Notable Cases

Court of Appeal Case No. E044285 (2009 unpublished decision, 4th Appellate District, Division 2)

We preserved an order awarding our client $120,000 in attorney fees, which had been challenged as an allegedly unauthorized change of a prior order.

The Court of Appeal agreed with Orren & Orren’s argument that (a) the original order was ambiguous, and (b) an ambiguous order cannot be final. The Court of Appeal thus concluded that the trial judge acted properly in modifying--in fact, clarifying--the original order.

Estate of Thottam (2008) 165 Cal.App.4th 1331

We obtained a reversal of a judgment directing our client to return property to a trust and to pay over $2 million in double damages under Probate Code section 859. The Court of Appeal ruled that the trial court had erroneously excluded evidence crucial to our client’s case—a written settlement agreement, executed at the conclusion of a mediation session, which supported our client’s side of the dispute.

The trial judge believed exclusion of the agreement was compelled under California’s mediation confidentiality statutes (Evidence Code, sections 1115 – 1128). In the first published appellate opinion to interpret Evidence Code section 1123(c), which creates one of several exceptions to mediation confidentiality, the Court of Appeal concluded that under the particular facts of our client’s case, the writing was not confidential and should have been admitted into evidence at the trial.

Los Angeles Superior Court Case No. GP013481 (2008 Probate Court proceeding)

By applying a creative approach to trust interpretation, we helped a decedent’s family avoid probate proceedings and save a large amount of money and time.

The family came to Orren & Orren to assist them in transferring title on 2 pieces of real estate in their father’s estate. While the father had prepared an application for a new trust, he died before the new trust was drafted, and the real estate was still in the father’s name. The father had an earlier trust with his former wife but all the property in that trust had been removed. It appeared that the father’s attempt to avoid probate by creating a new trust had failed, and the children would have to probate the 2 pieces of real estate, a costly and time consuming process.

While the application for a new trust executed by the father was just a single sheet of paper, Orren & Orren was able to convince the court that, in fact, the application for a new trust was an amendment to the old trust, with new trustees and beneficiaries as listed on the application. Furthermore, using the Estate of Heggstad (1993) 16 Cal. App. 4th 943, Orren & Orren got the 2 pieces of real estate to be part of the trust. After the court order was filed, a title company confirmed that the 2 pieces of real estate were now held in trust and the trustees could sell them.

Court of Appeal Case No. B201850 (2008 unpublished decision, Second Appellate District, Division Five)

We assisted the defendant’s trial attorney in persuading the Court of Appeal to reverse a $72,500 default judgment.

Relief from default is permitted, and in some circumstances is required under California law if the default resulted from mistake, inadvertence, surprise or neglect. (Code of Civil Procedure, §473.) But the trial judge denied our client’s request for relief because he found the default resulted from a tactical decision.

The Court of Appeal found that (a) no rule of law excludes deliberate (or tactical) decisions from the class of "mistake[s]" that call for relief from a default, and hence (b) our client was entitled to his day in court.

California Supreme Court Case No. S127921, Court of Appeal Case No. B159310

(2004 and 2006 unpublished decisions), and connected published cases, Salazar v. Diversified Paratransit, Inc. (2004) 117 Cal.App.4th 318 and Carter v. California Department of Veterans Affairs (2006) 38 Cal.4th 914, in which Orren & Orren participated as amicus curiae

We preserved a judgment holding a school district liable for failing to protect our client, a teacher, from a three-year barrage of sexual harassment by two teenage students. In the process, we helped clarify that California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA") protects employees from sexual harassment by anyone, not just supervisors and co-workers.

