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Tentative Ruling
Judge Donna Geck
Department 4 SB-Anacapa
1100 Anacapa Street P.O. Box 21107 Santa Barbara, CA 93121-1107


Marion Dentzel et al vs Travis Shannon

Case No: 17CV01675
Hearing Date: Fri Dec 08, 2017 9:30

Nature of Proceedings: Default Prove-Up


For the reasons set forth herein, the default judgment requested by plaintiffs is denied.


Plaintiffs Marion Dentzel, Christopher Dentzel, and Barbara Dentzel Cleary filed their complaint in this action for breach of contract on April 17, 2017.

Defendant Travis Shannon was personally served with the summons and complaint on April 20, 2017. (Proof of Service, filed Apr. 25, 2017.)

Shannon failed to respond to the complaint and a default was entered on June 1, 2017.

The complaint is a Judicial Council form complaint for contract actions. Paragraph 8 of the complaint states: “The following causes of action are attached and the statements above apply to each (each complaint must have one or more causes of action attached): [¶] [X] Breach of Contract.” Contrary to the statement in paragraph 8, no causes of action pages are attached to the complaint. A settlement agreement between the plaintiffs and defendants is attached as exhibit 1 to the complaint. There are no other allegations in the complaint. (Complaint, ¶¶ 9, 11 [no boxes checked and no text added].)

“The relief granted to the plaintiff, if there is no answer, cannot exceed that demanded in the complaint, in the statement required by Section 425.11, or in the statement provided for by Section 425.115; but in any other case, the court may grant the plaintiff any relief consistent with the case made by the complaint and embraced within the issue.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 580, subd. (a).) “The meaning of this language is that the court may grant such relief—but only such relief—as is ‘authorized by the facts alleged and proved or admitted....’ [Citations.]” (Ferraro v. Camarlinghi (2008) 161 Cal.App.4th 509, 538.)

“A cause of action for breach of contract requires pleading of a contract, plaintiff’s performance or excuse for failure to perform, defendant’s breach and damage to plaintiff resulting therefrom.” (McKell v. Washington Mutual, Inc. (2006) 142 Cal.App.4th 1457, 1489.)

Although the settlement agreement is attached to the complaint, it is not incorporated into the complaint by any reference. Nevertheless, the exhibit, as attached to the complaint, forms a part of it, and must be so treated, notwithstanding no express words declaring it to be so are used. (Savings Bank of San Diego County v. Burns (1894) 104 Cal. 473, 477; but see Holly Sugar Corp. v. McColgan (1941) 18 Cal.2d 218, 225-226 [“It is well settled that a written instrument which is the foundation of a cause of action may be pleaded in haec verba, rather than according to its legal effect, either by setting forth a copy in the body of the complaint or by attaching a copy as an exhibit and incorporating it by proper reference.” (Emphasis added.].) So, the element of the contract may be deemed adequately alleged. The amount of damages claimed is set forth in the prayer. However, none of the other elements of the contract, including the element of breach, are alleged. The complaint does not state a cause of action as now pleaded.

“[I]f the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint do not state any proper cause of action, the default judgment in the plaintiff’s favor cannot stand.” (Kim v. Westmoore Partners, Inc. (2011) 201 Cal.App.4th 267, 282 [lack of pleaded facts establishing breach of attached promissory note fails to state a cause of action for breach of contract, reversing default judgment].) The default judgment requested by plaintiffs is based upon a complaint that states no cause of action against the defendant. “The court cannot allow a plaintiff to prove different claims or different damages at a default hearing than those pled in the complaint.” (Heidary v. Yadollahi (2002) 99 Cal.App.4th 857, 868.)

“It is imperative in a default case that the trial court take the time to analyze the complaint at issue and ensure that the judgment sought is not in excess of or inconsistent with it. It is not in plaintiffs’ interest to be conservative in their demands, and without any opposing party to point out the excesses, it is the duty of the court to act as gatekeeper, ensuring that only the appropriate claims get through. That role requires the court to analyze the complaint for itself—with guidance from counsel if necessary—ascertaining what relief is sought as against each defaulting party, and to what extent the relief sought in one cause of action is inconsistent with or duplicative of the relief sought in another. The court must then compare the properly pled damages for each defaulting party with the evidence offered in the prove-up.” (Heidary v. Yadollahi, supra, 99 Cal.App.4th at p. 868.)

Accordingly, the requested default judgment will be denied.

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