December 15, 2010

Vargas v. Martinez-Senftner Law Firm: defendant who fails to show up for trial cannot complain about plaintiff's failure to present financial condition evidence

In this unpublished opinion, the California Court of Appeal (Third Appellate District) affirms $300,000 in punitive damages against three defendants.

The court rejects the defendants' argument that the evidence was insufficient to support a finding of malice, fraud or oppression.  The court also rejects one defendant's argument that the record contained insufficient evidence of his financial condition.  As we have observed, California defendants often get punitive damages reversed on this basis.  But not this time.  Here, the defendant in question did not appear for trial.  Plaintiff served him with a notice to appear, and he moved to quash the subpoena on the ground that he was not subject to the court's jurisdiction because he now resides in Germany.  The trial court disagreed and upheld the validity of the subpoena.  But the defendant still refused to appear for trial.

The Court of Appeal concluded that the defendant's failure to appear deprived the plaintiff of a meaningful opportunity to meet her burden of proof on the issue of the defendant's financial condition.  And because the defendant's failure to appear was a violation of a court order, the defendant forfeited his right to complain about the lack of such evidence on appeal.  (See Mike Davidov v. Issod (2000) 78 Cal.App.4th 597, 608-609 [defendant who disobeys a valid court order to produce information on his financial condition waives the right to object to a punitive damages award for lack of such evidence].)