CM-010, the Civil Cover Sheet for all California cases, has a section where the filing party is asked to differentiate whether the case is “unlimited” or “limited.”
Under the Unlimited box, CM-010 states, in parentheses, “amount demanded exceeds $25,000.”
Below the Limited box, CM-010 offers a separate explanatory phrase, also in parentheses: “amount demanded is $25,000.”
The distinction seems simple enough. If your case is valued at more than $25,000, then you should check the Unlimited box. If your case is valued at less than $25,000, then you should check the Limited box.
But what if your case isn’t so simple? What if your case has multiple plaintiffs filing against one defendant? What if each plaintiff’s case may be valued at less than $25,000 individually but, on aggregate, the total amount demanded exceeds $25,000? Which box should you check in that situation?
The answer isn’t necessarily easy to find. The California Code of Civil Procedure §85 subsection (a) states:
However, this begs the question: Is the amount of the demand — or the recovery sought — per plaintiff, or per case?
The California Appellate Court attempted to address this issue in Pino v. Campo (1993) 15 Cal.App.4th Supp. 1 [19 Cal.Rptr.2d 483], wherein a footnote of that case reads:
This would lead one to believe that the “amount in controversy” is per plaintiff and not per case.
Not so fast! The Pino case was prior to the unification of the courts that occurred in 1998. The Court in Ytuarte v. Superior Court 129 Cal.App.4th 266,28 Cal.Rptr.3d 474 best explained the unification of the courts, as follows:
In 1998, the California Constitution was amended to permit unification of the municipal and superior courts in each county into a single superior court system, which would have original jurisdiction over all matters formerly designated as superior court and municipal court actions. (Cal. Const., art. VI, § 5.) After unification, the municipal courts ceased to exist. (See TraWcSchoolOnline, Inc. v. Superior Court (2001) 89 Cal.App.4th 222, 227, 107 Cal.Rptr.2d 412, 415.)
Now, civil cases formerly within the jurisdiction of the municipal courts are classified as “limited” civil cases, while matters formerly within the jurisdiction of the superior courts are classified as “unlimited” civil action. (§§ 85, 88.).
Did the Ytuarte Court change the footnote found in Pino? Not necessarily. The Court in Ytuarte does go through a thorough analysis of when a case would be subject to reclassification under CCP § 403.040 and further discusses the distinct differences between “unlimited” and “limited” cases. Yet, the Court in Ytuarte did not go as far as to say that the Court in Pino was wrong in their analysis of jurisdictional capacity in limited cases.
In the final analysis, it is this author’s opinion that when filing a case in California, in which multiple plaintiffs are named and the total “amount in controversy” would exceed $25,000, you be best suited to check the Unlimited box and pursue the case accordingly. It is important to understand these distinctions and read the prevailing case law before checking that box on CM-010 form.