The Law Offices of Stephen E. Penner
Family Law and Estate Planning in Santa Barbara County


Practical Legal Solutions



The Law Offices of Stephen E. Penner have over 40 years of extensive experience conducting civil litigation in Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo Counties.  Whether you need to file a lawsuit or defend against a lawsuit, there are a vast array of options, possible solutions, and procedural requirements under California Law.  We will be happy to help you apply the law to your particular set of facts so that you can make an informed decision as to what to do inside or outside of court.



Once we meet and talk, the first step to take in deciding whether or not you ought to file a legal action in California Civil Court is to document and gather all the essential facts.  These facts will determine what areas of law apply to your circumstances.  There are various factors that will determine whether or not you are able to file for a lawsuit, such as: (1) whether your dispute is already subject to arbitration, (2) whether there are any applicable statutes of limitations, (3) whether any applicable filing deadlines have passed, and (4) whether a more prudent alternative, such as seeking an early settlement of your dispute, would avoid the necessity of filing a lawsuit in court.

Abraham Lincoln said: “Discourage litigation.  Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can.  Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser in fees, expenses, and waste of time.  As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.”  In the spirit of Lincoln’s advice, The Law Offices of Stephen E. Penner encourage early settlement and/or early mediation of potential legal actions.  Sometimes justice and recovery of damages can only be accomplished through filing a legal action in Court.  Other times justice and recovery of damages can be accomplished outside of Court, and we will tell you when we believe that this is the case for your specific dispute or circumstance.



If it is appears that you should file in Court, the next step in making a final decision will be comprehensively reviewing the facts and circumstances of your case so that it can be determined which causes of action you could allege in a Complaint.  If you consult with us we will discuss, review, and analyze your circumstances to determine your causes of action.  There are a wide variety of legal claims that you can make in Court under California law.  We can discuss with you what causes of action are available to you and the advisability of alleging most or all of them in a Complaint in Civil Court.  Among others, potential causes of action include:

  • Contract Actions (improper contracts, modification of contracts, statutes of frauds, breach of contract, specific performance, rescission of contracts, reformation of contracts)
  • Negligence Actions
  • Physical Torts (assault, battery, false imprisonment, false arrest, intentional infliction of emotional distress)
  • Nuisance Actions (private nuisance, public nuisance)
  • Business Torts (conspiracy, tortious interference, negligent misrepresentation, etc.)
  • Real Property Torts (trespass to land, trespass to chattels, conversion, etc.)
  • Fraud & Misrepresentation
  • Defamation (publication, slander, libel)
  • Privacy Rights (commercial appropriation, intrusion upon seclusion, false light publication, private facts disclosure)
  • Business Litigation (LLCs, LLPs, Corporations, Partnerships)
  • Personal Injury
  • Wrongful Death/Survival Actions



Of course, to initiate a legal action, you must possess what in Court is called “standing” to sue.  This makes you what is called “the real party in interest” who holds “title” to the claim or property involved in the lawsuit.  Your status as the party in interest is not the same as the status of a person who is an “interested party” who may only be benefitted or disadvantaged by the civil litigation.  Of course, some persons, such as agents and fiduciaries, are entitled to sue on another party’s behalf or on the behalf of a decedent’s estate.  These are distinctions that need to be made clear and properly applied when initiating a lawsuit.

Then there are issues of “capacity to sue.”  To be a party in a civil action, you must possess the capacity to sue or defend.  There are different procedural rules and requirements in the case of minors and incompetent adults, corporations, foreign corporations, partnerships, and estates.

Secondly, it is important to select the appropriate parties to name as defendants in initiating a legal action.  Sometimes identifying the party to be sued can be easy, but some circumstances can make this more complicated, particularly in cases involving agency, vicarious liability, business entities, government entities, malpractice actions, or decedents’ estates.  If you retain our services, we will assist you in selecting the right parties to sue.



At the Law Offices of Stephen E. Penner, we do not specialize in only initiating legal actions, but also in defending against them.  While some law firms narrow their focus to only representing plaintiffs, and others specialize in only engaging in civil defense, we believe that an attorney will be more informed if he has experience doing both.  This way when on the defense, he/she knows what steps to expect from the offense and what strategies work best in defending against various claims.

There are a great number of different kinds of defenses that can be raised against various civil causes of action.  If you have been served with a Summons and Complaint, you are welcome to sit down with us; and we will analyze the facts and allegations together to determine what defenses you can make in Court.  Among others, common defenses to civil actions include:

  • Consent
  • Privilege
  • Immunity
  • Self-Defense
  • Defense of Others
  • Necessity
  • Contributory Fault
  • Contributory Negligence
  • Comparative Negligence
  • Assumption of Risk
  • Truth
  • Privity
  • Limitation on Liability Clauses
  • Arbitration Clauses
  • Statutes of Limitations
  • Act of God
  • Superseding Cause
  • Intervening Cause
  • Limited or No Harm

It is very important to understand your options if you need to defend against a lawsuit.  Some defenses come with your admitting to certain facts, and you can make them only by agreeing to the truth of some of the Plaintiff’s allegations.  Some defenses are factual; some are legal. Some defenses are possible but tactically unhelpful.  It is not always prudent to simply allege every defense you can possibly imagine.  This is, of course, another determination that our attorneys will be glad to assist and advise you in making.



Of course, all your conversations and communications with us made in order to obtain legal services and advice are protected by the attorney-client privilege even if you do not decide to retain our law offices.  This rule is designed to make you free to disclose all the essential facts during your consultation with us so that we can give you informed advice.  Know that our offices cannot be compelled to reveal what you tell us about your case when you communicate with us for the purpose of considering retaining our services.



With Stephen E. Penner as a veteran of the Vietnam War and J.A.A. Purves as a veteran of the Iraq War, we are very sensitive to the needs and special issues involving service members and veterans of the United States Armed Forces.  There are some cases in which your status as a veteran entitles you to certain benefits or considerations.  Let us know if you are a veteran, and we will do everything we can to apply VA benefits to your case if they are applicable.



If you are deciding whether to engage in civil litigation in court, whether by initiating a legal action or defending against one, we will be happy to meet with you for a free consultation.  Call us to schedule an appointment and be prepared to explain the nature of your situation in general terms and inform us as to whether a lawsuit has already been initiated in Court.