By law, the court was required to render its decision within 90 days of May 5, or by Monday, August 3. (Unlike the case with the State's legislators and their duty to enact a budget by July 1 of each year, if a judge cannot certify that all matters submitted to him within the last 90 days have been decided, he cannot draw his paycheck.) The lengthy period between hearing and final decision appears not to have been used to modify the court's earlier ruling to any great extent. (The ruling does not affect the case against Bishop Schofield's attorneys, who were added as defendants after the plaintiffs filed their motion.)
Surprisingly, the court's decision to grant the motion is no longer the bad piece of news it would have been had it happened on February 25, or shortly thereafter. I write this post immediately after receiving word of the court's ruling, in order to forestall the impact of the trumpet-blaring from Bishop Lamb, his supporters, and the Episcoleft blogworld that will now inevitably follow.
The reason why the ruling is not bad news for the defendants any longer is quite simple: the case itself has moved on. The parties are no longer concerned with the second amended complaint, which was the subject of the court's ruling. The plaintiffs have now filed, and the Schofield defendants have now answered, their fourth amended complaint in this case. That fourth amended complaint contains whole new theories about the alleged collusion between the various defendants (including the Bishop's law firm) to remove property from the Episcopal Church (USA) and its allegedly still-existing diocese.
A motion for summary adjudication of a single cause of action, just like a motion for summary judgment on an entire complaint, is framed by the pleadings that are at issue in the case --- meaning the most current pleadings. It is, therefore, in my view a meaningless act to grant adjudication with regard to the second amended complaint, since it is no longer the operative pleading.
The filing of an amended complaint supersedes any earlier version of it --- even if, as here, the plaintiffs are careful not to change one word in the cause of action under consideration. (The amendments plaintiffs were forced to make all had to do with later causes of action they asserted against Bishop Schofield's attorneys, the law firm of Wild, Carter & Tipton in Fresno.) The fact they did not change anything in their first cause of action (for declaratory relief) is not the end of the matter, however, because the plaintiffs reiterated and incorporated the allegations of that first cause of action in all the subsequent causes of action as well. And as just noted, plaintiffs have extensively changed and added new theories to those subsequent causes of action, which are each based on the first. Likewise, Bishop Schofield has not remained pat, either. His latest answer to the fourth amended complaint contains new defenses (against all causes of action, not just the first) which were not asserted in response to the earlier complaints.
So the case has passed the motion for summary adjudication by, and for all intents and purposes, that motion was moot when the court finally acted on it. There is even at least one reported California decision (note: you may have to register with Findlaw to view the link) which expressly holds that it is reversible error for a trial court to grant summary adjudication on a first amended complaint after it has granted leave to file a second amended one. In Perry v. Atkinson (1987) 195 Cal.App.3d 14, 16-17, the court's opinion described the proceedings below as follows:
As to Perry's first amended complaint, Atkinson moved for summary judgment or alternatively summary adjudication of issues. Before the hearing on Atkinson's motions, Perry filed a second amended complaint, adding allegations of physical harm and further facts regarding her confidential relationship with Atkinson. Atkinson demurred to Perry's second amended complaint.After hearing, the court rendered its written decision, denying Atkinson's motion for summary judgment as to Perry's cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and granting Atkinson's motion for summary adjudication as to the fraud and deceit cause of action. . . .
