Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Denial of Civil Jury Trial Reviewable by Writ, State High Court Unanimously Rules
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A denial of jury trial in a civil action is subject to pretrial writ review, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
The high court partially affirmed a ruling by this district’s Court of Appeal, saying Deborah Shaw was entitled to bring a writ petition challenging the denial of her request for trial by jury on a statutory whistleblower claim. But the Court of Appeal erred in granting the writ, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote, because there is no statutory or constitutional right to a jury trial on the Health and Safety Code §1278.5(g) claim.
Shaw sued Kindred Hospital and related entities, alleging she was fired for complaining about various practices she said were detrimental to patient care, including employing unlicensed or incompetent personnel. The complaint contained two causes of action, one under the statute and the other for wrongful termination under common law.
The remedies sought included damages, as well as attorney fees and civil penalties recoverable under the statute. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Alan Rosenfield—since retired—ruled before trial that the statutory cause of action was equitable in nature and not triable by jury, but stayed the ruling so the plaintiff could seek a writ.
The Court of Appeal held that the plaintiff was entitled to a writ, and to a jury trial on the statutory claim.
The chief justice, in her opinion for the high court, said there is a long series of Court of Appeal cases permitting writ review of denials of jury trial. While there are early California cases suggesting otherwise, Cantil-Sakauye wrote, those decisions “rest on an understanding of a lack or excess of jurisdiction in the ordinary writ context that is incompatible with the court’s later, controlling decision in Abelleira [v. District Court of Appeal (1941) 17 Cal.2d 280].
Reaching the substantive question, however, the chief justice concluded that the Legislature did not intend to create a right to jury trial on the statutory claim. Nor is there a constitutional right to have a jury decide the equitable issues raised by the statute, although there is such a right with respect to the related wrongful termination claim, she said.
The case of Shaw v. Superior Court (THC-Orange County, Inc.,) 17 S.O.S. 1879, was argued in the Supreme Court by Carney R. Shegerian of Shegerian & Associates, Inc. for the plaintiff, D. Gregory Valenza of Shaw Valenza for the defendants, and Barry S. Landsberg of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips for Dignity Health as amicus supporting the defendants.
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