In an unpublished case filed yesterday, H.O.W. Hall, Inc. v. Superior Court, G052123, 4/3 granted H.O.W.'s petition for writ of mandate after an unsuccessful summary judgment motion, issuing the writ directing the trial court to grant the summary judgment and enter judgment in H.O.W.'s favor.
It is generally believed writ petitions after unsuccessful summary judgment motions are a waste of time, but that is not the case. Why, and how did H.O.W. succeed?
The Case of H.O.W. Hall, Inc. v. Superior Court
The underlying allegations by Roe were that a man who had befriended her at an AA meeting held on H.O.W.'s premises had sexually assaulted her off H.O.W.'s premises at a trailer the man owned. She alleged H.O.W. should have known the assailant used AA functions to find female victims but had failed to warn or protect the women.
The trial court declined to strike the causes of action for negligent failure to warn and negligent failure to take protective measures. This was because H.O.W. was "'landowner supplying property for meetings attended by vulnerable women [but] failed to negate the existence of a legal duty.'"
The Court of Appeal's Ruling
The Court of Appeal disagreed, noting it would be unjust to impose a duty to investigate off-premises issues, and there was no "special relationship of custody or control." H.O.W. did not run the AA meetings, it merely leased space to AA, and the proposed burden placed on AA and H.O.W. would have been significant. Moreover, if H.O.W. had warned the assailant was a sexual predator based only a history of claimed prior unwanted advances, it could have been sued for defamation.
The court concluded with an emphasis on the importance of AA and similar programs in helping people overcome addictions. They noted generic warnings about possible sexual predators may discourage participation in similar groups and increase their insurance costs.
Avoiding a Summary Denial
So, how did H.O.W. win a writ petition and convince the Court of Appeal to rule on the merits rather than merely allowing the matter to proceed to trial? It had a meritorious legal position AND a strong public policy rationale which illustrated how this case could affect persons far beyond the individual litigants. So always keep the broader picture in mind and try and convince the court not only you are right on the law, but also your cause is just. You, too, might be able to avoid a summary denial.