Justin R. SarnoOf Counsel
Justin R. Sarno is a trial litigator and certified appellate specialist in the state of California. This distinction is only given to a small number of lawyers by The State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization as Specialists in Appellate Law. Justin has briefed matters before the United State Supreme Court and argued countless appeals and writs before the California Supreme Court, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and all divisions of the California Courts of Appeal.
With an emphasis on complex problem solving and strategy, Justin defends private and public entities in a broad array of areas, including product liability, mass tort, intellectual property, business and commercial disputes, civil rights, and premises liability. For seventeen years prior to joining DLA, Justin was a trial attorney, defending government officials, private businesses, and public entities in hundreds of federal and state cases from inception to appeal, involving issues such as constitutional civil rights, search and seizure, labor and employment (Title VII, Title IX, and FEHA), anti-SLAPP, class actions, administrative mandamus, Ralph M. Brown Act compliance, firearms forfeiture, redevelopment taxation, inverse condemnation, premises liability, product liability, and defamation.
Justin is the Deputy Geographic Lead in Los Angeles for DLA's Litigation group and a member of the firm's Appellate Advocacy practice.
Below is a list of various published and significant outcomes:
- Elliott, et al. v. Tyerman, et al. (B312664) (2022) – Second Appellate District, Division 5. In a unanimous opinion, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s partial denial of a special motion to strike (Civ. Proc. Code, sec. 425.16) with respect to causes of action for trade libel/slander and intentional interference with prospective economic relations. The case pertained to a filmmaker’s production of a documentary film regarding Aretha Franklin called “Amazing Grace,” which utilized dormant and unused raw footage shot by Academy Award winning director Sydney Pollack. Defendants issued a cease and desist letter, claiming that the filmmaker had no rights in the footage. The Court of Appeal held that while the communication fell within the first prong of the anti-SLAPP statute, a triable issue of fact existed as to whether the communication was protected by the litigation privilege (Civ. Code, sec. 47.) (argued)
- Debbie L. Viale v. Exxon Mobil Corporation, et al. (2021) 20-16463 – Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Summary judgment affirmed in favor of Exxon Mobil Corporation in a case alleging a deceased pipefitter's occupational exposure to asbestos at the Benicia refinery. The Court found that Plaintiffs failed to overcome the presumption of non-liability in favor of Exxon, as the hirer of an independent contractor, articulated in Privette v. Superior Court (1993) 854 P.2d 721, 724. The Ninth Circuit concluded that no exception applied, as there was no evidence that Exxon furnished unsafe equipment, exercised retained control over safety conditions that affirmatively contributed to decedent's injuries, or failed to disclose a concealed condition. Under principles of respondeat superior, there was no evidence that Exxon's employees injured the decedent, and on the issue of causation, Plaintiff's expert testimony was deemed insufficient, speculative, and conjectural.
- Khosravan v. Exxon Mobil Corporation, et al. (B304346) (2021) (review denied) – Second District, Division 7. Affirmed summary judgment in favor of Exxon, dismissing a civil lawsuit brought by an Iranian refinery worker who developed mesothelioma as a result of alleged exposure to asbestos at the Abadan Refinery in Iran. Plaintiff sued Exxon, along with other Western Oil Consortium members, based on a 1954 Government Agreement entered into between Iran and the United States regarding the manufacture and production of oil. Court found that no duty of care existed under traditional tort/premises liability principles, nor as a result of the special relationship doctrine and any contractual guarantees set forth in the 1954 Agreement.
- Pasadena Republican Club v. Western Justice Center, et al. (2021) 434 F.Supp.3d 861 (C.D. Cal. 2019) – Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. A decision certified for publication. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of civil rights claims and summary judgment in favor of the City of Pasadena in an action brought by the Pasadena Republican Club against the City and its lessee, the Western Justice Center, and the Center's Executive Director, alleging First Amendment violations arising from the Center's rescission, on the basis of political and religious viewpoint, of an agreement to rent out a space for the Republican Club's speaking event. Justin filed an amicus brief on behalf of the League of California Cities, arguing that the imposition of liability in this matter would violate, inter alia, the standards set forth in Monell v. Dept. of Soc. Servs. (1978) 436 U.S. 658.
