California Supreme Court Watch

Apr 27, 2022
TriCoast Builders, Inc. v. Fonnegra, S273368.

#22-108 TriCoast Builders, Inc. v. Fonnegra, S273368. (B303300; 74 Cal.App.5th 239; Los Angeles County Superior Court; PC056615.) Petition for review after the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment in a civil action. This case presents the following issues: (1) When a trial court denies a request for relief from a jury waiver under Code of Civil Procedure section 631, and the losing party does not seek writ review but instead appeals from an adverse judgment after a bench trial, must the appellant show “actual prejudice” when challenging the order on appeal? (2) Does a trial court abuse its discretion when it denies a request for relief from a jury trial waiver without a showing that granting the request will prejudice the opposing party or the trial court?

Review granted: 4/27/2022

Case fully briefed: 9/01/2022

Cause argued and submitted: 12/05/2023

Opinion filed: Judgment affirmed in full: 2/26/2024

See the Court of Appeal Opinion.

See the Petition for Review.

See the Oral Argument.

See the California Supreme Court Opinion.  (TriCoast Builders, Inc. v. Fonnegra (2024) 15 Cal.5th 766.)

“The California Constitution provides that all civil litigants have the right to trial by jury, but they may waive that right in a manner prescribed by statute. (Cal. Const., art. I, § 16.) The statute implementing this provision, Code of Civil Procedure section 631 (section 631), sets forth various acts and omissions that constitute jury waiver, including failing to make a timely jury demand and failing to timely deposit a jury fee in accordance with statutory requirements. (§ 631, subd. (f).) Waiver does not categorically foreclose trial by jury; a litigant that has waived jury trial may seek relief from the waiver. The trial court has discretion whether to grant relief, on such terms as may be just. (§ 631, subd. (g) (section 631(g)).)

This case raises two questions about the adjudication of requests for relief from jury waiver under section 631(g). The first question concerns proceedings in the trial court: Must a trial court always grant relief from a jury waiver if proceeding with a jury would not cause hardship to other parties or to the trial court? We conclude that the answer is no; a trial court’s discretion is not so constrained. The presence or absence of hardship is always a primary consideration, and it is often dispositive in cases where the litigant has given timely notice that it desires a jury trial and seeks relief from mere technical statutory waiver, such as failure to post the required jury fee at the correct time or in the correct amount. But a request for relief from jury waiver always calls for consideration of multiple factors in addition to hardship, including the timeliness of the request and the reasons supporting the request.

The second question concerns proceedings on appeal: If a litigant challenges the denial of relief from jury waiver for the first time on appeal of the judgment of the trial court, must the litigant show actual prejudice to obtain reversal, or will prejudice be presumed? We conclude that, where the constitutional right of jury trial has been validly waived, prejudice from the denial of section 631(g) relief will not be presumed but must be shown….  Because TriCoast has failed to establish the prejudice necessary to justify reversing the trial court’s judgment, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeal, which reached the same conclusion on this issue.”

Justice Kruger authored the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice Guerrero and Justices Corrigan, Liu, Groban, Jenkins, and Evans concurred.