Justice Delayed is Justice Denied: A Litigation Update

Timely justice is a laudable goal. It’s also an easily attainable one, according to legal procedures gleaned from decades of lawyer television since the days of Perry Mason. It would be very nice if cases could be resolved in an hour or so, including time for commercials. When drama and reality television clash with real-world courtrooms, however, the idea of timely justice takes on a different dimension. The Sixth Amendment applies only to criminal prosecutions, and most states have “speedy trial” provisions in their criminal statutes; civil litigation, on the other hand, sometimes plods along at what seems like glacial speed, especially for the parties involved.

The lawsuit filed by ASJA and the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) in California is a good example. The lawsuit is a civil action not subject to “speedy trial” requirements, and it won’t proceed as quickly as ASJA, NPPA, our attorneys from the Pacific Legal Foundation, and the freelancers already being affected by the state’s new independent contractor law would like. A not uncommon misconception about litigation challenging a law is that enforcement of the law grinds to a halt the moment a complaint is filed.

Actually, filing a complaint is just the first step in a lengthy process that can last months or possibly years if there are appeals from the trial court. The independent contractor law in our case, known by just about everyone simply as “AB5,” took effect on January 1, 2020. Filing our complaint to initiate the lawsuit had no direct effect on that. Three days later, however, we filed a Motion for a Preliminary Injunction that, if granted, will postpone enforcement of the AB5 provisions in question until the lawsuit is resolved.

Crowded court dockets are a problem everywhere, and the US District Court for the Western District of California is no exception. Arguments for and against the motion for a Preliminary Injunction will not be heard until March 9. Taking that gap of more than two months into consideration, on December 31, we filed an Application for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), an emergency measure that for a few weeks would have prevented enforcement of the AB5 provisions. There was no deadline for requesting the TRO. Judge Gutierrez instead questioned the timing of the Application, a ruling that fell within his discretion. The application was denied on January 3, most likely leaving the status quo in place until the Preliminary Injunction on March 9.

As of this writing, we still have not received a response to the initial complaint from the defendant, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. The AG’s office was served with the complaint on December 20, with a response originally due on January 10. That deadline was extended for two weeks, until January 24, by agreement between attorneys for both sides—a “stipulation” in legalese. Although deadline extensions appear problematic because they delay the litigation process, they are allowed by court rules and in practice are fairly common. Our attorneys might request a deadline extension in the future and cooperation with the other side now helps promote cooperation in the future.

For an idea of what’s happening behind the scenes, a timeline for major events in the litigation is included here and will be updated as necessary. From December 17, 2019, when the complaint was filed initiating the lawsuit through January 7, 2020—21 days, including two major holidays—a total of 32 entries were made on the court’s docket sheet. These are the highlights. Entries in italics represent actions by ASJA, NPPA, and our attorneys.

Litigation Timeline

ASJA & NPPA v. Xavier Becerra

US District Court, Central District of California, Western Division-Los Angeles)

Case no. 2:19-cv-10645

  • 12/17/2019–Complaint filed

  • 12/19/2019—Case assigned to Judge Philip S. Gutierrez and Magistrate Judge Karen L. Stevenson
  • 12/20/2019—Motion for Preliminary Injunction & Supporting Memorandum of Law filed

  • 12/27/2019—Complaint served upon Defendant Xavier Becerra
  • 12/31/2019—Ex Parte Application for Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) filed

  • 1/2/2020—Defendant’s Opposition to Application for TRO filed
  • 1/3/2020—Reply in Support of Application for TRO filed

  • 1/3/2020—Order denying TRO
  • 1/7/2020—Parties’ Stipulation for Extension of Time to File Response to Complaint (extending deadline for Defendant’s response to January 24, 2020

Legislation similar to California’s AB5 is being considered in New Jersey, New York, Washington, and other states, and is making progress in Congress. Grassroots lobbying is essential to stem the tide of restrictive freelancer laws and ASJA members are at the forefront of these efforts.

We’ll soon have resources for these lobbying campaigns on our website. Join us in the fight to preserve your independence!