California Code of Civil Procedure section 473, subdivision (b) provides two avenues for relief when attorneys make mistakes. Subdivision (b) provides discretionary relief for certain mistakes and mandatory relief for defaults, default judgments, and dismissals caused by an attorney’s mistake, inadvertence, surprise or neglect. Although older case law provides some support for applying the mandatory relief provision of subsection (b) in “analogous” situations, in Shayan v. Spine Care and Orthopedic Physicians (January 9, 2020, B293857), the Second District Court of Appeal joined with more recent cases in limiting mandatory relief to the language of the statute.
In Shayan, the plaintiff filed an interpleader action following recovery in a personal injury action to resolve claims with various entities that had liens on the recovery. Three interpleader defendants, including Spine Care & Orthopedic Physicians (“Spine Care”) and C&C Factoring Solutions (“C&C”) filed answers. The court set the trial date. Although all parties had actual notice of the trial date, Spine Care and C&C did not appear at trial. The trial court proceeded with trial, heard evidence, and rendered judgment. Subsequently, Spine Care and C&C, represented by new counsel, filed a motion to vacate default and default judgment under the mandatory relief provision of section 473. The trial court denied the motion, holding that mandatory relief was unavailable, as there were no defaults, default judgments, or dismissals.
On appeal, Spine Care and C&C argued “for a more sweeping application” of the subdivision “that would expand the wording about defaults, default judgments, and dismissals to all ‘analogous’ situations.” Although admitting that “[t]here is some older case law support for this ‘analogous’ approach,” the court joined with more recent cases that “have hewed to the statute as the Legislature wrote it.”
In declining to broaden the mandatory relief provision, the court noted that “[l]awyers are pretty good at inventing analogies” and “it would be a disservice to embroider” the mandatory relief provision “with freeform extensions” to “analogous” situations.
California attorneys need to be aware of the avenues for relief when they make mistakes and what is, and is not, covered under subdivision (b) of section 473. As noted in Shayan, the “Legislature can amend it if the coverage is wrong,” but “[u]ntil the Legislature acts, the statute’s words settle the matter.”