Doppes v. Bentley Motors, Inc

In Doppes v. Bentley Motors, Inc. (2009) 174 Cal.App.4th 1004, an automobile manufacturer challenged the award of prejudgment interest to an aggrieved buyer who filed suit after purchasing a luxury car with an "obnoxious" interior odor. Rather than appealing directly from the judgment, the the manufacturer waited for some months before filing a motion to vacate the prejudgment interest award. The Doppes court held the manufacturer could use the appeal from the denial of the motion to vacate as a vehicle to challenge the trial court's jurisdiction to award prejudgment interest. "We therefore conclude the order denying the manufacturer's motion to set aside the judgment . . . is appealable and deny the motion to dismiss the appeal." (Doppes, supra, 174 Cal.App.4th at p. 1009.) Doppes, however, concluded the trial court did have jurisdiction to award prejudgment interest, so the judgment was not void. Bentley defied at least four discovery orders and continued to withhold critical documents from Doppes even after trial began. Bentley's misconduct justified a terminating sanction when it became clear that repeated monetary sanctions and court orders had had no deterrent effect on Bentley. (Id. at pp. 994, 997.)The California Supreme Court concluded the trial court had jurisdiction to award prejudgment interest under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (Civ. Code, 1790 et seq.). (Doppes, supra, 174 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1009-1011.) The court noted that Civil Code section 3287 provided that every person who is entitled to recover damages that were certain, or capable to being made certain, was entitled to recover prejudgment interest. (Doppes, 174 Cal.App.4th at p. 1009.) The court considered the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act and concluded that nothing in it barred recovery of prejudgment interest; to the contrary, the act provided, " 'The remedies provided by this chapter are cumulative and shall not be construed as restricting any remedy that is otherwise available . . . .' " (Doppes, 174 Cal.App.4th at p. 1010.) The Court explained that in selecting the appropriate sanction, a trial court "should consider both the conduct being sanctioned and its effect on the party seeking discovery," and should tailor the sanction to fit the harm caused by the abuse of the discovery process. (Doppes, supra, 174 Cal.App.4th at p. 992.) The trial court cannot impose sanctions for misuse of the discovery process as a punishment. (Ibid.) "The discovery statutes evince an incremental approach to discovery sanctions, starting with monetary sanctions and ending with the ultimate sanction of termination. 'Discovery sanctions "should be appropriate to the dereliction, and should not exceed that which is required to protect the interests of the party entitled to but denied discovery."' If a lesser sanction fails to curb misuse, a greater sanction is warranted: continuing misuses of the discovery process warrant incrementally harsher sanctions until the sanction is reached that will curb the abuse. 'A decision to order terminating sanctions should not be made lightly. But where a violation is willful, preceded by a history of abuse, and the evidence shows that less severe sanctions would not produce compliance with the discovery rules, the trial court is justified in imposing the ultimate sanction.' " (Ibid.)