To summarize the complex history of three separate cases raising the identical issue--(1) In our case, a jury returned a $4 million verdict for our client under FEHA’s sexual harassment provisions; the defendant school district moved for entry of a judgment in its favor notwithstanding the verdict, contending the FEHA did not cover sexual harassment committed by non-employees (such as students); the "JNOV" was denied, and the district appealed. (2) In Salazar v. Diversified Paratransit, Inc. (formerly published at 103 Cal.App.4th 131), the Court of Appeal held, over a dissent, that FEHA did not protect against non-employee sexual harassment; the California Supreme Court granted review of that decision; shortly thereafter, the Legislature amended FEHA to clarify that it did cover non-employee sexual harassment, and always had; the Supreme Court then remanded Salazar for reconsideration in view of the amended statute. (3) In "Salazar II" (Salazar v. Diversified Paratransit, Inc. (2004) 117 Cal.App.4th 3180), the Court of Appeal held that, in view of the Legislature’s amendment, the FEHA did protect the plaintiff in that case from non-employee sexual harassment; in so deciding, the Court of Appeal substantially adopted the arguments in an amicus curiae brief filed by Orren & Orren (4) Later, in our case, the Court of Appeal decided that our client was protected from harassment committed by students, but remanded the matter for retrial in view of new language in the statutory amendment that the Court believed must be considered by the jury. (5) In Carter v. Dept. of Veterans Affairs (formerly at 121 Cal.App.4th 840), a different district of the Court of Appeal held that the recent amendment to FEHA did not retroactively protect the plaintiff in that case from non-employee sexual harassment; to resolve the disagreement among the two appellate districts, the California Supreme Court granted review both in our case and in the Carter case, designating Carter as the "lead" case; we filed an amicus curiae brief in the Supreme Court in Carter and also were granted permission to present oral argument in Carter.

In the end, the California Supreme Court determined in Carter v. California Department of Veterans Affairs (2006) 38 Cal.4th 914 that California’s FEHA requires employers to protect their employees against sexual harassment from all sources, and always has done so. Our case was then transferred back to the Court of Appeal for a final determination in view of the Supreme Court’s Carter decision, and the Court of Appeal reaffirmed that, subject to retrial to take new statutory language into account, our client’s employer was liable to her for failing to protect her from sexual harassment by students.

Los Angeles Superior Court Case No. BP089246 (2005 Probate Court proceeding)

In this action for the return of real property to a trust and for double damages for wrongful, bad faith taking under Probate Code section 859, we forced a settlement in which we recovered real property valued at over $1 million, including the victim’s home.

Over a period of years, our clients’ mother, who was in failing health, was prevailed upon by another family member to give him large amounts of cash and gifts out of her trust. This course of events reached a climax when the family member persuaded the victim to deed him her home, together with three adjacent smaller houses. Orren & Orren were engaged to get the real property back.

Anticipating a trial, we associated a team of trial lawyers to assist us. Together, we and associated counsel achieved a negotiated settlement for return of all of the real property. Thereafter, Orren & Orren succeeded in obtaining a reversal of property tax reassessments that had resulted when the property was originally deeded away, as well as a refund of taxes paid while the reassessments were in effect.

Court of Appeal Case No. B178022 (2005 unpublished decision, Second Appellate District, Division Two)

We obtained a reversal of an order distributing to the petitioner approximately $450,000 held in a California trust, which that the parties’ mother created while residing in California.

Evidence proffered by our client showed that shortly after creating the trust, the mother moved to Florida, and that shortly before her death, she executed a will that revoked "all testamentary dispositions previously made by [her]." Probate proceedings were opened in Florida, and the petitioner appeared there and contested the Florida will. Shortly thereafter, he filed the California trust action and obtained a judgment while the Florida proceeding was still pending.

On appeal from the California judgment, the California Court of Appeal agreed with Orren & Orren’s argument that the California action should have been stayed pending resolution of the petitioner’s own previously filed Florida will contest. The Court of Appeal thus reversed the order distributing alleged trust funds.

Court of Appeal Case No. B175770 (2005 unpublished decision, Second Appellate District, Division Five)

In this probate proceeding, the decedent’s will bequeathed all of the decedent’s probatable property, valued at approximately $2 million, to his nephew and executor, our client, and also provided that our client should use his discretion to make distributions to other family members.

The decedent’s brother contested the will, but not until after the statutory deadline to do so. The brother contended he should be excused from the deadline based on alleged "extrinsic fraud" committed by our client.

We demonstrated that no extrinsic fraud had occurred and preserved our client’s right to inherit the $2 million estate and distribute shares of it thereafter under the discretionary authority given him in the will.

