Jones v. WhisenandAnnotate this Case
Acting pro se, Clay Jones sued his former attorney, Alan Whisenand, for legal malpractice and civil rights violations allegedly committed in the course of civil commitment proceedings under the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA). The trial court sustained Whisenand’s demurrer to the first amended complaint without leave to amend on the grounds that: (1) Jones failed to allege actual innocence of all charges in the underlying criminal case or post-conviction exoneration; and (2) Jones failed to show that Whisenand was a “state actor” acting “under color of state law.” After review, the Court of Appeal concluded that the actual innocence requirement did not apply to SVPA proceedings. However, public policy considerations underlying the actual innocence requirement (namely, judicial economy and the desire to avoid conflicting resolutions) compelled the conclusion that alleged SVPs should not be able to pursue causes of action for legal malpractice in the course of their SVPA proceedings unless and until such proceedings have been terminated in their favor. "[O]ur conclusion does not leave alleged SVPs without a remedy while proceedings are ongoing, as they may still seek relief for ineffective assistance of counsel in the SVPA proceedings themselves. Jones does not, and cannot, allege that the pending SVPA proceedings have been terminated in his favor. We therefore conclude the trial court properly sustained Whisenand’s demurrer to Jones’s cause of action for legal malpractice." The SVPA proceedings against Jones were still pending, raising the possibility that he might be able to comply with the favorable termination requirement in the future. Accordingly, the Court concluded the demurrer should have been sustained with leave to amend. With respect to his civil rights claim, the Court concluded the trial court properly sustained the demurrer without leave to amend.