People v. American Contractors Indemnity Co

In People v. American Contractors Indemnity Co. (2004) 33 Cal.4th 653, the trial court entered summary judgment on the last day (the 185th day) of the appearance period, which also was a day after the surety filed a timely motion to extend the period. The trial court granted the motion to extend three weeks later, extending the appearance period for another 180 days. (American Contractors, supra, 33 Cal.4th at p. 659.) More than three months after the extended appearance period ran, the surety moved to set aside the summary judgment, vacate the bail forfeiture and exonerate the bond. (Ibid.) The trial court denied the motion. The Court of Appeal and Supreme Court affirmed. (Id. at pp. 660, 666.) The Supreme Court agreed the summary judgment, entered on the last day of the appearance period and after the surety had filed a timely notice to extend the period, was "premature." (Id. at p. 660.) However, it rejected the surety's argument the summary judgment was "void" and therefore of no consequence to the trial court's subsequent ruling on the motion to vacate the bail forfeiture and exonerate the bond. The court held the summary judgment was merely "voidable," and thus had full force and effect until it was either vacated by the trial court or reversed on appeal. (Id. at pp. 660-665.) The court was unsympathetic to the surety's argument that had it appealed from the premature summary judgment, the trial court would have lost jurisdiction to hear its subsequent motion to vacate the forfeiture and exonerate the bond. (Id. at p. 664.) As the court explained, the surety had two options: make a motion in the trial court to vacate the premature summary judgment (which very likely would have been granted) or file a notice of appeal to overturn the judgment. (Id. at pp. 664-665.) In People v. American Contractors Indemnity Co. (2004) the Supreme Court summarized the nature of bail bond proceedings. "While bail bond proceedings occur in connection with criminal prosecutions, they are independent from and collateral to the prosecutions and are civil in nature. (People v. Wilcox (1960) 53 Cal.2d 651, 654 . . . .) 'The object of bail and its forfeiture is to insure the attendance of the accused and his obedience to the orders and judgment of the court.' (Id. at pp. 656-657; see Stack v. Boyle (1951) 342 U.S. 1, 5 . . . 'Like the ancient practice of securing the oaths of responsible persons to stand as sureties for the accused, the modern practice of requiring a bail bond or the deposit of a sum of money subject to forfeiture serves as additional assurance of the presence of an accused'.) 'In matters of this kind there should be no element of revenue to the state nor punishment of the surety.' (Wilcox, at p. 657.) Nevertheless, the 'bail bond is a contract between the surety and the government whereby the surety acts as a guarantor of the defendant's appearance in court under the risk of forfeiture of the bond.' (People v. Ranger Ins. Co. (1994) 31 Cal.App.4th 13, 22 . . . .) Thus, when there is a breach of this contract, the bond should be enforced. (See People v. North Beach Bonding Co. (1974) 36 Cal.App.3d 663, 675 . . . .)" (American Contractors, at pp. 657-658.)