In Sass v. Cohen, the Supreme Court holds that, although the pertinent statute’s language “does not point unerringly to th[e] result” the court reaches, a plaintiff seeking an accounting must “state a specific dollar amount to support a default judgment granting monetary relief.”  The court’s unanimous opinion by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye upholds the vacating of a default judgment of about $3,000,000.

Notice to the defendants of the amount sought is necessary even though the court recognizes that “the underpinning of an accounting action is an information asymmetry between the parties, an asymmetry that generally favors the defendant but never the plaintiff.”  But, the court says, enforcing the notice requirement in an accounting action “is not obviously onerous or unjust,” because plaintiffs “need to include only an estimate of their maximum damages,” and can later prove up their exact damages at an evidentiary hearing.  The court so concludes even though it admits that “in some cases plaintiffs may truly have no idea of the amount of damages they have suffered and can include no estimates of damages in their complaints.”

The court declines to decide another issue on which it had granted review — “Should the comparison of whether a default judgment exceeds the amount of compensatory damages demanded in the operative pleadings examine the aggregate amount of non-duplicative damages or instead proceed on a claim-by-claim or item-by-item basis?”

The court affirms the Second District, Division Two, Court of Appeal, and it disapproves a 1999 opinion by the First District, Division Three, a 2004 opinion by the Fourth District, Division Two, and a 2015 opinion by the Second District, Division Three.