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: Motions for Reconsideration

Why Are Courts Sour on CEQA? Peter Prows Explains

“Something is very wrong with this picture.” This is how the Court of Appeal recently concluded a CEQA case—with finger pointed in CEQA’s direction. Peter Prows, an environmental attorney who handles a lot of CEQA cases, runs down the good, the bad, and the ugly of CEQA. Peter talks with co-hosts Tim Kowal and Jeff Lewis about Tiburon Open Space Comm. v. Cnty. of Marin (May 12, 2022, A159860), which rejected a neighborhood group’s efforts to stymie a development project.

Only law nerds are interested in CEQA? Think again: Former Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi recently penned an article about how CEQA is thwarting California’s ability to provide housing. We discuss that, too.

Peter also supplies Tim’s personal favorite new quote, via Justice Brennan: “See how easy it is to be a City Attorney?… If all else fails, merely amend the regulation and start over again.” (San Diego Gas & Elec. Co. v. City of San Diego (1981) 450 U.S. 621, 655 n.22 (Brennan, J., dissenting).)

Also: The government gets anti-SLAPP protection for free speech? (See Vargas v. City of Salinas (2009) 46 Cal.4th 1.) Come on, SCOCA.

Finally, on the Lightning Round: A persuasive case for two spaces after a period?

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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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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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Appellate Court Acknowledges "The Rules Governing the Timeliness of an Appeal Are Complex"​; Appeal Dismissed

Filing a notice of appeal is deceptively simple. There is a Judicial Council form you can use. Everyone knows there is a 60-day deadline to file the notice of appeal (though when it starts running can be a little mysterious). There is no reason to consult an appellate attorney for something so simple as filing a notice of appeal.

Is there?

Think again. There are endless confounders in deciding when and what to appeal. A few of them arose in CL Brookshire v. Albers YZI LLC (D2d5 Jul. 14) no. B306001 (nonpub. opn.). Specifically, the case reminds litigants that:

1. No, a defective post-order or post-judgment motion is "invalid" and so will not extend the time to appeal.

2. Yes, even if you have blown the time to appeal, you might still move to vacate the judgment or order. And yes, you might be able to appeal the denial of the motion to vacate. But no, you cannot challenge the merits of the underlying order or judgment. Instead, you have to establish the trial court abused its discretion in denying your motion.

The Upshot: Originally, the plaintiff had a very sound appellate challenge. But instead of just getting on with the appeal, the plaintiff lost by making post-order motions in the trial court.

If you are considering pursuing post-order or post-judgment motions, this is an excellent time to consult appellate counsel.

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The 180-Day Deadline to Appeal Is Not Subject to Extension, Waiver, or "Fundamental Fairness"​

Appeals are dismissed on untimeliness grounds with regularity. This opinion, dismissing an untimely appeal, provides analysis that may help you avoid a similar fate. The problem, in short, is failing to appreciate that, while Rule 8.108 of the Rules of Court may extend the deadline to appeal, that rule never extends the deadline beyond 180 days from entry of the judgment. If you can remember only that, it will save you from the fate in Brownstone Lofts, LLC v. Otto Miller (D1d1 May 11, 2021) no. A160616 (non-pub.).

One other thing to try and remember: Once a final order is entered, the trial court loses jurisdiction to hear a motion for reconsideration. That means a postjudgment motion for reconsideration is improper and will not extend the time to appeal.

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Court Holds Every One of Appellant's Arguments Waived

About 3-4% of appeals are dismissed on technical grounds. But in addition to that, many more go through full briefing on the merits, but still ultimately fail on technical grounds. Here is an appellate effort that failed for purely technical reasons. Ghannoum v. Sevier (D2d2 Apr. 7, 2021) no. B304026 (unpublished). (The court also clearly was not excited by appellant's arguments.)
Ultimately, a loss is a loss. But one wants to avoid losing by way of all arguments being deemed waived.

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Attorney Fee Orders After Appeal Raise Thorny Appealability Issues

This appeal over attorney fees concerns thorny issues of appealability. In Doe v. Westmont Coll. (D2d6 Jan. 25, 2021) No. B303208, the Second District rejected the college's arguments that the fee order […]

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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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Peremptory Challenges and Motions for Reconsideration: California Appellate Law Podcast Episode 5 (Sept. 26, 2020)

TVA's Tim Kowal is a co-host of the California Appellate Law Podcast. Episode 5 discusses California cases and procedures in impacting making and challenging peremptory challenges to jurors and motions for reconsideration.

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Cal Appellate News for Lawyers (Sept. 25, 2020)

TVA appellate attorney Tim Kowal publishes this weekly update of legal news for trial attorneys. In this edition: big changes coming to juror peremptory challenges, appellate pitfalls on reconsideration motions, and the difficulty in establishing reversible error.

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