Friday, February 4, 2005
S.C. Takes Lenient View on Mislabeled Notice of Appeal
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A notice of appeal that improperly purports to challenge an order denying a motion for new trial should be construed as perfecting an appeal from the underlying judgment, so long as the appellant’s intent is clear and the respondent is not prejudiced, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
In a unanimous decision, the justices directed this district’s Court of Appeal to reconsider its dismissal of an appeal by a former Metropolitan Transportation Authority employee who claims she was fired because she cooperated with an Office of Inspector General investigation.
Renee Walker, who worked for the agency as a secretary and administrative assistant, sued for wrongful termination in violation of public policy and violation of the whistleblower statute in 1999. The case went to trial in Los Angeles Superior Court in 2001, with the jury returning a verdict for the MTA.
Walker moved for a new trial, claiming jury misconduct, insufficient evidence to support the verdict, and legal and instructional error. Judge Morris B. Jones denied the motion in January 2002, and Walker appealed a month later.
Notice of Appeal
The notice stated that Walker was appealing from “[t]he order denying plaintiff’s Motion for a New Trial, which Motion was heard on January 3, 2002, and which ruling was set forth in a Notice of Ruling, dated January 4, 2002.”
The MTA raised the validity of the notice to appeal as one of several issues in its opening brief. Div. Three dismissed the appeal, saying a contrary 1968 Court of Appeal ruling “is an anomaly [and] contrary to the weight of authority.”
But Justice Marvin Baxter, writing yesterday for the high court, said the preference for “substance over formalism” supports the plaintiff’s position.
Baxter cited the Rules of Court, Rule 1 of which says that a notice of appeal “must be liberally construed.” He also explained that cases declaring that the Court of Appeal has no jurisdiction when a party purports to appeal from a nonappealable order are distinguishable in that those all involved cases where there was no appealable order, rather than a case such as this where an appealable order was entered but the appellant did not state that she was appealing from that order.
On remand, Baxter said, it will be up to the Court of Appeal to determine whether Walker’s notice was “reasonably clear” in communicating her intent to appeal from the final judgment and whether MTA was misled or would be prejudiced.
The case was argued in the Supreme Court by Richard L. Knickerbocker for the plaintiff and by Paul B. Beach of Franscell, Strickland, Roberts & Lawrence.
The case is Walker v. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, 05 S.O.S. 646.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company