Woodland Hills personal injury attorney, Barry P. Goldberg, is always concerned that the right party is joined in the case before a final judgment. Sometimes the “right” party is discovered during the trial and in a recent and very interesting case the Court of Appeal held that a judgment could be amended to add the proper judgment debtor. After all, the Court reasoned, it is justice we are all after here! Danko v. O’Reilly A138784 (Dec. 22, 2014) Cal.App.4th , (San Francisco City & County Super. Ct. No. CGC-09-49503)
Interestingly, the court seized on virtually ancient language contained in the original Field Code enacted in 1872 (the Field Code pre-dated our current California Statutory structure):
“When jurisdiction is, by the Constitution or this Code, or by any other statute, conferred on a Court or judicial officer, all the means necessary to carry it into effect are also given; and in the exercise of this jurisdiction, if the course of proceeding be not specifically pointed out by this Code or the statute, any suitable process or mode of proceeding may be adopted which may appear most conformable to the spirit of this code.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 187 (section 187).)
The Court found that buried in this opaque language is the power of a trial court to amend a judgment by adding judgment debtors:
“‘Under section 187, the trial court is authorized to amend a judgment to add additional judgment debtors. . . . As a general rule, “a court may amend its judgment at any time so that the judgment will properly designate the real defendants.”. . . Judgments may be amended to add additional judgment debtors on the ground that a person or entity is the alter ego of the original judgment debtor. . . . “Amendment of a judgment to add an alter ego ‘is an equitable procedure based on the theory that the court is not amending the judgment to add a new defendant but is merely inserting the correct name of the real defendant. . . . “Such a procedure is an appropriate and complete method by which to bind new . . . defendants where it can be demonstrated that in their capacity as alter ego of the corporation they in fact had control of the previous litigation, and thus were virtually represented in the lawsuit.” . . .’ . . .” [Citations.]’ ‘The decision to grant an amendment in such circumstances lies in the sound discretion of the trial court. “The greatest liberality is to be encouraged in the allowance of such amendments in order to see that justice is done.” ’ ” (Greenspan v. LADT, LLC (2010) 191 Cal.App.4th 486, 508.)
In the case before it, the sole issue presented was whether the trial court abused its discretion by amending a judgment against a dissolving law firm by adding a former name partner of that firm as an additional judgment debtor. Obviously, the court concluded that it did not.
The “take away” from this case is to always check and double check that the proper parties are before the court. If a judgment is entered, it may not be too late to urge the trial court to amend its judgment.