In an appeal involving new evidence supposedly discovered after entry of judgment and allegations of procedural irregularities, the WSHB team rallied for the clients on appeal and successfully defended the trial court's grant of a summary judgment motion and denial of plaintiff's subsequent new trial motion. WSHB's Nick Gedo (Of Counsel in the Glendale office) vigorously represented the clients, securing an affirmation of the judgment in their favor.
The clients, a homeowners association for a condominium complex and its management company, obtained summary judgment in the lower court after the judge found that the plaintiff failed to present any evidence of a viable claim. The case arose out of an incident that occurred in the common area of the condo complex. Plaintiff was enjoying the shared jacuzzi when another resident approached with a group of friends. One of the friends attempted to enter the spa nude, at which point the plaintiff requested that clothing be worn. After this exchange, the other resident attacked the plaintiff resulting in his injury. The plaintiff reported the incident to management as well as the homeowners association, but felt that adequate measures were not taken to protect him. As a result he sued both for negligence and premises liability. He also sued the assailant for assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The HOA and management company, both represented by WSHB, prevailed on summary judgment on the grounds that the attack was not foreseeable because there was no history of violence at the complex. Although the assailant had several noise complaints issued against him during parties and some complaints regarding the safety of a fire pit he had on his deck, those prior incidents were not sufficient to put the HOA or management on notice of his propensity for violence. The trial court ruled that plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of fact as to either duty or causation. It reasoned, "[n]o duty of care can be imposed upon the moving defendants because the alleged unprovoked attach of the plaintiff by the assailant was not foreseeable."
Plaintiff then moved for a new trial based on his claim that, within two weeks after entry of judgment, he discovered new documents that would help his case, including a purported email from a property manager referencing a prior assault involving the assailant. He also claimed that a current manager admitted that some prior emails and documents may have been deleted or otherwise eliminated. The HOA and management denied that the documents were authentic or that the manager made the supposed admissions. The trial court sustained WSHB's objections to all of the new evidence and denied the new trail motion, and the plaintiff appealed. The issues on appeal were whether the new evidence was admissible and whether plaintiff met his burden of establishing an irregularity in the proceedings.
The HOA and management argued that the new documents were not admissible because they were not properly authenticated, lacked foundation, and included hearsay statements not subject to any exceptions. The defense also argued that these documents were potentially fabricated. In fact, the alleged authors of these documents made declarations stating that they did not write the emails and would not have used some of the language contained within them.
After the oral argument on the appeal on January 20, 2023, plaintiff filed a petition for a writ of "corum vobis," claiming that, after that hearing, he had reviewed his girlfriend/roommate's file of communications with the HOA and discovered yet more documents that supposedly indicated that the HOA and/or management had eliminated prior emails and other documents which might have established that prior criminal conduct had occurred in the complex. WSHB opposed that petition on the grounds that the supposed new evidence would not have changed the outcome of the summary judgment motion, that plaintiff could and should have presented it earlier, and that it related to issues which the trial court had previously adjudicated. The appellate court denied that writ on those grounds, and, a few weeks later, issued its opinion affirming the judgment in the HOA and management company's favor.
The appeals court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in ruling that the new evidence that plaintiff had submitted with his new trial motion was inadmissible, rejecting plaintiff's argument that a more rigorous standard of review applied. The appellate court agreed with the defense that plaintiff had failed to authenticate or provide any foundation for the new documents that he submitted. Although he argued that the documents should have been admitted as an exception to the hearsay rule-- admissions by a party--the appellate court rejected that contention. It also held that no procedural irregularities occurred in the handling of the case, affirming the judgment in the HOA and management company's favor.
Congratulations to Nick on this fantastic victory for the clients against an incredibly persistent plaintiff!