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Thursday, May 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Caseload Headaches Lead to Hay Dispute Dismissal

(CN) - Ranting about having the "heaviest case load in the nation," a federal judge told the parties in a hay dispute to complain to their congresswomen about the Eastern District of California's inability to handle their case.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence O'Neill described the action as "trying to find $112,750 in a 500 ton haystack."

William Miller purchased 500 tons of hay from S & S Hay Company in 2008, but found the delivered hay to be substandard. He sued the company in 2009, obtaining a $112,750 default judgment that S & S Hay never paid. Miller then sued in federal court for violation of California unfair competition law, or UCL.

S & S Hay claimed that it does not have to pay the judgment since it stopped doing business in California. O'Neill disagreed, but still dismissed Miller's UCL claim, as both the lawsuit filed in Kings County Superior Court and the federal lawsuit are fundamentally the same.

"Both this action and the state court case in which Miller obtained a default judgment fundamentally involve Miller's primary right to recover the $112,750 that he paid to Defendants and Defendants' failure and/or refusal to return that amount thus causing injury to Miller," O'Neill wrote. "Miller's allegations of additional facts, specifically that Defendants have failed to pay the default and have taken affirmative steps to prevent Miller from collecting the default judgment, to support recovery do not create a primary right in this action that is separate and distinguishable from the right to the relief awarded in the King's County Superior Court case. Moreover, as Miller recognizes, approving the use of UCL claims essentially to enforce prior judgments would be improper both as to law and public policy. This court declines to do so."

In a preliminary statement to the parties, O'Neill sounded off on the heavy caseload in the Eastern District and the shortage of judges to adjudicate civil cases. He said the case could be handed over to a magistrate judge, whose schedules are "far more realistic," and urged the parties to contact California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer if they had any complaints.

"Judges in the Eastern District of California carry the heaviest caseload in the nation, and this court is unable to devote inordinate time and resources to individual cases and matters," O'Neill wrote. "This court cannot address all arguments, evidence and matters raised by parties and addresses only the arguments, evidence and matters necessary to reach the decision in this order given the shortage of district judges and staff. The parties and counsel are encouraged to contact the offices of United States Senators Feinstein and Boxer to address this court's inability to accommodate the parties and this action. The parties are required to consider consent to a Magistrate Judge to conduct all further proceedings in that the Magistrate Judges' availability is far more realistic and accommodating to parties than that of U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill who must prioritize criminal and older civil cases."

"Civil trials set before Judge O'Neill trail until he becomes available and are subject to suspension mid-trial to accommodate criminal matters," he added. "Civil trials are no longer reset to a later date if Judge O'Neill is unavailable on the original date set for trial. Moreover, this Court's Fresno Division randomly and without advance notice reassigns civil actions to U.S. District Judges throughout the nation to serve as visiting judges. In the absence of Magistrate Judge consent, this action is subject to reassignment to a U.S. District Judge from outside the Eastern District of California."

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