Thursday, November 03, 2005

Parkview Villas Ass'n v. State Farm (Cal. Ct. App. - Nov. 2, 2005)

I like it. Justice Perluss does a good job in this opinion, in my humble estimation, of finding a middle ground in the continuing disputes regarding the contours of the "Golden Rule" of summary judgment in California: that anything not contained in the separate statement of undisputed facts "does not exist" for purposes of the motion. Justice Perluss -- with substantial input from amici -- holds that, yeah, that rule is the rule, but that this rule isn't really as harsh as it might otherwise appear. As applied to this case, Justice Perluss finds that the trial court shouldn't have granted summary judgment against a party who prepared a separate statement of material facts in opposition to the motion and who included in its separate statement a list of the evidence upon which it relied but whose citations therein to this evidence was, shall we say, somewhat vague (e.g., did not cite particular lines of particular paragraphs). Sure, if they hadn't done any separate statement, or had not cited any evidence therein, maybe we would grant summary judgment against them on the grounds that their alleged evidence "didn't exist". And, yes, if their citations were so vague that we couldn't even get a hint as to the evidence to which they were referring, then, yeah, it's not the court's duty to pour through all of the voluminous papers to find the relevant evidence.

But Justice Perluss is right, in my view, that this wasn't the case here. And, as a result, that a remedy less than granting summary judgment was appropriate. The trial court could have granted a continuance and made the nonmoving party refile a proper separate statement. It could even have sanctioned the party as well. But we have (rightly) come a long way (, baby) from the type of procedural pitfalls that proved fatal in the 1800s. We prefer adjudication on the merits. When we can solve pleading or motion or related problems with judicial remedies shorter than civil death, we should generally prefer them. So I found Justice Perluss' decision in this case particularly persusasive and reasonable.

It's an important case on an important and recurring topic, and also a good example of the kind of common sense judicial reasoning that I increasingly appreciate. Just what you'd expect from any former member of the Harvard Law Review, eh? (*wink*)