Long-derided Clemmer v. Hartford Insurance Co. clarified by Supreme Court: an order denying a motion to vacate under Code of Civil Procedure section 663 is appealable

In 2007, I wrote about the questionable rule of Clemmer v. Hartford Insurance Co. (1978) 28 Cal.3d 865, which concluded that an order denying a motion to vacate made under Code of Civil Procedure section 663 (a “section 663 motion to vacate”) is not appealable:

Probably no Supreme Court opinion has been more ignored by the Courts of Appeal than Clemmer v. Hartford Insurance Co. (1978) 22 Cal.3d 865. In Clemmer, the Supreme Court concluded, without explanation, that an order denying a motion made pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 663 to vacate the judgment and enter a new judgment is not appealable and dismissed the appeal. Because it reached this conclusion without explanation, despite precedent to the contrary, and because the dismissal had no procedural effect (the issues raised were heard on appeal from the underlying judgment), this conclusion in Clemmer has been characterized as dictum and has generally not been followed. [Citation.]

I suggested that the then-recent decision in City of Los Angles v. Glair (2007) 153 Cal.App.4th 813 might give the Supreme Court a good reason to revisit and clarify Clemmer, because the Glair court had bucked the trend of writing off Clemmer’s conclusion as dictum, and instead relied on Clemmer to dismiss an appeal. (I later expanded that blog post into an article, available here.)

The Supreme Court denied review in Glair, but this part of Clemmer, and confusion resulting from it, have finally met their doom in Ryan v. Rosenfeld (June 15, 2017, S232582) ___ Cal.5th ___. In Ryan, the Supreme Court unambiguously holds that an order denying a section 663 motion to vacate is appealable, even if it raises issues that could have been litigated in an appeal of the judgment.

The Supreme Court’s statement of the conflict between Clemmer and its other decisions on the issue is understated:

Our opinion follows several earlier efforts by this court to resolve questions nearly identical to the one before us today. What complicates this case somewhat is the tension between one of those past efforts — in Clemmer []— and virtually all of our other holdings on this question.

The Supreme Court takes us on a trip through history, starting with a 1911 Supreme Court decision holding that an order denying a section 663 motion to vacate [then codified elsewhere] is appealable, then tracks its subsequent consistent decisions and carefully recounts intervening amendments to the relevant statutes to demonstrate that they do not change the rule first announced in 1911.

The Supreme Court downplays the opposite conclusion reached in Clemmer by noting the appellant in that case had appealed from two post-judgment orders in addition to the order denying its section 663 motion to vacate — one granting its new trial motion only in part, and the other denying its motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict — and that the opinion in Clemmer “said a grand total of three things” about the motion to vacate. Noting that its opinion in Clemmer offered no analysis of the issue or any authority supporting its conclusion that orders denying section 663 motions to vacate are not appealable, the Supreme Court explains that “Clemmer’s unexplained treatment of the section 663 order has — for years — puzzled observers.” Ryan solves that puzzle:

Whatever else is true of Clemmer, what we hold is that it did not overrule our long-standing precedent. When this court departs from settled law, we seek to explain the reasons for that departure. When an opinion defies our precedent with no explanation, litigants and courts have no reliable way to discern whether that departure was an oversight. This is especially true for an opinion like Clemmer, where the inconsistency with settled law was not a central issue in the case. We thus treat Clemmer’s statement with more skepticism than we treat . . . prior cases analyzing this statutory scheme in greater detail.

The issue decided in Ryan will give a second chance to some appellants. A party that failed to appeal (or untimely appealed) from the underlying judgment might can still obtain review of issues that could have been raised in an appeal from the judgment by timely appealing from the denial of a section 663 motion that raised those issues.

Third District Court of Appeal creates a “quagmire” regarding Prop 47 sentence reductions

Prop 47

You don’t have to take my word for it. The court uses the word “quagmire” in yesterday’s decision in People v. Scarbrough, case no. C075414 (3d. Dist. Sept. 29, 2015), in which it holds that a trial court lacks jurisdiction to recall and reduce sentences under Proposition 47 when the judgment for those crimes is on appeal.

First, a brief reminder of what the California electorate voted into law last November. Prop 47 reclassifies certain crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and provides that persons convicted of felonies that are now classified as misdemeanors may “petition for a recall of sentence” to request resentencing under the new standards.

You can imagine there are quite a few defendants in line for this process. The Los Angeles Times reported just a few weeks after passage of Prop 47:

Judges expect that tens of thousands of Californians may seek to have their felony convictions reduced. Courts have had to scramble to handle the surge in workload, and some agencies are planning to ask for more public funding to cover the added duties.

Now, on to the quagmire. Defendant Scarbrough appealed her felony convictions. While her appeal was pending, she also filed a Prop 47 petition to be resentenced on the same convictions, and the trial court entered an order reducing her original sentence of 9 years, 4 months to just 6 years. Scarbrough attempted to abandon her appeal, but the Court of Appeal refused to dismiss it and asked for supplemental briefing on “an issue that is likely to recur and to otherwise evade review” — whether the trial court had jurisdiction to rule on a petition for recall and resentencing while appeal from the same convictions was pending.

Because the trial court determined that the trial court lacked such jurisdiction, its order reducing Scarbrough’s sentence is void. The obvious question then becomes: What about other defendants that have already been resentenced while their appeals were pending? Well, the court acknowledges that its ruling creates a mess, but provides no guidance as to how it will be cleaned up:

We do recognize that several people with pending appeals have been resentenced ostensibly pursuant to section 1170.18 while their appeals were pending. This does create a quagmire, especially as regards individuals who have been released as a result of  their resentencing. However, that is an insufficient reason for us to find concurrent jurisdiction where it was not statutorily afforded.

Given the news coverage about the “flood” of Prop 47 petitions — the Sacramento Bee reported last month that 4,347 prisoners had been release under prop 47 through the first week of August, with many thousands more having been resentenced without being released — I was surprised that the court said that several” people had their resentencing petitions granted while their appeals were pending. While it makes sense that the vast majority of the petitions are from prisoners whose appeals are long over, “several” still strikes me as a surprising characterization of the number that have been resentenced or released while their appeals were pending.

Perhaps that makes the term quagmire all the more significant. If “several” void resentencing orders create a quagmire, what would have been created if the number of void resentencing orders numbered in the hundreds or thousands?

No appeal from order vacating partial arbitration award

One of the frustrations for parties forced to arbitrate their claims rather than pursue them in court is the unavailability of a direct route of appeal from the arbitration award. Generally, the only way to get out from under an adverse award is to petition the superior court to vacate the award (Code Civ. Proc., § 1285 et seq.), and then only on very limited grounds such as fraud, corruption, or misconduct by the arbitrator, generally unrelated to the substantive merits of the decision. If you’re on the other side — i.e., you were the prevailing party in the arbitration — you can take some comfort from the fact that if the loser in arbitration successfully gets the award vacated, you can appeal that order, unless it includes an order for a rehearing in arbitration. (Code Civ. Proc., § 1294, subd. (c).)

But that’s not always the case. In a decision late last year, Judge v. Nijjar Realty, Inc. (2014) 232 Cal.App.4th 619, the Court of Appeal held that when the arbitration award that is vacated fails to dispose of all arbitrable issues, the order vacating the partial award is not appealable. The appellant had procured a “clause construction award” that construed the arbitration clause to allow arbitration of class and representative claims but left the merits of those claims to later hearings. Respondent successfully petitioned the trial court to vacate the award, and the appeal followed.

After some interesting discussion about the degree to which the Federal Arbitration Act (9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq.) governs California arbitration procedure, the court finds that appealability of the order is governed by California state law rather then the FAA, and turns next to to the language in the California Arbitration Act. (Code Civ. Proc., § 1280 et seq.) Noting the plain language of Code of Civil Procedure section 1294, subdivision (c), that an aggrieved party may appeal from an “order vacating an award unless a rehearing in arbitration is ordered,” and further noting that no rehearing was ordered, the court notes that the issue presented  is “whether the trial court’s order in this case vacated an arbitration ‘award.’ ”

If that seems like a slam dunk, think again. The CAA provides that an “award” must “include a determination of all the questions submitted to the arbitrators the decision of which is necessary in order to determine the controversy.” Since the order in this case concerned only clause construction and left other issues for future hearings, there was no appeal from the order vacating the “award.”

This closely parallels the requirement that a superior court judgment be “final,” resolving all issues among the parties, in order to be appealable. The court notes that the same policy reasons underscoring this “one final judgment” rule also support requiring a final arbitration award as a condition of appeal from an order vacating it. Without such a limitation, the court reasons, all manner of interim arbitration awards could result in appeal from orders vacating them, defeating arbitration’s intended role as “a quick and efficient form of alternative dispute resolution.” Moreover, says the court, it would be anomalous to allow appeal from orders vacating arbitration awards when no appeal would lie from their counterparts in a civil action.

