March 17, 2015

Court of Appeal publishes two previously unpublished opinions; topics include discovery of financial information and premature entry of judgment

In the past two days the California Court of Appeal ordered publication of two punitive damages opinions that were previously designated as unpublished.

We described the first case, I-CA v. Palram, in some detail here.  The opinion has a fairly lengthy discussion of the procedures that govern discovery of a defendant's financial condition.

We haven't previously discussed the other case, Baker v. Castaldi.  There, the trial court purported to enter judgment after the first phase of a bifurcated trial.  The judgment awarded compensatory damages to the plaintiff but left the issue of punitive damages unresolved.  The trial court apparently intended to enter a second judgment after the second phase of trial.  The defendant appealed from the judgment but the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal on the ground that there was no final judgment.  Under California's "one final judgment" rule, a purported judgment that does not resolve all the issues in the case is not truly a judgment and is therefore not appealable.

It may seem obvious that a trial court should not enter judgment until the case is over. But in our experience, the problem of premature judgments is a recurring one in California.  Some of our trial judges mistakenly believe that they should immediately enter judgment after a jury verdict, even if the final rights of the parties have not yet been decided.

Premature entry of judgment is a big problem for defendants, because California judgments are immediately enforceable when entered.  For that reason, the defendant may be forced to file an appeal and post an appeal bond in order to stay enforcement of the so-called judgment (and incur substantial expense in the form of bond premiums and attorneys' fees), even though the defendant fully expects the Court of Appeal to dismiss the appeal.

Full disclosure: Horvitz & Levy LLP requested publication of both opinions.