People ex rel. Becerra v. Superior Court of Riverside Cnty.

Decision Date27 November 2018
Docket NumberE070545
Citation29 Cal.App.5th 486,240 Cal.Rptr.3d 250
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
Parties The PEOPLE EX REL. Xavier BECERRA, as Attorney General, etc., Petitioners, v. The SUPERIOR COURT OF RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Respondent; Sang-Hoon Ahn et al., Real Parties in Interest.

Xavier Becerra, Attorney General, Julie Weng-Gutierrez, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Joshua A. Klein, Deputy Solicitor General, and Niromi W. Pfeiffer, Gregory D. Brown and Darrell W. Spence, Deputy Attorneys General, for Petitioners.

No appearance for Respondent.

Larson O’Brien, Stephen G. Larson, Robert C. O’Brien, Los Angeles, Steven E. Bledsoe, and Erica R. Graves ; Life Legal Defense Foundation, Catherine W. Short, Ojai, Allison K. Aranda, and Alexandra Snyder; and Karen M. Kitterman for Real Parties in Interest Sang-Hoon Ahn, Laurence Boggeln, George Delgado, Phil Dreisbach, Vincent Fortanasce, Vincent Nguyen, and the Christian Medical and Dental Society d/b/a the American Academy of Medical Ethics.

Law Office of Jon B. Eisenberg, Jon B. Eisenberg, Oakland, O’Melveny & Myers, John Kappos, Bo Moon, Newport Beach, Jason A. Orr, Los Angeles, Tyler H. Hunt, Newport Beach, and Kevin Díaz, Portland, (admitted pro hac vice) for Real Parties in Interest Matthew Fairchild, Joan Nelson, and Catherine S. Forest.

Diane F. Boyer-Vine, Legislative Counsel, Robert A. Pratt, Principal Deputy Legislative Counsel, and Aaron D. Silva, Chief Deputy Legislative Counsel; Strumwasser & Woocher, Fredric D. Woocher, and Michael J. Strumwasser, Los Angeles, for the California State Senate and State Assembly as Amici Curiae on behalf of Petitioners.

Andrea Saltzman, Berkeley, in pro. per., as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Petitioners.

Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Simona G. Strauss, Palo Alto, for Death with Dignity National Center as amicus curiae on behalf of Petitioners.

OPINION

RAMIREZ, P. J.

In 2015, the Governor called a special session of the Legislature for certain specified purposes, including to "[i]mprove the efficiency and efficacy of the health care system, reduce the cost of providing health care services, and improve the health of Californians." During that session, the Legislature enacted the End of Life Option Act ( Health & Saf. Code, §§ 443 - 443.22 ) (Act), which legalized physician-assisted suicide1 for the terminally ill.

In the action below, the trial court entered judgment on the pleadings, enjoining enforcement of the Act on the ground that it was not within the scope of the proclamation calling the special session, and therefore it was in violation of article IV, section 3, subdivision (b) of the California Constitution.

This extraordinary writ proceeding presents two key issues:

1. Have the parties challenging the constitutionality of the Act adequately alleged that they have standing to do so?

2. Was the trial court correct in ruling that the Act is unconstitutional?

We will hold that the challengers have not shown that they have standing. Hence, we do not reach the constitutional question.

IFACTUAL BACKGROUND

Because we are reviewing a judgment on the pleadings, we take the facts from the complaint, as well as from matters of which we may take judicial notice. ( People ex rel. Alzayat v. Hebb (2017) 18 Cal.App.5th 801, 811, 226 Cal.Rptr.3d 867.)

On June 16, 2015, the Governor issued a proclamation convening a special session of the Legislature for certain specified purposes, including to "[i]mprove the efficiency and efficacy of the health care system, reduce the cost of providing health care services, and improve the health of Californians."

On September 11, 2015, during the special session, the Legislature passed the Act. (Assembly Weekly History, Apr. 4, 2016, p. 14.) On October 5, 2015, the Governor signed it into law. (Stats. 2015-2016, 2nd Ex. Sess., ch. 1.) It went into effect on June 9, 2016. ( Cal. Const., art. IV, § 8, subd. (c)(1); see Assembly Concurrent Resolution No. 1 (2015-2016 2nd Ex. Sess.); Assembly Weekly History (2015-2016 2nd Ex. Sess.), Apr. 4, 2016, p. 16.)

The Act allows an individual who has complied with all of its requirements to obtain and to use an "aid-in-dying drug." "Aid-in-dying drug" is defined, in part, as a drug that may be "self-administer[ed] to bring about ... death ...." ( Health & Saf. Code, § 443.1, subd. (b).)

