Attorney's Erroneous Conclusion that Limitations Period Had Not Expired Was Not Grounds For Relief Under C.C.P. § 473(b)

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Jackson is a reminder of the limited circumstances under which the mandatory provision is available.

February 27, 2019
David W. Evans & Stephen J. Squillario

In Jackson v. Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, Inc. (2/8/19 No. A150833), the First District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s denial of a motion for relief from a voluntary dismissal, without prejudice, filed by the plaintiff based on the erroneous conclusion of an attorney who she had consulted (but who had not yet appeared as counsel in her case) that the applicable statute of limitations had not yet expired. In reality, the limitations period had expired on the same date plaintiff had filed her complaint in propria persona. The plaintiff later retained the attorney on a limited basis to present the motion for relief pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure § 473(b) based on the attorney’s affidavit of fault. Therein, the attorney testified that he had advised the plaintiff to dismiss her action voluntarily based on a misinterpretation of the applicable limitations period, which the attorney characterized as having been based on his “mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or neglect.”

Section 473 provides two distinct provisions for relief from default or dismissal – one is discretionary, while the other is mandatory. Discretionary relief is available in the case of an attorney’s mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect. In contrast, mandatory relief is available where the resulting dismissal was caused by an attorney’s mistake, whether or not excusable. In denying the plaintiff’s motion, the trial court reasoned that the plaintiff could not rely upon Section 473(b) because (1) the attorney did not represent the plaintiff at the time and (2) this provision did not apply to the voluntary dismissal of an action without prejudice.

Reprinted courtesy of David W. Evans, Haight Brown & Bonesteel LLP and Stephen J. Squillario, Haight Brown & Bonesteel LLP
Mr. Evans may be contacted at devans@hbblaw.com
Mr. Squillario may be contacted at ssquillario@hbblaw.com



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