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People v. Indiana Lumbermens Mutual Insurance Co.

June 10, 2010

THE PEOPLE, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
INDIANA LUMBERMENS MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



Ct.App. 2/3 B208691. Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. SJ0969. Judge: Richard S. Kemalyan.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Corrigan, J.

We granted review to resolve a conflict between the Second and Third District Courts of Appeal. At issue is when a motion for relief from forfeiture of bail must be made if an absconding defendant is arrested or surrendered in a county other than the jurisdiction where the case is pending. We hold that such a motion must be filed within 180 days of forfeiture, unless the time is extended as the governing statute permits.

I. BACKGROUND

Robert Laimbeer repeatedly failed to appear in Los Angeles County Superior Court on charges of driving with a suspended license and without proof of insurance. He was apprehended on a bench warrant. On March 17, 2007, bail in the amount of $35,000 was posted on his behalf by The Bail Hotline Bail Bonds, as agent for appellant Indiana Lumbermens Mutual Insurance Company (hereafter Lumbermens). Laimbeer failed to appear for his April 18, 2007 court date. The court issued a bench warrant and ordered the bail forfeited. Notice was mailed to Lumbermens.

On July 16, 2007, Lumbermens' bail agent surrendered Laimbeer to the San Bernardino County sheriff's department, which booked him on drug charges and placed a hold on him in the Los Angeles case. In September, Laimbeer was sent to state prison from San Bernardino County. On October 23, 2007, the Los Angeles County Superior Court notified Lumbermens that 180 days had elapsed since bail was forfeited, and that payment was due. The notice stated that prompt payment would avoid the filing of a summary judgment, and the associated costs and interest. Lumbermens did not respond, and summary judgment was entered against it on December 4, 2007.

On January 2, 2008, Lumbermens moved to vacate the summary judgment, set aside the forfeiture, and exonerate the bond. The trial court denied the motion. However, the Court of Appeal reversed, noting that there was a division of authority as to the timing requirements for motions for relief from bail forfeiture when the defendant is arrested in another county. It decided the controlling statute should be applied so as to avoid a forfeiture.

The statutory scheme governing bail is found in Penal Code section 1268 et seq.*fn1 When a defendant released on bail fails to appear as required without sufficient excuse, the court must declare the bond forfeited. (§ 1305, subd. (a).) If the defendant appears in court or is returned to custody within 180 days, the forfeiture must be vacated and the bond exonerated. (§ 1305, subd. (c).)*fn2 Otherwise, the court enters summary judgment against the surety. (§ 1306, subd. (a).)*fn3

Under section 1305, a court appearance or return to custody in the county where the case was filed is treated differently from a return to custody outside the county. If the defendant appears during the 180-day period, "the court shall, on its own motion at the time the defendant first appears in court on the case in which the forfeiture was entered, direct the order of forfeiture to be vacated and the bond exonerated. If the court fails to so act on its own motion, then the surety's or depositor's obligations under the bond shall be immediately vacated and the bond exonerated." (§ 1305, subd. (c)(1).) The same disposition is required if the defendant is returned to custody within 180 days in the county where the case was filed, but released before making a court appearance. The court must act on its own motion to reinstate and exonerate the bond, and if it fails to do so exoneration is accomplished by operation of law. (§ 1305, subd. (c)(2).)

On the other hand, when the defendant is returned to custody outside the county within the 180-day period, the statute provides only that "the court shall vacate the forfeiture and exonerate the bail." (§ 1305, subdivision (c)(3), hereafter section 1305(c)(3).)*fn4 In this circumstance, the court is not directed to act on its own motion, and there is no provision for immediate exoneration if the court does not act.

The parties agree that the surety may not rely on operation of law, but must affirmatively seek relief from forfeiture under section 1305(c)(3). Lumbermens acknowledges that the statute does not require the court to take the initiative, because the court may not know that the defendant is in custody outside the county. Therefore, a motion by the surety is required. The question before us is when the motion must be filed. The People contend the statutory 180-day period is controlling. They rely on section 1305, subdivision (i) (hereafter section 1305(i)), which states: "A motion filed in a timely manner within the 180-day period may be heard within 30 days of the expiration of the 180-day period."*fn5 Lumbermens argues that section 1305(i) is not mandatory, and does not apply to motions for relief from forfeiture under section 1305(c)(3). It asks us to hold that a motion may be filed within a reasonable time after expiration of the 180-day period.

The People's view was adopted in People v. Lexington National Ins. Co. (2007) 158 Cal.App.4th 370 (Lexington). Lumbermens' position finds support in People v. Ranger Ins. Co. (2006) 141 Cal.App.4th 867 (Ranger). The Court of Appeal below followed Ranger. We reverse.

II. DISCUSSION

A. The Court of Appeal Decisions

We begin by reviewing the Court of Appeal decisions. In Ranger, Division 6 of the Second District noted that "[o]rdinarily, a surety must file a motion to exonerate the bond within 185 days of the mailing of the notice of forfeiture. (§ 1305, subds. (b) & (i).)" (Ranger, supra, 141 Cal.App.4th at p. 869.) The court rejected the surety's argument that section 1305(c)(3) requires the court to act on its own motion when the defendant is apprehended in a different county. (Ranger, at p. 870.) However, it reasoned that section 1305(c)(3) "does not require that a motion to exonerate the bail be brought within 180 days. . . . What is significant here is that the defendant was in custody within 180 days of the notice of forfeiture. . . . [¶] Bail insures the accused's attendance at court proceedings. The surety is guarantor of defendant's presence. When defendant is in custody for the ...


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