Recent Wins: Timothy T. Coates
GMSR wins second United States Supreme Court case in 12 months
January 15, 2013
For the second time in less than a year, GMSR partner Tim Coates was victorious in the United States Supreme Court, convincing the Court to unanimously reverse a judgment against GMSR client the Los Angeles County Flood Control District. In Los Angeles County Flood Control District v. Natural Resources Defense Council __ U.S. __, 11-460 (January 6, 2013) the Court held that the Ninth Circuit had erred in holding the District liable for violations of the Clean Water Act based solely on polluted water flowing through portions of the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers maintained and improved by the District. The Court found that there could not be a “discharge” of pollutants under the Act based solely on water moving through improved portions of a river into other portions of the same river.
Less than a year ago, in Messerschmidt v. Millender, __U.S. __, 132 S.Ct.1235 (2012), Tim successfully represented law enforcement officers in persuading the Court to find that the officers were immune from federal civil rights liability stemming from procuring and executing a facially valid search warrant.
Los Angeles County Flood Control is GMSR’s sixth victory in the United States Supreme Court in six years, with GMSR partner Kent Richland responsible for two of the cases. Overall, the firm has been lead counsel in eight Supreme Court cases and has won seven. It is an unequalled record for any West Coast appellate practice.
More about the case here.
Los Angeles County Flood Control District v. Natural Resources Defense Council (2013) __ U.S. __, 11-460
Ninth Circuit affirms judgment dismissing federal civil rights action against GMSR clients
November 14, 2012
Nicolas, Epifania v. City of Riverside, et al. (2012) 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 23541 (United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit) [unpublished]. Plaintiff’s first ex-husband was murdered in the City of Riverside. Plaintiff and two others were charged with the murder. Plaintiff was acquitted. She sued GMSR’s clients, the City of Riverside and two Riverside Police Department detectives, under 28 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming a violation of her Fourth Amendment rights in that there had been no probable cause for her arrest. GMSR obtained summary judgment in the district court, arguing that (1) plaintiff was collaterally estopped from asserting lack of probable cause because she had already litigated, and lost, that issue at her criminal trial, and (2) as a matter of law, the police had probable cause to arrest her. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding that even if plaintiff’s claims were not barred by collateral estoppel, the uncontroverted facts established that there was probable cause to arrest her.
Nicolas, Epifania v. City of Riverside, et al. (2012) 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 23541
Ninth Circuit affirms denial of injunction modification in trade secrets cases
September 24, 2012
Language Line Services, Inc. v. Language Services Associates, et al. (2012) 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 20008 (United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit) [unpublished]. GMSR’s client, Language Line Services, is the country’s largest provider of interpretation services. One of its employees left to join a competitor, taking with him highly confidential customer information. Language Line obtained a broad injunction barring any use of the stolen information and requiring a forensic examination of the competitor’s computers. Following issuance of the forensic report, the competitor sought modification of the injunction, arguing that the forensic report conclusively showed that it never had and never used Language Line’s information and that the injunction was too broad in other respects. The district court denied its request, and the competitor appealed. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, rejecting the competitor’s interpretation of the report and holding that the district court’s other findings were within its discretion.
Language Line Services, Inc. v. Language Services Associates, et al. (2012) 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 20008
Court of Appeal reverses attorney fee award imposed on GMSR’s clients
March 7, 2012
Cotton v. StarCare Medical Group, Inc. (2012) 2012 Cal.App. Unpub. LEXIS 1782 (California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division Three) [unpublished]. GMSR's clients, two Medicare-funded HMOs, are defendants in the underlying action alleging wrongful death and elder abuse. They had successfully demurred to plaintiffs' claims on the ground, among others, that the plaintiffs’ state law claims against them were preempted by the federal Medicare Act. After the Court of Appeal disagreed and reinstated the plaintiffs' claims, the trial court awarded substantial attorney fees under the private attorney general statute, Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5. It found that the plaintiffs were successful parties who had vindicated an important right and conferred a substantial benefit on the public. The Court of Appeal reversed, accepting GMSR’s argument that the plaintiffs were not successful parties within the meaning of section 1021.5, inasmuch as they had not obtained any of the relief sought by the action, but had only succeeded in reinstating their claims.
