Ford Faux Pas

Perusal of unpublished cases can be enlightening. Bettenhausen v. Ford Motor Company (C071978) April 1, 2014, shows us it is not just the "little guy" who can benefit from specialized appellate expertise. There, Ford appealed from an order awarding $391,433.22 in attorney fees in a "lemon law" action but, according to the opinion, had not filed a written opposition in the trial court, although trial counsel did seek a continuance to file that opposition. Ford then secured new counsel, who first moved to vacate the award, but after filing a notice of appeal. The trial court denied that motion as it had lost jurisdiction (CCP 916), but that ruling was not attacked in the Court of Appeal. In turning to the merits of the appeal from the attorney fee order, the court's introduction foreshadowed the result: We presume court orders are correct. [Citations.] As the appellant, Ford bore the burden to provide a record supporting its claims of error. “To the extent the record is incomplete, we construe it against [Ford].” [Citation.]

The Court explained there was no reporter's transcript of the hearing on the motion for attorney fees, and it was Ford’s duty (as the appellant) to provide a settled statement to support its appellate claims. “It is the burden of the party challenging the fee award on appeal to provide an adequate record to assess error. [Citations.] Here, defendants should have augmented the record with a settled statement of the proceeding. [Citations.] Because they failed to furnish an adequate record of the attorney fee proceedings, defendants’ claim must be resolved against them.” [Citation.]

The Court went on to reject Ford's claim the order could be deemed "excepted to," finding the appellant was confusing "appealability with reviewability," as well as adding in brief comments about the jurisdiction of a trial court to rule on a motion to vacate after a notice of appeal had been filed and reiterating new issues could not be raised on appeal.

Ford's appellate counsel may have been attempting to make the best of a bad situation which was not remedial. Who knows without reading the record? The Court of Appeal did indicate a settled statement procedure was available, which increasingly will be necessary in these days of hearings sans reporters. The other point here is that procedure matters, and litigants--from powerful corporations on down the most humble-- can benefit from specialized appellate expertise so as to put your best foot forward and attempt to make that silk purse out of your sow's ear of a case.