Only a week after the oral arguments Court of Appeals have denied Katherine Jackson’s request for a new trial against AEG and affirmed jury’s decision. Court of Appeals released a 39 page ruling and certified the ruling for publication making it citable by other parties and courts.
Assuming not everyone will have time or interest to read the full ruling, I decided to copy sections from the ruling to make it easier to understand why the Court of Appeals decided the way they did.
Court of Appeal’s 39 page ruling can be found at this link: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/B252411.PDF
Jacksons argued the trial court made a mistake in dismissing the negligence claim. Below is Court of Appeal’s explanation why the trial court’s decision was correct.
It is not foreseeable that pressuring a doctor to keep his patient healthy in order to meet his contractual obligations would result in the doctor supplying the patient with an unusual, powerful, and dangerous sedative. AEG was not aware Dr. Murray was taking extreme measures in his treatment of Michael, such as administering propofol. AEG wanted Dr. Murray to keep Michael healthy and able to perform, not put his health at risk. In fact, AEG’s concern over Michael’s overall health and stamina led to subsequent meetings with AEG, Dr. Murray and Michael. Dr. Murray’s decision to use a dangerous medication under circumstances with lax oversight could not have been anticipated by AEG as a result of its instructions to maintain Michael’s overall health.
Even considering the various interests of AEG and Dr. Murray, it was not foreseeable from AEG’s directions to keep Michael healthy and able to attend rehearsals that Dr. Murray would prescribe a dangerous medication that jeopardized Michael’s health.
AEG’s knowledge of Michael’s deteriorating health and any drug dependency issues did not increase the foreseeability that his doctor would take extreme and dangerous measures. In fact, the company might assume that Dr. Murray would take precautions and assist Michael in avoiding medications that put him at risk.
The evidence demonstrates AEG did not undertake Michael’s medical care in its entirety. AEG did not prevent Michael from seeing other doctors, and Michael in fact did so during the months leading up to his death.
The Jacksons present no evidence that AEG exerted financial pressure on Dr. Murray to ensure Michael’s attendance at rehearsals. They point to one private email from one AEG employee to another stating that they should remind Dr. Murray that it is AEG paying him, not Michael. There is no supporting evidence that this message or a similar one was conveyed to Dr. Murray outside of this email exchange. It was not foreseeable that Dr. Murray would deviate from the requisite standard of care
Respondeat Superior Claim
Jacksons argued the trial court made a mistake in dismissing the respondeat superior claim. Respondeat superior claim needs the person to be an employee or an agent and/or requires there is a peculiar risk. Below is Court of Appeal’s explanation why the trial court’s decision was correct.
Dr. Murray was an independent contractor as a matter of law. Undisputed material facts demonstrate that the trial court reached the correct conclusion when it ruled Dr. Murray was an independent contractor, not an employee.
The evidence also shows that AEG’s interactions with Dr. Murray were limited. AEG never instructed Dr. Murray on how to treat Michael, and no evidence was presented that AEG had the right to control Dr. Murray’s treatment of Michael.
Dr. Murray could be terminated by Michael for any reason, while AEG could only terminate Dr. Murray with proper cause.
Dr. Murray was engaged in a distinct occupation requiring a medical license and a high degree of skill acquired by years of specialized training. Dr. Murray was not supervised by AEG and as noted previously, no evidence was presented that Dr. Murray was required to report back to AEG.
Both AEG and Dr. Murray believed, at the time of contracting, they were creating an independent contractor relationship and not an employee relationship.
The draft contract was also a generic independent contractor agreement and provided only a general description of Dr. Murray’s services, “general medical care” to be administered “professionally.” Additionally, Dr. Murray operated his own incorporated entity, GCA Holdings, which was to be a party to the draft agreement. Having his company a party to the agreement lends itself to an independent contractor status.
Verdict form Issues
Jacksons argued that the trial court made an error in the verdict form. This is what the Court of Appeals say.
The question of whether AEG hired Dr. Murray was necessary given the dispute over who hired Dr. Murray, AEG or Michael. As the trial court noted, “The employment was neither stipulated nor obvious on its face.” However, if the trial court began the jury instructions or special verdict form with, “Was Dr. Conrad Murray unfit or incompetent to perform the work for which he was hired,” confusion was likely to result as the question assumed a hiring. Therefore, the jury needed to answer the question of whether AEG hired Dr. Murray before it could determine if AEG negligently hired, retained, or supervised him. The Jacksons’ counsel agreed, “. . . there’s no doubt there has to be some sort of arrangement or relationship between [them] -- there’s no doubt about that. [¶] Is it -- does it have to be -- do they have to be the initial hirers? I don’t know.” Nothing about clarifying the employment relationship distorts the elements of the claim or confuses the jury instructions.
We find the plain reading of Question No. 2 asked whether Dr. Murray was unfit or incompetent to perform the work for which he was hired, it did not ask if Dr. Murray was unfit or incompetent at the time he was hired. Question No. 2 did not restrict the jurors’ evaluation of Dr. Murray’s competence only at the time of hiring. Additionally, the Jacksons’ counsel argued in closing that the jury could consider Dr. Murray’s competence at any time. The Jacksons’ counsel repeated that argument in rebuttal.
The jury answered Question No. 1 favorably for the Jacksons, but answered Question No. 2 negatively. This suggests a careful consideration of each question on its own merits, exactly as the jurors were instructed to approach deliberations under CACI No. 5012 (jury to consider, answer, and vote on each question separately).
Although the Court of Appeals have denied Katherine’s request for a new trial, there are still some options of Katherine.
First of all Katherine can ask for reconsideration by Court of Appeals. Court of Appeals would only reconsider a case if they overlooked a material fact, misapplied a law etc.
Second option is taking this issue to Supreme Court. However I want to note that Supreme Court isn’t required to hear all of the cases filed with them. Supreme Court only hears cases that they call “unusually important legal principle”. This means the cases involve topics that are new , unique, something that needs a law established or changed. At the end Supreme Court only hears 1-2% of the cases filed with them and reject the rest without even a review.
So even if Katherine continues to pursue this lawsuit, the odds of options listed above being successful are slim.
On a downside as Katherine has lost her bid for an appeal, she is now also responsible for AEG’s trial costs. Trial court has already determined Katherine is responsible for $854,820.16. Court of Appeals has also granted AEG their costs on appeal; however we don’t know the exact amount for AEG’s appeal costs. It’s safe to say that the total money Katherine needs to pay AEG would probably be over $1 million.
On a final note as now all the legal proceedings concerning wrongful death of Michael is mostly over, I hope everyone will be able to find closure. I hope rather than focusing on Michael’s tragic death, now our focus can be on celebrating Michael’s life, his artistry, his message.