Cotton v. StarCare Medical Group, Inc. (2012) 2012 Cal.App. Unpub. LEXIS 1782
In yet another United States Supreme Court victory for GMSR—the sixth victory in seven cases— the Court shields police officers from personal liability for obtaining a search warrant they could reasonably have believed valid
February 22, 2012
Messerschmidt v. Millender (2012) 565 U.S. ____; 132 S.Ct. 1235 (United States Supreme Court). Tim Coates and Lillie Hsu obtained a 6-3 decision from the United States Supreme Court for two Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies in Messerschmidt v. Millender (2012) 565 U.S. ____; 132 S.Ct. 1235. After a gang member fired a sawed-off shotgun at his ex-girlfriend, the officers obtained a warrant to search for all firearms and gang-related items at a residence where they believed the gang member was staying. The residents sued under 42 U.S.C. §1983, alleging the search violated the Fourth Amendment.
In a critical decision for law enforcement, the Supreme Court held that the deputies were entitled to qualified immunity and thus could not be held personally liable for civil damages. The Court reasoned that given the circumstances of the crime, the officers could reasonably have concluded that there was a fair probability the suspect owned other illegal firearms besides the one used in the crime and that seizing them was necessary to prevent further assaults on the victim. The Court also reasoned that the officers could reasonably believe gang-related materials would be relevant to prosecuting the suspect. The Court clarified that review of the warrant by the officers’ superior, an attorney, and a magistrate was relevant to analyzing qualified immunity.
This was the firm’s fifth win on behalf of public entities or officials in the U.S. Supreme Court, and the fifth victory in the high court in five years. Tim previously prevailed in Los Angeles County v. Humphries (2010) 562 U.S. ____; 131 S.Ct. 447, Van de Kamp v. Goldstein (2009) 556 U.S. 335, 129 S.Ct. 855, and City of Riverside v. McLaughlin (1991) 500 U.S. 44, and GMSR partner Kent Richland successfully represented Anna Nicole Smith in Marshall v. Marshall (2006) 547 U.S. 293, and the City of Ontario in City of Ontario v. Quon (2010) 560 U.S. ___; 130 S.Ct. 2619.
More about the case here.
Messerschmidt v. Millender (2012) 565 U.S. ____; 132 S.Ct. 1235
Court of Appeal reverses judgment against GMSR’s clients, finding no due process violation in charter school revocation proceedings
July 12, 2011
Today’s Fresh Start, Inc. v. Los Angeles County Office of Education, et al (2011) 197 Cal. App. 4th 436 (California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division One) [published]. Following administrative proceedings, GMSR’s client, Los Angeles County Board of Education, revoked the charter of Today’s Fresh Start, a charter school. The trial court ordered it reinstated. The court found that the revocation proceedings violated due process because they failed to include a formal, trial-type evidentiary hearing in front of a neutral hearing officer before the board made its decision. In a case of first impression, the Court of Appeal reversed, finding that the trial court had added a new layer of fact finding and adjudication to procedures provided in the Education Code, which neither the Education Code nor due process required. The Court of Appeal also addressed issues concerning exhaustion of administrative remedies in the context of charter revocation proceedings, as well as the role of the State Board of Education and local boards with respect to such matters.
Ninth Circuit affirms summary judgment in medical malpractice case
February 25, 2011
Moore v. USC University Hospital, Inc. (9th Cir. 2011) 416 Fed.Appx. 640, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 3860 (United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit) [unpublished]. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's entry of summary judgment in favor of GMSR's client, USC University Hospital, Inc., in plaintiff's medical malpractice lawsuit. The court held that plaintiff failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact regarding causation because the expert testimony she presented established, at best, a mere possibility rather than a probability that the hospital's actions caused her injury. The Ninth Circuit also affirmed the district court's refusal to continue the summary judgment motion, its denial of plaintiff's successive motions for reconsideration, and its denial of plaintiff's motion for Rule 11 sanctions.
