Pending Legislation Concerning California's
Summary Judgment Standard
If you are an employer
or business that often finds itself
in the position of a defendant bringing
a summary judgment motion, you should
know about this legislation. Senate
Bill 476 ("SB 476") seeks to shift
the burden of proof in summary judgment
motions onto the defense to prove
a claim has no merit. SB 476 recently
passed the California State Senate
and is currently pending in the
Assembly Judiciary Committee. Passage
of SB 476 would reverse the efforts
made in the early 1990's to liberalize
California's summary judgment laws
by shifting the burden of proof
in summary judgment motions to the
defense. This legislation is sure
to have a profound and costly effect
on litigation in California.
Current Summary Judgment Standard
In 1992 and 1993,
California amended its summary judgment
statute to more closely reflect
the federal standard governing burden
of proof on summary judgment motions.
California's current summary judgment
rules require a defendant moving
for summary judgment to show that
an element of a cause of action
cannot be established, or that there
is a complete defense to the cause
of action. The burden of proof then
shifts to the plaintiff to produce
specific, admissible evidence showing
a triable issue of fact exists.
Would SB 476 Change California's
Summary Judgment Standard?
SB 476 removes the
burden shifting language, effectively
returning California's rules of
summary judgment to its state prior
to the 1992 and 1993 amendments.
SB 476 requires the defendant
moving for summary judgment to prove
that a claim has no merit; the plaintiff
is not required to make a prima
facie showing that a triable issue
of fact exists as to that cause
of action or a defense thereto.
Such changes will
likely drastically curb a court's
ability to dismiss meritless claims.
See Saelzler v. Advanced Group
400, 25 Cal. 4th 763 (May 31,
2001) (noting that California's
summary judgment law prior to the
1992 and 1993 amendments Ñ which
is similar to the standard proposed
by SB 476 Ñ made it nearly impossible
for a defendant to achieve summary
judgment); see also Aguilar v.
Atlantic Richfield Company,
2001 Cal. LEXIS 3758 (June 14, 2001)
(noting that California's pre-amendment
summary judgment laws imposed an
"often impossibly high" standard
The bill also makes
a virtually unprecedented change
to appellate procedure by permitting
parties to submit new evidence
on appeal to reverse a summary judgment
ruling. Such a process will unduly
burden the appellate courts, and
will allow meritless cases to linger
in the court system.
You Wish To Voice Your Opinion...
A variety of companies
and associations have come out in
opposition of SB 476, including
California Grocers Association,
California Retailers Association,
California Chamber of Commerce,
California Association of Health
Facilities, California Manufacturers
and Technology Association and Consulting
Engineers and Land Surveyors of
California, to name a few.
If you wish to voice
your opinion on SB 476, contact:
Governor Gray Davis
State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814
Should you have any
questions regarding SB 476 and its
possible effects, please feel free
to contact Alexis Morris at email@example.com.
The material contained
in this newsletter is for informational
purposes only and does not constitute
legal advice. For specific advice,
you are advised to contact your
© 2001 Rogers
Joseph O'Donnell & Phillips
All Rights Reserved.