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Rodriguez v. Cho B256985

Default judgment in wrongful termination action is void for exceeding amount of damages stated in complaint.

D.J. cite: 2015 DJDAR 5095

California Courts of Appeal – 2nd District

DAILY JOURNAL SUMMARY

Dulce Rodriguez worked for Nam Cho dba Reliable Building Maintenance as a “housekeeper.” Reliable fired her after she unsuccessfully instituted a claim against Reliable seeking unpaid overtime. Next, she sued Cho alleging wrongful termination in violation of public policy, seeking damages plus $10,000 in civil penalties. Ultimately, the trial court entered a default against Cho and awarded Rodriguez a total of $129,673, an amount well within the amount in the statement of damages she presented to Cho. Cho argued, among other things, that the default judgment was void for being excessive. Reversed and remanded. Generally, the court may not grant a default judgment that exceeds the amount demanded in the complaint. However, a complaint filed in an action seeking to recover damages for personal injury or wrongful death, the plaintiff may not state the amount demanded in the complaint, but must serve on the defendant a statement setting forth the nature and amount of damages, which the court may then use in awarding a default judgment. Thus, in this case, the default judgment would not be excessive if Rodriguez’s wrongful termination claim was an action for “personal injury or wrongful death.” However, it was neither. For one, wrongful termination actions primarily involve the infringement of property rights (financial damages), not personal injury. Thus, the statement of damages was irrelevant and the trial court was limited to the dollar amount pleaded in the complaint: $10,000. Thus, the judgment was void to the extent that it exceeded that award.