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Ryan v. Rosenfeld

Supreme Court of California

June 15, 2017

STEVE RYAN, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
MITCHELL ROSENFELD, Defendant and Respondent.

         Superior Court San Francisco County, No. CGC10504983, Ct.App. 1/4 A145465 Cynthia M. Lee Judge

          Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker and Robert Cooper for Plaintiff and Appellant.

          Jon B. Eisenberg, Margaret A. Grignon, Robin Meadow, Robert M. Gerstein, Dennis A. Fischer, Robin B. Johansen, Laurie J. Hepler, Michael G. Colantuono, Rex Heinke, ; Degani Law Offices and Orly Degani for California Academy of Appellate Lawyers as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Appellant.

          FisherBroyles and Daniel L. Alexander for Defendant and Respondent.

          CUÉLLAR, J.

         Section 663 of the Code of Civil Procedure allows an aggrieved party in a civil case to move the trial court to vacate its final judgment. The question in this case is whether an order denying one of those motions is appealable even if it raises issues that could have been litigated via an appeal of the judgment. We answered yes to this question over a century ago. (See Bond v. United Railroads (1911) 159 Cal. 270, 273 (Bond).) Bond held that the statute authorizing appeals of postjudgment orders covered denials of section 663 motions. The current version of that statute allows for the appeal of “an order made after a[n appealable] judgment.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 904.1, subd. (a)(2).) Orders denying motions to vacate under section 663 fit that description, and this court has always interpreted the language currently found in section 904.1, subdivision (a)(2), to make appealable all section 663 denials. The Legislature has done nothing to undermine or overturn that interpretation despite enacting over a dozen other changes to this very statutory scheme. So the rule announced in Bond remains valid.

         I.

         Stephen Ryan sued his former business partner Mitchell Rosenfeld in 2010. Four years later, the trial court dismissed the action on the grounds that Ryan had abandoned the case. Two months after that, Ryan moved to vacate the judgment, claiming he was ill and hospitalized in Mexico when the judgment issued. The motion cited and quoted from section 663. The trial court denied the motion. Ryan later filed a notice of appeal for both the order dismissing the case and the order denying his motion to vacate the judgment. The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal as untimely, observing that the deadline to appeal the order dismissing the case had passed. And though the appeal may have been timely as to the later order denying the motion to vacate, the court ruled that an order denying a section 663 motion “is not appealable.” We granted Ryan's petition for review, asking the parties to brief this question: “Is the denial of a motion to vacate the judgment under Code of Civil Procedure section 663 separately appealable?”[1]

         II.

         To resolve this case we must analyze two sections of the Code of Civil Procedure. The first lists scenarios in which the judgment in a civil case “may, upon motion of the party aggrieved, be set aside and vacated.” (§ 663.) The second provides that an appeal “may be taken from” “an order made after a judgment made appealable by paragraph (1).” (§ 904.1, subd. (a)(2).) The “paragraph (1)” referred to here provides that “a judgment” may be appealed so long as it is neither “an interlocutory judgment” (with certain exceptions listed later in the statute) nor “a judgment of contempt that is made final and conclusive by Section 1222.” (Id., subd. (a)(1).)

         As with all questions of statutory interpretation, our fundamental task is to determine and effectuate the intended purpose of the statutory provisions at issue. (See Goodman v. Lozano (2010) 47 Cal.4th 1327, 1332 [“In interpreting a statute, our primary goal is to determine and give effect to the underlying purpose of the law.”].) Our analysis begins with the statutory text, which usually provides the best indicator of the relevant legislation's purpose. We generally assign statutory terms their ordinary meaning, while also considering the context - which includes related provisions and the overall structure of the statutory scheme - to further our understanding of the intended legislative purpose and guide our interpretation. (See Nahrstedt v. Lakeside Village Condominium Assn. (1994) 8 Cal.4th 361, 378 [“our primary task is to ascertain legislative intent, giving the words of the statute their ordinary meaning”]; id. at pp. 378-379 [“words... must be read in context, considering the nature and purpose of the statutory enactment”].)

         Our opinion follows several earlier efforts by this court to resolve questions nearly identical to the one before us today. What complicates this case somewhat is the tension between one of those past efforts - in Clemmer v. Hartford Insurance Company (1978) 22 Cal.3d 865 (Clemmer) - and virtually all of our other holdings on this question. As early as 1911, this court ruled that “an order authorized by section 663 of the Code of Civil Procedure” “is clearly an appealable order.” (Bond, supra, 159 Cal. at p. 273.) Bond pointed to two statutory provisions justifying this conclusion. First, we noted that “[b]y section 963 of the Code of Civil Procedure, an appeal may be taken from any special order made after final judgment.” (Ibid.) We concluded that an order “denying the motion to vacate the judgment” pursuant to section 663 was an order “of that kind.” (Ibid.) Former section 963 was repealed and replaced in 1968 by section 904.1, which as amended continues to provide that an appeal “may be taken” “[f]rom an order made after a judgment” that was itself appealable. (§ 904.1, subd. (a)(2).) Then as now, the denial of a statutory motion to vacate a judgment is an “order made after a judgment” that was appealable.

         Bond next noted that “[s]ection 663a of the Code of Civil Procedure declares that an order ‘granting such motion may be reviewed on appeal in the same manner as orders made on motions for a new trial.' ” (Bond, supra, 159 Cal. at p. 273.) The quoted section 663a language has been reworded in two ways since the decision in Bond. Both changes were slight. First, the phrase “same manner as orders made on motions for a new trial” from the 1911 version is now “same manner as a special order made after a final judgment.” (See § 663a, subd. (e).) Second, “such motion may be reviewed” from the 1911 version is now “a motion may be reviewed.” (Ibid.) Neither of these changes affected the question decided in Bond. What we said about section 663a in 1911 remains true today. This statute “should not be construed so as to affect the right given by section 963 [now 904.1] to appeal from an order denying the motion, as from an order made after judgment.” (Bond, 159 Cal. at p. 273.)

         We reiterated Bond's rule in the decades that followed. In 1927, for example, we held that there “should be no uncertainty”: “an order denying a motion to vacate and to enter a different judgment is appealable as a special order made after final judgment.” (Delta Farms v. Chinese American Farms (1927) 201 Cal. 201, 202 (Delta Farms).) Our opinion acknowledged “the obvious fact” that “the very same matters may be reviewed” in an appeal from the underlying judgment and in an appeal from a denied 663 motion. (Delta Farms, at p. 203.) But we declared that “our law gives a separate appeal from an order made by the court on the motion referred to in sections 663 and 663a.” (Ibid.) We also recognized what we described as a well-established, generally applicable rule: No appeal is possible where “an order refusing to vacate a judgment or order does not present any facts for consideration ...


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