smoking gun) or a legal tactic (discovery or motion) that should be held in abeyance. But that’s easily resolved; if you don’t want the opponent to know about facts, legal theories or arguments that are best held in reserve, put them in a separate, confidential brief for the mediator and provide the known facts and contentions in a non-confidential memorandum.

Mediator’s proposals (November – Mediation Message no. 127): This message discussed what the mediator’s proposal is, when it should be made, whether it should be made if a party does not consent to the process, whether it should be oral or written, when it should be answered, whether it is binding, what happens if both parties don’t accept it and the options if both parties don’t accept it.

PROCEDURAL LAW

Expedited jury trials (January – Mediation Message no. 118): The voluntary Expedited Jury Trial Act (Code of Civil Procedure §§ 630.01 – 630.10)  is now permanent  and mandatory until January 1, 2019, where the amount in controversy does not exceed $25,000, subject to the following nine exceptions: punitive damages are sought; damages in excess of insurance policy limits are sought; a party’s insurer is providing a defense subject to a reservation of rights; the case involves a claim reportable to a governmental entity; the case involves a moral turpitude claim that may affect an individual’s licensing; there is a claim of intentional conduct; one of the parties has filed a pleading that changes the jurisdictional classification from limited to unlimited; there is a claim for attorney’s fees, unless those fees are pursuant to a contract or, lastly, the court finds good cause not to require an expedited trial.

The five-year rule (February – Mediation Message no. 119): Gaines v. Fidelity National Title Insurance Co. (2016) 62 Cal4th 1081 is a primer on the necessary steps to prevent the running of the five-year trial rule and resulting dismissal pursuant to C.C.P. sec. 583.310. Unlike mediation, which the majority in Gaines found to be an event inside a lawsuit and, therefore, does not abate a proceeding, the case holds that contractual arbitration tolls the five-year period under section 583.340, subd. (b).

Denials of RFAs and their consequences (June – Mediation Message no. 123): Grace v. Mansourian (2015) 240 Cal.App.4th 523 discusses the consequences of failing to admit certain facts prior to trial despite their obvious truth. The lesson of this case is that a party, if it denies RFAs, must be prepared to present enough evidence at trial on the facts denied to be able to argue credibly to the court, in opposition to a subsequent motion for costs and fees, that he or she believed they would prevail on the facts at issue.

Significant policy and procedural requirements of RFAs (with statutory can case law support )(September – Mediation Message no. 125): RFAs are used to expedite the trial process; their scope is broad; the responding party has a duty to investigate RFAs; responses to RFAs must be specific; a party may withdraw or amend an admission in response to an RFA only on leave of court after notice to all parties; the specific ground for an objection to an RFA shall be set forth clearly in the response; a requesting party may move for a further response if an answer is evasive, incomplete, without merit or too general; a party waives all objections to the RFAs, including claims of privilege or work-product, for failing to respond timely; on motion, the court may relieve a party from waiver if certain showings are made; RFAs are admissible at trial if the moving party requests an order that the requests be deemed admitted; the “deemed admitted motion” shall be denied if the court finds that the responding party served, before the hearing on the motion, a proposed response to the RFAs that is substantially code compliant; deemed admitted matters are conclusively established and are not subject to being contested through contradictory evidence; where a “deemed admitted” motion has been granted, the court must impose a monetary sanction whose failure to serve a timely response to the RFAs necessitated the motion and, unless the court finds the party who denied the requests “had reasonable ground to believe [he or she] would prevail on the matter” or “[t]here was other good reason for the failure to admit,”  it must impose monetary sanctions for denial of RFAs found true at trial.

TRIAL TACTICS

The empty chair at trial (March – Mediation Message no. 120): Diamond v. Reshko (2015) 239 Cal.App.4th 828 advises how a trial shall be conducted where a defendant settles with the plaintiff before trial and then agrees to participate in the trial involving a co-defendant. Diamond found it was not improper for the plaintiffs to require Yellow Cab, the settling party, to participate in the trial to prevent the Reshkos, the nonsettling defendants, from making an “empty chair” argument by ascribing “fault to an actor who is not present to defend himself.” (Id. at p. 844.)

