[San Francisco, CA] - On October 11, 2023, the California Court of Appeal delivered a resounding victory to WSHB’s client, a regional medical clinic, by affirming the dismissal of a long-standing case that had been mired in extraordinary delays. The court's ruling establishes new guidelines for the application of California's "five year" deadline to bring cases to trial (CCP 583.310), in language and analysis that will certainly be relied upon by future defendants.
“This case provides vindication for our client, who weathered exceptional delays driven by the way the matter was prosecuted as well as by the Covid-19 pandemic,” said attorney Steve Disharoon, who handled both the trial and appellate proceedings. Disharoon, who is certified by the State Bar of California as an appellate specialist, noted how the case presented unprecedented legal issues concerning California’s laws for timely prosecuting civil cases.
The case, which the plaintiff filed on February 3, 2012, alleged bodily injuries incurred during a visit to the client’s medical facility. Despite initial representation, the plaintiff experienced multiple attorney withdrawals, contributing to the case's already lengthy duration of over 4.5 years when it approached trial in October 2016. However, when the plaintiff failed to provide witnesses or documents during a trial management conference, the trial court dismissed the case in October 2016 by way of a terminating sanction. The case became five years old by February 4 2017, and then the plaintiff filed an appeal later that month.
Following subsequent delays by the plaintiff, the court of appeal reversed the dismissal that stemmed from the terminating sanction in early January 2020, coinciding with the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic. By statute, the plaintiff was granted a six-month period to bring the case to trial. Additionally, due to emergency rules enacted by the Judicial Council of California in response to the pandemic, an additional six months was granted, extending the deadline to early January 2021. Despite the ample time provided, the plaintiff resisted setting a trial date and made no meaningful progress in prosecuting the case.
After the expiration of the extended "five year" period, WSHB promptly filed a motion to dismiss in January 2021. The motion was granted, leading to a timely appeal by the plaintiff, who once again engaged in the same pattern of delays that had plagued the case. WSHB argued for the affirmation of the dismissal on two grounds at both the trial and appellate levels. First, it highlighted that the "five year" period had already expired by February 4, 2017, considering the case's age at that point. Second, even if not subject to dismissal as of February 2017, the statutory deadline expired no later than early January 2021.
On October 11, 2023, the court of appeal delivered its decision, upholding the dismissal and concurring with WSHB's arguments on both counts. This landmark ruling provides our client and its insurance carrier a sense of comfort and closure, while offering guidance for future cases regarding the correct application of the five-year statute. In particular, the case is the first to hold that the five-year clock keeps ticking following a dismissal, as the same does not, itself, suspend a trial court’s jurisdiction to try a case (since the judge could still vacate or set aside the dismissal). Thus, in this case, the time kept running after the October 2016 dismissal, and expired as of February 4, 2017.
WSHB intends to request certification of this holding for publication, aiming to establish its importance as a precedent that can be cited by defendants in future legal proceedings.