Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Judge Erred in Refusing Continuance to Abandoned Clients—Appeals Court
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A judge abused his discretion in denying a continuance and sustaining a demurrer without leave to amend where the plaintiffs did not learn until five days before the hearing that their lawyer had withdrawn from the case, the Court of Appeal for this district has held.
Plaintiffs Patricia and Manuel Fernandez brought their action against JPMorgan Chase Bank N.A. based on a threatened foreclosure.
They learned on July 31, 2014 that their lawyer, of the De Novo Law Firm, was no longer representing them. It was too late to file opposition to a demurrer to their first amended complaint, with a hearing slated for Aug. 5.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Melvin Sandvig denied the plaintiffs’ request for a continuance, ruled in favor of the bank, and terminated the action.
Div. Seven on Monday reversed the judgment of dismissal, in an unpublished opinion by Acting Justice Frank J. Menetrez, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge sitting on assignment.
“This is a straightforward case of client abandonment,” he wrote.
He said of Sandvig’s actions:
“We conclude that the court abused its discretion by denying plaintiffs’ request.
“At the time of the demurrer hearing, the superior court’s file reflected that plaintiffs were never served with their former counsel’s motion to be relieved and that the court’s order granting the motion was sent to an incorrect address. Manuel Fernandez’s declaration stated that plaintiffs first became aware that they were self-represented less than one week before the demurrer hearing, and plaintiffs’ case management statement sought a continuance in order to retain new counsel. We are not aware of any reasonable basis to deny plaintiffs’ request for a continuance. Chase has articulated none, and the court’s order does not address the continuance request at all. We conclude that the denial of plaintiffs’ continuance request was an abuse of discretion.”
Menetrez rejected Chace’s contention that the judgment should be affirmed because the pleading was defective and the plaintiffs can’t show prejudice. He responded:
“The policies in favor of resolution on the merits and protecting innocent clients from their attorney’s gross negligence weigh very heavily in favor of granting relief, and no countervailing policy weighs heavily against.
“Plaintiffs were abandoned and were kept in the dark about their abandonment. When they learned of their predicament, they acted quickly to take whatever steps they believed were available to protect their rights.”
The case is Fernandez v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, B259875.
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