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self-study / Appellate Practice

The importance of judicial economy

David M. Axelrad

Partner, Horvitz & Levy LLP

Email: daxelrad@horvitzlevy.com

UC Hastings COL; San Francisco CA

As litigation becomes more complex and courts continue to be over-burdened, the principles of judicial economy and efficiency have never been more important. These principles are reflected in procedures and doctrines that all practitioners need to keep in mind when formulating litigation plans, both in the trial court and on appeal.

1. Joinder of Claims. Joinder rules emphasize "the desirability of joining those persons in whose absence the court would be obliged to grant partial or 'hollow' rather than complete relief to the parties before the court. The interests that are being furthered here are not only those of the parties, but also that of the public in avoiding repeated lawsuits on the same essential subject matter." Advisory Com.'s Note, 14 West's Ann. Code Civ. Proc., foll. Section 389 (2004 ed.). "Nearly everyone benefits in some form from aggregation. Courts and parties benefit from increased efficiency, the avoidance of duplicative litigation, and consistency in judgments and precedent. As a result, the law favors aggregation of claims, plaintiffs, defendants, and even cases." Dodson, "Personal Jurisdiction and Aggregation," 113 Nw.U. L.Rev. 1, 6-7, fn. Omitted (2018).

2. Claim Preclusion. "Res judicata, or claim preclusion, prevents relitigation of the same cause of action in a second suit between the same parties or parties in privity with them." Mycogen v. Monsanto Co., 28 Cal. 4th 888, 896 (2002). "Where an action is brought to recover damages for injury to the person or property of the plaintiff caused by the defendant ... [t]here is in such a case a single cause of action, based upon the primary right of the plaintiff to be free from injury to his person or property and a violation by the defendant of that right through his failure to use proper care." Panos v. Great Western Packing Co., 21 Cal. 2d 636, 639 (1943). "Even where there are multiple legal theories upon which recovery might be predicated, one injury gives rise to only one claim for relief." Slater v. Blackwood, 15 Cal. 3d 791, 795 (1975). Claim preclusion implements public policy against "permit[ting] litigants to consume the time of the courts by relitigating matters already judicially determined, or by asserting claims which properly should have been settled in some prior action." Wulfjen v. Dolton, 24 Cal. 2d 891, 894-95 (1944); see Heiser, "California's Unpredictable Res Judicata (Claim Preclusion) Doctrine," 35 San Diego L.Rev 559, 560 (1998) ("Res judicata ... eliminat[es] the costs of multiple lawsuits, bringing an end to litigation, preventing inconsistent judgments, encouraging reliance on adjudication, and fostering repose through certainty, stability, and finality of judgments").

3. Summary Judgment/Summary Adjudication. "Summary judgment ... promotes the efficient use of the courts, by ascertaining the presence or absence of triable issues of fact." Barnett v. Penske Truck Leasing, 90 Cal. App. 4th 494, 499 (2001). "The aim of the procedure is to discover, through the use of affidavits, whether the parties possess evidence requiring the weighing procedures of a trial." Kurokawa v. Blum, 199 Cal. App. 3d 976, 988 (1988). "[I]t has always been '[t]he purpose of the law of summary judgment ... to provide courts with a mechanism to cut through the parties' pleadings in order to determine whether, despite their allegations, trial is in fact necessary to resolve their dispute.'" Perry v. Bakewell Hawthorne, LLC, 2 Cal. 5th 536, 542 (2017).

4. Coordination of actions. "Coordination of civil actions sharing a common question of fact or law is appropriate if one judge hearing all of the actions for all purposes in a selected site or sites will promote the ends of justice taking into account whether the common question of fact or law is predominating and significant to the litigation; the convenience of parties, witnesses, and counsel; the relative development of the actions and the work product of counsel; the efficient utilization of judicial facilities and manpower; the calendar of the courts; the disadvantages of duplicative and inconsistent rulings, orders, or judgments; and, the likelihood of settlement of the actions without further litigation should coordination be denied." Code Civ. Proc., Section 404.1.

5. Consolidation of actions. "Code of Civil Procedure section 1048, subdivision (a), authorizes the trial court, when appropriate, to 'order a joint hearing or trial' or to 'order all the actions consolidated.'" Hamilton v. Asbestos Corp., Ltd., 22 Cal. 4th 1127, 1147 (2000). "The purpose [of consolidation] is to enhance trial court efficiency (i.e., to avoid unnecessary duplication of evidence and procedures); and to avoid the substantial danger of inconsistent adjudications (i.e., different results because tried before different juries, or a judge and jury, etc.)." Weil & Brown, Cal. Practice Guide: Civil Procedure Before Trial (The Rutter Group 2020) ¶ 12:340.

6. Denial of Interlocutory Review. The interest in efficiency and judicial economy is one of the principal reasons that California appellate courts so often deny interlocutory appellate review by writ. "The large number of rejections of writ petitions demonstrates that courts will not use their scarce resources to second-guess every ruling and order of the trial court, particularly when to do so would save neither time nor aid in the resolution of a lawsuit. [Citation.] [¶] ... [¶] Particularly today, 'in an era of excessively crowded lower court dockets, it is in the interest of the fair and prompt administration of justice to discourage piecemeal litigation.' [Citation.] [¶] ... [¶] The Court of Appeal is generally in a far better position to review a question when called upon to do so in an appeal instead of by way of a writ petition. When review takes place by way of appeal, the court has a more complete record, more time for deliberation and, therefore, more insight into the significance of the issues." Omaha Indemnity Co. v. Superior Court, 209 Cal. App. 3d 1266, 1272-73 (1989).

7. One final judgment rule on appeal. "In California, "[t]here can be only one final judgment in a single action, and only [that] judgment is appealable." [Citation.] This rule -- known as the 'one final judgment rule' -- serves several purposes, such as preventing piecemeal disposition of cases, reducing uncertainty and delay in the trial courts, and avoiding multiple appeals." Bochner, "Is That Your Final Judgment?" vol. 29, No. 1, Cal. Litigation 22, 23 (2016); see C3 Entertainment, Inc. v. Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., 125 Cal. App. 4th 1022, 1025 (2005); Kinoshita v. Horio, 186 Cal. App. 3d 959, 966-67 (1986); Eisenberg & Hepler, Cal. Practice Guide: Civil Appeals and Writs (The Rutter Group 2020) ¶ 2:22 ("The one final judgment rule is premised on the theory that 'piecemeal disposition and multiple appeals tend to be oppressive and costly'; the public policy preference is that review of intermediate rulings await final disposition of the case.") (Ironically, where there are multiple parties to an action, California, unlike the federal courts, allows "a 'piecemeal' judgment or order that leaves no issue remaining to be determined as to one of the parties [to be] considered final as to that party and thus appealable." Eisenberg & Helper, supra, ¶ 2:91; see Justus v. Atchison, 19 Cal. 3d 564, 568 (1977) ("it better serves the interests of justice to afford prompt appellate review to a party whose rights or liabilities have been definitively adjudicated than to require him to await the final outcome of trial proceedings which are of no further concern to him"), disapproved on other grounds in Ochoa v. Superior Court, 39 Cal.3d 159, 171 (1985); Goelz, Batalden & Querio, Federal Ninth Circuit Civil Appellate Practice (The Rutter Group 2021) ¶ 2:39 ("An order [in federal court] that adjudicates fewer than all claims of all parties is not final").)

Understanding the principles governing judiciary efficiency and economy can help avoid pitfalls and enhance trial and appellate strategy. 

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