Not Reported in Cal.Rptr.3d, 2008 WL 2811762 (Cal.App. 4 Dist.)
Not Officially Published
(Cal. Rules of Court, Rules 976, 977)
Only the Westlaw citation is currently available.
Robles case: Judge Hayes was first reversed after the
first appeal, then affirmed after she conducted a jury
trial. Why didn't she allow a jury trial on punitive
Court of Appeal, Fourth District, Division 1, California.
Joaquin B. ROBLES, Plaintiff, Appellant and Respondent,
AUTOZONE, INC., Defendant, Respondent and Appellant.
No. D049259. (Super.Ct.No. GIS006945). July 22, 2008.
APPEAL from a judgment and order of the Superior Court of San Diego County,
Judith F. Hayes and William S. Cannon, Judges. Affirmed.
Charles Moore, Simpson & Moore, San Diego, CA, for Plaintiff, Appellant and Respondent.
Gregg C. Sindici, Littler Mendelson, San Diego, CA, for Defendant, Respondent and
HUFFMAN, Acting P.J.
This appeal is another phase of the effort by Joaquin B. Robles, plaintiff,
and respondent, to obtain an award of punitive damages in this false
imprisonment action against his former employer, defend
ant, respondent and appellant, AutoZone, Inc. (AutoZone).
In the first trial in this action, Robles obtained a jury verdict in his
compensatory damages for false imprisonment. That jury found AutoZone's
Octavio Jara (Jara), acting within the course and scope of his employment, had
imprisoned Robles in the course of an internal company loss prevention
and it awarded Robles $73,150. However, the trial court granted a nonsuit
on the request for punitive damages, and Robles appealed.
In the prior opinion issued by this court, we upheld the compensatory
damage award but reversed the order granting nonsuit.
(Robles v. AutoZone (Nov. 2, 2004, D041499) [nonpub.
opn.] (our prior opinion).)
We determined that sufficient evidence had been
presented to go to a jury on whether, under Civil Code section
3294, subdivision (b), it would be permissible to impose punitive
damages on AutoZone if it, as an employer, maintained corporate
policies that were followed consistently over time in corporate
operations, that effectively authorized conduct by employees, carried
out in the course of their duties, that was oppressive, fraudulent or
(White v. Ultramar, Inc.(1999)
21 Cal.4th 563, 575-576(White);
Cruz v. HomeBase(2000) 83 Cal.App.4th 160, 167
College Hospital Inc. v. Superior Court
(1994) 8 Cal .4th 704, 726(College).)
Under Civil Code section 3294
, subdivision (b), an employer is not liable for
punitive damages, based upon acts of its employees, unless “the employer had
knowledge of the unfitness of the employee and employed him or her with a
disregard of the rights or safety of others
or authorized or ratified
the wrongful c
for which the damages are awarded or was personally guilty of oppression,
malice.” (Italics added.)
On remand, the trial court conducted a jury trial limited to the issue of punitive
damages, and the jury returned a special verdict that aw
arded Robles $7.5 million in
punitive damages. In proceedings on AutoZone's request for judgment
the verdict (JNOV), the trial court reduced that verdict to $438,900,
representing a six
one ratio of punitive damages to the compensatory d
amages previously awarded to
Robles in the original proceedings. The court then entered judgment for that
punitive damages and costs and fees.
Both parties have appealed from the JNOV. Appellant AutoZone attacks the
verdict rendered by t
he jury as improperly formulated under Autozone's interpretation of
this court's prior opinion and
Civil Code section 3294
, subdivision (b). AutoZone further
contends there is no substantial evidence supporting the judgment with regard
corporate authorization or ratification of tortious acts by its employees. Also, Aut
contends the order denying its motion to tax costs was erroneous, because the
costs was not authorized by statute. (
Code Civ. Proc., §§ 998
Further, both AutoZone and Robles are contending in this court that the trial
erroneously changed the verdict amount, and both acknowledge that de novo
appropriate to determine whether the original award was consist
ent with constitutional
limits for an award of punitive damages. (See
ber v. Ralphs Grocery Co .
).) AutoZone contends the reduction was not great enough,
compared to the actual damages previously awarded, and Robles contends
was unauthorized on this record.
We will first
outline the principles set forth in our prior opinion, for purposes of
analyzing AutoZone's challenges to the judgment that argue the special verdict
defective and/or not supported by substantial evidence. We then address the
made by both pa
rties about whether the amount of punitive damages set by the trial court
violates due process principles. Finally, we will turn to the award of costs.
