Cholakian & Assoc. v. Super. Ct.Annotate this Case
In 2010, Debra Hackett was seriously injured in an accident in Sacramento County in which a tractor and trailer owned by Silva Trucking, Inc. and driven by Elaine McDonold jackknifed and collided with the vehicle being driven by Hackett. In 2012, the Hacketts filed a personal injury action in Sacramento County against Silva Trucking and McDonold. The jury awarded the Hacketts $34.9 million in damages. Silva Trucking was insured by Carolina Casualty Insurance Company (CCIC), who retained the law firm Cholakian & Associates to provide a defense. Silva Trucking had an excess liability insurance policy with Lexington Insurance Company (LIC), who retained the law firm Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard & Smith, LLP (Lewis Brisbois) as counsel. In 2014, Silva Trucking and McDonold brought suit in Sacramento County against LIC, CCIC, Cholakian & Associates and individual attorneys Kevin Cholakian and Jennifer Kung (collectively Cholakian), and Lewis Brisbois and individual attorney Ralph Zappala (collectively Lewis Brisbois). As to LIC and CCIC, the complaint alleged bad faith and breach of contract. As to the law firms and attorneys, the complaint alleged legal malpractice. The gravamen of the complaint was that the insurers unreasonably refused to accept the policy limit demand when the insured’s liability was clear and damages were known to be in excess of the policy limit. The attorneys failed to advise their insurer clients to accept the demand and the consequences of failing to do so, and failed to advise Silva Trucking and McDonold of their need for personal counsel. LIC and CCIC responded with demurrers. Lewis Brisbois answered with a general denial and asserted 22 affirmative defenses. Under Code of Civil Procedure section 396b, subdivision (a), where an action has been filed in the “wrong venue,” a defendant may move to transfer the case to the “proper court for the trial thereof.” In such a case, “if an answer is filed,” the court may consider opposition to the motion to transfer and may retain the action in the county where filed to promote the convenience of witnesses or the ends of justice. The question this case presented for the Court of Appeal's review was whether, in a multi-defendant case, an answer must be filed by all defendants before the court may consider opposition to the motion to transfer venue. The Court concluded the answer was yes. In this case, the trial court considered opposition to the motion before all defendants had answered the complaint. Accordingly, the Court issued a preemptory writ of mandate directing the trial court to vacate its order denying the motion to transfer and to issue a new order granting the motion.