The obvious question left unanswered by Judge is whether the superior court has jurisdiction to hear a petition to confirm or vacate an interim award in the first place. The court explicitly noted the issue was left hanging, since it had no occasion to decide it, but opined that a superior court’s jurisdiction in such a case is doubtful, and implicitly encouraged the appellant to file a motion fore reconsideration in the trial court upon remand. (232 Cal.App.4th at p. 634, fn. 12.) From what I can tell from the somewhat cryptic online docket for the superior court, it looks like the appellant did just that, and the motion is still under consideration as of this writing. Another trip to the Court of Appeal in the near future seems likely.

Don’t give up when your motion to dismiss an appeal is summarily denied

The term “summary denial” sounds pretty bad when you are the party seeking relief. It has an air of finality. Sheesh, not even a hearing on the merits!

But a summary denial is not final in every context. This was recently pointed out in Ellis v. Ellis (2015) 235 Cal.App.4th 837, in which the respondent moved to dismiss the appeal as untimely. The court summarily denied the motion. After the appeal was fully briefed, however, the court advised the parties to be prepared to address the timeliness of the appeal at oral argument, heard argument, and ultimately granted the motion. While I am sure the respondent would have preferred such a ruling prior to briefing the appeal on the merits, I doubt he minded too much that he was put through that time and expense. A win is a win.

At the point in its opinion that it mentioned its summary denial, the court added this footnote: “Of course, a summary denial of a motion to dismiss an appeal does not ‘preclude later full consideration of the issue, accompanied by a written opinion, following review of the entire record and the opportunity for oral argument.’ [Citations.]”

Of course? Maybe people steeped in appellate procedure are familiar with this principle, but I think it would come as a surprise to most people. Now you know, and now you, too, can say of course.

Don’t lightly assume that you’ve extended your time to appeal with a post-trial motion

The parties in your case have stipulated to have their case tried before a temporary judge (pursuant to Cal. Const., art. VI, § 21) and filed all trial-related papers (trial briefs, closing briefs, and requests for statement of decision) directly with the temporary judge at his alternative dispute resolution service.

So, where should you file your motion to vacate the judgment under Code of Civil Procedure sections 663 and 663a? The answer is: with the clerk of the superior court. (As all documents should be, pursuant to Cal. Rules of Court, rule 2.400(b).)

The appellant in Gonzalez v. Aroura Loan Services, LLC, case no. B247366 (2d Dist., Nov. 17, 2014) learned that lesson the hard way, but not through having its motion to vacate denied. In fact, the judge never even ruled on the motion. But the appellant suffered another consequence from filing its motion to vacate directly with the temporary judge instead of with the clerk of the superior court. Its appeal was dismissed as untimely because the improperly filed motion to vacate did not trigger the extension of time to file the notice of appeal described in rule 8.108(c), California Rules of Court.

Rule 8.108(c) extends the time to appeal whenever a party files “a valid notice of intention to move — or a valid motion — to vacate the judgment.” (Emphasis added.) The court held that the motion to vacate filed directly with the temporary judge was not valid because section 663 directs that the moving party ” shall file with the clerk and serve upon the adverse party a notice of his or her intention, designating the grounds upon which the motion will be made[.]” (Emphasis added.) Thus, the rule 8.108(c) extension was never triggered. Without that extension, the appellant’s notice of appeal was untimely.

I cannot emphasize enough how critical it is that a party file its notice of appeal on time. Gonzalez has more to say on this broader topic, which I will save for another post.

Supreme Court reverses Kurwa v. Kislinger – there are limits to the manufacture of appellate jurisdiction

Even most non-appellate lawyers are familiar with the “one final judgment rule,” under which a judgment is not appealable unless it disposes of all of the claims between the parties to the appeal. Plaintiffs who have had some (but not all) claims dismissed after a demurrer or summary adjudication either have to defer appellate review of the ruling until the remaining claims have been resolved, or dismiss the remaining claims with prejudice so as to create a judgment that disposes of all claims and is thus appealable. (Of course, the plaintiff also has the option of petitioning for writ relief from the summary adjudication order.)

In Kurwa v. Kislinger (2013) 57 Cal.4th 1097, the parties tried to preserve their defamation crossclaims against each other by stipulating to dismiss them without prejudice and waiving the statute of limitations, so that they could be revived after the appeal of the ruling knocking out the plaintiff’s claim for breach of fiduciary duty and related claims. Prior to the Court of Appeal decision in Kurwa, a consistent line of cases starting with Don Jose’s Restaurant, Inc. v. Truck insurance Exchange (1997) 53 Cal.App.4th 115 had held that such an arrangement did not create an appealable judgment because there was no finality in the disposition of the dismissed claims. The Court of Appeal in Kurwa, however, departed from this reasoning and concluded that dismissals without prejudice and with waivers of the statute of limitations create an appealable judgment because there are no longer any claims “pending” in the trial court.

The Supreme Court reverses in a unanimous decision:

We disagree with the appellate court below, and agree with Don Jose’s and the decisions following it, including Abatti [v. Imperial Irrigation Dist. (2012) 205 Cal.App.4th 650] . When, as here, the trial court has resolved some causes of action and the others are voluntarily dismissed, but the parties have agreed to preserve the voluntarily dismissed counts for potential litigation upon conclusion of the appeal from the judgment rendered, the judgment is one that “fails to complete the disposition of all the causes of action between the parties” (Morehart [v. County of Santa Barbara], supra, [1994] 7 Cal.4th [725] at p. 743) and is therefore not appealable.

The Court of Appeal below was correct that causes of action the parties have dismissed without prejudice are no longer pending in the trial court, in the sense that no immediate action remains for the trial court to take on such counts. But where the parties, by waiver or agreed tolling of the statute of limitations or a similar agreement, have arranged for those causes of action to be resurrected upon completion of the appeal, they remain “legally alive” in substance and effect. (Hill v. City of Clovis, supra, [1998] 63 Cal.App.4th [434] at p. 445.) The rule of the lower court, under which a voluntary dismissal is considered to dispose of a cause of action regardless of any agreement facilitating its future litigation, elevates form over substance and permits parties to evade the one final judgment rule of section 904.1, subdivision (a), through what the Don Jose’s court aptly called an “artifice.” (Don Jose’s, supra, 53 Cal.App.4th at p. 116.)

The Abatti case mentioned by the Supreme Court was decided after the Court of Appeal had decided Kurwa and represents a middle ground. In Abatti, judgment was entered after the plaintiff dismissed claims without prejudice and without any waiver or tolling of the statute of limitations. This absence of an agreement assuring that the dismissed claims could be litigated following the appeal was a distinguishing feature in the eyes of the Abatti court:

[C]laims that are dismissed without prejudice are no less final for purposes of the one final judgment rule than are adjudicated claims, unless, as in Don Jose’s Restaurant and its progeny, there is a stipulation between the parties that facilitates potential future litigation of the dismissed claims.

Interestingly, the Supreme Court specifically states that it agrees with Abatti even though its Kurwa opinion explicitly limits the issue before the court to those cases that, unlike the dismissals without prejudice in Abatti, include stipulations to keep the dismissed claims alive:

This case poses the question whether an appeal may be taken when the judgment disposes of fewer than all the pled causes of action by dismissal with prejudice, and the parties agree to dismiss the remaining counts without prejudice and waive operation of the statute of limitations on those remaining causes of action.

In an amicus brief, the California Academy of Appellate Lawyers raises a point that has always bugged me. The one final judgment rule is frequently cited as a means to avoid piecemeal litigation, but that is only true of litigation in the Court of Appeal. It necessarily means that cases may have to be tried piecemeal. The Academy argued that a rule on finality should promote efficiency at the trial level as well as the appellate level by allowing the parties “as much autonomy and choice as possible.” The Supreme Court isn’t buying it:

We are not free, however, to adopt whatever rule we find best balances the interests of party autonomy or trial and appellate efficiency. Unlike jurisdictions that provide for trial courts’ selective entry of final judgments on fewer than all claims for relief (see, e.g., Fed. Rules Civ.Proc., rule 54(b), 28 U.S.C.) or for interlocutory appeals in the discretion of the reviewing court (see, e.g., 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b)), California law provides no case-by-case efficiency exception to the one final judgment rule for appealability. Where unusual circumstances justify it, review of interlocutory judgments may be obtained by petition for writ of mandate, but not by appeal. ([Code Civ. Proc.,] § 904.1, subd. (a); Morehart, supra, 7 Cal.4th at pp. 743-744.) The question is thus not what rule will best serve litigants and trial courts, but what rule is most consistent with the policy against piecemeal appeals codified in section 904.1 and vindicated in Morehart.

