JAMES v. COUNTY OF ALAMEDA

No. A147235.

LAVADA JAMES, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. COUNTY OF ALAMEDA, Defendant and Respondent.

Court of Appeals of California, First District, Division Two.


NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN OFFICIAL REPORTS

California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.115

STEWART, J.

Plaintiff LaVada James filed suit against the County of Alameda alleging various claims in connection with the administration of her food stamp benefits. She now appeals an order dismissing her first amended complaint with prejudice after the court sustained a demurrer without leave to amend. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

James, representing herself in pro per, initiated this litigation on December 3, 2014, by filing a two-page pleading captioned "Request for Writ to Compensate Plaintiff, and Hold Department of Public Social Services Liable for Exhibiting Discriminatory Practices in Allotting Food Stamps." She subsequently filed an amended pleading, similarly captioned, containing three counts: for "Discrimination," "Malice," and "Harassment." The County of Alameda (the county), named as the defendant (erroneously identified as "Alameda County Department of Public Services"), demurred to the pleading and moved to strike it. The trial court sustained the demurrer (and dropped the motion to strike as moot), but denied the county's request to deny her leave to amend and gave James an opportunity to file an amended complaint.

More than two months after the deadline to amend, James filed her first amended complaint, on September 10, 2015.1 The pleading contained two causes of action: for "Termination of EBT Benefits Unjustly," alleging that her benefits had been "interrupted" improperly and in a racially discriminatory manner, and for "Policies, Customs, Practices and Procedures," both of which generally invoked federal law. The complaint included factual allegations concerning two instances in which her food stamps benefits had been erroneously reduced by two social services agency employees, following which she pursued successful administrative appeals to get the errors rectified and her benefits increased. James prayed for $100,000 in damages, and additional damages in an unspecified amount.

The county again demurred, both on the ground the causes of action failed to state sufficient facts to constitute a cause of action and on the ground they were uncertain. The noticed hearing date was December 15, 2015.

On December 1, 2015, the day before James's response was due, James filed a request for an extension of time to respond to the demurrer until December 22, which was seven days after the noticed hearing date, citing as the reason several dental appointments and two "medical doctor appointments." She noticed her extension request for hearing on December 15, 2015, the date of the demurrer hearing. The county opposed her extension request in writing, arguing it was both unwarranted and untimely.

One day before the hearing, on December 14, James filed an opposition to the demurrer, apparently without leave of court.

The following day, December 15, 2015, a case management conference took place as well as a hearing on the demurrer. James personally appeared. There is no reporter's transcript of the hearing. The court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend and dismissed James's complaint with prejudice. We quote the substantive portion of its ruling in full: "The tentative ruling is affirmed as follows: The unopposed Demurrer of Defendant County of Alameda, erroneously sued herein as Alameda County Department of Social Services, to the First Amended Complaint of Plaintiff LaVada James, pursuant to CCP § 430.10(e) and (f) is SUSTAINED WITHOUT LEAVE TO AMEND. [¶] Plaintiff has not alleged sufficient facts to state a valid claim against it in connection with the processing of Plaintiff's application for Food Stamps or its administration of the program with regard to Defendant's African American clients. The Court notes that Plaintiff's allegations are very similar to those that she made in her Petition for Writ of Mandate filed on May 15, 2014 (Case No. RG14725472). The Petition was dismissed by Judge Grillo when he entered Judgement in favor of the County and its employees on October 30, 2014. The Court previously granted Plaintiff leave to file a First Amended Complaint even though she did not oppose the Demurrer to her initial Complaint. Although the Court is required to allow Plaintiff an opportunity to amend if a reasonable possibility exists that she can cure the identified defects, she bears the burden of showing that she can potentially state a valid claim."

The following day, the court also entered an order denying James's application for an extension of time.

This timely appeal followed.

DISCUSSION

As sympathetic as we may be to James's efforts to seek redress for the wrongs she believes have been committed in connection with her public benefits, her appellate briefing is not entirely clear and, regrettably, large portions of her lengthy opening brief are all but impenetrable. Our difficulty is compounded, furthermore, by James's failure to include legal argument headings as required. (See Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.204(a)(1)(B).) In addition, much of her briefing addresses matters not relevant to the demurrer or this appeal.

