Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Seven Years' Default

Holloway v. Quetel, No. B259622 (D2d7 Dec. 14, 2015)

Plaintiff in this case, a pro se prisoner, has been trying since 2009 to get a default judgment for upaid rent on a property he owns. The case has already been reversed once because the trial court erroneously sua sponte dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim. Plaintiff filed several rounds of default papers, each of which was rejected by the trial court for various and sundry errors and omissions. In rejecting the papers, however, the trial court only made vague intimations about the nature of the defects, instead just sending Plaintiff back to try again. Ultimately, after several tries, the trial court decided it had enough and entered a defense judgment.

The court here reverses and remands for one more try. In dealing with a pro se, there’s a fine line between a judge’s ensuring appropriate access to the court and his or her advocacy on the pro se’s behalf. It’s obviously not fair for the court to act as an adjunct lawyer for a party, even one who lacks a lawyer of his own. But when a court rejects a pro se’s papers for failing to conform to the Code of Civil Procedure or the Rules of Court, it doesn’t any cross the line for the trial court to actually point out what the defects are, so that the party will have notice and an honest chance to fix them. The trial court didn’t do that here, so the case goes back for one more mulligan.


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