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Estate Administrators to be Named in their Representative Capacity

By Kate Halligan Feb. 9, 2023

In the Estate of Billy Joe Douglas (2022) 83 Cal. App. 5th 690, the Third District Court of Appeal, held that a clerical error in naming an estate administrator as a judgment debtor could be fixed by a motion to correct the judgment.

In 2008, Audrey Douglas filed her petition for final distribution after the administration of her father’s estate. The court ordered Douglas to pay a Stockton law firm, Neumiller & Beardslee, A.P.C., for services rendered and costs incurred. Douglas failed to pay the firm the amount ordered. In 2015, three years before the expiration of the 10-year period of enforceability, Neumiller & Beardslee filed an application to renew the 2008 judgment. Its application identified Douglas as a judgment debtor. However, the application did not name Douglas in her representative capacity as administrator of the Estate. Despite this error, the application was approved by the court clerk.

When the error was discovered in 2020, Neumiller & Beardslee filed a motion to correct the error in its judgment renewal application. A beneficiary of the Estate argued that the clerk’s renewal of the judgment transformed it into a personal obligation against Douglas, not the Estate. Essentially, the beneficiary did not want to have their distributive share of the estate reduced by the collection of the judgment and so argued. The beneficiary also argued that no evidence was presented by Neumiller & Beardslee to explain the oversight.

The Court of Appeals rejected the beneficiary’s argument. The Court of Appeals relied on California Civil Code section 3528, which codifies that the law respects substance over form. Additionally, the Code of Civil Procedure section 473(d) allows courts to correct clerical mistakes made in judgments or orders as entered, so as to conform to the judgment or order directed. Here, because the court clerk had renewed the judgment as a ministerial act, it could be corrected using a motion under section 473(d). Further, the court explained that the original judgment identified the judgment debtor in her capacity as administrator. Nothing had been filed to alter the original judgment, only to renew the existing judgment.

Ultimately, the parties entered into a Settlement Agreement with a payment structure outlined and Neumiller & Beardslee agreeing “refrain from taking action to collect the amount it is owned … until January 1, 2024.” The case of the Estate of Billy Joe Douglas provides a recognized method for practitioners to fix judgments entered by or against individuals when the judgment should have been entered against a person in their representative capacity.