Calif. SC sends old case back to appeals court

Jessica M. Karmasek Mar. 3, 2011, 12:52pm


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - The California Supreme Court, in a ruling Monday, has remanded a lawsuit to an appeals court to decide whether the nearly seven-year-old case should continue.

In February 2000, plaintiff Dana Bruns filed a suit against a number of defendants, including credit card processing company E-Commerce Exchange, Inc., for allegedly transmitting advertisements by fax. She alleged such actions violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991.

Almost seven years later, on Nov. 22, 2006, one of the defendants moved to dismiss Bruns' fifth amended complaint because the five-year period for her to bring her action to trial had elapsed. The other defendants joined the motion.

In response, Bruns argued that certain periods of time had to be excluded from the five-year period.

On Jan. 25, 2007, after hearing the motion to dismiss, a trial court stayed all proceedings and requested briefing regarding the specific litigation that had taken place during the periods Bruns claimed should be excluded from the five-year period.

Ultimately, the trial court granted the motion to dismiss. Soon after, Bruns appealed.

The appeals court reversed the lower court's dismissal and remanded the case.

The appeals court, in its majority ruling, held that periods of time in which there was a partial stay of proceedings had to be excluded from the five-year period under state code. However, a dissenting justice concluded that the Legislature intended the stay language in state code to involve only a "complete, as distinguished from a partial, stay."

The Court, in its 18-page review filed Monday, pointed to a section of the Code of Civil Procedure in its decision.

The code requires an action "be brought to trial within five years after the action is commenced against the defendant." Otherwise, dismissal of the action is "mandatory and... not subject to extension, excuse, or exception except as expressly provided by statute."

The Court also looked at two statutory exclusions to the five-year period.

First, in computing the time within which an action must be brought to trial, courts must exclude the time during which "(p)rosecution or trial of the action was stayed or enjoined."

Second, in computing the time within which an action must be brought to trial, courts must exclude the time during which "(b)ringing the action to trial, for any other reason, was impossible, impracticable or futile."

During the nearly seven years that Bruns' case was pending before it was dismissed, the trial court ordered stays of all the proceedings in plaintiff's action, as well as partial stays, such as stays of discovery and other specific proceedings, the Court said.

Justice Ming W. Chin, who authored the opinion, said the Court concluded -- contrary to the appeals court -- that the prosecution of an action is stayed only when the stay encompasses all proceedings in the action.

The Court remanded the case to the appeals court to consider whether the trial court abused its discretion in not excluding any or all of the time periods.

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