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County of Los Angeles v. American Contractors Indemnity Company

August 9, 2011

COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
AMERICAN CONTRACTORS INDEMNITY COMPANY, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Charles A. Chung, Judge. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. SJ-3474)

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

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Affirmed.

INTRODUCTION

Defendant and appellant American Contractors Indemnity Company (American) issued a bail bond for the release of Adolphus Jenkins on a criminal charge. When Jenkins failed to appear, the trial court ordered the bail forfeited. The trial court denied American's motion to vacate the forfeiture and exonerate the bail, and entered summary judgment. On appeal, American contends that its liability on the bond was extinguished when, prior to the hearing at which Jenkins did not appear, additional criminal charges and a "Three Strikes" law*fn1 allegation were made against Jenkins without notice to American. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

On July 8, 2007, Jenkins was arrested and charged with a violation of Penal Code section 273.5, subdivision (a) (willful infliction of corporal injury on, among others, a cohabitant).*fn2 On July 9, 2007, American posted a $50,000 bail bond for Jenkins's release. The bond provided that Jenkins had been ordered to appear in court on September 10, 2007, on a charge under section 273.5, subdivision (a). On August 13, 2007, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office filed a complaint against Jenkins that alleged the section 273.5, subdivision (a) violation, but also added charges that Jenkins failed to register as a sex offender (then § 290, subd. (a)(1)(A)) and failed to file a change of address (then § 290, subd. (f)(1)(a)). The complaint also alleged that Jenkins had suffered two prior convictions within the meaning of the Three Strikes law (§§ 667, subds. (b)-(i) & 1170.12, subds. (a)-(d)).*fn3 The complaint included a recommendation that bail be set at $140,000.

At Jenkins's arraignment on September 10, 2007, the trial court ordered that Jenkins's bail would "stand." The prosecutor stated that she did not know the amount of Jenkins's bail, but pointed out that Jenkins had two prior convictions that were alleged as convictions under the Three Strikes law. The trial court stated, "Well, I looked at the new bail schedule, and there's a different rule regarding a nonviolent felony versus a violent felony. Violent is $1 million, and non-violent is $100,000. [¶] Bail will be set at $50,000. That is the amount of the bail bond."

On August 4, 2008, Jenkins failed to appear for a pre-trial conference, and the trial court ordered Jenkins's bail forfeited. The court clerk mailed notice of the forfeiture to American, and American timely filed a motion to vacate the forfeiture and exonerate the bail.*fn4 The trial court denied the motion, and entered a summary judgment against American on the forfeited bail. (§ 1306, subd. (a).)

DISCUSSION

American asserts that it assessed its risk and posted a $50,000 bond for Jenkins's release based on the assumption that Jenkins faced a single charge of inflicting corporal injury on a cohabitant. American contends that its risk was increased when the District Attorney filed a complaint that alleged the additional charges that Jenkins failed to register as a sex offender and failed to file a change of address, and alleged that Jenkins had suffered two prior convictions within the meaning of the Three Strikes law. According to American, the additional charges and allegation were added without notice to American, American argues, the terms of its undertaking were materially changed without its permission, thus extinguishing its liability on the bond.

A. Standard of Review

"Although we normally review an order denying a motion to vacate the forfeiture of a bail bond for abuse of discretion (People v. Bankers Ins. Co. (2010) 181 Cal.App.4th 1, 5 [104 Cal.Rptr.3d 87] (Bankers Ins. Co.)), where the issue is one of statutory construction or contract interpretation, and the evidence is not in dispute, the de novo standard of review applies (People v. American Bankers Ins. Co. (1992) 4 Cal.App.4th 348, 350 [5 Cal.Rptr.2d 620]). We review the trial court's order in this case de novo because there is no ...


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