Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Switching Sides.

I've had a few nicknames over the years. When I toiled in a law firm that represented corporations sued for a variety of reasons, often wrongful termination, I garnered "Case-Killer" from my colleagues. The moniker emanated from a particularly fortunate string of defense victories, i.e. getting lawsuits dismissed long before a jury could ever hear about them.

In my current practice, we represent a balance of plaintiffs and defendants. My last few trials have been on the plaintiff side, but my latest allowed me to "switch sides" and represent a corporate defendant. Another time I wrote about here: and here:

This trial never got started.

Before my involvement, this corporation had lost a proceeding before the Labor Commissioner. The claimant was awarded a sum north of a quarter of a million dollars against the corporation.

Enter the case-killer. I filed a Notice of Appeal for the corporation, which in this labor law context means that the Commissioner's award is vacated and the matter is to be tried anew in the Superior Court.

Shortly after filing the Notice, I served some surgical requests for admission. In these requests, I asked that the claimant admit he was never an employee of my client. I also asked him to admit that even if he was an employee, he converted any such status to one of independent contractor for the period of the unpaid wage claim. I additionally asked him to admit that for the services he allegedly performed for the corporation were defective and caused the corporation more than five million dollars of damages. He failed to respond to these requests.

As a result, I brought a motion to deem the requests admitted. The court granted the motion about a month before trial.

The Friday before the Monday trial (12/10/07) I filed a motion in limine (Latin for "at the threshold") asking the court to prevent the claimant from introducing any evidence or argument and to enter judgment for my client, the corporate defendant. I reasoned that admissions conclusively established that the claimant could never make his case (because under California Supreme Court authority only employees can recover wage claims like the one he brought), and therefore, any information or argument that he would offer at trial would be irrelevant and inadmissible.

We showed up for trial, and I asked the court to rule on my motion in limine, which I said would obviate the need for any trial. The court read the motion and granted it. As he granted it, the claimant addressed the judge directly, claiming that he had a written employment agreement and that the corporation's SEC filings stated he was an employee. The judge said none of that was germane, as it had already been conclusively established he was not an employee and that eliminated a necessary predicate for his claim. The claimant continued to plead with the judge until finally the bailiff had to step in and tell the claimant he lost and it was over. A quarter of a million dollar award had just evaporated into thin air.