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: Jurisdiction

Summary Judgment Not Appealed, But Reversed Anyway

What happens when the unmovable object—here, a jurisdictional limit—meets an unstoppable force—here, the liberality doctrine. We find out in Magyar v. Kaiser Permanente Medical Center (D2d2 Jan. 23, 2023 No. B315353) 2023 WL 355173 (nonpub. opn.): the unmovable object gave way. And so the plaintiff, who lost on summary judgment and forgot to appeal the judgment, got it reversed anyway.

What happened was there were two summary judgments, entered six days apart. The plaintiff appealed from the first, but apparently neglected to appeal from the second. The court said that, ordinarily, this means that the second judgment was outside the court’s jurisdiction to review. But under the “liberality doctrine,” the court inferred the plaintiff intended to appeal from both, because there was “nothing that would logically and conclusively demonstrate plaintiffs intended to appeal solely from one of the judgments.”

This is about the broadest application of the liberality doctrine that I’ve seen. And it starts from the assumption that all judgments are contained in the notice of appeal unless something in the record “logically and conclusively demonstrate[s]” otherwise. That seems off to me.

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Attachment Not Available for Punitive Damages in Elder Abuse Claims

When a nonagenarian’s new 35-years-junior wife started liquidated his assets, his daughter, Lisa Royals, intervened. In her resulting lawsuit of Royals v. Lu (D1d4 Jul. 18, 2022) 81 Cal.App.5th 328., not only did Royals allege almost $1.1 million in financial elder abuse, she also sought a writ of attachment for three times that amount—apparently based on statutory penalties and attorney fees. And despite the requirement that attachments be based on retrospective rather than prospective debts, the trial court issued a $3.4 million attachment order.

The First District Court of Appeal reversed. Royals’s pleadings and affidavit were “unclear what justified an attachment amount of more than three times the actual damages that Royals pleaded on information and belief.” And even after the appellate court’s request for supplemental briefing on that point, the court found “Royals’s elusiveness” to be “troubling.”

The court held that seeking damages based on penalties and punitive damages, or in “an open-ended way” to justify an inflated damages award, cannot satisfy the attachment statutes.

There was also an interesting procedural quirk when the trial court ordered the attachment vacated, purportedly rendering the appeal moot. That didn’t work: a trial court cannot vacate an order once it’s on appeal.

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Zoom Trials Are Not (Yet) the New Normal

Jeff and Tim discuss some recent cases to add to your attorney toolkit:

1. For personal injury attorneys, a recent civil-criminal crossover case dealing with victims’ right to restitution warns: the right to restitution is not waived unless the criminal case is over or the DA signs off.

2. Quashing a subpoena based on free speech gives a right to attorney fees. But caution: the court regarded the fees as purely mercenary in this case, and denied them.

3. No, Zoom trials are not a substitute for real trials — not unless the Legislature says so before July 1, 2023.

4. Beware dismissing appeals, because they’re almost always “with prejudice.”

5. How to lose your appeal by flubbing the Rule 8.108 appeal extensions.

We also discuss the Onion’s amicus brief in the US Supreme Court, and the California Supreme Court’s order declining to review whether bees are fish (but which the media interpreted as affirming that bees are, indeed, fish).

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Courts Cannot Reconsider Final Orders—But What Is a “Final” Order?

On the topic of judgment enforcement, the new rule announced in Coastline JX Holdings LLC v. Bennett (D4d3 Jul. 7, 2022, No. G059552) --- Cal.Rptr.3d ----, 2022 WL 2527118 is that a judgment-debtor’s profit-sharing plan is exempt from levy under both ERISA and California law, because profit-sharing plans are non-assignable.

And on the topic of civil procedure, while a trial court lacks jurisdiction to reconsider a “final” order, that does not apply to interim rulings whose deadline to appeal has not yet expired. So the trial court’s reconsideration here was valid.

This clarifies a number of recent cases holding trial courts lacked jurisdiction to entertain motions for reconsideration.

But the curious thing about this part of the opinion is that the court seems to allow the trial court to extend its jurisdictional window to reconsider an order indefinitely. Jurisdictional rules ordinarily cannot be extended except by statute. But here, the court held that the time in which the trial court could reconsider the order was extended when the trial court indicated it would “potentially” reconsider it. After that point, the Court of Appeal does not suggest how long this “potential reconsideration” period might last.

This seems to leave nothing of the jurisdictional time limit for the trial court’s period to reconsider the order.

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Amendments to Judgment During Appeal Reversed for Violating Appellate Stay

The unusual thing about Kling v. Horn (D2d7 Jun. 8, 2022 no. B310164) 2022 WL 2062642 (nonpub. opn.) is that the party who won the judgment was the one raising a problem about it.

Following an arbitration over an attorney fee dispute, the trial court entered a judgment of about $120,000 to the attorney. But to the attorney’s chagrin, the judgment stated that the parties shall bear their own fees and costs. The attorney didn’t like this because he claimed he was entitled to contractual attorney fees. So the attorney moved the trial court to amend the judgment to remove that part.

But before the trial court ruled on the motion, the client appealed. So when the trial court amended the judgment confirming the arbitration award, the client appealed again. The client’s second appeal, then, argued the amended judgment violated the appellate stay.