Expert testimony and the hearsay rule (August – Mediation Message no. 124): In People v. Sanchez (2016) 63 Cal.4th 665, a unanimous Supreme Court clarified what information and facts experts rely upon are and are not subject to a hearsay objection. Sanchez holds the hearsay rule applies to case-specific out-of-court statements considered by experts as true and accurate and relied upon to support their opinions, because such statements are being admitted for the truth. (Id. at p. 686.) “Case-specific facts are those relating to the particular events and participants alleged to have been involved in the case being tried.” (Id. at p. 676.) (Note: Although Sanchez is a criminal case, its holding applies to both criminal and civil cases. In criminal cases, expert testimony must also satisfy the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause.)

ARBITRATION

Rules of evidence at arbitration (July – Arbitration Insight no. 25): The applicable arbitration agreement, if there is one, should govern the manner in which the arbitration is to be conducted. If there is neither an agreement nor specified procedure, the parties should decide how they want the arbitration to be administered. If they cannot agree, arbitrators should advise the parties before the arbitration begins that the hearing, including the application of the rules of evidence, can be formal or informal; it is up to the individual parties to decide whether they wish to object to evidence and, if there are objections, the arbitrators will rule on all objections as they are made.

Judge Michael D. Marcus (Ret.)

ADR Services, Inc.
1900 Avenue of the Stars, Suite 250
Los Angeles, California 90067
(310) 201-0010

Copyright Michael D. Marcus, December 2016

Mediation Message No. 127

MICHAEL D. MARCUS’S MEDIATION MESSAGE NO. 127

THE MEDIATOR’S PROPOSAL, PART III

This Mediation Message is called “The Mediator’s Proposal, Part III” because I’ve written about the process twice before (Messages 51 and 81), but it’s very much worth a third visit because mediator’s proposals, in the intervening period, have become the most effective method of settling cases.

What is a mediator’s proposal? Most often, it is a proposal by a mediator to settle litigation between the parties. (Much less frequently, it is used to break an impasse on interim issues, such as suggesting an acceptable bracket in the negotiations.) Generally, the proposal has two approaches: it either reflects the mediator’s educated guess as to settlement terms that will be acceptable to everyone or, alternatively, it is the mediator’s evaluation of what the case is “worth.” In the second approach, for example, the mediator might have opined that the plaintiff’s case has a substantial chance of being “defensed” at a motion or trial. In that situation, the proposal will have a lesser value than the first type that attempts to bridge the expectations of all parties. Because of the potential disparity between the two types of proposals, mediators should advise the parties which approach they are using.

When is a mediator’s proposal made? There are no rules when it should be made. Experience, has shown, however, that a proposal is most effective when the parties have reached a stalemate and all other settlement techniques have been considered and/or exhausted. By that time, a reasoned proposal has a substantial chance of being accepted, because the mediator, after much discussion and negotiation, should be seen by all concerned as informed, knowledgeable, fair and credible.

Why has the mediator’s proposal become so popular? It has proven to be an extremely effective mechanism for resolving disputes and attorneys have found it helpful, in dealing with hesitant clients, to point to the mediator’s (a neutral third party) opinion about the value of the case.

Should a proposal be made without the consent of the parties? A mediator’s proposal should not be imposed on a party who does not want it. It is extremely unusual for parties to reject the concept, since it is not binding and, because of confidentiality, does not set a floor for future discussions; regardless, a mediator should not submit one if a party says, “Don’t do it.”

Is the proposal oral or in writing? A proposal should be in writing so that there is no ambiguity or confusion about the recommended terms and conditions.

What terms or subject matter should be in the proposal? It is not uncommon for parties to suggest that a proposal include certain terms or language, such as, if by a defendant, that the settlement be confidential, there be liquidated damages for a breach of confidentiality and the settlement sums be paid in installments or, if by a plaintiff, that all sums be paid in full within a certain period of time after execution of the release and settlement. If specific requests have not been made, the proposal should cover all material issues discussed by the parties, such as, for example, the monetary amount in controversy or who is to obtain possession of the contested property. As a practical matter, parties have little problem in subsequently resolving less important issues not covered in the proposal when the major ones have been agreed to.

When should the parties respond to a proposal? The timing of the response is up to the parties. It is preferable to obtain immediate answers to a proposal so that, should it be accepted, a settlement agreement can be finalized right away, thus preventing anyone from having second thoughts. However, persons with the authority to accept or reject a proposal may not be present or attorneys may need additional time to talk to their respective clients or adjusters about the proposal’s terms. When that occurs, attorneys should advise the mediator the period of time the proposal should be kept “open,” which can be for one day or more.

