Chavarria v. Jones (CA1 memo 3/16/10)

Often enough, we wonder why an opinion was published. Once in a while, we wonder why one wasn’t.

Plaintiffs served Requests for Admissions asking Defendant to admit negligence and causation in a motor-vehicle case. Defendant denied both. When Plaintiffs won at trial they therefore moved that the judgment include sanctions. The trial court denied them and entered judgment. Plaintiffs moved for reconsideration of the sanctions about a month later; the court granted the motion and awarded costs and fees.

See the problem? Neither did the the trial court or the parties, which is why this deserves to be published.

Not until appellate oral argument did somebody (apparently the court) think to ask how a motion for reconsideration can modify a final judgment. The court ordered supplemental briefing before issuing this opinion to say that the answer is “it can’t.” A trial court can modify a final judgment under four rules – 50, 52, 59, and 60. Three of them – 50, 52, and 59 – extend the time for appeal. A motion for reconsideration can’t be used in place of any of them, as the rule itself (7.1) specifically says. Reconsideration applies to “rulings,” not ‘judgments.”

An opinion is supposed to be published if it “calls attention to a rule of law which appears to have been generally overlooked,” Supreme Court Rule 111. By not publishing, the court suggests that the issue isn’t overlooked “generally” but merely by dummies in this particular case. Maybe so, but in that case why bother with supplemental briefing?