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: Timeliness

What Starts the 60-Day Deadline to Move for Attorney Fees (or Appeal)? It Took Two Documents to Trigger in This Case

Need to get attorney fees after winning your case? The deadline to file your motion is the same as the deadline to appeal, and here’s an example of the strange mysteries of the “triggering document” rules that trigger the 60-day deadline.

After a trust beneficiary won her first appeal, on remand in Karamooz v. Karamooz (D4d3 Nov. 14, 2022) no. G060515, 2022 WL 16918764 (nonpub. opn.) the probate court held a further hearing.

Then the court issued a couple of rulings that are the pieces of the puzzle of the 60-day deadline:

First, in June, the court issued a tentative decision.

Then in July, the court issued a modified statement of decision and order. The clerk served a filed-stamped copy of the modification.

Finally, in August, the respondent served a notice of entry of the tentative—but not the modification.

The appellant filed her fee motion in October—within 60 days after service of the notice of entry of the tentative, but more than 60 days after service of the file-stamped copy of the tentative.

So was the fee motion timely?

Held: The fee motion was timely. Whether the 60-day period started running from service the notice of entry of the tentative or the file-stamped copy of the modification is a trick question: neither one was complete in itself, and so neither was effective to trigger the 60-day deadline.

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An Untimely Motion to Vacate Is Still “Valid” to Extend the Deadline to Appeal

You know that the deadline to appeal may be extended if you file a posttrial motion. But beware: the extension does not apply if your posttrial motion turns out to be “invalid.” That very nearly happened in Arega v. Bay Area Rapid Transit Dist. (D1d3 Sep. 14, 2022 no. A163266) -- Cal.Rptr.3d --- (2022 WL 4232631) after the filed a motion to vacate under Code of Civil Procedure section 473(b) on grounds of inadvertence, surprise, mistake, or excusable neglect.

Fortunately for the appellants, the Court of Appeal held that a section 473 motion to vacate is still “valid” to extend the time to appeal, so long as it is filed within section 473’s outer six-month deadline. And that is the case even if the trial court denies the section 473 motion for not being filed sooner.

Comment: Posttrial procedure gets confusing, and dangerous. If this were a motion for new trial, my advice would be: file the appeal now. That is because you get the best of both worlds: you have safely preserved your right to appeal, and because the motion for new trial is a collateral proceeding, the trial court may hear and decide it despite the pending appeal. Win-win.

But the same is not necessarily true with all posttrial motions. On JNOV motions, there is a split of authority. And motions to vacate cannot be heard when an appeal is pending.

So it is very important to carefully and timely prepare and file posttrial motions if you are relying on them to extend the time to 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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Waiting for a Formal Judgment Before Filing an Attorney Fee Motion Rendered the Motion Untimely

If you won your case and you have a right to recover attorney fees, mind the deadlines. The prevailing parties in Wallace v. Alameda Cnty. Mgmt. Emps. Ass'n (D1d5 Jan. 25, 2022) Case No. A162044 (nonpub. opn.) blew the deadline.

The petitioners, who had won a writ of mandate in the trial court, actually had a couple of decent ways to salvage the situation. But they were not aware of them until it was too late. For example, the petitioners argued the order granting the writ did not fully dispose of the case because they still had another case for declaratory relief.

Good argument! Except for one thing, as the court noted: “But in their motion for attorney fees, appellants argued they ‘achieved complete success and a full remedy in this action.’” Whoops.

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60-Day Deadline to Appeal Not Triggered by Minute Order

You know that the 60-day deadline to appeal starts the moment the clerk or a party serves either a notice of entry or a "filed-endorsed copy of the judgment, showing the date either was served." (Rules of Court, rule 8.104(a)(1)(A).) So what happens when the clerk serves a 23-page minute order granting an anti-SLAPP motion, along with a certificate of mailing? The judge clearly has decided the anti-SLAPP motion, which is an appealable order. The certificate shows the date of service. So the 60-day period starts running, right?

Wrong, says the Second District in Nejad v. Abernathy (D2d4 Nov. 1, 2021) 2021 WL 5049091 (nos. B304481, B307759) (nonpub. opn.). Rule 8.104 is read literally. There was no document titled "Notice of Entry," and no file stamp on the minute order. Thus, service with the minute order was insufficient to trigger the 60-day deadline. Motion to dismiss appeal denied.

