Overview

Jennifer Cantrell is a Certified Appellate Specialist and serves as lead appellate counsel for the firm’s private and public sector clients.  She has represented school districts, community colleges, county offices of education, special districts, and other public entities in the California Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and the California Court of Appeal.  Recently, she was appellate counsel in a groundbreaking public contracting case, Roy Allan Slurry Seal, Inc. v. American Asphalt South, Inc. (2017) 2 Cal.5th 505, where she successfully argued to the California Supreme Court that public works bidders may not pursue tort remedies against their competitors.

Ms. Cantrell’s appellate and litigation experience covers a broad range of issues including public contracts, land use, and California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”); labor and employment matters, union grievances, discrimination, occupational safety issues, and wage and hour matters; commercial disputes; civil rights, anti-SLAPP motions, and the California Voting Rights Act.  She has also been relied upon by numerous organizations and trade groups to prepare “friend of the court” amicus briefs.  Her work on behalf of clients often begins well before an appeal.  Ms. Cantrell has drafted motions and briefs for every stage of the litigation process, ranging from demurrers and other pretrial motions, to discovery motions, trial briefs and motions in limine, motions for summary judgment/adjudication and post-trial motions.  She also has extensive experience in litigating writ of mandate actions.  By crafting motions and consulting on trial strategy, Ms. Cantrell helps clients to either avoid appeals in the first place, or be well-positioned to win cases on appeal. 

Honors & Recognitions

In 2013 and 2014, Ms. Cantrell was selected to the Southern California Rising Stars, as issued by Super Lawyers, a national rating service of exceptional lawyers from more than 70 practice areas.  The recognition honors exceptional Southern California attorneys who are 40 years old or younger, or who have been practicing for 10 years or less.  Ms. Cantrell was also selected to the 2013 and 2014 Top Women Attorneys in Southern California, published in the Los Angeles magazine and Super Lawyers magazine.

Representative Matters

Reported Appellate Decisions

  • Bridges v. Mt. San Jacinto Community College District (2017) 14 Cal.App.5th 104 – successfully defended community college against environmental claims brought by a citizens’ group.  The Court of Appeal held that a purchase agreement between the college and the county for a parcel of property was not a “project” under CEQA, and thus did not trigger a duty to prepare an Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”) before execution of the agreement

  • Los Alamitos Unified School District v. All Persons Interested (2014) 229 Cal.App.4th 1222 – an appeal by a contractor challenging a school district’s use of the lease-leaseback construction delivery method as an exception to the state’s competitive bidding laws.  In a published decision, the Fourth Appellate District, Division 3 sided entirely with the school district and upheld the Lease-Leaseback agreement.  The case was the first of its kind to interpret the lease-leaseback statutes, Education Code section 17400 et seq.
  • Rey v. Madera Unified School District (2012) 138 Cal.Rptr.3d 192 – an action alleging the district and county office of education violated the California Voting Rights Act by using an at-large voting system to elect its governing board rather than a trustee-area system.  After the parties worked out an early settlement in the trial court, plaintiff’s attorneys sought $1.3 million in attorney’s fees, which the trial court reduced by 90%.  Plaintiffs appealed and the Fifth Appellate District in a reported decision (only the second ever decision under the Act), affirmed the trial court’s decision in full. 
  • City of Cerritos v. Cerritos Taxpayers Assn. (2010 183 Cal.App.4th 1417, an appeal brought by challengers of an agreement between client ABC Unified School District and the City of Cerritos for purchase and renovation of properties in exchange for construction of affordable housing.  The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s finding that the agreement was a proper use of Low and Moderate income (LMI) funds under the former California Redevelopment Act.
  • Johnson v. Arvin-Edison Water Storage District (2009) 174 Cal.App.4th 729, a wage and hour appeal brought by employees seeking back pay and penalties for overtime and meal and rest breaks against the water storage district.  In affirming the judgment dismissing plaintiffs’ claims, the Fifth Appellate District, held that public employers such as the water storage district are exempt from wage and hour statutes and IWC wage orders governing overtime and meal periods.