I think the court paints a somewhat rosy picture of writ review here by referring merely to “unusual circumstances” without mentioning that those circumstances are found present in less than 10% of writ proceedings. Nonetheless, a prospective appellant who values the claims disposed of by the trial court more than his remaining claims, but wants to keep all options open as long as possible, should consider first seeking writ review and, if unsuccessful, then dismiss his remaining claims with prejudice and appeal from the ensuing judgment

Fee-shifting on appeal from Berman Hearing is not applicable in dismissal for untimely appeal

I haven’t written about procedure on appeal from a “Berman hearing” — a wage claim heard by the Labor Commissioner — in a long time. Last Friday’s case of Arias v. Kardoulias, case no. B234263 (2d. Dist. July 27, 2012), gives me the opportunity to do so again because of the procedural question it raises, and also provides an opportunity to point out that not all appeals are the same.

You’ve read time and time again on this blog that appeals are very different from trials, but an appeal from a Berman hearing is not. An appeal from a Berman hearing is a trial, heard by the superior court (trial court) do novo — as if the hearing before the labor commissioner had never taken place. Indeed, a claimant can even add claims to the appeal that were never heard by the labor commissioner. This “new trial” posture provides the background for the court’s decision in Arias.

In Arias, the employee won an award before the labor commissioner. No doubt dissatisfied with the amount, she tried to appeal, but her appeal was dismissed due to the untimeliness of her notice of appeal.

At issue in the case was whether her employer was entitled to recover attorney fees and costs after obtaining dismissal of the appeal, pursuant to Labor Code section 98.2, subdivision (c), which provides:

If the party seeking review by filing an appeal to the superior court is unsuccessful in the appeal, the court shall determine the costs and reasonable attorney’s fees incurred by the other parties to the appeal, and assess that amount as a cost upon the party filing the appeal.   An employee is successful if the court awards an amount greater than zero.
The Court of Appeal finds that the employer has no right to fees under these circumstances. Although a timely appeal would have nullified the initial award in favor of the employee, here the employee still had an enforceable award of wages because the untimeliness of her appeal meant that her initial award was never nullified. Thus, even though she recovered nothing on the appeal, she still had a recovery that prevented her employer from recovering fees for the appeal.

As you might expect, the court was careful to point out that its decision applies only to jurisdictional dismissals, and leaves open the question of whether fee shifting would apply when a timely appeal is dismissed on another ground.

Just what are you appealing from, anyway?

Over at The Ninth Circuit Blog of Appeals, I posted today about an appellant who tried to use a federal appeal from a post-judgment order as a vehicle to attack the underlying judgment, which had been entered five years earlier. On the very same day, the Sixth District published Marriage of Sameer, case no. H035957 (6th Dist., June 19, 2012), in which the appellant tried a similar tactic in California state court. You won’t be shocked to learn it doesn’t work there, either.

In February 2008, the court entered a judgment on the stipulation of the parties, in which wife would receive spousal support with scheduled steps down in amount, ending completely on June 1, 2010, unless wife, prior to that date, filed a motion and should good cause why support should continue. The clear implication of the judgment and the parties’ stipulation onthe record was that within that time frame, wife was expected to complete her masters degree requirements and become self-supporting. When she pursued a doctorate instead of seeking employment in the field of her masters degree, she moved to modify the judgment, with the requisite change in circumstances being the “unrealized expectation” in the original judgment, i.e., that she had not become self-supporting as the original judgment contemplated.

Unrealized expectations. We all have a few of those, don’t we?

Wife in this case argued first that under the terms of the judgment, she was entitled to a reevaluation of spousal support regardless of whether there were changed circumstances. Wrong. Then she argued that the unrealized expectation of self-supporting status constituted the requisite changed circumstances. Unfortunately for her, she offered no evidence of her diligence to become self-supporting. So that argument is rejected, too.

Now we get to the similarity with the federal case. Wife also argued that the original stipulation and judgment were infirm because they failed to containing an explicit warning that she was expected to become self-supporting prior to the scheduled termination of support. Wife’s procedural error here is worth more than the footnote the court gave it, where it noted that because the argument was directed to the original judgment rather than the post-judgment order, “she is collaterally attacking the judgment,” so “this claim is not cognizable.”

The judgment and any post-judgment orders are not the same thing. An appeal from a post-judgment order alone isn’t going to get you anywhere with the judgment itself if it comes after the time to appeal from the underlying judgment has lapsed.

SCOTUS holds discovery ruling requiring disclosure of privileged information is not appealable

Richard Westfall at Rocky Mountain Appellate Blog wrote up the first SCOTUS opinion authored by Justice Sotomayor, Mohawk Industries, Inc. v. Carpenter, in which the unanimous court (with a separate concurrence from Justice Thomas) holds that a discovery order is not immediately appealable under the “collateral order doctrine.” Westfall summarized the case:

In Mohawk, the district court ordered Mohawk to turn over documents Mohawk asserted were protected by the attorney-client privilege. The collateral-order doctrine allows for immediate appeals if: (1) the particular ruling conclusively determines the disputed question; (2) resolves an important issue separate from the merits of the action; and (3) is effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment. Some circuits allow for immediate appeals under the collateral-order doctrine to review whether an order violates the attorney-client privilege. The Supreme Court held in Mohawk that orders requiring disclosure of arguably privileged material will have to wait for a final judgment because they are reviewable after judgment, however imperfectly. Justice Sotomayor noted that parties in such situations can defy disclosure orders and suffer sanctions, which will then be reviewable, or subject themselves to contempt of court, thereby also obtaining review.

Westfall urges the Colorado state courts not to adopt the rule, to which I say . . . be glad you don’t practice in California, Steve! In California state courts, discovery rulings are generally not appealable, even where the disclosure of privileged information would result. In such a situation, the party seeking review must do so by petitioning for a discretionary writ, and hope that the issue presented and the gravity of the disclosure are enough for the court of appeal to exercise its discretion to hear the petition on the merits.

Mohawk Industries resolves a circuit split in which the Ninth Circuit was in the minority camp that allowed appeal from such rulings. (In re Napster, Inc. Litigation (9th Cir. 2007) 479 F.3d 1978.) I’ll have more on the federal angle in an update.

Review of Remand Orders: One Man’s Obsession

And I mean obsession in a good way. I never thought I’d get out-geeked on the subject of jurisdiction, and especially not on the subject of appellate jurisdiction, but I think Jones Day partner Mark Herrmann pulled it off today at his Drug & Device Law blog. In a long joint post there regarding when an appellate court may review an order remanding a case back to the state court from which it was removed, Herrmann and his blog partner Jim Beck of Dechert LLP not only chronicle the history of Supreme Court jurisprudence in this area and propose sensible reform, they start their discussion by citing Herrmann’s 22-year-old law review article on the subject as evidence that he was “obsessessed with this question [of when review is allowed].” I’ve described myself as a jurisdictional “geek” plenty of times, but never as “obsessed”!

Substantively, the post is remarkably thorough and fun to read. (Herrman’s obsession isn’t the only humorous point.) It concludes with interesting detail on the most recent Supreme Court decision and a discussion of practical consequences.

(For Ninth Circuit practitioners, it may be interesting to note that the trigger for Herrmann’s and Beck’s post was last month’s Supreme Court decision in Carlsbad Technology, Inc. v. HIF Bio, Inc., 556 U.S. __ (2009). Carlsbad came from the Federal Circuit, which had split from several others, including the Ninth, to hold that 28 USC § 1447(d) precludes appellate review of a remand order based on the district court’s discretionary decision under 28 USC § 1367(c) not to assert supplemental jurisdiction over state claims. The Supreme Court’s reversal vindicates the Ninth Circuit’s wisdom (not to mention adherence to stare decisis) when it declined the invitation to reconsider its position in last year’s California Dept. of Water v. Powerex ___ F.3d ___ (9th Cir. 2008). [I’ll update that cite for you later when I have access to the reporters.] By the time of the California Dept. of Water case, the rule was well-established in the Ninth Circuit that review was available by petition for writ of mandate. However, the Ninth was forced by intervening Supreme Court authority to find that review is available by appeal. My coverage of Powerex is here.)

A civil case and a criminal case look the same to a mailbox

Prison CellFor an appellant whose mail slot looks like the one pictured, there was an important decision yesterday.

The California Supreme Court reached a sensible decision in Silverbrand v. County of Los Angeles, case no. S143929 (Apr. 23, 2009), in which the court holds that a prisoner’s pro se notice of appeal in a civil case is timely filed upon deposit with prison authorities for mailing. This brings the rule for timely filing of an appeal by a pro se prisoner in a civil case in line with the rule for a pro se prisoner’s filing of an appeal in a criminal case.

Silverbrand’s medical malpractice action against the county and jail medical personnel had been decided against him by summary judgment. He filed his notice of appeal by handing a correctly addressed, postage-paid envelope to prison officials the day before his deadline to file, but it did not reach the court until 2 days after the deadline. The court of appeal dismissed the appeal.