Compounding the confusion, the trial court also granted the attorney’s motion under Code of Civil Procedure section 187 to add the client’s business entities as co-judgment debtors. Again, while the appeal was pending. This was the subject of yet another appeal, 3123 SMB, LLC v. Horn (D2d7 Dec. 14, 2021) no. B309412 (nonpub. opn.).

The court noted the trial court created a “procedural mess” by amending the judgment pending appeal.

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Are the Courts Split on Untimely Appeals?

You have heard courts say that a timely notice of appeal is a prerequisite. As in, non-negotiable. As in, the court doesn’t even have jurisdiction to consider your appeal, so don’t even ask, ok?

But do the courts really mean it when they say that a timely notice of appeal is a jurisdictional prerequisite? This week, two cases give reason for doubt.

In one case, an appellate court held a belated appeal from a judgment may be resurrected by appealing from a subsequent cost award in an amended judgment.

And in another case, the court held an appeal filed after the 60-day deadline after a notice of entry is timely if the notice of entry does not attach the judgment.

The Upshot: Before these recent cases, I would have uniformly advised against taking an untimely appeal. Filing an untimely appeal and asserting off-the-wall theories that the appeal was timely filed after an amended judgment for costs, or that the notice of entry was invalid for not including attachments, might have been frivolous and subject to sanctions. Now, I am not so sure. Arguments supporting untimely appeals may be “on the wall.” Watch this space.

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Another Untimely Appeal Excused in Dependency Case Based on Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

In 2021, the California Supreme Court issued a surprising opinion. The Court held that an untimely appeal is not an absolute bar to appellate jurisdiction, at least in juvenile dependency cases. (*[In re A.R.](2021) 11 Cal.5th 234.)

The reason this was surprising is because, until then, a uniformity of California cases had held that an untimely appeal *was* an “absolute bar” to appellate jurisdiction.

But *A.R.* had noted there was a statutory right to “competent counsel” and a habeas right in dependency proceedings, so the Court would let slide the four-day untimeliness.

The recent case of *In re B.P.* (D5 Jan. 26, 2022 no. F082863) 2022 WL 224811 (nonpub. opn.), took *A.R.* quite a bit further. That case involved a four *month* untimeliness. Also: no habeas petition. The court still allowed the untimely appeal.

As I said before discussing *A.R.*, courts will continue citing the "jurisdictional" prohibition against considering untimely appeals. But, we may continue to wonder whether they are in earnest.

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SLAPP Fees Might Be Avoided by Dismissing Complaint, Published Appellate Decision Holds

From the “*did they really have to publish this?*” files:

You cannot avoid anti-SLAPP fees by dismissing the offending allegations. That is already settled law. But in *[Catlin Ins. Co. Inc. v. Danko Meredith Law Firm, Inc.] (D1d4 Jan. 11, 2022 no. A160358) ___ Cal.Rptr.3d ___ 2022 WL 101840, the plaintiff dismissed its complaint after the defendant filed an anti-SLAPP motion. The court held, in a published opinion, that the trial court did not err in refusing to rule on the anti-SLAPP motion, thus never establishing the predicate to the defendant’s right to anti-SLAPP fees.

After you learn the facts, you will understand why both the trial court and the appellate court were not excited about rewarding this defendant with anti-SLAPP fees. But as Justice Brown notes in dissent, the majority should be more mindful of the problems this holding will create for worthy anti-SLAPP movants in the future.

Ultimately, what seems to me incongruous about the *Catlin v. Danko* rule — which requires anti-SLAPP movants to file a separate fee motion in the event the plaintiff voluntarily dismisses — is based on facts that *disfavor* the anti-SLAPP movant (because the anti-SLAPP motion was probably frivolous). This seems to me an odd way to develop case law interpreting a statute that is supposed to *favor* anti-SLAPP motions.

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Trial Court May Not Reconsider Final Judgments, and the New Evidence, Even Though Compelling, Must Be Truly "New"

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 concluded in Espinoza v. Ponce (D4d1 Aug. 18, 2021) 2021 WL 3645535 no. D078096 (nonpub. opn.).

The Fourth District Court of Appeal appears to join a number of districts holding trial courts lacks jurisdiction to consider final orders and judgments — reconsideration only applies to interim orders.

And even compelling "new" evidence will not be considered if it is not presented timely. 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.)

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Can You Waive or Stipulate to Standing Defects? Court of Appeal Says Yes

When a party lacks standing – a legal interest in a case – that is a jurisdictional defect. Jurisdictional defects are fatal, and cannot be waived, or stipulated to.
But not in Silva v. Humboldt Cnty. (D1d1 Mar. 11, 2021) no. A160161. The First District concluded the county waived any standing defects by stipulating to petitioner's standing.

But I am not so sure about this. Standing is a jurisdictional requirement. And when dealing with a jurisdictional objection the party cannot waive it, or stipulate to it, or otherwise be bilked out of it by those nice appellate doctrines routinely trotted out to affirm a judgment.

Nonetheless, the result is otherwise correct, so: Affirmed.

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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, […]

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Cal Appellate News for Lawyers (Aug. 31, 2020)

TVA appellate attorney Tim Kowal publishes this weekly update of legal news for trial attorneys. In this edition: appellate tips on preliminary injunctions, summary judgments, and statements of decisions. And: appellate bonds... without collateral?!

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