As will be explained, we conclude that the special verdict appropriately
to the jury, with respect to corporate authorization of employee conduct,
and that substantial evidence supports the findings in the verdict. We next
in ruling on the JNOV motion, the trial court appropriately reduced the amount of
damages to an amount that is consistent with constitutional principles and the
facts proven. Moreover, the costs award is supported by the record and by
FACTUAL AND PROCEDUR
A. False Imprisonment Facts; Compensatory Damag
The background facts of the false imprisonment incident that was the basis of
jury's award of $73,150 compensatory damages to Robles were previously
outlined in our
prior opinion and need not be expanded here, except as necessary to dea
l with the
substantial evidence challenge now brought by AutoZone to the punitive
Initially, we will repeat those basic details as set forth in that opinion:
“On July 1, 2000, Robles arrived at work and was asked by two other
loyees to sign for the cash in a deposit bag that they had prepared, as they
otherwise occupied. Robles did so, as the armored car driver was ready and
employees were not supposed to keep him waiting or it would cost the company
y. Robles signed for a bag of bills amounting to $820 at the request of the
car driver, even though he noticed that the deposit slip was in the wrong portion
deposit bag, as it occasionally was, due to shortness of time or for the sake of
nvenience in making last minute changes. The armored car driver took the
to the bank. The $820 was found to be missing at the bank for some period of
“On July 6, 2000, Robles arrived for work and was told by the store manager ...
hould go to the back room because loss prevention officer Jara and the district
manager ... wanted to talk to him. Robles did so and Jara told him there was an
needed to talk about, i.e., that the bank had called stating that they received an
with only a deposit slip, and the slip had Robles's signature on it. Jara asked
several times if he knew what had happened, and Robles said no. At some
district manager] left the room. Jara then told him, “we know who did it,” an
Robles of stealing the money. Robles denied this for the remaining part of the
portion of the loss prevention interview, which lasted two hours and seven
told Robles they would need a statement, and Robles filled out a form de
nying that he
had taken the money.”
After a 10
minute break in the interview, the following events occurred. Jara asked
Robles if he knew that Jara was a police officer (a reserve officer for the City of
Vista) and Jara told him that he could get
any information about anybody. Jara told
Robles he had had a former employee, Julio Martinez, arrested by the police for
According to Robles's testimony at the first trial, Jara then said, “All I have to do
is give a
phone call, and the police will
be at the front of the store to pick you up, and they'll take
you to jail because what you've done is a felony, and you will serve time.” Jara
if Robles left, he would be arrested. Robles was afraid to leave.
According to Robles, Jara then told
him that they could keep the matter within the
company if Robles confessed and agreed to pay the money back in monthly
while keeping his job: “Robles then sat down and wrote what Jara dictated to
him in the
next page of the statement, confess
ing to taking the money and signing a promissory note
to pay back the money.” The interview had lasted over three hours. “Robles
suspended for a few days, fired, and his last paycheck withheld. He was unable
unemployment insurance, due t
o being fired, but got a new and better job three or four
weeks later. His lost wages amounted to $2,000 or less.”
It was soon discovered that the money in the deposit bag, approximately $800
AutoZone cash, had been found at the bank a few weeks later, wi
thout a deposit slip or
account number, and the store manager and Jara were told at that time about
calls from the bank stating this, but no further action was taken by AutoZone
Robles with regard to this money.
In 2001, Robles filed a com
plaint for damages for false imprisonment and other
theories against AutoZone and some of its employees. At the first jury trial,
evidence was presented about the incident and about AutoZone's procedures
for loss prevention, includin
g training of loss prevention managers, such as Jara, in the
use of the company interviewing manual, entitled “Investigative Interviewing, An
Investigator's Guide To Interviewing” (the manual). The manual sets forth
interview techniques for los
s prevention managers to use in interviewing employees
accused of theft. Peter Brennan, Jara's supervisor and trainer, normally
instructed his loss
prevention managers to follow the manual by avoiding the use of terms like
the first trial, the court allowed Robles to bring in evidence of impeachment
witnesses, i.e., three other former employee witnesses who had been through
prevention interviews with Jara, and they testified about how Jara had
st to keep them in the interview room.
In our prior unpublished opinion, we upheld the compensatory damages award.
further ruled that the nonsuit motion on punitive damages as to the corporate
was erroneously granted, based upon the standards
set forth in
for the actual or ad hoc fo
rmulation of corporate policy by authorized managing
agent employees in the loss prevention field.
at p. 576
(maj. opn. of Chin, J.);
pp. 580, 582
(conc. opn. of Mosk, J.).)
Although the nonsuit ruling at the first trial foreclosed any proceedings against
AutoZone for punitive damages, the parties had stipulated that Jara would pay
individually as punitive damages.
rrent Trial and Verdict
|San Diego Education Report
Stutz, Artiano Shinoff & Holtz v. Larkins
Judge Hayes refused to allow a jury trial on damages after
throwing out all the evidence of Defendant Maura Larkins (author of this website)
and throwing out Larkins' opposition to summary adjudication. Then, without
setting aside the summary adjudication, Judge Hayes granted a
DEFAULT judgment to Stutz law firm, including $10,000
punitive damages. Stutz did not show Larkins' ability to
pay, and therefore no punitive damages were allowable.
Surely Judge Hayes knew this. The case is being
appealed in September 2013.
Judge Hayes seems to resist the requirement to
allow juries to decide certain issues: 2 cases