Moore v. USC University Hospital, Inc. (9th Cir. 2011) 416 Fed.Appx. 640, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 3860
In another United States Supreme Court victory for GMSR, the Court pronounces important limitations on Section 1983 claims against municipalities
December 3, 2010
Los Angeles County v. Humphries (2010) 562 U.S. ____; 131 S.Ct. 447 (United States Supreme Court). Tim Coates, Alison Turner and Lillie Hsu obtained a unanimous decision from the United States Supreme Court for the County of Los Angeles in Los Angeles County v. Humphries (2010) 562 U.S. ____; 131 S.Ct. 447. In a critical decision for cities and counties, the Supreme Court agreed with Los Angeles County that a municipality cannot not be subjected to declaratory or injunctive relief in a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 unless the plaintiff establishes that an injury was inflicted as a result of a policy, custom or practice fairly attributable to the local public entity – the same causation standard that the Supreme Court applies to claims for damages. Mere involvement of a municipal employee is not enough: Relief is not appropriate unless the plaintiff points to some local statute, regulation or widespread practice that local policy makers should know will result in a constitutional violation.
This was Tim’s third case in the U.S. Supreme Court, and GMSR’s fourth victory in the high court in four years, with Tim having prevailed in Van de Kamp v. Goldstein (2009) 556 U.S. __, 129 S.Ct. 855 and GMSR partner Kent Richland successfully representing Anna Nicole Smith in Marshall v. Marshall (2006) 547 U.S. 293 and the City of Ontario in City of Ontario v. Quon (2010) 560 U.S. __, 130 S.Ct. 2619.
More about the case here.
Los Angeles County v. Humphries (2010) 562 U.S. ____; 131 S.Ct. 447
Court of Appeal affirms summary judgment for GMSR’s client, finding civil rights claims barred by plaintiff’s criminal conviction
November 16, 2010
Delgado v. City of Riverside (2010) 2010 Cal.App. Unpub. LEXIS 9084 (California Court of Appeal, Fourth District, Division Two) [unpublished]. A jury convicted Gerardo Delgado of resisting police officers who were attempting to arrest him. Delgado then filed a civil rights suit alleging that it was unreasonable for the officers to use deadly force during the encounter. GMSR represented the police officers and the City both at the summary judgment stage and in the Court of Appeal. It argued that Delgado’s claims were barred by Heck v. Humphrey (1994) 512 U.S. 477, which prohibits a civil suit that, if successful, would necessarily imply the invalidity of a criminal conviction. The trial court agreed and granted judgment for the defendants. The Court of Appeal affirmed, rejecting Delgado’s theory that a recent California Supreme Court case alters the Heck v. Humphrey analysis in a case involving deadly force.
Delgado v. City of Riverside (2010) 2010 Cal.App. Unpub. LEXIS 9084
Ninth Circuit affirms grant of summary judgment in civil rights case
October 5, 2010
Ra El v. Crain (9th Cir. 2010) 399 Fed.Appx. 180, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 20536 (United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit) [unpublished]. Pro se plaintiff Ankhenaten Ra El’s civil rights complaint alleged a large number of constitutional violations arising out of two separate arrests. Among them were claims for excessive force, unlawful search and seizure, racial discrimination, retaliation, probable cause, and violations of rights under Brady v. Maryland (prohibiting prosecutors from withholding exculpatory evidence). GMSR represented the members of the police department and other city officials both in the preparation of the summary judgment motion and before the Ninth Circuit—arguing that the claims were barred by Heck v. Humphrey (barring civil rights claims that would imply the invalidity of a criminal conviction) and that, in any event, judgment was appropriate as a matter of law. The district court agreed with GMSR on all fronts and the Ninth Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment.
