Procedural Posture

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Plaintiff lessee appealed the judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County (California), which modified the award of damages in plaintiff’s action alleging breach of covenant of quiet enjoyment, forcible entry and detainer, conversion, trespass, and infliction of emotional distress. Defendant lessors also appealed the denial of their motion to set aside the default judgment pursuant to Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 473.

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Overview

Plaintiff lessee brought action against defendant lessors based upon allegation stemming from breach of an oral lease agreement. Default judgment was entered against defendants and plaintiff filed an application for a jury hearing to assess damages. After hearing plaintiff’s evidence, the jury awarded total dames in the amount of $ 53,778. However, the trial court, on its own motion, filed an order modifying the judgment. On appeal, the court further modified the trial court’s order and set aside the award of punitive damages. The court held that the allegations in the complaint did not state a cause of action for punitive damages and thus plaintiff was not entitled to that relief. The court also concluded that the denial of defendants’ motion for relief from the default judgment was proper because defendants failed to show mistake, inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect. Moreover, the court concluded that defendants were properly served because an amendment after service of a summons does not require either a new summons or a new service on an existing party defendant.

Outcome

The court modified the lower court’s judgment and set aside the award of punitive damages. The court affirmed the lower court’s judgment and concluded that the lower court did not abuse its discretion in denying defendant lessors’ motion to be relieved from default because defendants did not make a sufficient showing that mistake, inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect justified relief.

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