No stretching Andresen to apply to relief sought under catch-all category of “other” . . .
In partial reversal, Fourth District holds that trial court erred by awarding hefty amount to wife for husband’s breach of fiduciary duty where she checked box for “other” relief, but failed to specify factual grounds or amount sought for breach
In re Marriage of Kahn
(April 26, 2013)
California Court of Appeal 4 Civil E054082 (Div 2) 215 Cal.App.4th 1113, 155 Cal.Rptr.3d 845, 2013 FA 1588, per Richli, J (Hollenhorst, Acting PJ and Miller, J, concurring). Riverside County: Best, J, and Wells, J, affirmed in part and reversed in part with directions. For husband: Kira Klatchko, CALS, (760) 568-2611. For wife: Richard Houghton, CFLS, (760) 779-1420. CFLP §C.150.7.1.
After more than 40 years of marriage, Jessie Kahn filed for divorce. In her petition, she checked boxes to indicate the relief she was seeking. Among those, she checked the box marked “ ‘Other’ ” and typed in “ ‘Relief for [Robert’s] breach of fiduciary duty pursuant to Family Code sections 1100 et seq.’ ” She did not list the facts supporting her breach claim, nor did she specify the amount of relief she sought.
As the disso progressed, Jessie served various discovery requests on Robert, but he failed to respond. When she moved to compel responses, the trial court granted her motion, but Robert still did not respond. Jessie then filed a motion for terminating sanctions, which apparently prompted Robert to file responses, many of which contained objections based on the Fifth Amendment. The trial court then ordered Robert’s responsive pleading stricken as a discovery sanction, and entered his default. Robert moved to set aside the default, but without success. Following a prove-up hearing, the trial court entered a default judgment, part of which awarded $275,000 to Jessie for Robert’s breach of fiduciary duty.
Robert appealed, and in a partially published opinion, the Fourth District affirmed in part and reversed in part with directions.
He had a right to know . . .
Robert contended that the trial court’s sanctions order should be reversed because it exceeded the amount asked for in the complaint. The justices agreed. They noted that CCP §580(a), which applies in disso cases, precludes a trial court from granting relief that exceeds the amount demanded in the complaint in default situations. That is so, they explained, because due process requires that a defendant have adequate notice of the maximum possible judgment against him or her, so that he or she can decide whether to file a response to the complaint or let it go as a default. When the court issues a judgment that exceeds the amount demanded, the panel continued, that judgment is void as beyond the trial court’s jurisdiction. The justices also noted that, per Cummings Medical Corp. v. Occupational Medical Corp. (1992) 10 Cal.App.4th 1291, 13 Cal.Rptr.2d 585, CCP §580(a) applies where a trial court enters a default after it has ordered the defendant’s response stricken as a discovery sanction.
Jessie wants to go too far . . .
Jessie argued that Robert had been given sufficient notice by the petition. She reasoned that in In re Marriage of Lippel (1990) 51 Cal.3d 1160, 276 Cal.Rptr. 290, 1991 CFLR 4617, 1990 FA 462, the Supremes said of the disso petition “ ‘the manner in which [the] boxes are checked, or not checked, informs and puts the respondent on notice of what specific relief the petitioner is, or is not, seeking.’ ” She also pointed out that in In re Marriage of Andresen (1994) 28 Cal.App.4th 873, 34 Cal.Rptr.2d 147, 1994 CFLR 6440, 1994 FA 670, the appellate court held that a petitioner need not specify the amount of relief sought if the disso petition does not require that information. The justices acknowledged that in subsequent cases, courts have found that the reasoning in Andresen made sense because that case involved a petitioner who failed to assign values to various items of community property listed on the property declaration, and simply asked the trial court to characterize and divide the community property, which it was obliged to divide equally. On those facts, the respondent had notice that property characterization and division was an issue and the petitioner need not specify values for each item. Here, however, the justices said that “[i]t would be stretching Andresen too far to apply it in this case.” The panel reasoned that checking the box for “Other” was not the same as checking the box for property division because the former was “a catch-all category [that] could encompass practically any kind of relief, including relief that is not statutorily required in a marital dissolution action.” Therefore, the justices concluded, the defendant was entitled to know “the specific nature and amount of any ‘other’ relief sought before defaulting.” Since that information was lacking on Jessie’s petition, the panel held that the trial court erred by awarding her $275,000 for Robert’s breach of fiduciary duty since that amount exceeded the relief demanded in that petition. They voided the part of the disso judgment containing that award and directed the trial court to either determine whether the judgment should be modified by striking that award or should be wholly vacated.
Non-pub . . .
In the unpublished parts of the opinion, the Fourth District found no errors in the trial court’s orders striking Robert’s responsive pleading, entering his default, or denying his motion to set aside his default, and affirmed those orders.