The California Supreme Court holds that discretionary relief under Code of Civil Procedure§473(b) is not available to a party who files an untimely request for a trial following an arbitration conducted pursuant to the Mandatory Fee Arbitration Act, Business and Professions Code §6200.
Attorney James Maynard sued defendants Louise Brandon, Frederick Saylor, Lakoo Kriya Church, and the Institute of Spiritual Education and Evolution to recover legal fees. Defendants invoked their rights under the Mandatory Fee Arbitration Act (“MFAA”) to compel arbitration. Maynard’s suit was stayed pending the completion of the arbitration.
The arbitration panel awarded Maynard $101,000. Defendants’ counsel rejected the arbitration award after the statutory deadline. The trial court denied a request for relief under C.C.P. §473(b).
The Court of Appeal reversed the judgment noting the long-standing disagreement amongst the various courts of appeal regarding the availability of C.C.P. §473(b) following a failure to comply with the 30-day deadline for seeking a trial following arbitration under the MFAA.
The Supreme Court granted review to resolve the conflict and held that C.C.P. § 473(b) did not offer relief for deadlines deemed jurisdictional, such as moving for a new trial.
Additionally the court noted that the MFAA frames the 30-day deadline for seeking a trial following fee arbitration in uncompromising language. Although there are some similarities between judicial arbitration and arbitration under the MFAA, the judicial arbitration statute and the California Rules of Court expressly authorize §473 relief from a judgment entered following judicial arbitration and the MFAA does not.
The high court concluded that §473(b) relief cannot relieve the party from the consequences of failing to meet the 30- day deadline.
Comment: Counsel representing clients in attorney fee disputes need to be mindful of strict deadlines for requesting trial de novo after fee arbitrations.