Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Curtain Maritime Corp. v. Pacific Dredge & Const. (Cal. Ct. App. - March 22, 2022)

This case comes out the way I thought it would, but not for the reasons I anticipated.

The underlying facts aren't particularly relevant (unless you're particularly interested in dredging and/or the requirements of the federal Jones Act); instead, it's really just the procedural history at stake. Plaintiff files a lawsuit, defendant files an anti-SLAPP motion, the trial court denies the motion, defendant files an appeal, and then plaintiff dismisses the lawsuit and claims (given that dismissal) that the appeal is moot.

The Court of Appeal holds that the appeal isn't moot, and that seems totally correct. Defendant wants its attorney's fees, and it only gets 'em if it wins its appeal and shows that the anti-SLAPP motion should have been granted. Since a potential fee recovery is at stake, the case isn't moot. Spot on.

But that's not where the Court of Appeal goes.

Instead, Justice McConnell's opinion says that because there was an appeal, the case was automatically stayed, and the trial court "lacked jurisdiction' to dismiss the case in the first place.

Maybe that's technically correct. Though, to be honest, I think there's a huge difference between that holding and the sole case that the Court of Appeal relies upon for that holding -- a case that says that after the filing of an appeal, there's no jurisdiction to hold a trial on the merits. There's a huge difference between having a trial while the case is on appeal and simply dismissing a case. Generally, you get to dismiss a lawsuit -- with prejudice, anyway -- whenever you want. To hold that you can't dismiss a case while the matter's on appeal seems fairly revolutionary, no? Since I know tons of cases that, in fact, got dismissed while the matter was on appeal. Before this opinion, I'd have thought that was perfectly fine. Now, I'm not so sure.

So I agree the case isn't moot. But I'm not a thousand percent sure that this is why. And if it is, it's due to a concept that -- at a minimum -- I hadn't really appreciated previously.

And an important one in cases far beyond the anti-SLAPP context as well.