After a disappointing ruling, a motion for reconsideration is often tempting. It is much cheaper and faster than an appeal, and, who knows, maybe the judge really did just overlook a key fact and will correct it after taking a second look.
But in the case of a final judgment having been entered, the trial court might not even have jurisdiction to entertain a motion for reconsideration. That is what the Fourth District Court of Appeal appears to have concluded in Espinoza v. Ponce (D4d1 Aug. 18, 2021) 2021 WL 3645535 no. D078096 (nonpub. opn.), joining a growing number of other districts.
The plaintiff in Espinoza sued a government entity after being injured in an accident involving a government vehicle. But did the plaintiff comply with the Government Claims Act? On that issue, the plaintiff lost. The plaintiff's counsel's employee testified she office sent the required forms to the El Centro addressed the government provided. The government's employee testified she emailed counsel's employee the correct Imperial address where to send the forms. In the absence of the actual emails produced by either party, the court sided with the government and entered judgment.
But then an interesting development happened. The plaintiff sued his counsel for malpractice, and during discovery, obtained emails from the government. Turns out, the government had sent two emails to plaintiff's counsel, each with a different address — one with the El Centro address, the other with the Imperial address. So the plaintiff's evidence at trial appears to have bene correct after all.
By this time, however, nine months had passed since the judgment was entered: too late to appeal or move for reconsideration. So the plaintiff filed a novel motion: a "motion for court's own motion for reconsideration." This was designed to urge the court to invoke its own inherent authority to reconsider its prior order under Code of Civil Procedure section 1008. The court denied the motion, and the plaintiff appealed.
The Trial Court May Not Be Compelled to Invoke Its Inherent Discretion to Reconsider Orders:
Initially, the Court of Appeal rejected the plaintiff-appellant's argument that it could "require" the trial court to invoke its own inherent authority to reconsider an order. "[P]laintiffs cite no authority which compels a trial court to reconsider its prior ruling on its own motion, even when prompted to do so by one of the parties before it. To the contrary, “[t]he court need not rule on any suggestion that it should reconsider a previous ruling and, without more, another party would not be expected to respond to such a suggestion.” " (Citing Le Francois v. Goel (2005) 35 Cal.4th 1094, 1108 (Le Francois).)
The Trial Court Lacks Jurisdiction to Consider a Final Judgment (Probably):
In a prior case discussed here, the First District Court of Appeal noted that, once judgment is entered, the trial court loses jurisdiction to hear a motion for reconsideration. (Citing Passavanti v. Williams (1990) 225 Cal.App.3d 1602, 1607–1608 (Passavanti) [postjudgment motion for reconsideration is improper and will not extend the time to appeal]; Safeco Ins. Co. v. Architectural Facades Unlimited, Inc. (2005) 134 Cal.App.4th 1477, 1481–1482.) The Third District Court of Appeal held the same in Marshall v. Webster (2020) 54 Cal.App.5th 275, discussed previously here.
The Fourth District, Division One, now joins in this view. The court notes that the Supreme Court in Le Francois expressly cautioned that a court's inherent authority “to reconsider interim orders does not necessarily apply to final orders, which present quite different concerns.”
The court here did not go further than that. Instead, it noted that the trial court could not be compelled to invoke its own discretion to reconsider.
"New" Evidence in a Motion for Reconsideration Must Be Truly New:
The court does not reach the merits of the plaintiff-appellant's new evidence. Instead, the court only notes that the appellant failed to establish the evidence could not have been discovered in time for the original bench trial — or the subsequent motion for new trial — had appellant and counsel employed reasonable diligence.
Even though the evidence may have been compelling, there are worse things than the occasional loss of possibly meritorious cases due to procedural or attorney errors: "'Endless litigation, in which nothing was ever finally determined, would be worse than occasional miscarriages of justice ....’ [Citations.]” (People v. DeLouize (2004) 32 Cal.4th 1223, 1232.)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or (714) 641-1232.