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March 2012

California: Amendments to Summary Adjudication Procedures

Beginning this year, an amendment to the California Code of Civil Procedure may have significant consequences for motions for summary adjudication.  Code of Civil Procedure section 437c now allows a party to "move for summary adjudication of a legal issue or a claim for damages other than punitive damages that does not completely dispose of a cause of action, an affirmative defense, or an issue of duty." (Emphasis added.)

With this new amendment, certain important requirements apply to parties who hope to utilize these additional provisions.  First, the motion for summary adjudication may only be brought upon a joint stipulation by the parties setting forth the issues to be adjudicated, as well as a declaration from each stipulating party "demonstrating that a ruling on the motion will further the interests of judicial economy by reducing the time to be consumed in trial or significantly increasing the probability of settlement."  (Code Civ. Proc. § 437c(s)(3).)  Within 15 days of receiving the stipulation, the court will make a determination as to whether the motion may be submitted.  (Id.)  Any non-stipulating party who is not a party to the motion must be served with the stipulation, and within ten days, may object to the determination of the issues.  (Code Civ. Proc. § 437c(s)(6).)  Finally, the notice of motion must contain specific language set forth in subsection (s)(4).  The new procedure expires after January 1, 2015, unless the Legislature acts to extend it.  (Code Civ. Proc. § 437c(u).)

Prior to this amendment, a motion for summary adjudication could be granted "only if it completely disposes of a cause of action, an affirmative defense, a claim for damages, or an issue of duty."  (Code Civ. Proc. § 437c(f)(1).) 

In civil litigation, there are many instances where a party may wish to resolve a legal issue that does not dispose of an entire cause of action.  Where a cause of action covers a time period within which material facts changed, a defendant may wish to resolve the applicability of that cause of action, and limit damages, with respect to only a limited period of time.  However, prior to the amendment, a defendant wishing to dispose of an entire cause of action could not do so unless all material facts for the entire relevant time period weighed in the defendant's favor.  Unless the underlying incidents are sufficiently distinct, summary adjudication might not be granted in the absence of the 2012 amendment.  In class actions, a defendant may wish to resolve a cause of action as to one subset of class members but not another because only the former subset possessed qualities that would dispose of a cause of action.  Prior to the amendment, a defendant may have had to move to create subclasses within the plaintiff's class, and then summarily adjudicate causes of action as they

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Kathleen M. Rhoads


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