August 5, 2010

Court holds evidentiary objections not expressly ruled upon at the time of a summary judgment ruling are preserved for appeal

Today the California Supreme Court made life a little easier for lawyers handling summary judgment motions. And the Court had to overrule its own prior decisions to do it.

In Reid v. Google, Inc. (Aug. 5, 2010, S158965), the Court decided by unanimous opinion that evidentiary objections made at a summary judgment hearing but never ruled upon by the trial court are not waived and are preserved for appeal. The Court ruled that “a finding of waiver does not depend on whether a trial court rules expressly on evidentiary objections” and that the defendant’s “filing of written evidentiary objections before the summary judgment hearing preserved them on appeal.” (Opinion, p. 2.) It agreed with the Court of Appeal’s reasoning that “if the trial court fails to rule expressly on evidentiary objections relating to a summary judgment motion, the court‘s silence ‘effects an implied overruling of all objections, which are therefore preserved for appeal.’” (Id., p. 14.) In so ruling, the Court disapproved its own prior precedent in Ann M. v. Pacific Plaza Shopping Center (1993) 6 Cal.4th 666, 670, footnote 1, and Sharon P. v. Arman, Ltd. (1999) 21 Cal.4th 1181, 1186, footnote 1. (Id., p. 16, fn. 5.)

Therefore, as long as evidentiary objections are made “at the hearing” within the meaning of Code of Civil Procedure section 437c, subdivision (b)(5), they will be preserved for appeal. Concerning what constitutes an objection made “at the hearing,” the Court ruled that “written evidentiary objections made before the hearing, as well as oral objections made at the hearing are deemed made ‘at the hearing’ under section 437c, subdivisions (b)(5) and (d), so that either method of objection avoids waiver.” (Opinion, p. 23.)

The Court “recognize[d] that it has become common practice for litigants to flood the trial courts with inconsequential written evidentiary objections, without focusing on those that are critical.” (Opinion, p. 23.) To ease the burden that busy trial judges bear in ruling on such objections, the Court optimistically “encourage[d] parties to raise only meritorious objections to items of evidence that are legitimately in dispute and pertinent to the disposition of the summary judgment motion.” (Id. at p. 24.)

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