August 17, 2010

Vidrio v. Hernandez: No Special Scrutiny of Default Judgments That Include Punitive Damages

I wonder why this opinion wasn't published.

In Vidrio v. Hernandez, the California Court of Appeal (First Appellate District, Division Five) expressly disagreed with Nicholson v. Rose (1980) 106 Cal.App.3d 457. Nicholson included some broad language stating that courts should give special scrutiny to default judgments in which punitive damages are awarded. But the unpublished opinion in Vidrio says: "We find no support for the broad statement in Nicholson that appellate review of default judgments is any more or less stringent where punitive damages are awarded." That sort of disagreement is usually enough to warrant publication.

Perhaps the court decided not to publish its opinion because the court found that it lacked jurisdiction to directly review the punitive damages award. Jurisdiction was lacking because the defendant appealed only from an order denying his motion to vacate the default judgment and did not appeal from the judgment itself. Thus, the criticism of Nicholson appears to be dictum. Still, publication of the opinion would have provided some guidance to future litigants.