Is a proposal binding if accepted only by the attorneys for the parties? A mediator’s proposal can ask for just the attorneys’ responses or both the attorneys’ and the clients’ responses or just the clients’. The proposal is generally not binding if signed only by attorneys since the parties, themselves, have not executed it. (Note that an insurer can settle a case without the insured’s consent if the policy gives the insurer that right [see Fiege v. Cooke (2004) 125 Cal.App.4th 1350].) If all of the parties have signed and agreed to the proposal, it can become a binding document. The downside of a binding mediator’s proposal, in this instance, is it may not contain all necessary terms, such as waivers of all claims under Civil Code section 1542. Therefore, it is better to first obtain only the participating attorneys’ approvals of the proposal and then allow them to create a comprehensive release and settlement executed by their clients.

What if everyone agrees to the proposal? In that instance, the mediator advises the parties that they have a “deal” and should finalize the terms in a written settlement

What if one party accepts the proposal and the other rejects it? If that occurs, the mediator should not tell the rejecting party that the other side accepted it because that would give the rejecting party an unfair advantage in future negotiations. The rejecting party should know only how it responded. The accepting party knows, however, that the other side rejected the proposal and, to obtain a settlement, will probably have to change its settlement position.

What are the parties’ options if a proposal is rejected? The world has not come to an end. As for the accepting party, the mediator should ask how much more it can “move”; as for the rejecting party, the mediator should attempt to determine what its settlement terms are. In either instance, the mediator should find out how far apart the parties are and continue, either in person, by e-mail or on the telephone, to discuss settlement prospects with them.

Judge Michael D. Marcus (Ret.)

ADR Services, Inc.
1900 Avenue of the Stars, Suite 250
Los Angeles, California 90067
(310) 201-0010

Copyright Michael D. Marcus, November 2016

Mediation Message No. 126

MICHAEL D. MARCUS’S MEDIATION MESSAGE NO.  126

EXCHANGE MEDIATION BRIEFS

There are no compelling reasons for opposing counsel not to exchange mediation briefs. (Okay, there might be one, and I’ll get to that shortly.) Because most attorneys don’t share their mediation papers with the other side and, with the demise of the joint caucus at mediation, unless the mediation takes place after substantial discovery has commenced, the parties don’t know their opponents’ factual and legal theories. Thus, mediators must spend valuable time in the beginning of the process educating the parties about the facts and laws at issue.

Ironically, attorneys rarely have any problem with mediators discussing the contents of their briefs with opposing counsel. In fact, they often consent to mediators sharing the respective briefs. At the end of the day, experience has proven time-after-time that there are few issues parties keep secret throughout the mediation.

The only sound reason for not exchanging a mediation brief is if it contains either a fact (perhaps a smoking gun) or a legal tactic (discovery or motion) that should be held in abeyance. But that’s easily resolved; if you don’t want the opponent to know about facts, legal theories or arguments that are best held in reserve, put them in a separate, confidential brief for the mediator and provide the known facts and contentions in a non-confidential memorandum. So, rise up and free yourselves from the shibboleth of the confidential mediation brief! Enjoy the exhilaration of openness! Be radical and start a trend of exchanging mediation briefs! And, in the process, make mediations more effective.

Judge Michael D. Marcus (Ret.)

ADR Services, Inc.
1900 Avenue of the Stars, Suite 250
Los Angeles, California 90067
(310) 201-0010

Copyright Michael D. Marcus, October 2016

Mediation Message No. 125

MICHAEL D. MARCUS’S MEDIATION MESSAGE NO. 125

RFAs – IMPORTANT PROCEDURAL REQUIREMENTS

Having discussed in Mediation Message no. 123 (June 2016) the monetary consequence of failing to admit certain facts prior to trial despite their obvious truth, it’s timely to look at some of the other significant procedural requirements concerning requests for admission (RFAs).

The policy behind RFAs. Unlike the other types of discovery, which are designed to prepare for trial, an RFA, in contrast, is used to expedite the trial process (Cembrook v. Superior Court (1961) 56 Cal.2d 423, 429); Grace v. Mansourian (2015) 240 Cal.App.4th 523, 528.)

