57 Cal.2d 450, 20843, Auto Equity Sales, Inc. v. Superior Court of Santa Clara County

Docket Nº:20843
Citation:57 Cal.2d 450, 20 Cal.Rptr. 321, 369 P.2d 937
Opinion Judge:[11] Peters
Party Name:Auto Equity Sales, Inc. v. Superior Court of Santa Clara County
Attorney:[7] Thomas, James & Pendleton and Douglas H. Pendleton for Petitioners. [8] Spencer M. Williams, County Counsel, and Richard S. Harrison, Deputy County Counsel, for Respondent. [9] Malcolm K. Campbell for Real Party in Interest.
Case Date:March 22, 1962
Court:Supreme Court of California

Page 450

57 Cal.2d 450

20 Cal.Rptr. 321, 369 P.2d 937

AUTO EQUITY SALES, INC., Jack Bleicher and Edward Gasper, Petitioners,

v.

The SUPERIOR COURT OF SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Respondent,

Richard E. Hesenflow, Real Party in interest.

S. F. 20843.

Supreme Court of California

March 22, 1962.

In Bank

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Thomas, James & Pendleton and Douglas H. Pendleton, San Jose, for petitioners.

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Spencer M. Williams, County Counsel, and Richard S. Harrison, Deputy County Counsel, for respondent.

Malcolm K. Campbell, San Jose, for real party in interest.

PETERS, Justice.

Petitioners seek certiorari to review a decision of the appellate department of the superior court that vacated an order of the municipal court granting petitioners a new trial on the ground that the municipal court was without jurisdiction to grant the new trial. On this certiorari proceeding, it is contended that the appellate department of the superior court exceeded its jurisdiction in vacating the order granting the new trial. With this contention we agree.

The facts giving rise to this controversy are as follows: On December 20, 1960, a verdict for the plaintiff was returned in the municipal court action of Hesenflow v. Auto Equity Sales, Inc. The next day, on December 21, 1960, the defendants in that action, petitioners here, moved for a judgement notwithstanding the verdict, reserving the right to later move for a new trial. On january 23, 1961, defendants filed a notice of intention to move for a new trial. On February 17, 1961, judgement for the plaintiff was entered, and on March 2, 1961, defendants' motion for a new trial was granted. Plaintiff appealed to the appellate department of the superior court. That court vacated the order granting a new trial.

Whether the municipal court had jurisdiction to grant the new trial depends upon the proper interpretation of section 659 of the Code of Civil Procedure. That section, as it read prior to its amendment in 1961, read:

'The party intending to move for a new trial must file with the clerk and serve upon the adverse party a notice of his intention to move for a new trial * * * either

'1. Before the entry of judgement and, where a motion for judgement not-withstanding the verdict is pending, then within five days after the making of said motion; or

'2. Within 30 days after the entry of the judgement or 10 days after service upon him by any party of written notice of the entry of judgement, whichever is earlier. * * *'

In the instant case, the real party in interest contended in the municipal court that the motion for a new trial was not made within the five days set forth in subdivision one, and that the municipal court could not grant the motion under that subdivision. It was also contended that, when a motion for judgement notwithstanding the verdict is made before

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entry of judgement (as here), the notice of intention to move for a new trial must be filed within the five days provided in subdivision one, and that the '30 days after the entry of the judgement' provision of subdivision two is not applicable. In response to this contention the defendants in that action, petitioners here, referred the municipal court to the case of Kroiss v. Butler, 129 Cal.App.2d 550. It was properly pointed out that in that case the appellate court had established the rule that when the motion for judgement notwithstanding the verdict is made before the entry of judgement, and the motion for new trial is made more than five days after the motion for judgement notwithstanding the verdict, and after entry of judgement, the new trial motion is filed in time within the meaning of the section, that is that the time limitations in the two subdivisions are not mutually exclusive. Undoubtedly and admittedly the Kroiss case so held. As will later appear, the Kroiss case was the only appellate court opinion in the books that had considered and passed upon this precise question.

The municipal court concluded, properly, that it was bound by the Kroiss case, and properly held that, under the rule of that case, the motion was filed within time. On the merits it granted the motion. The appellate department of the superior court, while recognizing that the Kroiss case was directly in point, refused to follow the rule of that case on the ground that that case had been decided incorrectly, and held that the two subdivisions of section 659 were mutually exclusive. Based on these premises, it held that no proper motion for a new trial had been filed, and that, for that reason, the municipal court had no jurisdiction to grant the new trial. The merits of the new trial order have never been passed upon.

