Cox v. GriffinAnnotate this Case
In 2008, Lucinda Cox and Hollis Griffin, who had been friends for over 20 years, opened a cosmetology school together. Cox was one of the school's teachers and Griffin handled administration. The relationship deteriorated over time: Cox alleged Griffin intentionally filed a false police report accusing Cox of forgery and embezzlement, leading to Cox's arrest and seven-day incarceration. Cox's attorney asked the court to instruct the jury on false arrest (false imprisonment) and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Cox's complaint did not allege a cause of action for malicious prosecution, and the court did not instruct on malicious prosecution. After the jury awarded Cox $450,000 in a general verdict, the trial court granted Griffin's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) because under Hagberg v. California Federal Bank, 32 Cal.4th 350 (2004), citizen reports of suspected criminal activity can only be the basis for tort liability on a malicious prosecution theory. When a citizen contacts law enforcement to report a suspected crime, the privilege in Civil Code section 47(b) barred causes of action for false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress, even if the police report was made maliciously. Cox's only argument on appeal was the JNOV should have been reversed because "the elements of malicious prosecution were supported by substantial evidence in the record." The Court of Appeal rejected Cox's argument because an appellant "cannot challenge a judgment on the basis of a new cause of action [she] did not advance below." The Court found an exception to that rule allowing a change in theory on appeal if the new theory involves a question of law on undisputed facts. But that exception did not apply here because the record did not contain undisputed evidence establishing all elements of malicious prosecution. Accordingly, although the jury found that Griffin intentionally filed a false police report causing Cox emotional distress, the Court of Appeal was compelled to affirm the defense judgment.