- Diana Cherry v. The Hospital Casualty Company Liquidation (B302054) (2020) – Motion to dismiss appeal granted, as a result of Plaintiff's request to enforce sister state judgment from State of Oklahoma, which Court deemed to be non-appealable.
- Matt Wagner v. City of Santa Ana (G058405) (2020) – Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division 3. Court dismissed appeal following merits briefing, upon identification of jurisdictional defect with plaintiff's notice of appeal. Despite liberal construction of notices, Plaintiff's failure to identify an appealable order or judgment was deemed fatal pursuant to Cal. Rules Ct., 8.100(a)(2) (argued).
- Sabetian v. Exxon Mobil Corporation, et al. (2020) 57 Cal.App.5th 1054 – Second District, Division 7. A decision certified for publication, in which a former oil refinery employee and his wife brought action against American oil companies, alleging that employee contracted mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos while working in facilities in Iran controlled by companies' predecessors, and asserting claims for negligence, premises liability, and loss of consortium on the basis of alleged "guarantees" contained in a 1954 Government Agreement between the Government of Iran and a Western Oil Consortium. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of ExxonMobil, and the Court of Appeal affirmed, concluding that ExxonMobil owed no duty to the Plaintiffs, either under a premises liability/negligence theory, or on the basis of a special relationship.
- Alyssa Allison v. Otis Elevator Company, et al. (CIVDS 1804588) (2019) – San Bernardino Superior Court. Trial court granted defense non-suit motion in the middle of jury trial in favor of Otis Elevator, in a case alleging that a mother (plaintiff) had sustained significant injuries from an elevator door strike incident at a local hospital (argued).
- Cynthia Huerta v. City of Santa Ana (2019) 39 Cal.App.5th 41 – Fourth District, Division 3. A decision certified for publication, in which the Court of Appeal affirmed the entry of summary judgment in favor of the City of Santa Ana in an action for dangerous condition of public property. Three young girls were struck and killed by a hit-and-run motorist on Halloween evening in front of Fairhaven Elementary School in 2015, resulting in claims against the municipality regarding a “peculiar condition” of alleged inadequate lighting at a mid-block crosswalk (argued).
- Boyd Allyn Roe v. City of Fountain Valley (G054434) (2018) – Fourth District, Division 3. Affirmed summary judgment in favor of Fountain Valley Police Department and individual officers in use of force case brought under 42 U.S.C. section 1983, as a result of claim preclusion under Heck v. Humphrey (1994) 512 U.S. 477 and Susag v. City of Lake Forest (2002) 94 Cal.App.4th 1401 (argued).
- Anyssa Sanchez v. Brawley Elementary School District (16-55892) (2018) – Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Affirmed grant of summary judgment in lawsuit brought by student alleging Title IX violations in relation to single incident of peer-on-peer sexual harassment.
- City of Baldwin Park v. Superior Court (BS172837) (2018) – Appellate Division of Superior Court of Los Angeles. Suggestive Palma Notice issued within one day of writ of mandate filing, relative to trial court's overbroad order of production of peace officer personnel files on Pitchess motion.
- JMS Air Conditioning and Appliance Service, Inc. v. Santa Monica Community College District, et al. (2018) 30 Cal.App.5th 945 – Second District, Division 1. A decision certified for publication, in which the Court of Appeal affirmed the denial of petition for writ of administrative mandamus brought by an air conditioning subcontractor on a public works development project at Santa Monica Community College District. The subcontractor claimed that it was the subject of an improper substitution request pursuant to Public Contracts Code section 4100 et seq. The case clarified the proper standard of review (i.e., whether a vested right was implicated), the adequacy of due process protections in the hearing process, and who specifically from the “awarding authority” may validly preside over a substitution hearing pursuant to the language of the Code (argued).
- Victor Valley Union High School Dist. v. Superior Court (E066110) (2016) – Fourth District, Division 2. Stay of proceedings instituted following writ petition which argued that trial court fatally misapplied primary assumption of risk standards in the context of interscholastic cheerleading.
