In bringing a civil matter in the California courts, a plaintiff typically hopes to take his claim all the way through the trial process of presenting evidence to the jury who will decide in his favor, or, ideally, extracting a satisfactory settlement from the defendant before that time as the weight of the plaintiff’s case sinks in. But, in many cases, the plaintiff never gets to the point of the trial at which the jury deliberates because a defendant has either successfully won on a request to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims – called a demurrer in California – before evidence is ever presented, or on a motion for summary judgment, which occurs after the plaintiff’s evidence has been presented but before the jury deliberates. A defendant’s successful demurrer or motion for summary judgment can feel like the end of the road for a California plaintiff, but a plaintiff does have the right to make an appeal to a California appellate court on either a demurrer or an order for summary judgment (likewise, a defendant can appeal an order granting a plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment).
Appealing a Demurrer in California
When a defendant files a demurrer in California (note that this is called a “motion to dismiss” in federal court and most other states), he is essentially saying that there is not enough information in the plaintiff’s complaint to state a valid cause of action against a defendant. This argument could be based on the idea that the plaintiff literally has not included enough information to show how the defendant’s action created a cause of action, or that the facts presented in the complaint do not actually amount to a valid cause of action. For example, if a plaintiff brought a negligence claim against a defendant, but failed to include any facts in the complaint showing how the defendant’s action actually caused the plaintiff’s injuries, the defendant might file a demurrer which is granted, causing the action to be dismissed.
Orders granting demurrers can be appealed, but it is important to understand whether the court gave the plaintiff “leave to amend” before appealing. If “leave to amend” was granted, the plaintiff should amend the complaint and refile it against the defendant in the same court.
But if no leave to amend was included, the plaintiff can appeal the order dismissing the case to the appeals court. On appeal, the appellate court will only look at the allegations made in the complaint to determine whether the trial court erred in deciding there was not sufficient information to sustain a cause of action against the defendant.
Appealing an Order for Summary Judgment in California
With an order for summary judgment, the court has decided that there are no facts in dispute that the jury could decide on in a way that would actually affect the outcome of the case, and thus the case is decided one way or another (which could be in either the plaintiff’s or the defendant’s favor) by the judge without it ever going to the jury. There are two main ways to get here: 1) first, the judge might find that the plaintiff and defendant agree on all the facts and the only issue is how the law affects those facts, which is a job for the judge and not the jury; or 2) second, the judge might believe there are facts in dispute, but the law would treat the case the same way regardless of how the jury decides on those facts.
As with a demurrer, a plaintiff (or a defendant) can appeal to a California appellate court once the judgment is handed down. The appealing party can argue either that 1) there were actually facts that the jury needed to decide which would have had an impact on the case; and/or 2) that the judge was wrong in applying the state or federal law to the facts before him or her.
Both plaintiffs and defendants have a very limited window to file a notice of appeal after either a demurrer or summary judgment.
Legal Assistance With California Civil and Criminal Appeals
The Law Office of Corey Evan Parker is focused on the civil and criminal appeals process in Washington and California. If you are considering filing a criminal or civil appeal, feel free to contact Mr. Parker today for a no obligation 30 minute consultation.