Appellate boutique Horvitz & Levy’s size gives it two advantages.
In terms of California’s state appellate courts and the San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, it is a giant, with 32 lawyers specializing in appeals. The Encino, Calif.-based firm presented seven oral arguments before the Ninth Circuit in 2011 and claim more California Supreme Court appearances during the past decade than their two nearest competitors combined.
Yet nationally, it’s a midget compared with global behemoths like Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and O’Melveny & Myers — which works to its advantage when a case goes off the rails for one of the big firms. That’s because the megafirms can call in Horvitz for help without worrying that it will angle for the client’s litigation work.
“We’re less threatening as an appellate firm because we’re not going to be looking to take their client on the next big case,” said Peder Batalden, a partner specializing in Ninth Circuit appeals.
One major victory came on behalf of Crane Co., which manufactures valves for use on U.S. Navy vessels. A California Court of Appeal had found Crane liable for injuries to Lieutenant Patrick O’Neil caused by asbestos-containing gaskets made by another firm and installed in Crane’s valves by the Navy during the 1960s. K&L Gates, which represented Crane, sought help from Horvitz partners Curt Cutting and Jason Litt on an appeal to the California Supreme Court. In January, the court overturned the lower court in a ruling widely cited in similar products liability cases across the country.
The firm helped stun-gun manufacturer Taser International Inc., which had lost its first-ever wrongful-death jury verdict to the family of a man killed in 2005 by Salinas, Calif., police officers using its weapons. Partners Peter Abrahams, John Taylor and Batalden persuaded the Ninth Circuit to vacate nearly $7.5 million in damages in the case, leaving the company liable for just $150,000.
In a separate wrongful-death appeal, the firm helped Southern California Gas Co. overturn a judgment for the family of a teenage girl killed when her car veered off the road and hit a concrete wall and a gas meter. In December, the state Court of Appeal found that, because the gas meter was located more than 11 feet from the roadway, the gas company owed no legal duty of care.
“If you want someone who really knows the lay of the land in the California Supreme Court, in the Ninth Circuit, you want us,” Cutting said. “It doesn’t mean they have to agree with us, but at least we come to the court with some credibility.” — Jason McLure