Here’s how the court introduced its decision reversing the court of appeal:

The prison-delivery rule — as most recently articulated by this court — provides that a self-represented prisoner’s notice of appeal in a criminal case is deemed timely filed if, within the relevant period set forth in the California Rules of Court, the notice is delivered to prison authorities pursuant to the procedures established for prisoner mail.  (See In re Jordan (1992) 4 Cal.4th 116 (Jordan).) The question before us in this case is whether the prison-delivery rule properly applies to a self-represented prisoner’s filing of a notice of appeal in a civil case.

Rooted in common law and well established in California jurisprudence, the prison-delivery rule, also referred to as the prison mailbox rule, “ensures that an unrepresented defendant, confined during the period allowed for the filing of an appeal, is accorded an opportunity to comply with the filing requirements fully comparable to that provided to a defendant who is represented by counsel or who is not confined.” (Jordan, supra, 4 Cal.4th at p. 119.)  It also “furthers the efficient use of judicial resources by establishing a ‘bright-line’ test that permits courts to avoid the substantial administrative burden that would be imposed were courts required to determine, on case-by-case basis, whether a prisoner’s notice of appeal was delivered to prison authorities ‘sufficiently in advance of the filing deadline’ to permit the timely filing of the notice in the county clerk’s office.”  (Ibid.)

There appears to be no sound basis for construing the relevant case law and rules of court as maintaining one rule in this context for criminal appeals and another for civil appeals.  Self-represented prisoners — who can file a notice of appeal only by delivering it to prison authorities for mailing — should be allowed the same opportunity as nonprisoners and prisoners with counsel to pursue their appellate rights, regardless of the nature of the appeal pursued.  Broadening the prison-delivery rule to include civil notices of appeal also should result in additional administrative benefits both for trial courts and reviewing courts, thereby improving judicial efficiency.  Therefore, for the same reasons that persuaded us that the prison-delivery rule should apply to the filing of a notice of appeal in a criminal case, we are persuaded that a notice of appeal by an incarcerated self-represented litigant in a civil case should be deemed filed as of the date the prisoner properly submitted the notice to prison authorities for forwarding to the clerk of the superior court.

That all seems rather obvious, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t obvious at all from the relevant rules of court, as the rule for criminal appeals (rule 8.308) codifies (at subsection (e)) the prison-delivery rule, while the rule for civil appeals (rule 8.104) does not. That kind of distinction usually leads a court to infer that the drafter deliberately made the rules different, and that’s exactly what the court of appeal understandably concluded in dismissing Silverbrand’s appeal.

You’ve read warnings from me time and again that the notice of appeal deadline is a jurisdictional limitation. Miss it, and you’re stuck. There is no relief.

But here, the Supremes note a tension between the unforgiving jurisdiction nature of the deadline and a policy of according the right to appeal “in doubtful cases ‘when such can be accomplished without doing violence to applicable rules.’ ” (Citation omitted.) This policy led to the development of the prison-delivery rule in the first place. Recapping that history and noting a national trend toward application of the prison-delivery rule in civil cases, the court reaches the conclusion summarized in the block quote above: there is no good reason to treat civil appeals different from criminal appeals.

The court overcomes the literal and harsh application of the court rule by noting that the rationale of the prison-delivery is not that it extends the deadline for filing to the date the notice of appeal is actually received by the court, but rather because the rule deems the notice of appeal constructively filed on the date of delivery to prison officials for mailing, despite the fact that it does not reach the court until later. I thought the opinion did some somersaults in its analysis of the rules, but was convinced nonetheless.

Please note, all you civil litigants, even self-represented ones, this does not mean your deposit in a mailbox on the last day for filing will suffice.  Remember, the court was deciding the effect of a prison-delivery rule.  If your mailbox doesn’t resemble the one pictured, you need to get your notice of appeal to the court — not the mailbox — on time.

It’s also worth noting that Silverbrand had the benefit of top-notch counsel in the Supreme Court at a bargain price (as in “free”). The Supremes appointed appellate powerhouse Horvitz & Levy to represent Silverbrand, and he had three amicus briefs filed on his behalf.

UPDATE: Thanks to Horvitz & Levy for linking to this post from their website “bragging page” about the case.

(Photo courtesy of Andrew Bardwell pursuant to Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License.)

Manufacturing appellate jurisdiction over a discovery ruling

When I read Brescia v. Angelin, case no. B204003 (2d Dist. Mar. 17, 2009), I was reminded about how Saturday Night Live once ran one a commercial parody for a product with the advertising slogan “It’s a dessert topping! It’s a floor wax!  It’s two products in one!”

How do I make that connection? Because when I was done reading the case, I thought, “It’s a dismissal after sustaining a demurrer! It’s a discovery ruling! It’s two rulings in one!”

And so did the court of appeal, though it didn’t say it in so many words.

Brescia cross-complained against respondents for trade secret misappropriation.  Code of Civil Procedure section 2019.210 requires a trade secret plaintiff to identify the trade secret “with particularity” before commencing discovery.  Respondents moved for protective orders against discovery served by Brescia, claiming that he had not adequately identified the trade secret.  Finding the initial identification inadequate, the court gave Brescia several opportunities to make more particular designations, while the hearing on the protective order motions (which were now greater in number) were continued.  During this time, the respondents also demurred to Brescia’s cross-complaint.

Eventually, the protective order motions and demurrer (as well as a motion to strike) were heard on the same date, and this is where it gets interesting.  The court goes into great detail about the exchange among counsel and the court, but summarizes it as follows:

[T]he parties, in an attempt to expedite any appeal, stipulated that if the court determined the trade secret designation insufficient, it could use respondents’ demurrer to the cross-complaint as a procedural device to dismiss Brescia’s trade secret misappropriation claim for failure to comply with section 2019.210

That should have set off alarms in everyone’s mind, but we’ll get to that in a minute. The court found the disclosure inadequate and sustained the demurrer without leave to amend.

Brescia appealed from the resulting judgment of dismissal and, notwithstanding his stipulation in the trial court that the inadequacy of the trade secret disclosure would dispose of the case, argued that the court could not use a ruling on the trade secret disclosure as a ground for sustaining the demurrer. After recounting all the ways in which the stipulated arrangement violated normal procedural rules and effectively converted an unappealable discovery ruling into an appealable judgment, the court reminds Brescia of the doctrine of “invited error”:

Nonetheless, despite these inherent problems, Brescia stipulated to the procedure used by the court, as did respondents.  Indeed, the trial court would not have used this procedure but for Brescia’s express consent.  Brescia is in the procedural posture he sought. To the extent he now challenges that posture as improper and awkward, he effectively misled the trial court into believing the procedure was acceptable to him as a means to secure immediate appellate review of the sufficiency of his section 2019.210 designation.  Thus, he cannot contend on appeal that the termination of his action against respondents was procedurally defective.  (See Norgart v. Upjohn Co. (1999) 21 Cal.4th 383, 403 [doctrine of invited error applies where party induces error and, in doing so, misleads court].)

But Brescia actually prevails on the adequacy of his disclosure, so the court reverses, rejecting respondents’ contention that the demurrer gave an alternate ground for affirmance.

Respondents argue that the alternative grounds exist to support the court’s ruling sustaining the demurrer to the cross-complaint without leave to amend:  (1) the cross-complaint fails to state facts sufficient to plead a trade secret misappropriation claim against respondents personally, and (2) Brescia’s legal theory creates an improper prior restraint on trade.

In the unusual procedural posture of this case, we decline to address these issues.  The ruling that forms the basis for this appeal is a discovery ruling – the sufficiency of Brescia’s section 2019.210 designation.  By stipulation, the parties and the court deemed that discovery ruling to be a ground upon which the court would dispose of the cross-complaint through the procedural fiction that it formed a basis for demurrer.  We have given effect to that stipulated fiction and have addressed the merits of the section 2019.210 issue.  But we will not carry the fiction further and purport to review a ruling on a demurrer that was never truly made.  Respondents are asking us, in the first instance, to rule on their challenges to the cross-complaint and to sustain the demurrer without leave to amend.  We decline.  Respondents must first obtain a ruling on the demurrer in the trial court, which is the appropriate forum to determine in the first instance whether the demurrer states meritorious grounds, and, if so, whether leave to amend should be granted.

(Emphasis added.)

Curiously, none of the analysis talked about in this post is part of the published opinion, which is limited to the issue of the adequacy of the trade secret disclosure. The court clearly was not pleased with the stipulation, and a published decision would have announced their discouragement of such arrangements.  On the other hand, notwithstanding the court’s distaste for the arrangement, publication might have encouraged more of them.  The court did, after all, hear the appeal, and determine the merits of the underlying discovery ruling.  Other plaintiffs faced with the same unattractive alternatives to such a stipulation — waiting to appeal after final judgment or petitioning for writ relief with a greater than 90% chance of not being hard on the merits — may find the “Brescia option” attractive . . . if they learn of it.

Who Says CRC 8.108(f)(1) is for Cross-Appeals Only?

