What misinformation and misapplications of law did the First District Court of Appeal try to cover up by categorising its judgment against me as an ‘unpublished’ opinion or justification of its decision — a bizarre categorisation whose meaning and motives I did not think to investigate until the following year?
In a section added to COTIN last month, I showed how that label is routinely used to shield the decisions of an appellate court from scrutiny and reversal by the California Supreme Court. On this page, I am setting out a short encapsulation of the First District’s black-and-white misapplication — or effectively, defiance — of the California Supreme Court’s 1976 directions for deciding the rights of former unmarried partners. The longer version of my summary is divided between the Treatment of law and Treatment of facts sections of this site.
For the truth to be understood as widely as possible, I must be blunt. The section of the First District Court of Appeal’s ‘unpublished’ opinion titled ‘Misapplication of Law’ opens with an outright lie. It says that ‘Barron contends the trial court erred in ruling that a contract requires certainty of terms, insisting that there is no such requirement and that a contract can be found by considering surrounding circumstances. But there is a requirement — as to all contracts — that the agreed terms be expressed with sufficient certainty.’
No, I did not make any such claim about standard contracts or contracts in general. Not in my appellate brief, or anywhere else. Not directly or indirectly. Neither in law nor common sense could there be any basis for such a position. This explains why the appellate justices could only pretend to be paraphrasing my words, and were incapable of quoting a single statement by me to that effect.
In their opinion (or explanation), the appellate justices made it clear that they were deferring to the trial judge’s sifting of evidence and interpretations of law, even though I had exercised every appellant’s right to ask for a review de novo. That amounts to a wholly independent assessment of the facts presented to the trial court, and of how the law should be applied to them — an assessment untainted by the lower court’s views and actions. My brief justified this request by pointing to the trial court’s obvious conflict of interest, and the trial judge’s lack of any expertise in a legal subspecialty in which knowledge acquired from experience is essential.
The appellate justices ignored my plea for an unprejudiced review and rubber-stamped the work of the lower court, even though the trial judge, Cynthia Ming-Mei Lee, had spoken publicly (to the San Francisco Daily Journal, for instance, on 29 July 2015) about the strain of trying to get to grips with civil law after her long career in the criminal branch.
As my appellate brief had also pointed out, in the course of the trial, the court reporter recorded announcements by the judge about having no experience whatsoever of family or nonmarital partnership law. To be absolutely clear, she had never tried a single case in this branch of litigation.
Nowhere addressed by the appellate justices was the demonstration in my brief that the trial judge was wrong to claim — without being able to cite any text, page or paragraph of any legal authority or precedent — that the California Supreme Court’s 1976 guidelines for nonmarital partnerships require that contracts between unmarried partners have to be just like ‘any other civil contract, subject to the law of contracts.’
My brief quoted these directions precisely to the contrary, showing that in 1976, the Supreme Court justices acknowledged that contracts between former cohabitants were a special category, looser and less formal than standard contracts; also, that they had underlined that they ‘did not impose a requirement of certainty of terms and conditions on nonmarital partners.’ They noted that an ‘overview of the many cases enforcing agreements between nonmarital partners reveals that the majority of such agreements were oral.’
The justices spelled out their intentions unambiguously. They said that their guidelines were not meant to make contracts between unmarried partners identical to commercial instruments, but to end the tendency of trial courts to deny ‘a nonmarital partner [the ability] to assert rights based upon […] implied contracts or equity.’
In my petition to the Supreme Court for a review of my case in the spring of 2017 , I cited the most authoritative collection of recent decisions by judges across the United States of cases like mine. This compendium of trends — whose title is the Restatement (Third) of Restitution and Unjust Enrichment — records that the commercial rules for contracts are now usually treated by courts as irrelevant to deciding the property rights of former cohabitants. In a section added in 2011, the Restatement says: ‘A standard objection to restitution in related contexts — the argument that the asserted obligations should properly have been the subject of a contract between the parties — is ordinarily disregarded when restitution is allowed between former cohabitants.’
So in addition to defying the Supreme Court’s instructions issued forty years ago, the First District Court of Appeal ignored the well-established convention for the adjudication of ‘nonmarital partnership’ cases that has since evolved.
Only readers well-steeped in the subject could deduce this from the appellate court’s defamatory, supposedly unpublished opinion, actually available to anyone to read anywhere in the world. To further conceal the dishonourable background to that document, it could also order the destruction of all the filings and evidence related to my case in its possession — following its announcement last September about its intentions for a systematic elimination of records, part of a national trend.
12 July 2018