Can you get a reversal on appeal based on the trial court’s improper rulings on evidence? Ever since the Supreme Court’s holding in Reid v. Google, Inc. (2010) 50 Cal.4th 512, practitioners have watched carefully to see if a trend of more rigorous review of evidentiary rulings might emerge, at least in the context of motions for summary judgment. Reid applied de novo review—rather than abuse of discretion—to evidentiary objections made at summary judgment when the trial court failed to rule on them. (Id. at p. 535.) As the Supreme Court noted, it is hard to know if the trial court abused its discretion if it did not exercise any.
So supporters of more rigorous review have been disappointed that, despite Reid, every appellate district has published opinions distinguishing Reid and applying the abuse-of-discretion standard to evidentiary rulings. (There are only two published cases since Reid that have applied the de novo standard: Pipitone v. Williams (2016) 244 Cal.App.4th 1437, and Alexander v. Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla (2018) 23 Cal.App.5th 206.)
And that is also what happened in Doe v. Software One, Inc. (D4d3 Oct. 12, 2022 no. G060554) 2022 WL 6901145 (nonpub. opn.), which distinguished Reid and applied the abuse-of-discretion standard to evidentiary rulings connected with a motion for summary judgment.
The Fourth District noted that “the weight of authority since Reid supports application of the abuse of discretion standard.” “The court specifically pointed to the volume of objections raised—nearly 100-pages worth: This quantity is not unusual for a motion for summary judgment: “We recognize that it has become common practice for litigants to flood the trial courts with inconsequential written evidentiary objections, without focusing on those that are critical.” (Reid, supra, 50 Cal.4th at p. 532.)”
Comment: The court’s analysis is valid, but one still has misgivings about treating hearsay objections as discretionary. The better approach, in my view, would be for the appellate courts to treat this issue as one of waiver. Code of Civil Procedure section 437c(b)(5) requires that evidentiary objections to be made at the hearing. So if the opposing party simply lets a ream of written objections stand without raising them at the hearing, then the objections should be treated not as overruled by operation of the trial court’s discretion, but as waived by operation of Reid and section 437c(b)(5).