Ever had an appeal dismissed? It hurts. But there may be a silver lining: the underlying judgment may no longer have any preclusive value. That’s what happened in the published opinion in Parkford Owners for a Better Community v. Windeshausen (D3 Jul. 14, 2022 No. C094419) 81 Cal.App.5th 216.
In that case, a neighborhood group challenged the expansion of a storage facility on CEQA grounds. The trial court rejected the challenge, and the neighborhood group appealed. But pending the appeal, the expansion project went forward, rendering the appeal moot, leading the Court of Appeal to dismiss.
So then the neighborhood group challenged the issuance of a business license to the storage facility, this time on zoning grounds.
The storage company filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings on res judicata and preclusion grounds, arguing the issues in the new lawsuit were encompassed in the final judgment. The trial court granted the motion.
But the Court of Appeal reversed. Res judicata and claim preclusion require a final judgment. But here, the prior judgment, though challenged on appeal, was dismissed on mootness grounds. A dismissal solely on mootness grounds does not result in a final judgment “on the merits” as required to apply the doctrine of res judicata or preclusion.
Comment: I am not sure about this holding. When the trial court entered the judgment here, it had preclusive effect. Had the appellant not appealed, it would have retained its preclusive effect. But the court held that merely taking a notice of appeal, but then failing to get a decision before the corpus of the appeal was destroyed (thus rendering the appeal moot), had the result of eliminating the preclusive effect of the judgment. So the appellant gets a free do-over.
Could an appellant get the same result via a dismissal on other technical or procedural grounds other than mootness? What if the appellant files the notice of appeal, but then fails to pay the filing fee? Or fails to designate the record?
I find this outcome so confusing that I wonder that I may be missing something.