In re Baycol Cases I and II provides more guidance on operation of "death knell" doctrine in class action appeals

In California, the right to appeal is generally governed by the “one final judgment” rule, under which most interlocutory orders are not appealable.  (See Code Civ. Proc., § 904.1.)1  But Daar v. Yellow Cab Co.,  67 Cal.2d 695 (1967) concluded that an exception was necessary because orders dismissing all class action claims might in some instances escape review.  The Supreme Court created what is now referred to as the “death knell” doctrine, allowing a party to appeal such class action claim dismissal orders immediately, even though they are not final.  In re Baycol Cases I and II (February 28, 2011) marks the the Supreme Court's return to that docrine.

In 2007, after consolidation with other actions in a Judicial Council Coordinated Proceeding, Plaintiff filed a first amended complaint, adding to the UCL and unjust enrichment claims a claim under the Consumers Legal Remedies Act (Civ. Code, § 1750 et seq.). Bayer demurred to both the class allegations and each substantive claim. On April 27, 2007, the trial court sustained the demurrer in its entirety without leave to amend. It thereafter denied Shaw's motion for reconsideration on both class and individual claims and entered a judgment of dismissal. Bayer served a notice of entry of judgment on October 29, 2007, and Shaw filed his notice of appeal on December 20, 2007. The Court of Appeal reversed dismissal of Shaw's individual UCL claim, concluding he should have been granted leave to amend. However, it declined to consider on the merits the appeal of the class claims dismissal and instead dismissed that portion of the appeal. Relying on cases that have held death knell orders terminating class claims are immediately appealable, the Court of Appeal reasoned that, upon entry of the April 27, 2007, order sustaining Bayer's demurrer, the class claims dismissal, unlike the individual claims dismissal, was appealable. Consequently, the December 20, 2007, notice of appeal was, as to the class claims, untimely. (See Cal. Rules of Court, rules 8.104, 8.108(e).)

The Supreme Court reversed, concluding that the preservation of individual claims is an essential prerequisite to application of the death knell doctrine. The doctrine renders appealable only those orders that effectively terminate class claims but permit individual claims to continue. When an order terminates both class and individual claims, there is no need to apply any special exception to the usual one final judgment rule to ensure appellate review of class claims. Instead, routine application of that rule suffices to ensure review while also avoiding a multiplicity of appeals.