Other Significant Cases

  • City of Los Angeles v. Superior Court (Rosenthal) (2014) WL 5470263– putative class action brought to challenge a letter of agreement negotiated between the City and its unions that increased the city employees’ contribution rate for the LACERS retirement system.  Plaintiffs argued that the change in pension system violated the contracts clauses of the state and federal constitutions.  After the trial court overruled the city’s demurrer and allowed plaintiffs to move forward with their fourth amended complaint, the City filed a petition for writ of mandate.  The Second Appellate District granted the writ and ordered the trial court to grant the City’s demurrer without leave to amend.
  • San Diego County Court Employees Association v. San Diego Superior Court (2014) WL 2858242 – appeal of a mandamus action brought by a union of court employees challenging layoff decisions made pursuant to a MOU.  In the appeal, which hinged on the proper interpretation of terms in the collective bargaining agreement, the Fourth Appellate District, Division 1, held that the trial court properly interpreted the layoff provisions.
  • Selwyn Young v. Los Angeles Community College District (2013) WL 5820395 – an appeal of a jury verdict against LACCD involving claims of workplace discrimination and harassment under FEHA (Gov.Code, § 12900 et seq.), and retaliation under Labor Code section 1102.5.  Our firm associated in as appellate counsel following the five week jury trial and reviewed over 7000 pages of clerks record and reporters transcripts.  We succeeded on appeal in reversing the almost $3 million judgment on grounds of evidentiary error.  Following remand, the case settled on favorable terms for the District.
  • Save Our Chinatown Committee v. City of Riverside (2012) WL 951500, a case concerning CEQA and surplus property procedures arising from the sale of historical/landmark property in downtown Riverside.  The Fourth Appellate District, Division 2 issued its decision completely in the client’s favor, finding that the County Office of Education was not required to perform surplus property procedures prior to its sale of the historic property to a local developer.   
  • Beckett v. Pasadena Unified School District (2011) WL 1797055 – successfully defended school district against action stemming from an altercation that occurred at the Pasadena courthouse in which opposing counsel violently pushed an attorney of our firm to the ground following a routine hearing.  After the trial court issued a restraining order protecting the District and its attorneys against the violent individual, opposing counsel filed a writ and appeal.  The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s decision in full. 
  • Aleman v. Los Angeles County Superior Court (2011) WL 1496367 – an appeal brought by a pro per employee of the Los Angeles County Superior Court alleging claims of employment discrimination against her supervisors at the courthouse.  The Court of Appeal affirmed in full and agreed that the employee’s claims were properly dismissed.
  • Blue Cross v. KMEBS (2011) - Succeeded in a 3 week bench trial brought by client Santa Ana Unified School District against its health care insurance brokers who received secret commissions from insurance carriers for the District’s accounts.  The case, which involved claims for breach of contract, fraud, and breach of fiduciary duty resulted in a $2.5 million judgment in favor of client Santa Ana Unified School District, plus another $1 million in prejudgment interest.
  • The Committee of 1000 v. Palm Springs Unified School District (2009) 2009 WL 1426797, successfully defended the school district’s environmental impact report against claims by challengers.  The Fourth Appellate District, Division 2, held that the District’s EIR satisfied the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”).
  • Baker Valley Unified School Dist. v. Superior Court (2008) 2008 WL 5385229 – After the trial court overruled its demurrer to a contractor’s complaint, client Baker Valley Unified School District successfully sought a writ of mandate.  The Fourth Appellate District, Division 2  held that a public contractor could not recover on quantum meruit or implied contract theories against a school district.

Practice Areas

News & Publications

Publications

  • Co-author, with Suparna Jain, “Enforceability of Local Hire Preference Programs,” Nat’l Coop. Hwy. Legal Research Digest, vol. 59, pp. 1-40 (Nat’l Transp. Research Bd., Apr. 2013). 
  • Co-author, with Nate Kowalski and Emily Prescott, “Wage and Hour in the Public Sector,” California Public Sector Employment Law, (Cal. Bar. May 2010)
  • Client Alert - Government Claim Not Mandatory When A Public Entity's Contract Provides Alternate Claims Procedures (Oct. 2008)
  • Client Alert - Supreme Court Strengthens Contractor Licensing Laws (Sept. 2005)
  • Client Alert - Supreme Court Limits Damages for Lost Profits (Jan. 2004)
  • For the Birds: The Statutory Limits of the Army Corps of Engineers' Authority over Intrastate Waters After SWANCC, 77 S. Cal. L. Rev. 1353 (2004)

Community Involvement

Community & Professional

  • Orange County Bar Association, Appellate Law Section, Member

Education

J.D., University of Southern California, Gould School of Law
B.A., University of California, San Diego

Admissions

  • 2004, California
    U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit
    U.S. District Court, Central District of California
    U.S. Supreme Court
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