Thursday, May 12, 2005
Court of Appeal Clarifies Rule on Reclassification of Limited Cases
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A plaintiff who seeks to have a limited civil case reclassified as an unlimited case need only demonstrate a possibility of an award in excess of $25,000, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Div. Seven granted a writ of mandate and ordered reconsideration of Jacqueline Ytuarte’s motion to have her auto accident case heard as an unlimited civil case. The panel concluded that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Judith Abrams—who recently retired—erred in imposing on the plaintiff the burden of showing that an award in excess of the jurisdictional threshold was highly likely and not merely possible.
Ytuarte filed an action last year, claiming that two other drivers were at fault in an August 2003 collision at the intersection of Olympic and Robertson. She claimed personal injury and property damages in excess of $25,000, but the court—after a hearing on an order to show cause—ruled that there was “no likelihood” of a verdict in that amount and ordered the case reclassified as a limited jurisdiction action.
Motion to Reclassify
Three months later, Ytuarte moved to reclassify the case as an unlimited civil action, and attached evidence of wage loss and medical bills that the plaintiff claimed totaled more than $30,000, along with an orthopedist’s declaration opining that she would have thousands of dollars in future medical costs.
In support of the motion, Ytuarte’s attorney cited Walker v. Superior Court (1991) 53 Cal.3d 257, holding that an unlimited case could not be reclassified as limited absent a “legal certainty” that the damages would not exceed the threshold. Abrams ruled, however, that since the case had previously been classified as limited, the plaintiff needed to show “the high level of certainty that the damage award will exceed $25,000.”
But Justice Fred Woods, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the motion should have been granted under Walker.
As a threshold matter, Woods rejected the defense contention that the writ petition was untimely because it was essentially an attack on the original order reclassifying the case as limited.
Ytuarte, the justice reasoned, “based her reclassification motion on alleged new evidence which purportedly emerged in August and September 2004 concerning the current and future extent of her damagesóevidence which she argued demonstrated the possibility the verdict could exceed the jurisdictional maximum in a limited civil case,” a distinct argument that allowed her to bring a writ petition within 20 days of the order denying reclassification.
The justice explained that under court unification, the rules for determining whether a case is classified as limited or unlimited are the same as the pre-unification rules for determining whether a case fell within the jurisdiction of the municipal or superior court. If the case is classified as limited, Woods noted, “the court has no authority (i.e., jurisdiction) to award a judgment in excess of $25,000,” nor can it adjudicate title to real property, issue a permanent injunction, or grant complete relief in a declaratory action.
The justice went on to explain that “[t]he high threshold required to reclassify a case from an unlimited action to a limited action is warranted in view of the circumscribed procedures and recovery available in the limited civil courts,” and that the same reasoning requires that a motion to reclassify a limited action as an unlimited one be granted unless “the lack of jurisdiction as an ‘unlimited’ case is certain and clear.”
The case is Ytuarte v. Superior Court (Kashani), B180471.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company