Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Walton v. Mueller (Cal. Ct. App. - Dec. 15, 2009)

I imagine that people will have varying reactions to this one.

Timothy J. Walton is an attorney here in California. He gets 40 different spam messages and sues (representing himself, of course), and gets a default judgment for $40,000 (plus some various injunctive relief).

Two years later, an attorney for the defendant (who's in Florida) contacts Walton and offers to pay $15,000 in installments to satisfy the judgment. Walton counters with $20,000, but also now realizes that the defendant apparently has some money. So he secretly starts actions to enforce the judgment, and ends up levying on defendant's bank account in Florida. He then tells counsel for defendant that if they want him to stop, they should send him a check for $15,000 now. Defendant doesn't do that, but eventually realizes that this probably wasn't a good choice, and tries to accept the offer and sends a copy of a cashier's check for $15,000, but not the check itself.

At this point, however, Walton figures he has defendant over a barrel. So he says: "Forget it. Now I demand $60,000 to settle my $40,000 judgment. Ha!"

Defendant runs into court to try to enforce an alleged settlement for $15,000 under CCP 664.6. But loses. A holding that's affirmed by the Court of Appeal, which holds that you can't file such motions after a judgment has become final because the lawsuit's over at that point and there's now no need for summary enforcement.

So now defendant's back to being in a tough spot. They could have settled the thing for $15,000. They now are faced with an attorney who represents himself and who's demanding quadruple that -- an amount 50% more than the face amount of the judgment. From a party who looks like he was sleeping on the judgment until defendant came up to him to try to resolve the thing.

You could take a variety of lessons from this one, I guess. "Don't wake a sleeping bear." "Don't get greedy." "Get greedy." "Don't send spam to lawyers." The maxims are legion.