Saturday, March 27, 2010

For California Lawyers: 10 Questions About the Episcopal Church Cases

First, for those who have not already become familiar with them, here are links to the three appellate opinions thus far in the Episcopal Church Cases:

The first decision by the Court of Appeal (June 25, 2007; superseded by the Supreme Court's opinion) may still be read here.

The decision on review by the California Supreme Court (January 5, 2009) is here.

And the latest decision, on petition for writ of mandate by the Court of Appeal, filed yesterday, is at this link.

Now, here are ten questions, on which I would like your input:

1. As you can see from the latest decision, all that changed between the date of the Supreme Court's decision and the ruling by the trial court denying the plaintiffs' motion for a judgment on the pleadings (which was reversed yesterday by the Court of Appeal) was that the defendants filed answers to the two complaints. How can the Court of Appeal use the Supreme Court's decision affirming the overruling of defendants' demurrers to the complaint to now hold that the Supreme Court also (in effect) sustained the plaintiffs' demurrers to the answers filed on remand?

2. The opinion yesterday discusses only one factual issue -- waiver and estoppel -- raised in the defendants' answers. How can that issue, based on the intent of a letter sent to the parish by the diocese, be decided purely as a question of law? That is, if the allegations of the answer about waiver and estoppel are true, which is how they must be regarded for purposes of a judgment on the pleadings, how can they not amount to a valid defense to the complaints?

3. How can the appellate court determine, from this record, that leave to amend the answers further should be denied without the defendants having received even one opportunity to do so?

4. The appellate court construes the Supreme Court's opinion as having fully disposed of all triable issues in the case before the defendants had even answered (i.e., so that it did not matter what they later answered). How could that be a valid reading of what the Supreme Court had the power to do at that stage of the case? (And see also, in that regard, Question #10 below.)

5. And why, if that is what the Supreme Court actually intended to do at that stage of the case, did it affirm the appellate court's disposition which sent the case back to the trial court for "further proceedings"?

6. Why, if the Court of Appeal is correct that the Supreme Court decided the issue of ownership finally, as a matter of law, before the defendants had even answered the complaints, did the Supreme Court thereafter bother to modify its decision?

7. How do you read the effect of the changes the Supreme Court ordered made to its decision, in view of the petition for rehearing filed by St. James Newport Beach?

8. How would you treat the motion for judgment on the pleadings brought by the Diocese and the Episcopal Church (USA) in light of the following argument they made to the United States Supreme Court, as a reason to refuse to review the decision of the California Supreme Court (emphasis added in the quote from respondents' brief below)?
Apart from raising no substantive issues that warrant review, the Petition for a Writ of Certiorari should be denied on jurisdictional grounds because trial court proceedings remain ongoing and no final judgment will be entered until those proceedings have run their course.
9. If a motion for a judgment on the pleadings could be granted without leave to amend after the first filing of an answer, then why could the California Supreme Court not have directed entry of a final judgment in the plaintiffs' favor when it issued its opinion? Why did the Court of Appeal, which decided yesterday that such an entry of judgment was required by the Supreme Court's decision, after receiving the remittitur send the case back to the trial court for any "further proceedings" at all?

10. Did the Court of Appeal's decision yesterday fail to give proper effect to section 425.16 (b)(3) of the California Code of Civil Procedure? That section reads as follows:
(3) If the court determines that the plaintiff has established a probability that he or she will prevail on the claim, neither that determination nor the fact of that determination shall be admissible in evidence at any later stage of the case, or in any subsequent action, and no burden of proof or degree of proof otherwise applicable shall be affected by that determination in any later stage of the case or in any subsequent proceeding.
I shall be very interested in any answers you care to give to any of the foregoing questions.


  1. One question for California judges: Do any of you know anything about the law and how to adjudicate a case on it merits?


  2. This article has been up for 3 days. The silence is deafening.