Ra El v. Crain (9th Cir. 2010) 399 Fed.Appx. 180, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 20536
Court of Appeal holds that fraudulent concealment exception to workers' compensation exclusivity is inapplicable where employer lacks knowledge that employee's symptoms may lead to cancer
January 21, 2010
Bazzini v. Technicolor, Inc. (2010) 2010 Cal.App. Unpub. LEXIS 390 (California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division Three) [unpublished]. Plaintiffs, a husband and wife, sued the husband's former employer, GMSR's client, for injuries allegedly resulting from the husband's exposure to chemicals in his job. Plaintiffs asserted they were not limited to workers' compensation remedies because GMSR's client fraudulently concealed that the husband's exposure to chemicals could eventually lead to cancer and that the wife's secondhand exposure could harm her. The Court of Appeal affirmed summary judgment for GMSR's client. The court held that the husband failed to present evidence that his employer knew his apparent skin conditions were precursors to his later-developed cancer; thus, the employer could not have concealed such knowledge. The court also held that the wife's claim was dependent on her husband's, so that her claim failed along with his.
Bazzini v. Technicolor, Inc. (2010) 2010 Cal.App. Unpub. LEXIS 390
Court of Appeal holds that motorist stopped next to freeway owes no duty to avoid being struck by out-of-control driver
November 10, 2009
Cabral v. Ralphs Grocery Company (2009) 179 Cal.App.4th 1 (California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division Two). Plaintiff's decedent lost control of his pickup truck on the freeway and ran into GMSR's client's big rig, which was stopped off the road just past the shoulder. Plaintiff sued for wrongful death, contending that the big rig driver's was negligent in stopping in an "Emergency Parking Only" area for a nonemergency. The jury returned a verdict for plaintiff. The Court of Appeal reversed and directed the trial court to enter judgment for GMSR's client. It held that the big rig driver owed no duty to the decedent because the accident was not reasonably foreseeable; the mere fact that it was "possible" for a motorist to leave the freeway and strike something situated off the shoulder did not create a duty on the defendant's part to ensure a "safe landing." The court also held that the big rig driver's alleged negligence did not proximately cause the collision. Finally, the court held that the trial court erred in admitting opinion testimony of plaintiff's expert, which was based on facts never established at trial.
Court of Appeal bars dangerous condition liability for city based on failure to install particular type of traffic signal
October 26, 2009
City of Moreno Valley v. Superior Court (2009) 2009 Cal.App. Unpub. LEXIS 8478 (California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division Two) [unpublished]. The plaintiff asserted that GMSR’s client city was liable for a dangerous condition in an intersection. Plaintiff was traveling on his motorcycle southbound on a two lane road when he was struck by a northbound vehicle illegally turning left in front of him at an intersection controlled by a regular stoplight. Plaintiff argued that the City should have put in a left turn light or phased signal, given the increased speed and volume of traffic through the intersection. The City demurred, arguing there could be no liability for failure to place a particular kind of traffic control device, relying on Government Code provisions stating that the mere absence of a traffic control device cannot be a dangerous condition absent some physical defect of the property. The trial court overruled the demurrer, and GMSR partner Tim Coates filed a writ petition for the City, arguing that a claim based on failure to install a particular type of device was indistinguishable from a claim based on failure to install any device at all and hence fell within the immunity. The Court of Appeal agreed and directed the trial court to dismiss the action.
City of Moreno Valley v. Superior Court (2009) 2009 Cal.App. Unpub. LEXIS 8478
GMSR garners unanimous United States Supreme Court victory as Court rules that chief prosecutor is absolutely immune from civil rights suit
January 26, 2009
John Van de Kamp, et al. v. Thomas Lee Goldstein (2009) 129 S.Ct. 855 (United States Supreme Court). In a unanimous opinion, the United States Supreme Court held that GMSR’s clients, former District Attorney John Van de Kamp and Assistant District Attorney Curt Livesay, are entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity for decisions concerning the manner in which the District Attorney’s office implemented policies and training concerning the use of jail house informants and related decisions regarding disclosure of exculpatory information. This is the first time the court has held that administrative decisions by chief prosecutors may be subject to absolute immunity so long as the decisions are intimately related to the prosecutorial function.
