What the Dickens is the law?

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If a trial court issues a ruling based on a single appellate court opinion, and that opinion later gets depublished, what happens to the trial court’s ruling? This was the question in a recent appellate decision, Farmers Insurance Exchange v. Superior Court, 218 Cal. App. 4th 96, and formed the backdrop for Gary Watt’s latest article, “What the Dickens is the law”? While the court’s opinion in Farmers analyzed the effect of depublication, Gary writes that “[t]he decision also grapples with some surreal statutorily driven gyrations, similar to the kind that caused Charles Dickens to frequently wonder what the law is.” 

In Farmers, the trial court granted a motion for class certification based on Harris v. Superior Court. Shortly thereafter, the Supreme Court depublished Harris, making it as if that opinion had never been written. The time for filing a motion for reconsideration had already lapsed, so the defendant filed a motion asking the court, on its own motion, to reconsider. The appellate court noted that this motion was not procedurally proper and explained that what the defendant should have done was “communicat[e] the view to [the] court that it should reconsider a prior ruling.” This “distinction” between moving the court and communicating a view to the court is just one aspect of the dicta in Farmers that makes the opinion a fascinating read.