Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Writ Relief Has Come a Long Way in 80 Years

Shaw v. Superior Court, No. S221530 (Cal. Apr. 10, 2017)

Most of this Supreme Court opinion is about whether there is a statutory right to jury trial for a claim brought under Health & Safety Code § 1278.5(g), which prohibits certain kinds of retaliatory terminations. That’s too substantive for me.

There’s a gating issue, however, that is pure procedure: Is the denial of a jury trial right an appropriate subject for pre-trial writ relief? The answer is pretty clearly yes, and a series of Court of Appeal decisions bears that out. But there’s a very old Supreme Court case—Nessbit v. Superior Court, 214 Cal. 1 (1934)—that says it isn’t. Nessbit, however, relied on an old theory of mandamus as available only when a trial court acted for want of fundamental jurisdiction. Later cases changed that theory, re-characterizing the “jurisdictional” nature of the remedy to reach any act that was contrary to established statutes or standards, even if the trial court did, in fact, have jurisdiction over the matter in general. So the Supreme Court here overrules Nessbit to clarify that an erroneous denial of a jury trial right is an issue that can be addressed by a pre-trial writ of mandate.

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