There is a common belief among some lawyers that a settlement is not complete until there is a formal written agreement signed by the parties that has all the “bells and whistles” typical of a settlement agreement. Not always so. In J.B.B. Investment Partners LTD v. Fair (2019) 37 Cal.App.5th 1, Division 2 of the First Appellate District enforced a settlement based upon emails: one from Plaintiffs’ counsel stating a “last and final offer” setting out the terms; and one from Defendants, albeit somewhat ambiguous but which included the magic words “So I agree.” The Court of Appeal found that the plain outward manifestation of these emails (along with several others subsequently sent by Defendants), reflected that an agreement was reached on the terms set out in Plaintiffs’ counsel’s earlier email; and that the lack of a formal settlement agreement which the parties clearly had intended to sign, did not detract from the enforceability of the settlement. The emails satisfied the need for a “writing” to meet the requirements of the Statute of Frauds. For these reasons, the trial court granted summary adjudication on the breach of contract claim brought by Plaintiffs to enforce the settlement, which was upheld on appeal as there was no material dispute of fact over the settlement terms that had been stated in the email exchange; and the failure of Defendants to sign the formal written version of the settlement, did not render the settlement terms reflected in the underlying emails a nullity. The emails contained sufficient manifestations of the parties’ respective consent to settle on those terms.
It is a truism in appellate practice that the respondent/appellee is in the best position; the standards of review and presumptions largely weigh in favor of affirmance, and so winning in the trial court is statistically the best way to win on appeal. In the spirit of making lemonade from lemons, however, one of the benefits and joys of being an appellant is getting to file a reply brief.
In California and federal appellate courts of appeal, reply briefs are nominally optional. In practice, all this means (or at least all it should mean) is that your appeal will not be dismissed for failing to file one. But from the perspective of good advocacy, there is really nothing optional about a reply brief. The opening and responding briefs set the field, and the reply is where the battle can be truly and most effectively joined. Indeed, some appellate judges/justices and clerks report (confess?) beginning their review of a case with the reply for just this reason.
Every now and then an appeal gets taken that, frankly speaking, shouldn’t be filed. When on the receiving end it’s possible—depending on the extreme lack of merit in the opening brief—to contemplate saving the client the time, effort, and $$$$ involved in preparing a responsive brief. The thinking would be something along the lines of “this stinker has absolutely zero chance of success” (and other more colorful thoughts). But should the respondent forgo filing a brief and just wait for the Court of Appeal to proclaim the inevitable?
Such a drastic course of action should be avoided.
A motion to challenge a judge under Code of Civil Procedure section 170.6 has been called a “silver bullet” because it does not require proof of good cause; it only has to be timely filed. In Sunrise Financial, LLC v. Superior Court (2019) 32 Cal.App.5th 114, the Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District resolved what it deemed an issue of first impression: when does the 15-day clock begin ticking to use the silver bullet in cases involving potential consolidation and coordination? The Court of Appeal held that the 15-day period to make a peremptory challenge to a judge assigned to a case for all purposes was triggered when defendants opposed consolidation of their action with other cases arising from the same fraudulent conduct. (See Code of Civil Procedure section 403 and California Rules of Court, rule 3.500(b), (c) & (d).) As a result, their peremptory challenge was untimely.
If you’ve ever read a California Court of Appeal opinion closing out with “each side to bear its own costs on appeal,” you might have presumed that such wording forecloses an award of attorney fees on appeal. It’s okay, you’re probably not alone. And if you have thought that, and still do, now would be a good time to read a recent Court of Appeal decision which holds otherwise.
It would be nice if all appealable orders were listed under Code of Civil Procedure section 904.1. After all, the statute purports to govern the issue. But any search that ends there on the assumption that if it’s not listed, it’s not appealable, is headed for disaster. As seasoned appellate practitioners know, 904.1 can be just the starting point on the long and winding road of appealability. Failure can mean that the right to appeal is lost—forever. (Van Beurden Ins. Service, Inc. v. Customized Worldwide Weather Ins. Agency, Inc. (1997) 15 Cal.4th 51, 56.)
Section 904.1 even uses a somewhat deceptive structure. For example, informing the reader that “an appeal may be taken from any of the following.” (Emphasis added.) Maybe that’s just legislative wit, recognizing that although an appeal can be taken, not all appeals should be taken. Ask any Court of Appeal justice, right?