In re Megan P. (2002) 102 Cal.App.4th 480

We obtained a reversal of an order terminating our client’s parental rights as to his daughters Megan and Ashley P., and freeing the girls to be adopted. The order was reversed on the ground that, for five years, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services ("DCFS") deprived our client of due process of law by neglecting to use due diligence to give him notice and an opportunity to be heard in the proceedings leading to the termination of his parental rights.

The Court of Appeal found that DCFS’s repeated claims to be using due diligence to find our client lacked all credibility where (a) they relied solely on searches of public records in California and ignored information provided by relatives (b) they repeatedly misspelled our client’s name in conducting searches, even though the correct spelling was in their records, and worst of all, (c) for the entire time that DCFS claimed it was unable to find our client, its sister agency, the District Attorney’s Bureau of Family Support Operations, knew exactly where he was, and was, in fact, regularly collecting child support from him for the children, whom he believed to be living with their mother. The Court of Appeal therefore reversed the order terminating our client’s parental rights and directed the juvenile court to do whatever remained possible to enable our client to reestablish a relationship with Megan and Ashley.

Court of Appeal Case No. B145767 (2002 unpublished decision, Second Appellate District, Division Five)

We obtained a reversal of an excessive and unfair $250,000 punitive damages award entered against our client for alleged defamation of a police officer.

Our client was arrested for public drunkenness, and awoke the next morning with two black eyes, swelling on her face, and multiple bruises over much of her body. She sued for assault, batter and excessive force in an arrest, whereupon the arresting officer cross-complained for defamation. A jury found our client’s charges against the officer were not supported by the evidence, were defamatory, and had damaged the officer in the amount of $100,000. The jury also found the charges malicious and awarded the officer $250,000 as punitive damages.

The Court of Appeal adopted Orren & Orren’s argument that the quarter-of-a-million dollar punitive damages award—an amount more than three times our client’s annual income—was not supported by the evidence. The Court also struck $5,000 in litigation costs that had been improperly awarded to the officer’s employer.

Court of Appeal Case No. B148178 (2002 unpublished decision, Second Appellate District, Division Four)

We preserved a judgment of the probate court ordering a decedent’s estate to convey to our client a piece of real property that he had (improvidently!) quitclaimed to his girlfriend. The property was a single-family home that our client and his girlfriend had purchased as joint tenants. When the couple decided they needed time away from one another, the girlfriend accepted the quitclaim deed as an accommodation to our client, who had been told he needed to divest himself of the property to obtain a loan for another residence. The girlfriend orally promised to reconvey our client’s joint tenancy interest in the house whenever he asked her to.

Before our client’s interest was reconveyed, the girlfriend died unexpectedly, and intestate. Her sole heir was her mother, who hated our client. After unsuccessfully trying to persuade the mother to reconvey the house, as her daughter had promised, our client filed a petition in the probate court for the reconveyence. The trial judge found that, under the doctrines of "equitable estoppel" and "constructive trust," the house rightfully belonged to our client, and ordered it reconveyed. The mother appealed.

After extensive briefing, including the filing of supplemental briefing requested by the Court, the Court of Appeal affirmed the order to reconvey the property to our client, subject only to reimbursement of any sums the mother could prove she may have expended on improvements to it.

 

Other cases of Orren & Orren and/or Tyna Thall Orren that are published in California Reports or California Appellate Reports, include S.M. v. Los Angeles Unified School Dist. (2010) 184 Cal.App.4th 712; Estate of Stevenson (2006) 141 Cal.App.4th 1074; In re Ulysses D. (2004) 121 Cal.App.4th 1092; In re Kiana A. (2001) 93 Cal.App.4th 1109; Keru Investments v. Cube Company (1998) 63 Cal.App.4th 1412; People v. Muniz (1989) 213 Cal.App.3d 1508; People v. Palazuelos (1986) 180 Cal.App.3d 962.

In all, Orren & Orren has represented litigants in over 100 appeals, writs and other proceedings in the California Supreme Court, California Court of Appeal, the Ninth Circuit, United States Court of Appeals, and California trial courts.