Certainly not Division Three of the Fourth District Court of Appeal.  In The Termo Co. v. Luther, case no. G038435 (Dec. 17, 2008), the court holds that the rule of court allowing the 20-day window for “any other party to appeal from the same judgment or order,” triggered by the clerk’s mailing of the notice of the filing of an appeal, means just what it says, notwithstanding its “Cross-appeal” heading.

Termo and Angus Development Corporation were co-petitioners in the administrative writ proceedings.  The trial court denied the writ.  Termo filed its notice of appeal from the judgment on the 59th day following service of notice of entry of judgment — just one day prior to the jurisdictional deadline of 60 days following mailing of notice of entry of judgment.  (See rule 8.104(a)(2), Cal. Rules of Court)  Angus filed its notice of appeal from the same judgment two days later — 61 days following mailing of notice of entry of judgment.  Respondent Hunt Petroleum (AEC), Inc., joined by respondent Director of Conservation Bridgett Luther, moved to dismiss Angus’s appeal on the basis that it was untimely filed.

The applicable rule** states: “If an appellant timely appeals from a judgment or appealable order, the time for any other party to appeal from the same judgment or order is extended until 20 days after the superior court clerk mails notification of the first appeal.” (** The court decided the case on the basis of former rule 8.104(e)(1) as in effect at the time the appeals were taken, but the wording of current rule 8.108(f)(1) is identical, as is the “Cross-appeal” heading noted by the court, and thus the result should be the same under the current rule.)

Respondents contended the rule applies only to cross-appeals and to parties adverse to the first appellant, but simple statutory definitions allowed the court to make short shrift of those arguments:

Hunt contends that California Rules of Court, rule 8.108(e)(1) is inapplicable, for two reasons. First, Hunt says the rule applies only to cross-appeals and Angus did not file a cross-appeal. Second, Hunt asserts that the rule applies only when the party seeking to utilize the 20-day extension period is adverse to the first party to file an appeal. We disagree.

Although the topic heading to California Rules of Court, rule 8.108(e) reads “Cross-appeal,” as Angus points out, “[b]y definition, a cross-appeal is any appeal filed after the first appeal [citation], and [the] rule . . . does not differentiate between cross-appeals which are protective and those which are independent.” (Life v. County of Los Angeles (1990) 218 Cal.App.3d 1287, 1297- 1298, fn. omitted.) Moreover, “[t]he usual rules of statutory construction are applicable to the interpretation of the California Rules of Court. [Citation.]” (Id. at p. 1296.) “‘“When statutory language is . . . clear and unambiguous there is no need for construction, and courts should not indulge in it.” [Citation.]’ [Citation.] Under the guise of construction, the court will not rewrite a law and will not give the words an effect different from the plain and direct import of the terms used. [Citation.]” (Ibid.) Here, the text of rule 8.108(e)(1) contains no limitation of the type asserted by Hunt. It requires neither that an appeal be denominated a “cross-appeal” nor that the second party to file an appeal be adverse to the first party to do so, in order for the 20-day extension period to apply.

In this case, Termo filed a timely appeal from a judgment and an order and, two days thereafter, Angus filed an appeal from the same judgment and order. The appeal of Angus is timely filed under California Rules of Court, rule 8.108(e)(1). The motion to dismiss is denied.

Appellate practitioners already know not to turn away a client just because more than 60 days have elapsed since the notice of entry of judgment was mailed and the client has not yet appealed, because post-trial motions can extend the time to appeal.  (See rule 8.208(b)-(e).)  Make sure you don’t overlook this interpretation of rule 8.108(f)(1), either.

My thanks to Long Beach business litigator Charles Hokanson, who alerted me to this important case, knowing that I was on hiatus when it was published.  Nice to know at least one of you guys is looking out for me!

There’s No “E” Before “Mails” When it Comes to Triggering the Deadline to Appeal

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Modern communication and the California Rules of Court collide in Citizens for Civic Accountability v. Town of Danville, case no. A121899 (1st Dist. Oct. 27, 2008), and the winner is . . . the rules! At issue: whether the e-mailing of a notice that a judgment has been filed, with a link to access a copy of the judgment, triggers the deadline to appeal under rule 8.104(a), California Rules of Court, which provides that a 60-day deadline to appeal is triggered when the clerk “mails” a notice of entry of judgment or a file-stamped copy of the judgment.

The trial court designated the case complex litigation and ordered compliance with the court’s Electronic Case Filing Standing Order, which provided that orders filed by the court would be served electronically only, either by e-mail or through an electronic filing service provider (in this case, LexisNexis File & Serve). The order granting in part and denying in part the petition for writ of mandate was served as follows:

On April 1, 2008, LexisNexis File & Serve sent the parties a message by electronic transmission (an e-mail) stating, “You are being served documents that have been electronically submitted in [Citizens for Public Accountability v. Town of Danville] through LexisNexis File & Serve.” The e-mail identified the document as a Judgment on Petition for Writ of Mandate, and stated that it had been authorized for filing on April 1, 2008. To view the document, the parties had to visit a LexisNexis File & Serve website, sign in, and open a document file. The document so accessed bore an “electronically filed” file stamp dated April 1, 2008.

Respondents moved to dismiss the appeal on the ground that the notice of appeal was filed more than 60 days after that electronic service. The court of appeal denies he motion, holding that “the 60-day appeal period in California Rules of Court, rule 8.104(a)(1) is triggered only by the mailing of a judgment by the United States Postal Service.” (Emphasis added.) Keys to this conclusion: resolution of ambiguities in the rules should be construed to preserve the right to appeal, statutory distinctions between mailing and other forms of service indicate that “mail” means the U.S. Postal Service.

A Lesson in Collateral Order Doctrine Jurisdiction

Some lawyers not well-versed in appellate jurisdiction may find themselves fighting against one of two extremes when it comes to interlocutory decisions: the impulse to appeal everything (appealable or not), or failing to evaluate interlocutory orders for possible exceptions to the “final judgment rule,” figuring “why bother” until a final judgment is entered.  Then there are those in the middle who recognize opportunity in interlocutory orders, and seize it.

Such were the lawyers representing the appellants in Lazy Y Ranch Ltd. v. Behrens, case no. 07-35315 (9th Cir. Sept. 26, 2008).  Lazy Y sued, alleging a violation of equal protection, after its bids for grazing on state land were rejected in favor of other bidders.  The defendants moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, arguing that the complaint failed to allege a violation of equal protection and, alternatively, that the defendants had qualified immunity.  Their motion to dismiss relied on extrinsic documents.  Lazy Y moved successfully to strike many of those documents, and prevailed against the motion to dismiss.  Defendants appealed from both the order denying the motion to dismiss and the order striking certain exhibits.

Taking up the question of jurisdiction under the collateral order doctrine, the court reasons:

We begin by briefly addressing Lazy Y’s suggestion that we lack appellate jurisdiction over this interlocutory appeal.  Lazy Y argues that (1) Defendants’ attacks on the order denying the motion to dismiss exceed the scope of the “collateral order” doctrine upon which they allege jurisdiction, and (2) the order granting Lazy Y’s motion to strike documents is unappealable under any doctrine. We disagree.

In general, a party is entitled only to a single appeal, to be “deferred until final judgment has been entered.” [Citation.] However, under the collateral order doctrine, a litigant may appeal from a “narrow class of decisions that do not terminate the litigation, but must, in the interest of achieving a healthy legal system, nonetheless be treated as final.” [Citation.] To be appealable under the collateral order doctrine, a district court decision must (1) be “conclusive,” (2) “resolve important questions completely separate from the merits,” and (3) “render such important questions effectively unreviewable on appeal from final judgment in the underlying action.” [Citation.]

Because qualified immunity is immunity from suit itself and not merely a defense to liability, orders denying qualified immunity may be immediately appealable under the collateral order doctrine, including orders denying a motion to dismiss. [Citation.] Such an order is reviewable to the extent that it raises an issue of law. [Citations.]

Here, contrary to Lazy Y’s suggestion, we do not construe Defendants’ appeal to depend on “their version of the facts.” Rather, Defendants argue that Lazy Y’s allegations of pretext and animus are irrelevant under Equal Protection law, because they have articulated legitimate reasons for rejecting Lazy Y’s bids. In other words, Defendants argue that their articulated purposes end the inquiry and mean that Lazy Y’s claims of actual improper motives fail to establish an Equal Protection violation. They also argue that Lazy Y brings “class of one” claims that are either incognizable or not clearly established in the context of public contracting. These are contentions of law. [Citation.]

Moreover, whether Defendants’ exhibits should have been considered is essentially a legal question, and the order granting the motion to strike was simply part of the Rule 12(b)(6) analysis, as the district court resolved that motion solely to establish the record for the motion to dismiss. [Citation.]

So, appellants got their day in the court of appeals.  Turns out to be for naught, however, as the court affirms.  But at least they had their shot.