More about the case here.
John Van de Kamp, et al. v. Thomas Lee Goldstein (2009) 129 S.Ct. 855
Court of Appeal says relief from filing claim with wrong public entity unwarranted in the absence of evidence
November 21, 2008
City of Riverside v. Superior Court (Juarez) (2008) 2008 Cal.App. Unpub LEXIS 9452 (California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division Two). [unpublished]. Plaintiff was injured when she fell on a street in Riverside County. She presented a timely claim to the wrong public entity but the trial court granted relief from the Government Tort Claims filing deadline with respect to the County. The Court of Appeal issued a peremptory writ reversing the trial court’s decision on the ground that there was no evidence to show why the claim was presented to the wrong entity in the first instance and, therefore, no ground for relief on the basis of mistake, inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect.
City of Riverside v. Superior Court (Juarez) (2008) 2008 Cal.App. Unpub LEXIS 9452
Court of Appeal affirms dismissal of dangerous condition claim on basis of statutory natural-condition immunity
November 20, 2008
Corey Romagnano v. Rancho Simi Recreation & Park District (2008) 2008 Cal.App. Unpub. LEXIS 9333 (California Court of Appeal, Second District, Division Six). [unpublished]. Plaintiff was injured when he slipped and fell off a steep cliff at a public park. He sued GMSR’s client, Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District, alleging a dangerous condition of public property. The trial court sustained Rancho Simi’s demurrer to plaintiff’s second amended complaint on the ground that Rancho Simi had absolute statutory immunity from suit for an injury caused by a natural condition of any unimproved public property.
The plaintiff appealed, claiming that his complaint showed that the cliff was not unimproved because Rancho Simi had constructed a baseball diamond elsewhere in the park and over ten years ago had drilled pin holes into the cliff, which had become overgrown by moss making the cliff more slippery. The appellate court affirmed. It held that the alleged changes either were not improvements either to the place where the injury occurred or did not so change the physical characteristics of the property as to qualify it as improved or take it outside of the statute. It also held that it was joining other courts in outright rejecting the hybrid dangerous condition exception to the statutory immunity propounded in Gonzales v. City of San Diego (1982) 130 Cal.App.3d 882.
Corey Romagnano v. Rancho Simi Recreation & Park District (2008) 2008 Cal.App. Unpub. LEXIS 9333
Ninth Circuit reverses judgment against GMSR's clients in copyright/trademark case concerning "Eleanor" from "Gone In 60 Seconds"
November 12, 2008
Halicki v. Carroll Shelby International, et al., (2008) 547 F.3d 1213 (9th Cir. 2008) (Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals). [published]. GMSR's clients owned the copyrights to and trademarks associated with the classic 1974 film, "Gone in 60 Seconds" and its iconic car character, "Eleanor." In 2000, Disney (through an agreement with GMSR's clients) released a blockbuster remake of the film under the same name, reprising the character "Eleanor." Defendants, including custom car/racing legend Carroll Shelby, manufactured, marketed and sold high-priced replicas of the Remake “Eleanor,” prompting GMSR's clients to sue for various copyright and trademark claims. The District Court dismissed the case on summary judgment, ruling that GMSR's clients lacked standing and had assigned any of their rights to the Remake "Eleanor" to Disney.
The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that GMSR's clients did have standing to pursue their copyright and trademark claims and that they had not assigned their Remake "Eleanor" rights to Disney. The Court also provided guidance to the District Court on remand as to the copyrightability of the "Eleanor" car character and the ownership of the "Eleanor" and "Gone in 60 Seconds" trademarks.
