Changes to the laws affecting civil litigation practice or procedure going into effect in 2017 appear in general to be less sweeping and of less significance than in recent years. The most significant changes for most local civil litigators may be the recent changes to local policy concerning the civil clerk's drop box and the hearing of discovery motions. This article summarizes many, but by no means all, of the recent changes likely to affect civil litigation practice in San Joaquin County.
Changes to Local Procedures in San Joaquin County
- Clerk's Hours and Drop Box. The clerk's office on the third floor of the Stockton Courthouse is now open until 4 p.m. The drop box remains available, but in an important change, filings must be submitted by 4 p.m. to be deemed filed that same day. Filings submitted in the drop box after 4 p.m. will be file-stamped for the following day. Fax filings will continue to receive a same-day filing date if the fax is received before 5 p.m. (LRC, 6-100(3).)
- Termination of Dedicated Discovery Calendar. There is no longer a dedicated discovery calendar or department for the hearing of discovery motions. Each civil court will now hear its own discovery matters on its regular law and motion calendars. (See notice on Civil Division page of the Superior Court website, https://www.sjcourts.org/divisions/civil/.)
Statewide Changes Affecting Civil Procedure
1. No confidential settlements in sexual abuse cases. Section 1002 of the Code of Civil Procedure has been amended to prohibit any provision of a settlement agreement from preventing the disclosure of factual information establishing a cause of action for civil damages for an act that may be prosecuted as a felony sex offense or for an act of childhood sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of a minor, or sexual assault against an elder or dependent adult. Any such provision is void, and a court may not enter any such order in any such action, whether by stipulation or otherwise. Attorneys may be disciplined for demanding such a provision or advising a client to sign an agreement containing such a provision.
2. Further restrictions on public access to unlawful detainer court records. Section 1167.1 has been added to the Code of Civil Procedure, and section 1162.1 of that Code has been amended, to further restrict public access to unlawful detainer court filings. Under previous law, unlawful detainer filings would become publicly accessible 60 days after the commencement of the case unless the defendant prevailed in the action. With the recent changes, unlawful detainer records may be made publicly available only upon court order and only "if judgment is entered for the plaintiff after trial more than 60 days since the filing of the complaint." Even then, the parties can stipulate to keep the unlawful detainer records confidential. Additionally, if the summons is not served within 60 days, the court may dismiss the action. The cumulative effect of these changes is to conceal the filing of an unlawful detainer action from members of the public who are not independently aware of the filing.
Alternatively, a person may obtain access to unlawful detainer records under the following circumstances: (1) the person is a party or a party's attorney; (2) the person provides the names of at least one plaintiff in the action, at least one defendant in the action, and the address of the property that is subject to the action, including the unit or apartment number; (3) the person is a resident of the premises, provides proof of residency, and can name one of the parties; or (4) upon court order for good cause shown.
3. "Substantial compliance" with contractor's license law modestly expanded. Section 7031 of the Business and Professions Code confers a right of action to recover from an unlicensed contractor any compensation paid for work requiring a contractor's license unless the contractor was in "substantial compliance" with the licensing law. The definition of "substantial compliance" has been expanded by deleting the requirement that the contractor must not have known or had reason to know that he was unlicensed.
4. Immigration status is inadmissible in personal injury and wrongful death actions. New Evidence Code section 351.2 makes evidence of an individual's immigration status inadmissible, and prohibits discovery thereof, in personal injury and wrongful death actions, except where the inquiry is shown by clear and convincing evidence to be necessary in order to comply with federal law.
The foregoing article is not by any means a comprehensive list of new laws effective in 2017. A more detailed summary of important substantive and procedural statutory changes taking effect in 2017 is contained in the Judicial Council's Summary of Court-Related Legislation available at http://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/2016_LegSummary.pdf.