You probably have heard of appeals being dismissed on procedural grounds, or as frivolous. But you could practice law rather a long time and never hear of an order being summarily reversed on appeal. But that is what happened in the improbably titled case IAHLDHFAPIMP_PAP, LLC v. Noll (D4d1 Aug. 11, 2021) no. D077727 (nonpub. opn.)
But don't get too excited. The appeal was from an award of attorneys' fees following a judgment. The underlying judgment recently got reversed in a separate appeal. No judgment, no right to fees. There was no point in going forward with the appeal.
Here is the standard for summary reversal:
The court may summarily reverse a trial court order where (1) “the proper resolution of the appeal is so obvious and without dispute that briefing would not serve any useful purpose” (Weinstat v. Dentsply Internat., Inc. (2010) 180 Cal.App.4th 1213, 1224), and (2) the parties have waived oral argument (see Moles v. Regents of University of California (1982) 32 Cal.3d 867, 870).
This scenario is one of the more common applications of the rarely-used summary reversal procedure. (E.g., Merced County Taxpayers' Assn. v. Cardella (1990) 218 Cal.App.3d 396, 402 ["An order awarding costs falls with a reversal of the judgment on which it is based."].)
Another scenario when summary reversal may be appropriate is when an intervening Supreme Court opinion clearly renders erroneous the order on appeal. (E.g., Weinstat v. Dentsply International, Inc., 180 Cal.App.4th 1213, 1218 (2010) ["Recent Supreme Court opinion in In re Tobacco II Cases (2009) 46 Cal.4th 298] rejects the legal premises underpinning the decertification order as to the UCL claim and mandates reversal.”].)
Still, the concept of a summary reversal is a curious one. Parties to an appeal are entitled as of right to present oral argument and to a written opinion. (Moles v. Regents of University of California (1982) 32 Cal.3d 867, 871; Lewis v. Superior Court (1999) 19 Cal.4th 1232, 1255.) The right to oral argument on appeal traces "to several sources, including the Constitution, the California Rules of Court, prior case law, and [in criminal cases] the Penal Code." (Moles, supra, 32 Cal.3d at p. 871, quoting People v. Brigham (1979) 25 Cal.3d 283.) And section 14 of article VI of the California Constitution requires the appellate court to decide all causes "in writing with reasons stated." This requires the court to state "the 'grounds' or 'principles' upon which the justices concur in the judgment." (Lewis v. Superior Court (1999) 19 Cal.4th 1232, 1262.)
The summary reversal procedure represents a non-statutory, judge-made exception to these fundamental requirements on appellate courts.
Which is probably why it is invoked so rarely that you likely had never heard of it. While summary reversal sounds intriguing if you are an appellant, remember this: were the courts to begin liberally invoking summary procedures, it would produce far more unhappy appellants than anything.
Tim Kowal helps trial attorneys and clients win their cases and avoid error on appeal. He co-hosts the Cal. Appellate Law Podcast at www.CALPodcast.com, and publishes a newsletter of appellate tips for trial attorneys at www.tvalaw.com/articles. His appellate practice covers all of California's appellate districts and throughout the Ninth Circuit, with appellate attorneys in offices in Orange County and Monterey County. Contact Tim at email@example.com or (714) 641-1232.