Halicki v. Carroll Shelby International, et al., Appellants' Opening Brief
Halicki v. Carroll Shelby International, et al., Combined Appellants' Reply Brief / Cross-Appellees' Brief
Halicki v. Carroll Shelby International, et al., (2008) 547 F.3d 1213 (9th Cir. 2008)
Ninth Circuit reverses judgment against GMSR client based on failure to submit matter to neutral arbitrator
June 5, 2008
Karcher Firestopping, Inc. v. Local No. 5, International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers (2008) 2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 12236 Ninth Circuit Case Nos. 06-56728 and 07-5520 [Unpublished ]. A labor union filed a grievance against GMSR’s client and the client invoked its right under the collective bargaining agreement to have the grievance heard by a neutral arbitrator. The union asserted that the grievance instead had to be submitted to an administrative committee consisting of members of the union and several of the client’s competitors. The client filed a federal declaratory relief action to stay the administrative committee hearing, but the district court denied the stay and the committee then entered a $500,000 award against the client, which was subsequently confirmed in a separate federal action. The district court dismissed the first action. The client appealed from the dismissal and the subsequent judgment.
In consolidated appeals, the Ninth Circuit reversed, agreeing with GMSR that the issue of which decision-maker would resolve the grievance – the administrative committee or a neutral arbitrator – was one of law for the court. It further agreed with GMSR that the plain language of the collective bargaining agreement made it clear that GMSR’s client had the right to have the grievance resolved by a neutral arbitrator and not by the administrative committee.
Karcher Firestopping, Inc. v. Local No. 5, International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers (2008) 2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 12236
Ninth Circuit holds that officer had probable cause to arrest based solely on interrogation of crime victim, and had no duty to conduct further investigation prior to making arrest
September 26, 2007
John v. El Monte, 515 F.3d 936 (9th Cir. 2007), 9th Cir. Case No. 05-56125. GMSR partner Tim Coates persuaded the Ninth Circuit to reverse the denial of summary judgment to law enforcement officer Eric Youngquist in a civil rights action arising from the arrest of a school teacher for child molestation based solely on interrogation of the victim. The court held that the officer had probable cause as a matter of law and clarified the limitations on an officer’s need to conduct additional investigation once probable cause has been established.
Court of Appeal denies writ seeking access to e-mails and calendar entries of San Bernardino Board of Supervisors
September 19, 2007
San Bernardino Sun et al. v. Superior Court (2007) Case No. E 043097 (California Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division Two). GMSR partner Tim Coates represented the County of San Bernardino in successfully opposing a writ petition under the Public Records Act. The case involved a challenge by a newspaper and a First Amendment advocacy group to a trial court ruling applying the deliberative process privilege to shield disclosure of e-mails and calendar entries of the Board of Supervisors.
Ninth Circuit affirms judgment for City of Riverside in an excessive force case
January 5, 2007
Haran v. City of Riverside, (2007) U.S.App.LEXIS 457 (United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit) [unpublished]. Alan Diamond and Timothy Coates persuaded the Ninth Circuit to affirm judgment for the City of Riverside in a civil rights action arising from the use of force by a Riverside police officer. The court agreed that the plaintiff’s counsel waived any challenge to the trial court’s rulings on various motions in limine, because counsel did not get a final ruling on some of the issues, or was otherwise able to admit the evidence. The court also held that the district court acted properly in excluding much of the evidence and in precluding examination on various issues.
MTA is immune from liability for criminal acts by third parties against would-be bus passengers
December 12, 2006
Herzlich v. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority, (2006) Cal.App.Unpub. LEXIS 11117 (California Court of Appeal, Second District, Division Eight (Los Angeles)) [unpublished]. Cindy Tobisman, together with Marty Stein and Timothy Coates, obtained a ruling by the Court of Appeal that it was proper to sustain a demurrer without leave to amend to the plaintiff’s third amended complaint. Plaintiff was a Taft High School student shot as he waited for a bus at a crowded stop. He sued the MTA, arguing that his injuries resulted from the bus driver’s failure to discharge his duty to board all willing passengers. The MTA successfully argued that it had no duty to prevent assaults on non passengers by criminal third parties.