Judge: William A. Crowfoot, Case: 20STCV02815, Date: 2022-08-08 Tentative Ruling

Case Number: 20STCV02815    Hearing Date: August 8, 2022    Dept: 27

SUPERIOR COURT OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA

FOR THE COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES - CENTRAL DISTRICT

 

PATRICIA KNOX,

                   Plaintiff(s),

          vs.

 

ROSALIND WESEY, et al.,

 

                   Defendant(s).

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      CASE NO.: 20STCV02815

 

[TENTATIVE] ORDER RE: MOTION FOR RELIEF FROM WAIVER OF JURY TRIAL

 

Dept. 27

1:30 p.m.

August 8, 2022

 

  1. INTRODUCTION

    On January 23, 2020, Plaintiff Patricia Ann Knox, an individual, by and through her guardian ad litem, Danny Barnes, filed this action asserting causes of action for negligence and wrongful eviction against Defendant Rosalind D. Wesey and Akindeji Wesey (“Defendants”), as individuals and as the personal representatives or heirs of Akintunde Wesey.  A bench trial is scheduled for August 31, 2022.  Before the Court is Plaintiff’s motion seeking relief for her waiver of a jury trial. 

  2. LEGAL STANDARD

“The right to a trial by jury as declared by Section 16 of Article I of the California Constitution shall be preserved to the parties inviolate.”  (Code Civ. Proc., § 631(a).)  “In civil cases, a jury may only be waived pursuant to subdivision (f).”  (Id.)  CCP section 631(f) provides that a party waives trial by jury by (1) failing to appear at the trial; (2) written consent filed with the clerk or judge; (3) oral consent, in open court, entered in the minutes; (4) failing to announce that a jury is required, at the time the cause is first set for trial, if it is set upon notice of stipulation, or within five days after notice of setting if it is set without notice or stipulation; (5) failing to timely pay the fee described in subdivision (b), unless another party on the same side of the case has paid that fee; or (6) failing to deposit with the clerk or judge, at the beginning of the second and each succeeding day’s session, the sum provided in subdivision (e).  (Id., § 631(f).)   “The court may, in its discretion upon just terms, allow a trial by jury although there may have been a waiver of a trial by jury.”  (Id., § 631(g).)  “The trial court should grant a motion for relief of a jury waiver ‘unless, and except, where granting such a motion would work serious hardship to the objecting party.’”  (Mackovska v. Viewcrest Road Properties LLC (2019) 40 Cal.App.5th 1, 10 [quoting Boal v. Price Waterhouse & Co. (1985) 165 Cal.App.3d 806, 809].)  “When there is doubt about whether to grant relief from a jury trial waiver, the court must resolve that doubt in favor of the party seeking a jury trial.”  (Id.)

“In a motion for relief from waiver of a jury trial, the crucial question is whether the party opposing relief will suffer any prejudice if the court grants relief.”  (Mackovska, supra, 40 Cal.App.5th at 10.)  “‘The prejudice which must be shown from granting relief from the waiver is prejudice from the granting of relief and not prejudice from the jury trial.’”   (Id. [quoting Massie v. AAR Western Skyways, Inc. (1992) 4 Cal.App.4th 405, 411].)  “‘The mere fact that trial will be by jury is not prejudice per se.’”  (Id. [quoting Johnson-Stovall v. Superior Court (1993) 17 Cal.App.4th 808, 811].)  “Denying relief where the party opposing the motion for relief has not shown prejudice is an abuse of discretion.”  (Id.)

  1. DISCUSSION

This action was filed on January 23, 2020, therefore jury fees were required to be posted no later than January 23, 2021.  However, Plaintiff did not post her jury fees until May 26, 2022.  Plaintiff’s counsel states that he erroneously believed that jury fees did not need to be posted until 25 days before trial, and that this deadline would move with each subsequent continuance of the trial.  After Plaintiff posted jury fees on May 26, 2022, she served Defendants with a notice that the fees had been posted.  On June 6, 2022, Defendants filed an objection to Plaintiff’s notice.  On June 7, 2022, Plaintiff sought ex parte relief from this waiver.  The Court set a hearing on Plaintiff’s request for the present date.

Plaintiff seeks relief for this inadvertent waiver, stating that the parties had already been corresponding regarding joint trial documents for weeks, including jury instructions and a statement of the case, and that the request for relief was made promptly.  Plaintiff also argues that Defendants will not be prejudiced if Plaintiff’s request for a jury trial is granted because Defendants have already prepared for a jury trial. 

Defendants argue they have “been operating for more than a year on the presumption that there would be no jury” and that “[t]heir pleading and discovery strategy was largely governed by this reliance.”  (Opp., 2:7-9.)  Defendants claim they made strategic decisions regarding which witnesses to depose and which experts to retain, as well as which motions to file.  As an example, Defendants argue they determined a motion for summary adjudication on the issue of punitive damages and the wrongful termination of tenancy claim would be unnecessary in a court trial.  (Safarian Decl., ¶ 3.)   Also, Defendants did not depose Plaintiff’s out-of-state daughter, who was recently identified as a witness, or retained medical experts, which were strategic decisions by counsel calculated on the belief that this would not be a jury trial.  (Safarian Decl., ¶ 4.)  Defendants request that if this motion is granted, that trial and all related deadlines be continued so that Defendants may file a dispositive motion on the issue of punitive damages and conduct the discovery it deems appropriate and necessary. 

In the reply brief, Plaintiff argues that Defendants’ claim regarding strategy is not credible because Plaintiff demanded a jury trial in her Complaint.  Indeed, the Court notes that Plaintiff’s Complaint states on the caption page and on page 11 of her Complaint that she demands a jury trial.  Additionally, Defendants’ arguments that they relied on the purported waiver to make certain “tactical” decisions is unpersuasive.  Defendants do not explain how a jury trial versus a bench trial would impact certain discovery issues or any dispositive motions.  Instead, it appears that Defendants are using this opportunity to request a trial continuance and to reopen discovery.  Given the liberal policy of granting relief from the waiver of a jury trial and the fact that Defendants have failed to show any potential prejudice that might befall them, the motion for relief is granted. 

  1. CONCLUSION

Accordingly, Plaintiff’s Motion is GRANTED.  All trial and discovery deadlines remain the same. 

Moving party to give notice.

Parties who intend to submit on this tentative must send an email to the Court at SSCDEPT27@lacourt.org indicating intention to submit on the tentative as directed by the instructions provided on the court website at www.lacourt.org.  Please be advised that if you submit on the tentative and elect not to appear at the hearing, the opposing party may nevertheless appear at the hearing and argue the matter.  Unless you receive a submission from all other parties in the matter, you should assume that others might appear at the hearing to argue.  If the Court does not receive emails from the parties indicating submission on this tentative ruling and there are no appearances at the hearing, the Court may, at its discretion, adopt the tentative as the final order or place the motion off calendar.