Legal News and Appellate Tips

Each week, TVA appellate attorney Tim Kowal reviews several recent decisions out of the appellate courts in California, and elsewhere, and reports about the ones that might help you get an edge in your cases and appeals.

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Tag: Default Judgments

CEB has my article, “Don’t Seek Default Without Notifying Opposing Counsel”

CEB has published my article, “Don’t Seek Default Without Notifying Opposing Counsel,” available at https://bit.ly/3WjAZ4m .

The article summarizes a recent case, Shapell Socal Rental Properties, LLC v. Chico’s Fas, Inc. (D4d3 Oct. 17, 2022 no. G060411) ___ Cal.Rptr.3d ___, where the plaintiff’s attorney “calculated to keep [the defendant] in the dark” about a lawsuit in order to obtain a default judgment.

Attorneys have an ethical and a statutory duty to warn opposing counsel before requesting default. The Court of Appeal said the trial court’s failure to grant the motion to set aside the default was “inexplicable,” and on remand, disqualified the trial judge from hearing the case further.

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Don’t Seek Default Without Notifying Opposing Counsel. Just Don’t.

If you have served a summons and complaint and the defendant has not answered, don’t get too excited. Attorneys have a duty—an ethical duty, and a statutory duty—to warn opposing counsel before requesting default.

But the plaintiff’s attorney in Shapell Socal Rental Properties, LLC v. Chico’s Fas, Inc. (D4d3 Oct. 17, 2022 no. G060411) ___ Cal.Rptr.3d ___ didn’t do that. Far from it. Instead, counsel “calculated to keep [the defendant] in the dark” to obtain a default judgment.

In a published opinion, the Court of Appeal reversed the order refusing to set aside the default judgment, and pointedly noted counsel’s ethical shortcomings in the trial court. The Court of Appeal said the trial court’s failure to grant the motion to set aside the default was “inexplicable,” and on remand, disqualified the trial judge from hearing the case further.

The court also was unhappy with appellate counsel for refusing to acknowledge the ethical shortcomings below.

Driving the dagger even deeper into the landlord, the court noted that the tenant may seek an award of restitution against the landlord. This could include restoring possession to the tenant-appellant, or awarding money damages.

So bookmark Shapell Socal and consider restitutionary remedies if you are an appellant.

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Denial of Motion to Vacate Default Was Res Judicata, Not Subject to a Second Challenge

When a defendant fails to answer a complaint, the next step is entry of default. At that point, the defendant may move to vacate the default. But usually, the defendant will wait until after the judgment is entered, and then move to vacate the judgment.

Technically, you can do both. But don’t. That is what the defendant tried in HFL Law Group v. Schermer (D2d3 Feb. 10, 2022 no. B309020) 2022 WL 406947 (nonpub. opn.). The defendant moved to vacate the prejudgment entry of default, lost that motion, and then when default judgment was entered, moved to vacate that, too.

The Upshot: Don’t make the same argument in successive motions to vacate. When the defendant lost the first motion to vacate, and the judgment was entered, the issues were fully and finally adjudicated. At that point, the defendant’s remaining move was to appeal the judgment. The defendant did not appeal, and instead filed a motion to vacate the judgment, arguing the same grounds as before.

Her appeal of the denial of her second motion was timely, and the order was appealable, but to no avail: the issues were already final and the Court of Appeal lacked jurisdiction to disturb them.

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Understand the Difference Between a Presumption Affecting the Burden of Production and a Presumption Affecting the Burden of Proof

So you think you understand legal presumptions? Well, do you know the difference between a presumption that affects the burden of production, and one the affects the burden of proof?

If not, do not feel too bad. The trial judge in Felix v. People of California (D5 Jun. 8, 2021) no. F080255 (non-pub.) didn't understand the difference, either.

A defendant moved to set aside a default judgment, submitting a declaration stating he never received the summons and complaint. The trial court held this did not overcome the legal presumption of receipt.

Reversed: That presumption, affecting only the burden of production, disappeared when the defendant submitted his declaration.

Presumptions affecting "the burden of producing evidence" are different from those affecting the "burden of proof." The former just tells you who has to get the ball rolling in terms of putting on evidence, but does not otherwise express any public policy about how the fact question should come out.

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Default Judgment Set Aside on Showing of Merit, Excuse, and Diligence; and a Comment on Civility

While the parties were clearing up their eviction matter, the tenant-plaintiffs in Mayorga v. Mountview Props. Ltd. (D2d5 Apr. 9, 2021) no. B298284, noticed that landlord-plaintiff had not answered their complaint. So they pounced: they took landlord's default, and got a default judgment of nearly $500,000.
Landlord got the default judgment set aside, which was affirmed on appeal.
But landlord's attorney did his client no favors by his heated rhetoric, referring to appellants' “sloth and stealth” and their purported “extreme lack of hygiene” among other things.

But, an apology goes a long way, so in addition to still prevailing on appeal, the respondent with the forked-tongued attorney still got their costs on appeal.

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Missed the Deadline to Seek Attorney Fees? Post-Judgment Fees Are Still Available

Failing to timely seek fees after judgment does not forfeit the right to seek postjudgment fees, holds the Second District, Division Six in Vincent v. Sonkey (D2d6 Dec. 29, 2020) No. B293251. […]

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A DEFAULT JUDGMENT WAS ENTERED AGAINST YOU WITHOUT YOUR KNOWLEDGE. WHAT CAN YOU DO?

In today's litigious society, parties are quick to sue others but, due to the demands of life, defendants will oftentimes overlook...

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