The RFA’s scope. The scope of an RFA is broad. In a personal injury action, it may include requests for admissions regarding negligence, causation and damages. (Id.) It may ask for an admission to a legal conclusion. (Burke v. Superior Court (1969) 71 Cal.2d 276, 282 (proper to request that a party admit that a levy of attachment was regular and valid on its face; that a motion to dissolve the attachment would have been unsuccessful). It may ask for an admission of a controversial matter, one involving complex facts or for an opinion. (Cembrook v. Superior Court, supra, 56 Cal.2d at p. 429.)

Responding party’s duty to investigate. Responding parties have a duty to make a reasonable investigation of the facts which do not come within their personal knowledge. (Wimberly v. Derby Cycle Corp. (1997) 56 Cal.App.4th 618, 634; Smith v. Circle P Ranch (1978) 87 Cal.App.3d 267, 273.)

Responses to RFAs. Each answer in a response to requests for admission “shall (1) Admit so much of the matter involved in the request as is true, either as expressed in the request itself or as reasonably and clearly qualified by the responding party. (2) Deny so much of the matter involved in the request as is untrue. (3) Specify so much of the matter involved in the request as to the truth of which the responding party lacks sufficient information or knowledge.” (C.C.P. sec. 2033.220, subd. (b).)

Withdrawal or amendment of an admission to an RFA. A party may withdraw or amend an admission in response to an RFA only on leave of court after notice to all parties. And, the court may permit such withdrawal or amendment only “if it determines that the admission was the result of mistake, inadvertence, or excusable neglect, and that the party who obtained the admission will not be substantially prejudiced in maintaining that party’s action or defense on the merits.” If the motion is granted, the court can impose conditions that are “just,” including that the party who obtained the admission be permitted to pursue additional discovery related to the matter involved in the withdrawn or amended admission and that the costs of any additional discovery be borne in whole or part by the party seeking amendment or withdrawal.  (C.C.P. sec. 2033.300.) Permitting the withdrawal or amendment of deemed admissions is consonant with the legislative desire to encourage actual responses. (Wilcox v. Birtwhistle (1999) 21 Cal.4th 973, 980.)

Objections to RFAs. The specific ground for the objection shall be set forth clearly in the response. Objections based on privilege or work-product shall be clearly stated. (C.C.P. sec. 2033.230, subd. (b).) An objection that the responding party had no “independent information” or that the RFA called for an opinion is not tenable. (Chodos v. Superior Court (1963) 215 Cal.App.2d 318, 323.)

Motion for further responses to RFAs. Within no more than 45 days after services of the verified responses to RFAs, the requesting party may move for a further response if an answer is evasive or incomplete or is without merit or too general. (C.C.P. sec. 2033.290, subd (a)(1) and (2).)

Consequence of not responding timely. A party waives all objections to the RFAs, including claims of privilege or work-product, for failing to respond timely. (C.C.P. sec. 2033.280, subd. (a).)

Relief from the failure to timely respond. On motion, the court may relieve a party from waiver if it is determined that the party subsequently served a response that is in substantial compliance with the Code and the failure to serve a timely response was the result of mistake, inadvertence or excusable neglect. (C.C.P. sec. 2033.280, subd. (a)(1) and (2).)

When a party has not responded to RFAs, the requesting party must move to have the RFAs deemed admitted. RFAs are not admissible just because they have been denied. Instead, when a party has failed to serve a timely response, “The requesting party may move for an order that the genuineness of any documents and the truth of any matters specified in the requests be deemed admitted, …” (C.C.P. sec. 2033.280, subd. (b) [“deemed admitted motion”]; St. Mary’s v. Superior Court (2014) 223 Cal.App.4th 762, 775-776.)

Defeating a “deemed admitted motion.” The “deemed admitted motion” shall be denied if the court finds that the responding party served, before the hearing on the motion, a proposed response to the RFAs that is substantially code compliant. (C.C.P. sec 2033.280, subd. (c); St. Mary’s v. Superior Court, supra, 224 Cal.App.4th at pp. 776, 778.)

Deemed admitted matters are conclusively established and are not subject to being contested through contradictory evidence. (Murillo v. Superior Court (2006) 143 Cal.App.4th 730, 736.)

Monetary sanctions for non-compliance with RFAs. Where a “deemed admitted” motion has been granted, the court must impose a monetary sanction on the party or attorney, or both, whose failure to serve a timely response to the RFAs necessitated the motion. (C.C.P. sec. 2033.280, subd. (c).)

