By a MetNews Staff Writer
A trial court does not have the power to deny a jury trial as a sanction for violating a local rule, Div. Two of the Fourth District Court of Appeal held Friday.
Justice Michael J. Raphael authored the opinion. It reverses a judgment by retired Riverside Superior Court Judge Ronald Taylor, sitting on assignment, in favor of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Company and its employee Steve Downs in an action by Rancho Mirage attorney Joseph Amato based on his house being sold at an unreasonably low amount.
The judgment was granted following Amato’s presentation of his case.
“Failure to prepare trial documents in accordance with local rules does not fall within any of the means of waiver specified in section 631” of the Code of Civil Procedure,” Raphael wrote, saying that the bases for waiver set forth in that statute are exclusive.
“[T[here is no merit to the suggestion of Downs and Coldwell Banker that waiver of the right to jury trial comes within the catchall language of section 575.2,” he declared.
Code of Civil Procedure section §575.2(a) authorizes a trial court to “dismiss the action or proceeding or any part thereof, or enter a judgment by default against that party, or impose other penalties of a lesser nature as otherwise provided by law” in response to a violation of a local rule.
“Similarly, the trial court’s power to ‘impose sanctions authorized by law,’ described in Government Code section 68608, subdivision (b), does not expand section 631’s list of actions or failures to act that may constitute waiver of the right to trial by jury,” the jurist wrote.
‘Post Hoc Justification’
Raphael went on to say:
“Downs and Coldwell Banker suggest that we should conclude Amato is not and never was, in fact, a party entitled to a jury trial, based on their contention that the evidence admitted during the bench trial was insufficient to sustain his claims as a matter of law….[W]e find it inappropriate to look to the record of a court trial conducted in excess of the trial court’s jurisdiction as post hoc justification for an earlier, erroneous decision to deny a party a jury trial. Downs and Coldwell Banker have not cited any case law taking such an approach, and we are aware of none.”
“The correct analysis is straightforward: Amato demanded a jury trial of his claims in the appropriate manner, his claims survived a pretrial motion for summary adjudication, and his claims are of the sort routinely tried to a jury absent a waiver. Thus, as of January 10, 2020, Amato had the right to a jury trial on his claims. The trial court’s denial of that right was erroneous, so reversal is required.”
The case is Amato v. Downs, E075421.
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