Another Look at New Trial Motions

We sometimes think of the new trial motion as a tool unique to overcoming a jury verdict. But the motion can be brought to challenge judgments entered without resort to any courtroom drama. Thus, a new trial motion can be made in response to judgments entered on a demurrer (sustained without leave to amend), a motion for judgment on the pleadings, and a motion for summary judgment, just to name a few. (See, e.g., Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co. (2001) 25 Cal.4th 826, 858 (summary judgment); Carney v. Simmonds (1957) 49 Cal.2d 84, 88 (demurrer, judgment on the pleadings).) Of course, the grounds are statutory. (Code Civ. Proc. § 657.)

So, why do it? For one thing, recall that if you prevail on the motion and the other side appeals, the standard of review is very supportive of the granted motion. As the statute states (with some exceptions), “the order shall be affirmed if it should have been granted upon any ground stated in the motion, whether or not specified in the order or specification of reasons … .” (Code Civ. Proc. § 657 (final paragraph); see also, Scott v. Ranz (1945) 67 Cal.App.2d 428, 432 (“If there be any grounds upon which the trial court’s action can be upheld, the order will be sustained irrespective of the particular ground given by that court”).) As another appellate court put it, so long as there are no jurisdictional defects and a proper order has been entered, such orders are treated with “extraordinary deference.” (Sandco American, Inc. v. Notrica (1990) 216 Cal.App.3d 1495, 1506.) Maybe it’s time to take another look at new trial motions.