Monetary sanctions where RFAs were denied and thereafter proved true at trial. Denial of an RFA can lead to an award of costs and attorney’s fees incurred by the propounding party in proving the truth of the denied facts at trial. (C.C.P. sec 2033.420, subd. (a).) The court is required to award those costs and fees unless it finds the party who denied the requests “had reasonable ground to believe [he or she] would prevail on the matter” or “[t]here was other good reason for the failure to admit.” (Sec. 2033.420, subd. (b)(3) and (4); Grace v. Mansourian, supra, 240 Cal.App.4th at p. 529; Labbs v. City of Victorville (2008) 163 Cal.App.4th 1242, 1277 [in denying motion for fees, court concluded plaintiff reasonably believed she would prevail on the issues at trial].)

Judge Michael D. Marcus (Ret.)

ADR Services, Inc.
1900 Avenue of the Stars, Suite 250
Los Angeles, California 90067
(310) 201-0100

Copyright Michael D. Marcus, September 2016

Mediation Message No. 124

MICHAEL D. MARCUS’S MEDIATION MESSAGE NO. 124

EXPERT TESTIMONY AND THE HEARSAY RULE:
GENERALIZED BACKGROUND INFORMATION VERSUS CASE-SPECIFIC FACTS

In People v. Sanchez (2016) 63 Cal.4th 665, a unanimous Supreme Court clarified what information and facts experts rely upon are and are not subject to a hearsay objection. Sanchez holds the hearsay rule applies to case-specific out-of-court statements considered by experts as true and accurate and relied upon to support their opinions, because such statements are being admitted for the truth. (Id. at p. 686.) “Case-specific facts are those relating to the particular events and participants alleged to have been involved in the case being tried.” (Id. at p. 676.) (Note: Although Sanchez is a criminal case, its holding applies to both criminal and civil cases. In criminal cases, expert testimony must also satisfy the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause.)

Sanchez found it necessary to draw a clear distinction between expert reliance on background information and case-specific facts because the courts had been using a limiting instruction that “matters admitted through an expert go only to the basis of his opinion and should not be considered for their truth.” “(U)nder this paradigm, there was no longer a need to carefully distinguish between an expert’s testimony regarding background information and case-specific facts. The inquiry instead turned on whether the jury could properly follow the court’s limiting instruction in light of the nature and amount of the out-of-court statements admitted.” However, “this paradigm was no longer tenable because an expert’s testimony regarding the basis for an opinion must be considered for its truth by the jury.” (Id. at p. 679; emphasis in the original.) Thus, case-specific out-of-court statements “must be properly admitted through an applicable hearsay exception” or, alternatively, “through an appropriate witness and the expert may assume its truth in a properly worded hypothetical question in the traditional manner.” (Id. at p. 684.)

Under Sanchez, experts may continue to rely upon background information, which is not subject to a hearsay objection. “Our decision does not call into question the propriety of an expert’s testimony concerning background information regarding his knowledge and expertise and premises generally accepted in his field. Indeed, an expert’s background knowledge and experience is what distinguishes him from a lay witness, and, as noted, testimony relating such background information has never been subject to exclusion as hearsay, even though offered for its truth. Thus, our decision does not affect the traditional latitude granted to experts to describe background information and knowledge in the area of his expertise. Our conclusion restores the traditional distinction between an expert’s testimony regarding background information and case-specific facts.” (Id. at p. 685.)

MDM’s observation: If a party asks an expert about hypothetical facts which have not yet been established by another witness, the opponent should object to that hypothetical because the underlying facts have not been established. In response, the proponent of the evidence should ask for permission to ask the hypothetical question out of order, subject to establishing later on the foundation for its admissibility. If the objection is overruled (as it probably will be), the opponent should later reassert the objection and move to strike the applicable testimony (or even move for a mistrial depending on the significance of the expert’s opinion) if the background facts for the hypothetical were not established.

Judge Michael D. Marcus (Ret.)