Don’t Give Up On Appellate Jurisdiction

The appellate courts are zealous about protecting their jurisdiction. When in doubt, it is not unusual for a court to ask for briefing on the issue even where both sides have assumed jurisdiction. And so the Supreme Court does in People v. Segura, case no. S148536 (Aug. 4, 2008), which is interesting for a couple of appellate wrinkles.

First, the background. The issue under review was:

whether a prescribed jail term that constitutes a material provision of a plea agreement conferring as its chief benefit, a grant of probation in lieu of a prison sentence, may be modified by the trial court in the exercise of its authority to modify or revoke probation during the probationary period.

An obscure question? Not if you’re not a citizen, your 365 day jail term makes you eligible for deportation, and Homeland Security picks you up for deportation promptly upon your release from jail. When that happens, you ask the court to amend the judgment nunc pro tunc to require a jail term of only 360 days as a condition of probation. That 5-day decrease takes you out of eligibility for deportation.

The trial court decides it lacks jurisdiction to alter the jail term, the court of appeal reverses, and the People successfully seek review.

But before they decide the question, the Supremes ask for clarification – is the trial court’s order appealable? As you’d expect, defendant says yes, the attorney general says no, but with a twist. Though the AG contends the order is not appealable, he urges that the issue is so important that the court should decide it anyway by treating the appeal as a petition for habeas corpus. And the Supremes oblige.

There’s a second obstacle, though. Segura himself had been released from jail and deported already. The point appears moot. Again, though, the court decides not to let that stop its consideration of the issue:

Nonetheless, the question raised is a matter of public interest and is likely to recur in other cases at a time prior to a defendant’s deportation when the opportunity for review may be limited. [Citation.] Moreover, the parties dispute whether the Court of Appeal’s decision is consistent with, or distinguishable from, the decision in [citation]. Accordingly, for the guidance of courts in future cases presenting similar issues, we have exercised our inherent authority to retain the case for argument and the rendering of an opinion.

Lesson: Don’t let questionable jurisdiction stop you from appealing, especially when it comes to an order after a judgment of conviction. And if you can get that far, the Supreme Court seems more likely than a court of appeal to overlook something like mootness. After all, if the issue is important enough for it to review, there’s a decent chance the court wil find it important enough that mootness shouldn’t stand in the way.

A Judgment that Nobody Noticed Sinks an Appeal

How can the parties and the court all miss the fact that the court entered a judgment?  Well, when the document that operates as such isn’t labeled “judgment,” I guess one can occasionally slip by . . . to the appellant’s great misfortune in Melbostad v. Fisher, case no. A119514 (July 23, 2008, ordered published Aug. 4, 2008), in which the court of appeal dismisses the appellant’s challenge to a fee award as untimely.

In Melbostad, the trial court granted defendant’s special motion to strike under California’s anti-SLAPP statute (Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16) and entered an order dismissing the complaint “with prejudice.” It subsequently granted a motion for fees brought by one of the defendants, then entered a judgment that “recapitulated” the previous orders granting the special motion to strike and granting the motion for attorney fees.

Appellant challenged the fee award by appealing from this second “judgment” rather than from the order granting the fee motion.  Which is what brought the timeliness of the notice of appeal into play.  His notice of appeal was untimely as measured from the order granting the fee motion, but timely as measured from the final “judgment.”  Apellant conceded that his time to appeal the order granting the special motion to strike ran from the original order granting that motion (see Code Civ. Proc. sec. 904.1, subd. (a)(13)), but contended that his time to appeal the fee award ran from entry of the subsequent judgment.  Even the respondent agreed.

Not so.  The court finds that because the order dismissing the complaint disposed of all the substantive claims between the parties, it was an appealable judgment under Code of Civil Procedure section 904.1, subdivision (a)(1), and thus the fee award was a separately appealable order after judgment pursuant to section 904.1, subdivision (a)(2).  The subsequent judgment “appears to have served no purpose here, and appellant’s appeal from it does not save his otherwise untimely appeal.”

There was some clever, but unavailing argument from the appellant, and the decision goes into some depth on why the order granting the section 425.16 motion is a “judgment.”  In reading the case, you’ll also discover important differences in appealability based on whether the plaintiff or defendant prevails on the section 425.16 motion.

Flexibility on Appellate Jurisdiction

“Jurisdiction” and “flexibility” are terms that don’t really go together . . . most of the time.  But I’ve taken note before of the willingness of California appellate courts to “save” appeals through various devices, such as a generous construction of the notice of appeal, or treating an appeal from a non-appealable order as a writ petition.  In fact, these devices are used to save appeals from plainly non-appealable orders.

They can also be employed where appellate jurisdiction — or lack of it— is less than clear, as in People v. Segura, case no. S148536 (Aug. 4, 2008), where the Supreme Court avoids deciding the issue by treating the appeal as a petition for writ of habeas corpus.  Relegating the appellate jurisdiction issue to a footnote, a unanimous Supreme Court set forth the parties’ competing views on appealability, then noted that the Attorney General, who contended the order was not appealable, nonetheless urged the court to review it.  The result:

Nonetheless, the Attorney General requests that we treat the purported appeal as a petition for writ of habeas corpus and, in the interest of judicial economy and because the issue is a matter of concern to many persons other than defendant, decide the case on its merits.  (See generally People v. Banks (1959) 53 Cal.2d 370, 379-381 & fn. 5.)  The Attorney General points out that a probationer in constructive custody may petition for a writ of habeas corpus (In re Stier (2007) 152 Cal.App.4th 63, 82), and in analogous circumstances appeals have been so treated.  (Gallardo, supra, 77 Cal.App.4th at p. 986).  We do so here in the interest of judicial economy and because the issue is of general concern.

Just last week, I wrote about the Supreme Court’s inexplicable avoidance of a squarely presented issue of appellate jurisdiction (albeit in a long ago case), in which they decided the case without either answering the jurisdictional question or even using some device to “save” the appeal, merely because neither party raised it. Here, while the court did not settle the appealability issue, they at least worked their way around it.

Interestingly enough, this nugget regarding appellate jurisdiction comes in a case where the question for review is whether the trial court had jurisdiction to grant a post-judgment defense motion to reduce a jail term bargained for in a plea agreement imposing probation.  The defendant had already served the sentence (released early) but needed the sentence reduced to avoid deportation.  The trial court denied the motion, saying it lacked jurisdiction to reduce the bargained-for term.  The court of appeal reversed.  The Supreme Court reverses the court of appeal:  

We granted review to determine whether a prescribed jail term that constitutes a material provision of a plea agreement conferring as its chief benefit, a grant of probation in lieu of a prison sentence, may be modified by the trial court in the exercise of its authority to modify or revoke probation during the probationary period.  As we shall explain, in this matter defendant was granted probation, for which he otherwise was ineligible in view of the prior conviction allegation, in exchange for entering into a plea agreement comprised of various terms, including confinement in the county jail for a specified number of days.  He knowingly and voluntarily accepted those terms of the agreement.  The trial court’s statutory authority to modify conditions of probation in the exercise of its jurisdiction over a probationer did not extend to modifying a material term of a plea agreement that bestowed the privilege of probation subject to defendant’s service of a specified jail term.  Accordingly, we reverse the judgment rendered by the Court of Appeal.

Why Did the Supreme Court Punt on a Jurisdictional Issue?

Regular readers know I am a jurisdiction geek, and today I get to sink my teeth into a jurisdictional oddity. Well, not a jurisdictional oddity so much as the odd behavior of the Supreme Court with respect to a jurisdictional question.

I’ll get to the Supreme Court in a minute. First, a brief rundown on the issue from the case that led me to raise the question in the title to this post.

In State of California ex rel Department of Pesticide Regulation v. Pet Food Express Limited, case no. C057156 (3d Dist. July 31, 2008), the court of appeal holds that an order enforcing an administrative subpoena is appealable. Borrowing from court of appeal precedent finding that an order enforcing a legislative subpoena is appealable, the court applied the same reasoning to the administrative subpoena in this case. Because the order is the final resolution of the rights between the parties in an original proceeding instituted specifically to enforce compliance — whether that proceeding is deemed a “special proceeding” or an “action” — it is a judgment within the meaning of Code of Civil Procedure section 577 (“A judgment is the final determination of the rights of the parties in an action or proceeding”). It is thus appealable under Code of Civil Procedure section 904.1, subdivision (a)(1).

Interesting enough, but not fascinating. What I did find fascinating was the court’s description regarding the history of the appealability issue.

The court first notes the split of authority at the court of appeal level. While several court of appeal decisions decided such appeals without any explicit consideration of the appealability issue — presumably assuming the appealability of such orders — the remaining courts were split. Some found such orders appealable, others found such orders reviewable by writ only but construed the appeal as a writ petition in the interests of justice.

