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A cautionary tale about stipulated judgments

What can a plaintiff do when the trial court guts your case, leaving you to face the music at trial without your most valuable claims?

In Wisely v. State, 2007 WL 4105562, appellants made the wrong choice, resulting in the loss of their appeal. They filed a class action on behalf of prison visitors who were subjected to an intimate encounter with an X-ray machine They claimed the machine, which could take detailed images of a visitor's anatomy, violated their constitutional rights.

The trial court granted the government's motion for summary adjudication on 10 causes of action, tossing out any claim for damages. That left appellants with a single claim for declaratory and injunctive relief.

Shortly before trial, the parties entered into a stipulation and requested the trial court enter judgment, thus clearing the way for an appeal. The stipulation only pertained to damages, not injunctive relief, and included provisions for continuing jurisdiction upon the renewed use of the machine.

The court of appeal dismissed the appeal, finding it lacked jurisdiction because the stipulation and order did not finally resolve all issues between the parties. As such, it was not an appealable judgment, which is a jurisdictional prerequisite to an appeal

Stipulated judgments are not appealable, because the party is not "aggrieved" and lacks standing to appeal. An exception exists where the consent is given to facilitate an appeal. "[I]t is 'wasteful of trial court time' to require the plaintiff to undergo a probably unsuccessful . . . trial merely to obtain an appealable judgment." (Building Industry Assn. v. City of Camarillo (1986) 41 Cal.3d 810, 817; Norgart v. Upjohn Co. (1999) 21 Cal.4th 383, 401-401.) If you decide to take this approach, be sure to make a record that you do not intend to waive the right to appeal.

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