Client Alert: Court Settles Conflict between CCP and Rules of Court Regarding Demurrer Deadline Following Amended Complaint

In Carlton v. Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, Inc. (No. E056566, filed 8/14/2014), The Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, held a demurrer was timely filed in compliance with California Code of Civil Procedure (“CCP”) section 471.5, despite being filed after the 10-day filing period prescribed in California Rule of Court 3.1320(j).

This case appears to settle the conflict that existed between the CCP and the Rules of Court as to the timing of demurrers following amendments to Complaints. Prior to this case, the validity of Rule of Court 3.1320(j)(2) was unclear as it arguably conflicted with CCP Section 471.5, which requires defendants to “answer” an amended complaint within 30 days after service. At the same time, it was not clear that CCP Section 471.5 applied to amendments after a demurrer had been sustained, and it was even more unclear whether the statutory 30-day period to “answer” an amended complaint foreclosed the shorter 10-day period prescribed under Rule of Court 3.1320(j)(2) for a demurrer or motion to strike.

On July 15, 2011, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, Inc. (“Dr. Pepper”) and others. On October 24, 2011, Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint (“FAC”). Dr. Pepper demurred to the FAC on various grounds. On January 5, 2012, the trial court sustained the demurrer in part, and overruled it in part. The Court granted Plaintiff 30 days to amend the FAC.

On February 3, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”). On March 9, 2012, Dr. Pepper again demurred to the SAC, on various grounds. After failing to serve a timely opposition to the demurrer, Plaintiff filed an objection, alleging that the demurrer was filed untimely in violation of Rule of Court 3.1320(j), which provides:

Unless otherwise ordered, defendant has 10 days to answer or otherwise plead to the complaint or the remaining causes of action following: (1) The overruling of the demurrer; (2) The expiration of the time to amend if the demurrer was sustained with leave to amend; or (3) The sustaining of the demurrer if the demurrer was sustained without leave to amend.

Plaintiff contended Dr. Pepper’s demurrer was untimely as it was filed more than 10 days after the filing of the SAC. Dr. Pepper noted Rule of Court 3.1320(j) directly conflicts with CCP Section 471.5(a) which provides, in relevant part: “If the complaint is amended, a copy of the amendments shall be filed…and a copy of the amendments or amended complaint must be served upon the defendants affected thereby. The defendant shall answer the amendments, or the complaint as amended, within 30 days after service thereof, or such other time as the court may direct….”

The trial court held the demurrer was timely filed, and sustained the demurrer without leave to amend. The Court of Appeal affirmed, noting statutes of the state legislature take precedence over rules of court. Rule of Court 3.1320(j) provides a 10-day filing period, while CCP Section 471.5 provides a 30-day filing period. Harmonizing the apparent conflict, the Court of Appeal held that Rule 3.1320(j) must be read to apply when an amended complaint is not filed. “Thus, the 10-day rule would apply when a plaintiff is granted leave to amend but elects not to amend, and [CCP Section 471.5’s] 30-day period would apply when a plaintiff does amend.”

Here, because Plaintiff filed the SAC after Dr. Pepper’s demurrer to the FAC was sustained in part, the 30-day filing period under CCP Section 471.5 applied; therefore, Dr. Pepper’s demurrer was deemed timely.

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