Still, I would not chance it. File the notice of appeal within 60 days unless you have a very good reason why not.

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"Notice of Ruling"​ ≠ "Notice of Entry"​ When Calculating the Extension of Time to File Attorney Fee Motion or Appeal After Denial of New Trial Motion

Pop quiz: How much time do you get to file a motion for attorneys' fees (or a notice of appeal) after an order denying a new trial motion?
a. 30 days
b. 60 days after notice of entry of judgment
c. 180 days after entry of judgment
d. It depends on how order denying the new trial motion was served.

If you answered "it depends" then you are correct, as helpfully explained in Gallop v. Duval (D2d2 Sep. 2, 2021) 2021 WL 4077847 no. B308531 (nonpub. opn.).

Closely following rule 8.108, the court noted that the new trial denial order was not served. A notice of entry was not served. The denial was not by operation of law. By process of elimination, the time to appeal was extended to 180 days after entry of the November judgment. The February motion was timely, so the trial court's denial of attorney fee motion as untimely had to be reversed.

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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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To Start the 60-Day Clock for Your Opponent to Appeal, You Must Include a Proof of Service with Your Notice of Entry

Starting the 60-day clock for your opponent to file a notice of appeal requires strict compliance with the California Rules of Court, including the service requirements. That means a proof of service. Even actual notice in court is no substitute.

Also, if an unlawful detainer doesn't suit you, have you considered an elder abuse restraining order?

That is what happened in Smith v. Monk (D2d4 Jul. 6, 2021) no. B300975 (nonpub. opn.). Mother settled her unlawful detainer action against daughter, but later decided she still wanted her out. She accomplished this through an elder abuse restraining order.

Daughter's appeal, though unsuccessful, survived mother's challenges to timeliness. Mother failed to trigger the 60-day deadline to appeal because even though the order was personally served on daughter in court, and attached as an exhibit to a later filing, neither of these satisfies California Rules of Court, rule 8.104. The Notice of Entry or file-stamped copy of the order must be separately served and accompanied by a proof of service.

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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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The Notice of Appeal Is Deemed Filed When the Clerk Receives It...

The Notice of Appeal Is Deemed Filed When the Clerk Receives It...
... not when the clerk happens to get around to filing it.
In recent months – even before Covid, but even more since – I have seen clerks failing to promptly process filings. You have probably noticed it, too. Depending on the filing, this may create problems. For a notice of appeal, which has jurisdictional consequences, the date of filing is a matter of life or death to an appeal.
So what happens if you submit the notice of appeal timely, but the clerk does not actually "file" it until it is untimely?
J.M v. Los Angeles County Dept. of Children and Family Services (D2d2 Apr. 12, 2021) no. B305486 (not published) held: The appeal is timely. Fortunately, neither appelants' right to appeal nor the Court of Appeal's jurisdiction are at the mercy of a clerk's filing idiosyncrasies.

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Untimely Appeal May Be Excused in Dependency Proceedings, Cal. Supreme Court Holds

The California Supreme Court in In re A.R. (Apr. 5, 2021) no. S260928 held that failing to file a timely notice of appeal is not necessarily fatal in a dependency case. This is a surprising holding because, as most practitioners know, reviewing courts treat appellate deadlines as jurisdictional in nature: a hard limit on the court's very authority to act, regardless of merits, good cause, or equity.
Does the Court's holding undermine this jurisdictional rule? To escape the harsh effect of the jurisdictional requirement of filing a timely appeal, the Court relies heavily on another statutory right: the right to competent counsel in dependency proceedings. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 317.5.) But as the Court acknowledges, the Legislature does not furnish any remedy for this right. Namely, the Legislature does not suggest any exception to the jurisdictional limits on the courts' powers.

The upshot: I do not expect In re A.R. will lead to any different results in civil appeals in the short term. 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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New Trial Motion Not Heard Within Statutory Period Deemed Denied

Beware when filing new trial motions: if you are relying on it to extend your time to appeal, be mindful that it is heard within the statutory 75-day period. In Choochagi […]

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