Friday, October 17, 2014

A Pleasant Disposition

Ducoing Mortgage v. Superior Court, No. G050457 (D4d3, as amended Feb. 10, 2015*)

Two related company plaintiffs and sued their insurance broker for failing to procure the right policy but got nonsuited at trial. The court awarded defendant about $50k in costs. In a prior appeal, the court affirmed dismissal as to one plaintiff for a somewhat technical reason, but “in all other respects” reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

After remand, the defendant began efforts to collect on the cost judgment against the affirmed plaintiff. In judgment debtor proceedings related to the collection, the trial court held that the costs judgment remained enforceable versus the losing plaintiff, who took a writ.

In reaching the merits, the court makes a number of comments about the nature of an appellate court’s disposition in California. Under Code of Civil Procedure § 43, an appellate court can “affirm, reverse, or modify any judgment or order appealed from, and may direct the proper judgment or order to be entered, or direct a new trial or further proceedings to be had.” This usually occurs in a short paragraph at the end of an opinion. Although it need not be exceedingly detailed, a “disposition is not intended to be a riddle, and the directions in the dispositional language, as conveyed by the remittitur, are to be followed by the trial court on remand.” If a party is confused by the disposition, its proper recourse is a petition for rehearing.

Looking to the prior disposition, the court here holds that its disposition reversing the trial court’s ruling “in all other respects” save the technical reason for bouncing the one plaintiff, in effect, vacated of the costs award too. The court further agrees with the petitioner that it would be “patently unfair” to stick it with a full costs award, given that the defendant still faced full liability on remand from the other plaintiff. Finally, the court notes that § 1032 affords a trial court the discretion to apportion costs. When, like here, two closely affiliated plaintiffs are jointly represented, if one loses but the other potentially prevails, a defendant should only be permitted to recover the marginal costs associated with the joinder of the non-prevailing plaintiff.

Writ granted.

**The court modified its opinion on rehearing to note that a petition for rehearing brought to correct ostensible fact mistakes was brought too late.

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