The amazing thing is that in spite of this split, the Supreme Court had twice entertained such cases and neither time decided the appealability issue. Obviously, the question af appealability was not one of the issues on which the Supreme Court accepted review, but appealability is a jurisdictional requirement that cannot be waived by the parties. The first time around, in Craib v. Bulmash (1989) 49 Cal.3d 475, I can see how the Supremes might not address it if neither party did (Pet Food describes the Supreme Court decision as silent on the issue) because it, like some courts of appeal, could have presumed jurisdiction. But the second time around, in Arnett v. Dal Cielo (1996) 14 Cal4th 4, the Supremes explicitly noted the split in the courts of appeal, decided that the “better view” was that such orders are appealable, but declined to decide the issue because neither party raised it!

Come again? Declined to decide a jurisdictional issue that was squarely presented and on which there was a split of authority in the courts of appeal? And here’s a fact that makes it even stranger: the authority the Supremes relied on as the “better view” had based its decision that the order was appealable in part on the Supreme Court’s previous failure to resolve the issue, i.e., the Supreme Court’s apparent assumption of appealability. In light of all this, the Pet Food court calls the Supremes’ avoidance of the issue “perplexing.” Oh, yes, I’d say so.

Perhaps Pet Food will be the case in which the Supreme Court finally decides the issue. It sure seems to have teed up the issue.

Appealing a Remand Order, and Intra-Circuit Stare Decisis

When I was in BigLaw, removing a case to federal court seemed a virtually automatic response to any suit that we believed implicated federal jurisdiction. If the federal district court refuses to exercise supplemental jurisdiction and remands the case back to the state court, how do you contest that ruling?

That was the question facing the court in California Dept. of Water v. Powerex, case no. 06-15285 (9th Cir. July 22, 2008), and the answer required it to answer two jurisdictional questions. First, does 28 USC §1447(d) preclude the court from exercising jurisdiction to review the remand order in any fashion? If not, then what is the method by which the order may be reviewed: appeal or writ of mandamus?

Powerex removed to federal court, claiming that the case arose under federal law. The district court denied DWR’s motion to remand and dismissed, finding that the case was within the sole jurisdiction of the Federal Enerergy Regulatory Commission. DWR amended its complaint to request only declaratory relief in order to take the case outside FERC’s jurisdiction and renewed its motion to remand. The district court held that the amended complaint raised only state law contract issues, declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction, and remanded the case to state court. Powerex appealed, asserting that the complaint still had claims that arise under federal law.

Section 1447(d) appears to deny review of any remand order unless removed under 28 USC §1443 [applicable to certain civil rights cases]. The court notes, however, that section 1447 has been held to prohibit review only of remand orders based on grounds specified in section 1447(c); remands based on other grounds may be reviewed.

That obstacle cleared, the court turned to the question of whether review is by writ or appeal. Here, the court departs from its prior line of rulings, which held that review was by way of writ, because the intervening SCOTUS case of Quackenbush v. Allstate Insurance Co. (1996) 517 U.S. 706, undercut the rationale of the Ninth Circuit’s prior cases. Remand orders resulting from a refusal to exercise supplemental jurisdiction are reviewable by appeal.

Besides a pretty good discussion about the scope of section 1447(d), DWR v. Powerex is worth reading for its explanation of intra-circuit stare decisis; that is, when can a panel depart from circuit precedent that has not been overruled by an en banc decision in the circuit?

Keep Appealing Orders Denying Post-Conviction Motions on Jurisdictional Grounds

People v. Picklesimer, case no. C056385 (3d Dist. July 2, 2008) reminds me of one of those time travel conundrums.  You know, the ones that go something like (to pick a grisly example), “If you go back in time and kill your mother before she even gets pregnant with you, how can you ever exist so that you can go back in time and kill her?”

In Picklesimer, the court of appeal dismisses an appeal because the appeal is taken from an order denying the defendant’s post-conviction motion for relief from the sex offender registration requirements, which the trial court denied on the ground that it lacked jurisdiction to grant the requested relief.  The court of appeal agrees that the trial court lacked jurisdiction because the motion was not made until after the judgment of conviction became final on the prior appeal from the judgment, and thus the appeal must be dismissed because the order did not affect the defendant’s substantial rights.

A criminal defendant may appeal from “any order made after judgment, affecting the substantial rights of the party.” (§ 1237, subd. (b).) Because the trial court lacked jurisdiction to grant the relief requested by defendant, the order denying defendant’s motion did not affect his substantial rights and was not appealable. (See People v. Chlad (1992) 6 Cal.App.4th 1719, 1725-1726 [because trial court lacked jurisdiction to modify sentence, order denying motion to modify was not an appealable postjudgment order].) The appeal must be dismissed.

It seems to me that this effectively makes appealability dependent on the outcome of the appeal.  The court of appeal’s reasoning suggests that had defendant prevailed on appeal by showing that the trial court had jurisdiction to entertain his motion — or even if he had lost on substantive grounds following a determination that jurisdiction existed — the order would have been appealable.

Thus, I think it would be a grave mistake for defense counsel to read Picklesimer to prohibit appeals from orders denying post-conviction motions on jurisdictional grounds.  The way I read it, appeal is only prohibited if the trial court was correct about its lack of jurisdiction.  And the only way you’ll find that out for sure is if you . . . appeal.

Appeal That Fee Award

I don’t usually review unpublished decisions for material for this blog.  But unpublished decisions, even if they don’t create new law, can have some interesting points.  (Just ask Bisnar | Chase.)

California Attorney’s Fees has a good post, based on an unpublished decision filed last Monday, reminding everyone to appeal separately from a fee award in addition to any appeal from the judgment.  The appellant in the case filed an untimely notice of appeal from the judgment that did not include an appeal from the subsequent fee award, then filed an untimely notice of appeal from the fee award.  Result: untimely appeal, no jurisdiction, appeal dismissed.

Order Removing Trustee in Ongoing Bankruptcy Proceeding is Appealable

As my first substantive post on this blog pointed out, determining whether a bankruptcy order is appealable can be tricky.  28 U.S.C. § 158(d) gives the Courts of Appeals jurisdiction over appeals from “final decisions, judgments, orders, and decrees entered” either by the district courts or the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel.

In In re AFI Holding, Inc., case no. 06-56621 (9th Cir. June 17, 2008), the Ninth faces for the first time the issue of whether an order removing a trustee in an ongoing bankruptcy case is appealable, and, joining several other circuits, concludes that it is because it conclusively resolves a “discrete issue”:

Although the bankruptcy proceedings may continue, and here, in fact they have, the removal order resolves and seriously affects the substantive rights of the parties to a disinterested trustee and finally determines the discrete issue to which it is addressed—whether the bankruptcy court’s finding of a lack of disinterestedness was cause for the trustee’s removal under [11 U.S.C.]§ 324.

See my earlier post for reference to a case that gives excellent guidance for evaluating the language of an order and the procedural posture of the bankruptcy case as aids in determining appealability.

If you have any additional questions go to Green Bay bankrupt.

What Happens When a Criminal Defendant Dies While His Case is Pending Before the Supreme Court?

The tombstone of William Rogers, died March 11, 1873. 

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In People v. Arriaga, case no. S149898 (June 2, 2008), the Supreme Court explains the general scheme in a footnote:

After oral argument in this case, we were informed that defendant Arriaga died on March 14, 2008. Although defendant’s death will abate his appeal (see e.g., In re Sheena K. (2007) 40 Cal.4th 875, 879; People v. Anzalone (1999) 19 Cal.4th 1074, 1076; People v. Dail (1943) 22 Cal.2d 642, 659), we exercise our inherent authority to retain this case for an opinion in order to resolve the recurring conflict in the Courts of Appeal regarding whether prohibited firearm enhancements should be stayed or stricken under section 12022.53. (In re Sheena K., supra, 40 Cal.4th at p. 879.)

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Waiver of Appeal Rights in Plea Agreements

Plea agreements often waive the right to appeal, but they aren’t always what they seem, especially when it comes to how they define the scope of the waiver. For a lesson in how to determine whether a defendant has waived the right to bring a particular appeal, check out United States v. Cope, case no. 06-50441 (9th Cir. June 4, 2008).

Cope pled guilty to a single count of possession of child pornography and was sentenced to 120 months imprisonment and lifetime supervised release. His plea agreement stated that he waived appeal of his sentence so long as it met three criteria. On appeal, he challenged the length of his supervised release

The court walks you right through the steps, applying these rules:

  • The waiver of a statutory right to appeal is reviewed de novo.
  • A knowing and voluntary waiver of statutory rights to appeal a sentence is valid.
  • The scope of a waiver in a plea agreement is subject to the same rules of interpretation as used for any other contract (at least, “for the most part”).
  • Any ambiguity will be construed against the drafter (usually, the government).

