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: Harmless Error

The 21-Day Safe Harbor Means 21 Days: Motion Filed Day 21 Is Too Early, Court Holds

should come to mind is a motion for sanctions. But the operative statute requires giving opposing counsel a 21-day warning first, known as a safe harbor.

How long is the 21-day safe harbor? There is now a published decision to tell us. The answer, according to Transcon Financial, Inc. v. Reid & Hellyer, APC (D4d2 Jul. 22, 2022 no. E076728) 81 Cal.App.5th 547, is that the 21-day safe harbor is no less than 21 days. A sanctions motion filed on the 21st day is too early. So the order granting that sanctions motion was reversed on appeal.

But I have a question about this.

The opinion contained no real analysis how the shortened safe harbor prejudiced the plaintiff or its attorney here. The purpose of the safe harbor is to provide a reasonable time for the offending party to reconsider its pleading. True, the plaintiff was deprived one day of that period. But there was no mention in the opinion that the plaintiff withdrew its pleading after the sanctions motion was filed. And a review of the docket indicates the offending complaint was not withdrawn. To the contrary, the defendants filed a demurrer to the complaint, and the plaintiffs opposed the demurrer.

So where is the prejudice? The court did not say that the safe-harbor provision is jurisdictional. The court also did not say that the error defies review for harmlessness. And there was pretty clearly no prejudice. So what is going on here?

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Judgment Infected with Dozens of Errors, Still Affirmed (Mostly) on Appeal

This unpublished decision reviews a trial court's reliance on improper evidence. The case, In re Marriage of Patterson (D5 Feb. 9, 2021) No. F076753, is a good illustration of a key points of trial practice: The trial court may not rely on evidence that was not properly admitting into the record. And judicial notice will not get you there on matters of "substantial consequence" without following the statutory procedures.

The case is also a good illustration of a key point of appellate practice: Even if the trial court relies on improper evidence, that error is not reversible unless the evidence prejudiced the appellant. If there was other substantial evidence supporting the findings, as there was here, the error will be deemed harmless.

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