Nevertheless, as we understand it, James raises three issues on appeal. First, she argues the demurrer was defective because it did not adequately apprise her of the defects in her complaint and how they should be corrected. Second, she challenges the denial of her request for an extension of time to respond to the demurrer. And third, she argues the notice of demurrer listed an incorrect courthouse address for Department 509, where the matter was heard, in violation of Code of Civil Procedure section 1010. We turn now to these arguments, and reject them.2

First, there are no defects in the demurrer papers that warrant reversal. James argues the demurrer notice "specified no grounds upon which the motion was to be made," but it did. It stated that both of James's causes of action failed to state sufficient facts to constitute a cause of action, and they also were uncertain. James also argues the demurrer improperly "failed to identify the portion in plaintiff-appellant's complaint where it was allegedly vague or uncertain" but, as James concedes, she did not raise these objections below and so she has waived any claim of error. "`[A] party is precluded from urging on appeal any point not raised in the trial court. [Citation.] Any other rule would "`"permit a party to play fast and loose with the administration of justice by deliberately standing by without making an objection of which he is aware and thereby permitting the proceedings to go to a conclusion which he may acquiesce in, if favorable, and which he may avoid, if not."'"'" (In re Aaron B. (1996) 46 Cal.App.4th 843, 846.) In any event, as the above-quoted ruling reflects, the trial court did not sustain the demurrer on the ground of uncertainty, but on the ground the complaint failed to state a legally sufficient cause of action. So any defect in the moving papers in that regard could, at most, amount to error that was harmless. Finally, the county's papers explained in some detail why and how it was not possible for the county to understand her amended pleading. The first sentence of the county's papers made this plain: "It remains unclear from the First Amended Complaint . . . what action taken by the County of Alameda, if any, Plaintiff is challenging and on what law Plaintiff bases her claims." It then went on in seven pages of argument to elaborate. So the papers did apprise her of the problems with her complaint.

We also find no abuse of discretion in the trial court's refusal to permit James to file a tardy opposition to the demurrer. James argues the trial court "fail[ed] to even consider" her request, but she cites nothing in the record to support that assertion, and given that we have no transcript of the demurrer hearing we must presume the court did consider her request. That is because of the well-settled principle of appellate review, that "`[a] judgment or order of the lower court is presumed correct,'" which means that, as a reviewing court, we must draw presumptions in favor of the trial court's ruling "`on matters as to which the record is silent, and error must be affirmatively shown.'" (Denham v. Superior Court (1970) 2 Cal.3d 557, 564.) What is more, the record shows the court considered James's request: the following day, the trial court entered an order denying it. To the extent James may be attempting to contest the substance of that ruling denying her additional time to respond, we discern no legal argument in her appellate brief addressing how and why the court erred. "Contentions on appeal are waived by a party who fails to support them with reasoned argument and citations to authority." (Sporn v. Home Depot USA, Inc. (2005) 126 Cal.App.4th 1294, 1303.) "An appellate court is not required to consider alleged errors where the appellant merely complains of them without pertinent argument." (Strutt v. Ontario Sav. & Loan Assn. (1972) 28 Cal.App.3d 866, 873; see also Kim v. Westmoore Partners, Inc. (2011) 201 Cal.App.4th 267, 293.) Although James is not represented by counsel, she "must `be treated like any other party and is entitled to the same, but no greater consideration than other litigants and attorneys.'" (Cassidy v. California Bd. of Accountancy (2013) 220 Cal.App.4th 620, 628.)

This brings us, finally, to James's argument that the demurrer papers misidentified the address of the courthouse where Department 509 is located. Although the county concedes it listed the wrong address, James hasn't met her burden to demonstrate any legal error, because the sole legal authority she cites, Code of Civil Procedure section 1010, does not require the courthouse location to be specified in a notice of motion.3 Furthermore, James appeared in person in Department 509 for the hearing. She clearly was not misled. Any error, assuming there even was one, was harmless. (See Cal. Const., art. VI, § 13; Code Civ. Proc., § 475.)

DISPOSITION

The judgment of dismissal is affirmed. Respondent shall recover its costs on appeal.

KLINE, P.J. and MILLER, J., concurs.

FootNotes


1. Although neither party has sought to correct or augment the record, we note the 11-page copy of the first amended complaint included in the clerk's transcript appears to be incomplete, lacking a signature page or proof of service at a minimum.
2. In her reply brief, James also argues the county violated a duty to meet and confer before filing its demurrer. We decline to consider this argument because ordinarily we do not consider issues raised for the first time in a reply brief. (See Mt. Hawley Ins. Co. v. Lopez (2013) 215 Cal.App.4th 1385, 1426.)
3. That provision states: "Notices must be in writing, and the notice of a motion, other than for a new trial, must state when, and the grounds upon which it will be made, and the papers, if any, upon which it is to be based. If any such paper has not previously been served upon the party to be notified and was not filed by him, a copy of such paper must accompany the notice. Notices and other papers may be served upon the party or attorney in the manner prescribed in this chapter, when not otherwise provided by this code. No bill of exceptions, notice of appeal, or other notice or paper, other than amendments to the pleadings, or an amended pleading, need be served upon any party whose default has been duly entered or who has not appeared in the action or proceeding."

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