It’s the last of these that allows Cope to reach the merits of his challenge to the length of his supervised release.  Because part of the language defining the scope of Cope’s waiver – which waived appeal of any sentence “within or below the range corresponding to the determined total offense level and criminal history category” – defines a non-appealable sentence in terms of criteria that apply only to the term of imprisonment, and not to the term of the supervised release, the court finds the provision ambiguous and construes it against the government:

As drafted, however, this provision cannot sensibly be applied to a term of supervised release. Under the Sentencing Guidelines, the offense level and criminal history category do not control the term of supervised release, as they do the term of imprisonment. Rather, the type of offense determines the length of the Guidelines range for the term of supervised release. See U.S.S.G. § 5D1.2(a) (Nov. 2002) (specifying supervised release range for Class C felonies); 18 U.S.C. § 3559(a)(3) (Class C felony defined as a crime with a maximum term of imprisonment between 10 and 25 years); 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(b)(2) (2003) (maximum term for Cope’s crime is 20 years). This ambiguity in the waiver provision makes it impossible for us to determine whether the prerequisites for waiver have been met with regard to Cope’s term of supervised release. Because we “steadfastly” apply the rule that “any lack of clarity” in a plea agreement should be construed against the government as drafter, [citation], we hold that this ambiguity in the waiver provision permits Cope to appeal the length of his term of supervised release.

It does Cope little good in the end, however.  While the court entertains his appeal, it affirms the lifetime supervised release.

Red Light for Jurisdiction

Most lawyers are familiar with the general rule that a trial court loses jurisdiction to act in a case upon the filing of a notice of appeal. There are actually a surprising number of exceptions to that rule . . . but the amended judgment in People v. Bhakta, case no. B190437 (2d Dist. May 6, 2008) is not one of them.

This was a public nuisance case brought by the People against the owners of a downtown motel under the “Red Light Abatement Law” to abate prostitution activity at the motel. The court entered a permanent injunction, and by stipulation the People were given an extended time to apply for fees and costs. The owners appealed from the permanent injunction, and while the appeal was pending, the People moved for and were awarded fees and costs. The court ordered an “amended judgment” that not only added the award for fees and costs, but

apparently changes some of the language in the prior judgment. The amended judgment appears to contain substantive changes beyond the insertion of the amounts awarded for attorney fees, investigative costs and court costs. For example, the amended judgment purports to add language that “[a]ny future costs relating to enforcement and/or modification of the [j]udgment shall also be recoverable by [respondent] in a sum according to proof.”

The owners filed an “amended notice of appeal” from the “amended judgment,” which the court liberally construed as a notice of appeal from the order awarding fees and costs.

Now, there’s no question the court had power to entertain and rule on the motion for fees. The other amendments to the judgment? Well, not so much:

The trial court acted in excess of its subject matter jurisdiction by entering an amended judgment modifying the terms of the permanent injunction after a notice of appeal had been filed. In Holtum v. Grief (1904) 144 Cal. 521, 524-525, overruled on another point in Phelan v. Superior Court (1950) 35 Cal.2d 363, 371, our Supreme Court said: “The decisions of this court are numerous and uniform to the effect that a judgment or order once regularly entered can be reviewed and set aside only in the modes prescribed by statute. If they have been entered prematurely or by inadvertence, they may be set aside on a proper showing [citation], and if the order as entered is not the order as made, the minutes may be corrected so as to make them speak the truth [citation], but subject to these exceptions the order is reviewable only on appeal, and the decision of the trial court having been once made after regular submission of the motion its power is exhausted–it is functus officio. [Citations.]” (Accord, Fallon v. Superior Court (1939) 33 Cal.App.2d 48, 52-53; see also Stevens v. Superior Court (1936) 7 Cal.2d 110, 113-114; APRI Ins. Co. v. Superior Court (1999) 76 Cal.App.4th 176, 185.)

One thing I like about this case is that it invokes a 104-years-old case without a hint of self-consciousness — and the quotation from that case invokes earlier, but undisclosed, authorities. Sometimes, an old case is the only one — or at least the best one — you’ve got. So long as it’s still good law, use it.

1/26/17 update: on the subject of citing to old Supreme Court cases, see this post.

Ninth Circuit Amends Garcia on Appellate Jurisdiction

According to Ninth Circuit Blog, the Ninth Circuit “came to its jurisdictional senses” with its amended opinion in U.S. v. Garcia, case no. 05-30356 (9th Cir. Nov. 19, 2007, amended Apr. 17, 2008). While I might have said that a little more gently, I agree with the sentiment.

I covered the relevant holding regarding appellate jurisdiction in my original coverage:

The two defendants challenging their sentences in this case claimed that the trial court erred even though the sentences imposed were within the ranges stipulated in their respective plea agreements made under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C). Both defendants contended that the trial court’s miscalculation under the sentencing guidelines and its failure to consider all section 3553 factors led it to impose higher sentences than it otherwise should have, and thus the sentences, even though they were within the ranges stipulated in the plea agreements, were “in violation of law,” which would make them appealable under Title 18 United States Code section 3742(a)(1).

The Ninth disagrees, holding that even if the trial court miscalculated the guidelines or erred in applying section 3553, section 3742 does not confer appellate jurisdiction over an appeal from a sentence that is within the range stipulated in a Rule 11 plea agreement. The court points out that the agreements permitted the trial court “full discretion to impose a sentence” within the stipulated range, and thus the defendants received the benefit of their bargains regardless of where in that range they were sentenced.

The Ninth has previously held that a sentence within the statutory guidelines may be reviewed if it is challenged as “unreasonable” under application of section 3553 factors. However, the court refuses to apply the same rule to sentences within the stipulated guidelines of a plea agreement, effectively holding that section 3553 does not apply to stipulated sentencing ranges, at least where the plea agreement does not explicitly require it.

The amended opinion holds that the court has jurisdiction to hear the appeal because a Rule 11 plea in itself deprive the court of appeals of jurisdiction and the defendants did not explicitly waive their appeal rights in their plea agreements.

Appealing from an Order of Dismissal

An order dismissing a complaint is not a “final decision,” so such an order is generally not appealable under 28 USC § 1291. A dismissal order may be appealable, however, when it appears that the district court intended the order to dispose of the action.

What to make of the district court’s intent when its order dismissing a complaint does not specify whether or not leave to amend is granted? In Mendiondo v. Centinela Hospital, case no. 06-55981 (9th Cir. Apr. 1, 2008), the Ninth Circuit notes that failure to address amendment means that the court denied leave to amend. Accordingly, it infers that the district court intended the order to finally dispose of the action, and that it has jurisdiction over an appeal from the order under section 1291.

Order or Judgment? It can make a big difference!

More wrangling over what triggers a deadline to appeal.

Several weeks ago, I reported on Adaimy v. Ruhl, case no. B193745 (2d Dist. Feb. 28, 2008), in which the court of appeal held that serving just one of multiple attorneys representing a party with a notice of entry of an order denying a motion for new trial suffices to trigger the deadline to appeal.  In this order modifying the opinion without change in the judgment and denying rehearing, the court tacks two paragraphs on to its original opinion that lead me to the question posed in the title of this post.

Though the original opinion refers to an August 7, 2006 “notice of entry of the order” denying the appellant’s new trial motion, the modified opinion refers to a document of the same date titled “Ruling on Submitted Matter,” apparently the same document.  The generic reference has some significance in the context of the new argument that the court quickly disposes of.

Appellant claimed that the “Ruling on Submitted Matter” was not a notice of entry of order within the meaning of rule 8.108(b)(1)(A), California Rules of Court (extending the time to appeal to 30 days after notice of entry of order denying new trial) because it was not titled “Notice of Entry of Order” and was not file-stamped with the date of entry.

The court notes, however, that the words “Notice of Entry of Order” appear at page 6 of the document.  That’s enough.  But is that necessary?  Rule 8.108(b)(1)(A) triggers the deadline for appealing from the service of “an order denying the motion or a notice of entry of that order.”  It’s hard to say exactly what this document was comprised of, but I’m guessing that the “Ruling on Submitted Matter” was not the order itself, but a document with the order attached. If it were simply the order itself, it seems the court could have found it sufficient to trigger the appeal deadline regardless of the presence of the words “notice of entry.”

As for the missing file stamp, the court notes that while a file-stamp must appear on any copy of the judgment served in lieu of a notice of entry of judgment (rule 8.104(a)(1)), there is no such requirement under rule 8.108 for notice of entry or a copy of the order denying a new trial.

Surprised by Jurisdiction

It’s hard not to be a pessimist when filing a petition for writ of mandate.  Getting past a summary denial is always tough.  But it’s pretty easy In re Copley Press, case no. 07-72143 (9th Cir. Mar. 4, 2008), where the Ninth holds that it has appellate jurisdiction to review the order.  Thus, the court converts the writ proceedings into an appeal, then decides it on the merits.

The order at issue is an order unsealing documents related to a plea agreement.  The order rather obviously meets both criteria for review under the collateral order doctrine because it “conclusively decides an issue” and “it is effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment,” both for the same reason: once secret documents are made public, there’s no going back.