ADR Services, Inc.
1900 Avenue of the Stars, Suite 250
Los Angeles, California 90067
(310) 201-0010

Copyright Michael D. Marcus, August 2016

Mediation Message No. 123

MICHAEL D. MARCUS’S MEDIATION MESSAGE NO. 123

DENIALS OF RFAs AND THEIR CONSEQUENCES

Denial of a request for admission (RFA) can lead to an award of costs and attorney’s fees incurred by the propounding party in proving those facts if that party proves the truth of the facts at trial. (C.C.P. sec 2033.420, subd. (a).) The court is required to award those costs and fees unless it finds the party who denied the requests “had reasonable ground to believe [he or she] would prevail on the matter” or “[t]here was other good reason for the failure to admit.” (Sec. 2033.420, subd. (b)(3), (4).) Grace v. Mansourian (2015) 240 Cal.App.4th 523 discusses the consequences of failing to admit certain facts prior to trial despite their obvious truth.

Defendant Mansourian, while driving, hit plaintiff’s car in an intersection. Defendant told a traffic collision investigator that when he entered the intersection the light was yellow and he believed he could make it through before the light turned red. An eyewitness told the investigator defendant ran the red light. Defendant and his mother denied plaintiffs’ RFAs that Mansourian failed to stop at the red light; that failure was negligent and was the actual and legal cause of the accident; that, as a result of the accident, plaintiff was injured and needed medical treatment and the plaintiff was not negligent. Defendants did not offer any expert testimony as to liability nor any evidence on that issue other than defendant’s testimony. Defendant testified that as he was approaching the intersection the light was green. As he got closer to the intersection the light turned yellow. Plaintiffs introduced testimony from defendant’s deposition that he originally stated he was looking at the road. He later amended his testimony to say he was focused on both the road and the signal.

Defendants’ medical expert agreed plaintiff fractured his ankle in two places as a result of the accident and the ankle surgery was necessary but also testified, contrary to plaintiff’s doctor, that plaintiff would have no future problems with his ankle and would not require additional surgery in the future. The defense doctor also agreed plaintiff had suffered a strain or sprain of his neck and back, but disagreed any neck and back pain were a result of the accident, did not believe plaintiff’s back surgery was necessitated by the accident and opined the charges for plaintiff’s neck and back surgery were too high.

The jury found defendant was negligent, awarding plaintiff just over $410,000, including approximately $147,000 for medical expenses, not quite $9,000 for lost earnings, and $255,000 for pain and suffering. It also awarded his wife $30,000 for loss of consortium. Plaintiffs then filed a motion seeking to recover costs of proof of just over $29,000 and attorney’s fees of almost $170,000 under section 2033.420 based on the defendants’ failure to admit certain requests for admissions. The trial court denied the motion, concluding defendants did have a reasonable basis to deny the requests including that the defendant driver reasonably believed he could prevail based on his memory that he did not run a red light.

The appellate court reversed the ruling for an abuse of discretion, concluding that the defendants had no reasonable basis to deny liability for plaintiff’s ankle injury and its treatment. “The question is not whether defendant reasonably believed he did not run the red light but whether he reasonably believed he would prevail on that issue at trial. In light of the substantial evidence defendant ran the red light, it was not reasonable for him to believe he would.” (Id. at p. 529.) “To justify denial of a request, a party must have a ‘reasonable ground’ to believe he would prevail on the issue. … That means more than a hope or a roll of the dice. In light of the substantial evidence defendant was at fault, plus defendants’ apparent understanding of the weakness of their position, as evidenced in their opening statement, defendants’ sole reliance on defendant (driver’s) perception he entered the intersection on a yellow light was not a reasonable basis to believe they would prevail.” (Id. at p. 532.) However, the appellate court held on the issue of damages, because defendants had stipulated to some of the medical bills and plaintiff’s loss of earnings and had presented their own medical expert on the necessity and reasonableness of the plaintiff’s medical treatment and costs, that plaintiffs were not entitled to recover their costs and fees in proving these issues. (Id. at p. 533.)

The lesson of Grace v. Mansourian is that a party, if it denies RFAs, must be prepared to present enough evidence at trial on the facts denied to be able to argue credibly to the court, in opposition to a subsequent motion for costs and fees, that he or she believed they would prevail on the facts at issue. Mansourian, who presented only his own rebutted testimony on liability, could not make that argument.

Judge Michael D. Marcus (Ret.)
ADR Services, Inc.
1900 Avenue of the Stars, Suite 250
Los Angeles, California 90067
(310) 201-0010

Copyright Michael D. Marcus, June 2016

Mediation Message No. 122

MICHAEL D. MARCUS’S MEDIATION MESSAGE NO. 122

BINDING MEDIATION

Binding mediation is a procedure in which a mediator, if the mediation is not successful, can become an arbitrator. It can occur in two ways: the parties select the neutral beforehand to mediate the dispute and, if the dispute is not resolved, agree that the neutral can render a final and binding award. Alternatively, the parties may choose, after the mediation process has broken down, to have the neutral issue an award.

