Legal Question in Appeals and Writs in California

In CA small claims appeals will a judge rule ONLY on the single appeal or will he/she consider other claims?

I was the plaintiff in a small claims case and lost one two fronts--my claim and the defendant's cross complaint. I'm appealing on the defendant's cross complaint and I'm hoping because this appeal is supposed to be De Novo the Superior Court Judge will hear any and all claims, including my original.

Asked on 7/28/12, 5:38 pm

2 Answers from Attorneys

Anthony Roach Law Office of Anthony A. Roach

No. The trial de novo is only for the appealed case. In your situation that would be your defense on the cross-complaint. That is all that is going to get heard. You don't get to appeal a plaintiff's claim in a small claims matter.

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Answered on 7/28/12, 10:49 pm

Anthony Roach Law Office of Anthony A. Roach

This poster contacted me with some points, and because others read this, I feel that it is necessary to amend my answer.

A defendant may appeal from an adverse small claims court judgment and obtain a trial de novo in superior court. But a plaintiff cannot appeal. Having chosen the small claims forum, plaintiff must accept the result. "The plaintiff in a small claims action shall have no right to appeal the judgment on the plaintiff's claim, but a plaintiff who did not appear at the hearing may file a motion to vacate the judgment in accordance with Section 116.720." (Code Civ. Proc., 116.710, subd. (a).)"

The next subsection of that statute makes it clear that the appeals are only to be taken with respect to the claims against the party appealing. "The defendant with respect to plaintiff's claim, and a plaintiff with respect to a claim of the defendant, may appeal the judgment to the superior court in the county in which the action was heard." (Code Civ. Proc., 116.710, subd. (b).)

Language on the back of form SC-130 conflicts with these rules. "If you disagree with the court's decision, you may appeal the decision on the other party's claim. You may not appeal the decision on your own claim. However, if any party appeals, there will be a new trial on all the claims." Obviously, this creates ambiguity, because the second and third sentences conflict with the first sentence.

A secondary source - The Rutter Group's Civil Procedure Before Trial - states that there is a split of authority on whether an appellant can obtain affirmative relief in superior court on their claim. That source cites three cases: Linton v. Superior Court (1st Dist. 1997) 53 Cal.App.4th 1097 (Linton); Universal City Nissan, Inc. v. Superior Court (2nd Dist. 1998) 65 Cal.App.4th 203 (Universal); and Township Homes v. Superior Court (3rd Dist. 1994) 22 Cal.App.4th 1587 (Township).)

In Linton, tenants filed a claim in small claims court against their landlord, seeking return of their security deposit. The landlord filed his own claim against the tenants, seeking rent and damage to carpet. The small claims judge entered a judgment for the tenants on their claim, and entered a separate judgment for the landlord on his claim against the tenants. (This is called a two judgment situation, which apparently only occurs in small claims hearings.) The tenants appealed, but the landlord did not. After a de novo hearing in the superior court on the appeal, the trial judge entered a judgment in favor of the tenants on their claim against the landlord, and a judgment in their favor for the landlord's claim against them. (In other words, the tenants won on appeal on both claims, which was different than occurred below.) In discussing the issue on a writ hearing in the First District Court of Appeal, the justices noted that Code of Civil Procedure section 116.770, subdivision (d) provided that the de novo hearing "... shall include the claims of all parties who were parties to the small claims action at the ti the notice of appeal was filed. The hearing shall include the claim of a defendant which was heard in the small claims court.." That court reached the decision that the superior court properly retried not only the landlord's case against the appealing tenants, but the tenants claim original claim against the landlord as well.

In Universal, the issue was discussed as a legislative change. "Formerly, this meant the superior court lacked jurisdiction to grant affirmative relief on a small claims 'appeal' of a plaintiffs claim or a defendant's counterclaim. This rule was changed by the Legislature in 1989. Under present law, the superior court may grant affirmative relief to a plaintiff or counter-claimant who appeals. That is what happened in the case before us, and we affirm the judgment." Linton and Universal appear to support your position. As I see it, if the Superior Court follows the reasoning of these two cases, then not only is the claim against you reheard, but your claim against the other party is reheard as well. In other words, if there had been no claim against you, you could not have appealed the adverse decision on your own claim. But because your opponent filed a claim against you and it was adverse to you, you will get another bite at the apple, so to speak.

The third case I cited above supports my original response on Lawguru. In Township, the Third District Court of Appeal held the other way. "In this writ proceeding we consider the jurisdiction of the superior court under the recently reenacted statutes governing small claims courts to make an affirmative award to a defendant appealing from a small claims judgment in favor of plaintiff where the defendant also suffered an adverse judgment on her own claim. .... We hold that the superior court lacks jurisdiction to enter an affirmative award of damages in these circumstances."

It is interesting to note that at this time there is a split of authority on this issue. Two cases say all claims get retried at the de novo hearing, and one case says only the claim getting appealed gets a rehearing. I haven't researched it any further than that, and I am wondering if the split of authority has finally been resolved one way or the other.

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Answered on 7/30/12, 3:48 pm

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