Monday, December 29, 2014

Not Exactly an Intuitive Rule on Appellate Jurisidiction

Pacific Corporate Group Holdings, LLC v. Keck, No. D062277 (D4d1 Dec. 12, 2014)

Under Code of Civil Procedure § 904.1(a)(4), orders granting new trial motions or denying JNOVs are appealable, independent of an appeal of the underlying judgment. This rule, which is different than most jurisdictions, creates some tricky issues of appellate jurisdiction, this case shows.

A former employee won a $170k jury verdict for an unpaid comp. Both parties moved for new trial, and the employer also moved for JNOV.  The court denied the employer’s motions. But it granted the employee’s new trial motion on inadequate damages because it believed that the jury’s verdict did not reflect certain bonus money to which the employee was entitled under his contract with the employ. The court issued an additur, giving the employer the option of between a $330k judgment and a new trial on damages. The court further denied both parties motions for attorneys’ fees. The employer rejected the additur and appealed the denial of its post-trial motions, the granting of a new trial, and several other orders that were subsumed into the judgment. Both parties appealed the denial of their fee motions.

On the merits, the court here affirms both the orders denying the employer’s JNOV and granting the employee’s new trial. This has the effect of wiping out the judgment entered by the trial court, which means that there is no remaining judgment for the employer to appeal. The court thus would not reach the merits of the employer’s appeal of the judgment, which would have to await an appeal of a final judgment entered after the new trial on damages is held. Similarly, the court lacked jurisdiction to address the fee appeals because with the judgment vacated by the affirmed new trial order, the orders could not be considered as postjudgment orders, subject to appeal under § 901(a)(2).

Affirmed in part and otherwise dismissed.

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