Plaintiff’s Attempt To Depose Hyundai CEO For $462.50 Did Not Impress Appellate Court, Much Less Hyundai’s Emergency Stay Request.
We knew that the decision in Hyundai Motor America v. Superior Court, Case No. G051279 (4th Dist., Div. 3 Mar. 20, 2015) (published) was going to be interesting, because it kicked off with this quote: “Nature, not judges, should be in charge of making mountains out of mole hills.” (Crum v. City of Stockton, 96 Cal.App.3d 519, 524 (1979) [Reynoso, J., concurring & dissenting].)
Here, plaintiff brought a lemon law case against Hyundai, eventually accepting a defense 998 offer by which the car would be returned, the lawsuit dismissed, Hyundai would pay certain money back to the car buyer and lienholder, and the buyer’s attorney’s fees and costs would be determined by court motion. Plaintiff eventually accepted a check in payment of the 998 amount, then moving for recovery of $60,536 in fees and interest. The trial judge awarded $42,203 in fees, denied the interest request, and dismissed the case, prompting an appeal by plaintiff from the dismissal minute order.
Subsequently, Hyundai tendered $42,203 in payment of the fees award, but plaintiff claimed it was short on post-award interest of $462.30. The appellate court later informed plaintiff it might dismiss the appeal, but plaintiff rectified by this by filing a proposed judgment resulting in issuance of a formal judgment of dismissal. Plaintiff then sought to depose Hyundai’s CEO in a debtor judgment exam after incurring another $13,000 for additional interest and fees relating to the $462.50 interest claim. (As the appellate panel noted, the $13,000 claim was “one of the best growth investments we have seen.”) This prompted Hyundai to file a writ and seek an emergency stay relating to the debtor exam, with the stay being granted pending further order of the appellate court.
Hyundai won its writ petition claiming that the debtor exam was unnecessary because no interest was due on the satisfied fee award. This was so because postjudgment interest only accrues, by law, on a final judgment. (Code Civ. Proc., § 685.020; Civ. Code, §1794(d).) The only final judgment was the judgment of dismissal, not the prior minute order. The fee award has already been paid before the judgment of dismissal was entered, so no interest was due.
However, the writ panel publishing this decision—Justices Rylaarsdam, Aronson, and Thompson—did caution both sides about contesting such small interest and seeking an emergency writ stay (versus Hyundai seek a protective order based on the debtor exam being akin to an “apex” deposition).