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Judge Not, and You Will Be Judged: Judges Must Read Motions

By Robyn Hagan Cain on December 06, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Last week, we told you about a default judgment appeal in which California’s Fourth Appellate District ruled that a plaintiff isn’t guaranteed a win simply because he filed an unopposed motion for default judgment.

In the opinion, the court spent a bit of time explaining that, even when faced with silent opposition, the plaintiff must offer facts to support the specific judgment he is seeking.

But the plaintiff wasn’t the only one who received a lesson in civil procedure; the Fourth Appellate District had words of wisdom for the trial court as well.

Directing the trial court to a 2002 decision detailing default judgment requirements, the appellate court noted that it is imperative that a trial court carefully examine the complaint at issue before granting a motion for default judgment to ensure that the requested judgment is not in excess of, or inconsistent with, the complaint.

Plaintiff Gil Kim claimed that the defendants' breach of promissory notes "caused [him] tremendous financial loss," and requested "a reasonable sum" of $30 million. The problem? Kim didn't offer significant evidence to support his damage claims, so the appellate court reversed the default judgment.

The Fourth Appellate District raised a point that should have been obvious to the trial court: Plaintiffs are self-interested, and will not be conservative in their estimates of demands.

Without a responding party to argue why the plaintiff's claims or requests for damages were incorrect, the court must act as a gatekeeper to ensure that only appropriate claims are compensated.

Trial judges: if your self-confidence is compromised by appellate reversal, don't just rubber-stamp motions for default judgment; review them.

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