- Haghnazarian v. City of Glendale (B257501) (2016) – Second District, Division 2. Affirmed summary judgment in favor of the City of Simi Valley, a case alleging a constitutionally defective search and seizure of a residence (argued).
- Vance v. Apple Valley Unified Sch. Dist. (E059632) (2015) – Fourth District, Division 1. Affirmed summary judgment in action against school district bus driver relating to allegations of teenage drug overdose following inappropriate sexual relationship with public employee (argued).
- Jacobson v. Palmdale School District (B239582) (2013) – Second District, Division 4. Obtained reversal of trial court's denial of Anti-SLAPP special motion to strike under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16. Drafted appellate brief and presented oral argument before the Court of Appeal (argued).
- Wattar v. Palmdale School District (B242050) (2013) – Second District, Division 7. Affirmed sustaining of demurrer to Second Amended Complaint, due to failed compliance with California Tort Claims Act (Gov. Code, § 910, et seq.) (argued).
- Kreitenberg v. Los Alamitos Unified School District (G043933) (2012) – Fourth District, Division 3. Holding that parents do not have standing under the Unruh Civil Rights Act to recover tuition costs incurred as a result of voluntarily transferring son from public school to private school in light of allegations that son was subject to environmental discrimination (argued).
- Robert White, et al. v. City of Santa Ana (G045757) (2012) – Fourth District, Division 3. Affirming the trial court's grant of a special motion to strike (Anti-SLAPP) in favor of City of Santa Ana in class action litigation, involving allegations that the City of Santa Ana and City Manager failed to comply with notice provisions of Vehicle Code § 21455.5, regarding its municipal red light traffic camera program (argued).
- Lindsay v. Kiernan (09-55652) (2010) – Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Affirming entry of summary judgment on behalf of peace officer accused of excessive force through use of X26 taser, on grounds that force applied was objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment (argued).
- McDonald v. Antelope Valley Community College District (2008) 45 Cal.4th 88 – California Supreme Court. Analysis of the court created “equitable tolling” doctrine in the context of a litigant's violation of FEHA's statute of limitations within the context of the litigant's pursuit and then abandonment of an internal grievance procedure with the Community College Chancellor's Office, pursuant to the California Code of Regulations (argued).
- Carrillo v. City of Baldwin Park (B199425) (2007) – Second District, Division 3. Palma notice issued by California Court of Appeal following successful filing of writ petition relative to trial court's misapplication of peace officer use of force standards in the State of California; induced settlement in excessive force matter involving clerk of the Superior Court and traffic stop initiated by peace officers from City of Baldwin Park.
- Aderele v. City of Culver City (B188656) (2006) – Second District, Division 3. Palma notice issued by California Court of Appeal following successful filing of writ petition relative to trial court's misapplication of peace officer use of force standards in the State of California; induced settlement in wrongful death matter involving police officer related shooting of mentally ill suspect.
- Southwestern University School of Law
- B.A., University of California at Los Angeles 2000
- Certified by the California Board of Legal Specialization of the State Bar of California in Appellate Law, August 2018
- Selected by Super Lawyers Magazine and Thompson Reuters as a “Rising Star” in the area of appellate law and municipal defense, 2012-2017
- In re Marriage of Regalbuto (B310897) (2022) – Second Appellate District, Division 3. In a unanimous opinion, the Court of Appeal upheld the trial court's award of attorneys' fees to a victim of domestic violence, finding that it did not abuse its discretion in awarding fees pursuant to Family Code sections 2030 and 6344 and the provisions of the Domestic Violence Protection Act ("DVPA," Family Code sections 6200-6219). (argued)
- Co-author, "Social Distancing And Right To Jury Trial Must Be Reconciled," Law360, April 12, 2020
- "Business Groups Say Calif. HIV Drug Claims Must Be Tossed," Law360, October 6, 2022
- "Profs, Orgs Tell Justices To Review Sham Litigation Exception," Law360, April 20, 2021
Memberships And Affiliations
- Los Angeles County Bar Association
- California Academy of Appellate Lawyers (2021)
My latest insights
At the front lines of law and policy – the evolving role of the appellate lawyer
30 November 2022 .1 minute read