The court describes how the plaintiff Perry did her best to try to get the court to recognize that its ruling on the earlier complaint was moot, and how the court tried to cover its tracks by then --- without any notice or motion --- granting summary adjudication on the same cause of action in the second amended complaint, on the ground that it had not changed from how it was pled in the first amended complaint:
Perry contends the court erred in granting summary adjudication of issues as to her first amended complaint because her second amended complaint superseded the first. She asserts once the court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend, it had nothing to summarily adjudicate as to that cause of action.Perry filed her first amended complaint on September 22, 1982, and her second amended complaint, with the court's permission, on July 24, 1985. The court heard Atkinson's summary judgment motion to Perry's first amended complaint on September 27, 1985 and took the matter under submission. The court issued its memorandum decision on October 3, granting summary adjudication as to Perry's cause of action for fraud and deceit in her first amended complaint. On October 4, the court heard Atkinson's demurrer to the fraud and deceit cause of action in her second amended complaint, but ruled that issue was moot in light of its memorandum decision granting summary adjudication.On October 15, Perry filed a motion for reconsideration, arguing, in part, the summary adjudication was improper because the first amended complaint had been superseded by the second. On October 28, the court issued two orders: one granting summary adjudication of the fraud and deceit cause of action in Perry's first and second amended complaints and another sustaining without leave to amend Atkinson's demurrer to the fraud and deceit cause of action in Perry's second amended complaint. On November 1, the court denied Perry's reconsideration motion. . . .
The Court of Appeals then gave its view of such proceedings in no uncertain language (195 Cal.App.3d at 18):
We agree with Perry the court improperly granted summary adjudication as to the fraud and deceit cause of action in her first amended complaint. The record reflects the court granted Perry leave to file her second amended complaint with respect to her causes of action for fraud and deceit and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Once Perry did so, that complaint superseded her first amended complaint. [Citations omitted.] Thus, we treat the summary adjudication order as void . . . .
Defendants attempted to call this situation to the attention of the trial court, but it rejected defendants' argument and held the Perry case inapplicable on the ground that the San Joaquin plaintiffs, unlike Perry, had not changed any of the allegations in the cause of action on which summary adjudication was granted. Thus the defendants will now file a petition with the Court of Appeals to have the order vacated. This petition will be based on the ground that, as the Perry case just quoted decides, the motion had become moot in the interim while further versions of the operative pleadings were being filed. It will also be argued that the court's decision is wrong for all of the reasons discussed in two of my earlier posts (here and here).
With regard to the merits of the matter, the trial court in essence decided that ECUSA is hierarchical as a matter of law. But it did so by refusing to consider any of the defendants' expert evidence on the point, and ruled that evidence inadmissible. At the same time, it allowed in and did consider the evidence of the plaintiffs' expert, Dr. Mullin. We are once again in a never-never land of ECUSA's own making, in which it convinces a court to look only at what it says, and not at anything the defendants have to say. That is not the way a court is supposed to adjudicate cases. It has a duty to hear and consider the evidence of both sides before making a ruling, even on a point of law. The only way it could find ECUSA to be hierarchical as a matter of law would be if it found that the expert opinion on both sides raised no disputed issues of fact. But since it excluded all of the defendants' evidence, it cannot even claim to have made such a determination. Such an arbitrary manner of proceeding, which overwhelmingly favors the plaintiffs and gives the defendants no chance to be heard, will be the defendants' strongest reason for asking the appellate court to reverse the trial court's decision.
Most intermediate (interlocutory) petitions to the Courts of Appeal are denied, and this one could be as well, if the Court of Appeal in this instance decides that the case can still go to trial without the issue being prejudiced for an appeal at the end of the whole case. But if the Court of Appeal grants the petition and issues the writ vacating the order, the scheduled trial date --- currently February 1, 2010 --- will have to be moved still further out because of the time taken for the writ proceedings on appeal. (The parties cannot effectively engage expert witnesses and prepare for trial until they know for certain just which causes of action will be tried.)
Thus this "victory" for the plaintiffs on their motion is, in my view, a hollow one. Just ignore all the trumpet-blaring and cheering (or jeering) from the Episcoleft. It is all "sound and fury, signifying nothing . . .". Their victory will in all likelihood not stand for long, and will serve only to drag the case out still further. And since the plaintiff faux diocese of San Joaquin is far from being self-sustaining, and will need yet more cash infusions from the mother church (itself struggling to make up for lost revenues) to keep going, any such extension will not long be cause for rejoicing on that side, once the reality of what has actually happened sinks in.