The benefits of binding mediation are that mediators have more leverage than usual during the mediation phase because they will be making the final decision if a settlement is not arrived at. Binding mediation is also less costly and more expeditious than a subsequent, full-blown arbitration because the mediator, and now arbitrator, has heard much of the background facts and legal argument. For that reason, this process is more appropriate for the less complex matter. Binding arbitration also allows for partial settlement of some claims at mediation with arbitration being utilized for unresolved disputes. For example, the parties can agree on liability at mediation but use the second phase to decide damages. The parties can also design the procedure of the binding mediation. In Bowers v. Lucia (2012) 206 Cal.App.4th 724, an agreement allowing the mediator to choose the low offer of $100,000 or the high demand of $5 million (known as baseball arbitration), without any additional evidence, was upheld as mutually agreed upon and sufficiently certain. (Id. at p. 736.) On the other hand, the parties can be more exacting and require that any phase after unsuccessful settlement efforts shall include, inter alia, sworn testimony, cross-examination, the right to object to evidence and the opportunity to provide rebuttal evidence and final argument.

There are also several drawbacks to binding mediation. Mediators, if they know from the beginning that arbitration is an alternative, may be more inhibited or less involved in the mediation process because they do not want to reveal their inclinations or thinking. For the same reasons, the parties may be less likely to participate fully in the mediation. Binding mediation, as contrasted with a more formal arbitration, also has fewer safeguards – generally, few if any witnesses are sworn or testify; cross-examination, if it exists at all, is probably perfunctory and there is no opportunity to object to inadmissible evidence.

Regardless, of the nature of the binding mediation agreement, whether it be very general as in Bowers v. Lucia or much more specific, the parties must also waive in writing any conflict that may (and probably will) exist by allowing the mediator-arbitrators to rely on ex parte communications and inadmissible evidence for their final and binding award. (See Rule of Court 3.857, subd. (g) providing that mediators who, with the consent of the parties, shall arbitrate a matter which has not settled, should have the parties consent in writing to that process.)

Judge Michael D. Marcus (Ret.)
ADR Services, Inc.
1900 Avenue of the Stars, Suite 250
Los Angeles, California 90067
(310) 201-0010

Copyright Michael D. Marcus, May 2016

Mediation Message No. 121

MICHAEL D. MARCUS’S MEDIATION MESSAGE NO. 121

AN UNUSUAL VARIATION ON THE JOINT CAUCUS

In January 2013, I looked at the evolution of the joint caucus from when I started as a mediator to the present. (Mediation Message no. 83.) Little has changed since then; if anything, a joint caucus with all of the parties and attorneys present at the beginning of a mediation is now even more anachronistic. The one exception to not having a joint caucus at the start of a mediation is if the complaint has not yet been or just been filed and there has been no or little discovery. Hopefully, the parties have shared their briefs in that instance but, if they haven’t, the joint caucus can be used to learn about material facts and legal contentions. Otherwise, the mediator will have to use valuable time at the beginning of the mediation to be a fact gatherer. Later in the mediation, a joint caucus between counsel can be helpful to discuss legal or factual contentions that have become “sticking points.”

But, in this message, I want to discuss the “parties only caucus,” in which no attorneys are present – a process I have not talked about before. I have used this type of mediation on eight or nine times over the years, all successfully. In other words, it is to be used sparingly. Examples where the approach has worked was a dispute between two very large companies where one was supplying a product to the other and the issue was over the price and delivery of the product; church members had differences over leadership of the congregation; a long-standing friend was suing his friend for wrongful termination and, in a breach of lease suit, it was obvious that a face-to-face meeting between the lessor and lessee could “clear the air.”

The following are guidelines for possible use of a “parties only caucus”:

  • Each party is represented by a person with absolute decision-making authority;
  • A stalemate in negotiations has occurred;
  • Although there is a stalemate, the negotiations have not been antagonistic;
  • The party representatives are intelligent, responsible and can approach a joint discussion dispassionately (this is a critical requirement);
  • The mediator is confident that the party representatives can objectively discuss settlement and believes that a meeting with only the parties can bring “closure”;
  • The parties are willing to meet without their attorneys being present;
  • The attorneys believe their respective clients can achieve progress in their absence and have agreed to the arrangement;
  • The mediator is in the room with the parties to remind them of the absolute confidentiality of their communications, to keep the discussion moving and to terminate the caucus if it has stalled or is not productive.

