Is Reconsideration Even Jurisdictional?

The Prior Ruling Doctrine is yet another appellate trap for trial attorneys to consider when filing a motion for reconsideration. In Kerns v. CSE Insurance Group (2003) 106 Cal.App.4th 368, the First District reversed an order granting reconsideration of a prior judge's ruling, even though the motion was procedurally invalid. The court traced a split of authority in the District Courts of Appeal, some holding trial courts have jurisdiction under their inherent authority (Dist. 2 and 4), and some holding they do not (Dist. 1, 2, and 4).

Kerns held that the trial court could not even grant the procedurally invalid motion on its own inherent authority. Presumably this was because the trial court had "simply ignor[ed] the existence of th[e] prior ruling," rather than expressly correct it. But Kerns goes on to observe that even had it acknowledged and corrected the prior ruling, this "would completely undermine "the general rule that one trial court judge may not reconsider and overrule an interim ruling of another judge." [Citation.]"

What should the practitioner make of the court's inherent power to change its decisions at any time before judgment? Until split resolves, be mindful of the precedent in your particular appellate division.