Friday, January 20, 2017
S.C. Says Time Limit for Affidavits Supporting Motion for New Trial Not Jurisdictional
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The statutory time limit for filing affidavits in support of a motion for new trial is not jurisdictional, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
The high court unanimously upheld trial court and Court of Appeal rulings in favor of Berthe Kabran, the widow of Eke Wokocha. A San Diego Superior Court judge granted Kabran a new trial based on new evidence calling into question a jury’s conclusion that Wokocha’s deterioration into quadriplegia was not caused by the negligence of his occupational therapist at Sharp Memorial Hospital.
Justice Goodwin H. Liu, writing for a unanimous court, said the trial judge had “fundamental jurisdiction” to hear Kabran’s motion, even though she did not file her affidavits within 30 days of filing her notice of intent, as required by Code of Civil Procedure §659a. Because the time limit is not jurisdictional, and because the defendant did not object to the affidavits on timeliness grounds in the trial court, the issue could not be considered on appeal, Liu wrote.
Wokocha sued the hospital in 2012, contending that he lost the use of his arms and legs because he was mishandled by the therapist during a postoperative stay in January 2009. In 2013, the trial ended with a jury verdict finding the hospital negligent, but finding that such negligence was not a substantial factor in causing quadriplegia.
Wokocha dies soon after trial, and his widow was substituted as plaintiff. On March 1, 2013, she filed her notice of intent to move for new trial.
Pursuant to stipulation, the judge granted the maximum permissible 20-day extension of the 10-day limit for filing affidavits supporting the motion. The order cited April 1 as the filing deadline, but that turned out to be a court holiday; Cesar Chavez Day was observed April 1 that year because March 31 was a Sunday.
Counsel for Kabran sought to file affidavits on April 2, but failed to pay the filing fee. The clerk vacated the filing; the fees were paid on April 5 and the affidavits refiled on April 9.
Judge John Meyer subsequently granted the motion, agreeing with the plaintiff and the experts who provided the affidavits that evidence not available prior to the autopsy likely would have resulted in a jury finding of causation and a judgment for the plaintiff.
On appeal, the defense argued for the first time that Meyer lacked jurisdiction because the affidavits were not filed on time. The Court of Appeal concluded that the time limit was not jurisdictional, contrary to the ruling in an earlier case, Erikson v. Weiner (1996) 48 Cal.App.4th 1663, and affirmed.
Liu said the Erikson court erred in concluding that because the statutory time limit was mandatory, in the sense that the statute used “shall” to describe when the affidavits were to be filed, it was necessarily “jurisdictional.”
The defendant’s argument that the deadline is jurisdictional, he said, flies in the face of the presumptions that courts have jurisdiction, and that time limits are directory, in the absence of legislative intent to the contrary. Given those presumptions, and the purpose of §659a, the better reasoning is that the 30-day limit is not jurisdictional, Liu wrote.
The case is Kabran v. Sharp Memorial Hospital, 17 S.O.S. 232.
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