Whether a “parties only caucus” is to be suggested or used begins with the mediator. He or she should have a “gut” feeling, after having worked with the parties, that this type of meeting will work. It should not be used often, because all of the above preconditions probably will not exist. And, if there is any doubt about the utility of this type of caucus, it should not be considered and more traditional roads to settlement should be pursued. But, in the exceptional circumstance, it is one more method to bring about a resolution of a lawsuit.

Judge Michael D. Marcus (Ret.)
ADR Services, Inc.
1900 Avenue of the Stars, Suite 250
Los Angeles, California 90067
(310) 201-0010

Copyright Michael D. Marcus, April 2016

Mediation Message No. 120

MICHAEL D. MARCUS’S MEDIATION MESSAGE NO. 120

THE “EMPTY CHAIR” AND SETTLING DEFENDANTS INVOLVEMENT IN A SUBSEQUENT TRIAL

Diamond v. Reshko (2015) 239 Cal.App.4th 828 advises how a trial shall be conducted where a defendant settles with the plaintiff before trial and then agrees to participate in the trial involving a co-defendant. In Diamond, Christine Diamond was injured while riding as a passenger in a taxi that was involved in a collision with a second car. She and her husband sued Yellow Cab and the driver and owner of the second car (the Reshkos). Yellow Cab settled with the Diamonds and agreed, pursuant to a settlement provision, to participate as a party defendant at the Diamonds’ trial against the Reshkos. An order finding a good faith settlement was entered before that trial.

Before the trial began, the court excluded evidence of the Diamond-Yellow Cab settlement, including the clause in the agreement that required Yellow Cab to attend and participate in the trial. After the close of the evidence, the court denied the Reshkos’s request that Yellow Cab be precluded from addressing the Diamonds’ damages in closing arguments.

Yellow Cab’s trial counsel argued that his driver was the “less culpable” party and that Reshko was the “bad guy here.” Counsel contended that his client’s driving was not a substantial factor in causing the accident and, under the circumstances, used reasonable care. Accordingly, the attorney urged the jury to apportion only between 0 and 25 percent of the liability for the accident to his client. This attorney also recognized that the Diamonds incurred significant medical bills and other losses, and that the evidence supported a total damages award of approximately $800,000. The Reshkos’ counsel argued that the negligence of both drivers were substantial factors in causing the accident, the Diamonds were entitled to compensation for their injuries and that their damages totaled approximately $302,900.71. After a total damages award of $745,778, the jury apportioned responsibility of 40 percent to Yellow Cab and 60 percent to the Reshkos. The trial court entered a judgment holding the Reshkos liable to the Diamonds for $406,698, plus fees and costs.

Relying on Pellett v. Sonotone Corp. (1945) 26 Cal.2d 705, 713 and Everman v. Superior Court (1992) 8 Cal.App.4th 466, 473, Diamond found it was not improper for the plaintiffs to require Yellow Cab, the settling party, to participate in the trial to prevent the Reshkos, the nonsettling defendants, from making an “empty chair” argument by ascribing “fault to an actor who is not present to defend himself.” (At p. 844.) However, where a settlement requires such participation, Diamond also holds that “the settling defendant’s position should be revealed to the court and jury to avoid committing a fraud on the court, and to permit the trier of fact to properly weigh the settling defendant’s testimony,” (id.) unless the court were to find that such disclosure would create a substantial danger of undue prejudice. (At p. 843.) “Without this evidence, the jury is prevented from fully assessing the motivations of both the plaintiff and the settling defendant, and from properly weighing the credibility of their witnesses.” (At p. 845.)

The appellate court found that exclusion by the trial court of the Diamond-Yellow Cab settlement, including the clause in the agreement that required Yellow Cab to attend and participate in the trial, was an abuse of discretion and reversed the judgment on behalf of the Diamonds.

Judge Michael D. Marcus (Ret.)
ADR Services, Inc.
1900 Avenue of the Stars, Suite 250
Los Angeles, California 90067
(310) 201-0010

Copyright Michael D. Marcus, March 2016