Under these facts, whether or not the Kroiss case was decided correctly, the appellate department of the superior court exceeded its 'jurisdiction,' as that term is used in connection with the writ of certiorari, in refusing to follow a rule established by a court of superior jurisdiction.

Certiorari, like prohibition, is, of course, a 'jurisdictional' writ. While it cannot be used to attack an error of a lower tribunal committed in the exercise of its jurisdiction, it is available when that tribunal has acted in excess of its 'jurisdiction.' (Simmons v. Superior Court, 52 Cal.2d 373; Portnoy v. Superior Court, 20 Cal.2d 375.) The meaning of 'jurisdiction' for

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the purposes of certiorari and prohibition is different and broader than the meaning of the same term when used in connection with 'jurisdiction' over the person and subject matter. (Abelleira v. District Court of Appeal, 17 Cal.2d 280, 288, 948, 132 A.L.R. 715; Goldberg, The Extraordinary Writs and The Review of Inferior Court Judgments (1948) 36 Cal.L.Rev. 558, 576.) In commenting on the meaning of 'jurisdiction' in a prohibition case, it was said in Abelleira that, 'Speaking generally, any acts which exceed the defined power of a court in any instance, whether that power be defined by constitutional provision, express statutory declaration, or rules developed by the courts and followed under the doctrine of stare decisis, are in excess of jurisdiction, in so far as that term is used to indicate that those acts may be restrained by prohibition or annulled on certiorari.' (17 Cal.2d at p. 291, 109 P.2d at p. 948.)

In this sense the appellate department of the superior court clearly exceeded its jurisdiction. In its opinion, after analyzing the point involved, the appellate department of the superior court stated that 'there is no question but that the decision of the District Court of Appeals in Kruiss (sic) v. Butler, 129 C.A.2d 550 (), fully supports * * * (defendants). With due respect to th District Court of Appeals which decided the Kruiss (sic) case, it is the opinion of this Court that the decision therein is erroneous.'

This determination was clearly in excess of the jurisdiction of the appellate department of the superior court. Under the doctrine of stare decisis, all tribunals exercising inferior jurisdiction are required to follow decisions of courts exercising superior jurisdiction. Otherwise, the doctrine of stare decisis makes no sense. The decisions of this court are binding upon and must be followed by all the state courts of California. Decisions of every division of the District Courts of Appeal are binding upon all the justice and municipal courts and upon all the superior courts of this state, and this is so whether or not the superior court is acting as a trial or appellate court. Courts exercising inferior jurisdiction must accept the law declared by courts of superior jurisdiction. It is not their function to attempt to overrule decisions of a higher court. (People v. McGuire, 45 Cal. 56, 57-58; Latham v. Santa Clara County Hospital, 104 Cal.App.2d 336, 340; Globe Indemnity Co. v. Larkin, 62 Cal.App.2d 891, 894.)

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This rule requiring a court exercising inferior jurisdiction to follow the decisions of a court exercising a higher jurisdiction has particular application to the appellate departments of the superior court. Until very recently, the decisions of those courts were not subject to appellate review except by the use of original writs in exceptional cases. Even under the recent constitutional amendment (Cal.Const. art. VI, § 4e), which is not here applicable, the right of review is strictly limited (Code Civ.Proc. § 988t; Pen.Code, § 1471). It would create chaos in our legal system if these courts were not bound by higher court decisions.

The Abelleira case, supra, held that the rule of stare decisis was a rule of jurisdiction for the purposes of the writ of prohibition (17 Cal.2d at p. 293). For the reasons stated in that case, that rule is also one of jurisdiction for the purposes of the writ of certiorari. Therefore, the appellate department of the superior court exceeded its jurisdiction when it refused to follw Kroiss v. Butler, supra, 129 Cal.App.2d 550.

Of course, the rule under discussion has no application where there is more than one appellate court decision, and such appellate decisions are in conflict. In such a situation, the court exercising inferior jurisdiction can and must make a choice between the conflicting decisions. Respondent court urges that this rule is here applicable because it cited in its opinion, and relied upon, the case of White v. Tacoma Lumber Sales, Inc., 192 A.C.A. 647, 13 Cal.Rptr. 780, which it claims is in conflict with the Kroiss case.

It is true that the respondent court, in its opinion, cited the White case, supra. The opinion of the respondent court in the...

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