Written by Galen T. Shimoda and Justin P. Rodriguez
There always seems to be an effort to implement policies that seek to reduce the burden on the Judicial system. While many of the policies can be esoteric and seem to not have any direct impact on the average person, in fact they do. A set of newly enacted policies by the legislature regarding demurrers and motions for summary adjudication highlight this.
First, a demurrer is a procedure by which a defendant can challenge the legal sufficiency of a claim. If the defendant is successful, the case may be thrown out of court and the plaintiff may or may not be given the opportunity to amend their complaint to fix the deficiency. The change to the demurrer procedure is basically three-fold: 1) There must be communication between the parties regarding the deficiency and effort made to informally correct it; 2) There is only a limited number of opportunities a party will have to correct the pleading; and 3) a defendant will not be able to demurrer to any aspect of the Complaint that they chose not to demurrer to in their first demurrer. Now parties are forced (a good thing) to speak to each other about the complaint and what may or may not be wrong with it. They will have to exchange legal authority as to why the change should or should not have to be made and file a declaration under penalty of perjury that this communication took place. Hopefully, what this means is that instead of filing demurrers in court, the parties will be able to resolve the issue without using any judicial resources. This could translate to lower cost to you as a client in avoiding having to fund the cost of an attorney to research, draft, and argue a demurrer.
The legislation also helps to speed up litigation in that now a party may only have three (3) shots to correct a pleading without needing to demonstrate to a judge that it will be fruitful to do so. It also allows a judge to hold a conference with the parties to discuss the corrections, so the parties can more quickly get past the pleading stage of a case and into discovery. The limitation on defendants to require them to demurrer to everything they wish to demurrer to at one time also furthers this goal. No more piece-meal attacks; either the defendant makes the case for the demurrer at the beginning, or they waive the ability to challenge on those grounds.
The change to summary adjudication proceedings also has efficiency and economy at the heart of it. The legislature re-enacted a provision that was inadvertently allowed to expire on January 1, 2015. The provision allows parties to have a legal issue rules on even though it may not entirely dispose of a cause of action, affirmative defense, or other similar legal issue. This can be a huge benefit to litigants who may be staunch believers in their diametrically opposed viewpoints of what the law requires in their particular case. They can now, after a joint stipulation and declaration to the court that hearing the matter will improve efficiency, shorten trial, or facilitate settlement, have the critical legal issues decided without doing a full-blown trial. While motions for summary adjudication can be very expensive, they are typically still less expensive that paying an attorney to prepare for trial and try the case. Hopefully, with this tool to adjudicate narrow legal issues that still may have a huge practical impact on a case, parties will have another means to more efficiently have their rights determined under the law.
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