First, the individual’s attending physician must diagnose the individual as having a terminal disease. ( Health & Saf. Code, § 443.2, subd. (a)(1).) "Terminal disease" is defined as "an incurable and irreversible disease that has been medically confirmed and will, within reasonable medical judgment, result in death within six months." ( Health & Saf. Code, § 443.1, subd. (q).) At that point, the individual may make a request to the attending physician for an aid-in-dying drug. ( Health & Saf. Code, §§ 443.2, subd. (a), 443.3, subd. (a).)

The attending physician must refer the individual to a consulting physician ( Health & Saf. Code, § 443.5, subd. (a)(3) ), who must also diagnose the individual as having a terminal disease. ( Health & Saf. Code, § 443.6, subd. (b).) If either the attending or the consulting physician finds indications that the individual has a mental disorder, he or she must refer the individual for a mental health specialist assessment. ( Health & Saf. Code, §§ 443.5, subd (a)(1)(A)(ii), 443.6, subd (d).) There are many other steps that must be taken to ensure that the request is voluntary and not the product of a mental disorder, coercion, or a whim. ( Health & Saf. Code, §§ 443.3, 443.4, 443.5, subd. (a), 443.6, 443.7, 443.8, 443.10, 443.11, 443.17, subd. (d).)

If all the conditions of the Act are met, the attending physician may prescribe an aid-in-dying drug to the qualified individual. ( Health & Saf. Code, § 443.5, subd. (b).) The qualified individual may then self-administer the aid-in-dying drug. (See Health & Saf. Code, §§ 443.1, subd. (b), 443.13, subd. (a)(2), 443.14, subd. (a).)

"Actions taken in accordance with [the Act] shall not, for any purposes, constitute suicide ..., homicide, or elder abuse under the law." ( Health & Saf. Code, § 443.18 ; see also Health & Saf. Code, § 443.14, subd. (d)(2).)

A physician who participates in the process prescribed by the Act is immune from virtually all adverse legal consequences. ( Health & Saf. Code, §§ 443.1, subd. (h), 443.14, subd. (c).) On the other hand, a physician is equally immune from "refusing to participate in activities authorized under this part, including, but not limited to, refusing to inform a patient regarding his or her rights under this part, and not referring an individual to a physician who participates in activities authorized under this part." ( Health & Saf. Code, §§ 443.14, subd. (e)(2), 443.1, subd. (h).)

"Participation in activities authorized [by the Act] shall be voluntary. ... [A] person or entity that elects, for reasons of conscience, morality, or ethics, not to engage in activities authorized [by the Act] is not required to take any action in support of an individual’s decision under [the Act]." ( Health & Saf. Code, § 443.14, subd. (e)(1).)

IIPROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
A. Events in the Trial Court .

This action below was filed in June 2016. The plaintiffs are five individual physicians2 along with a professional organization that promotes ethical standards in the medical profession3 (collectively the Ahn parties). They asserted causes of action for violations of due process, of equal protection, and of California constitutional limitations on the power of the Legislature to act in special session.

Initially, the only named defendant was Michael Hestrin, in his capacity as District Attorney of Riverside County. By stipulation, however, the Attorney General and "[t]he State of California ... by and through the California Department of Public Health" (collectively the State) intervened as defendants.

In February 2018, the Ahn parties filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings. On May 15, 2018, after hearing argument, the trial court ruled that it would grant the motion, without leave to amend. On May 21, 2018, it entered a formal written order to that effect. On May 24, 2018, it entered judgment in favor of the Ahn parties and against Hestrin and the State. In the judgment, it enjoined enforcement of the Act.4

On May 29, 2018, three nonparties5 (collectively the Fairchild parties) filed an ex parte application to vacate the judgment. They supported the Act and argued that the judgment was erroneous. On May 30, 2017, the trial court denied the application.

B. Events in This Court .

On May 21, 2018, the State filed a petition for writ of mandate in this court, along with a request for an immediate stay. Initially, we denied a stay. On June 8, 2018, however, the State filed an amended petition along with a renewed request for an immediate stay. On June 15, 2018, we issued an order to show cause and granted a temporary stay.

Meanwhile on June 6, 2018, the Fairchild parties filed an appeal from the judgment. We ordered that the appeal and this writ proceeding be considered together. We did not consolidate them. Nevertheless, from this point on, the parties served their filings in the writ proceeding on the Fairchild parties. Moreover, the Fairchild parties filed a return to the petition. None of the parties objected to this.

IIITHE STATUS OF THE FAIRCHILD PARTIES

In their separate appeal, the Fairchild parties contend that, as a result of the denial of their ex parte application to vacate the judgment, they have standing to appeal and, in that appeal, to challenge the judgment on the merits. The Ahn parties dispute this.

The issue for us at present, however, is not whether the Fairchild parties are parties to the appeal, but only whether they are parties to this writ proceeding.

A party to a writ proceeding does not necessarily have to have been a party to the proceeding in the tribunal below. (Sonoma County Nuclear Free Zone v. Superior Court (1987) 189...

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