Appellate court reverses San Mateo court's ruling in frozen fish payment case

By Sandra Lane | Apr 3, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO – The latest development in a five-year legal battle between a frozen fish supplier and the individuals associated with four Japanese restaurants occurred on March 23 when the 1st Appellate District of California, Division Four reversed the ruling of the San Mateo County Superior Court that upheld default judgments.  

Presiding Judge Jon B. Streeter, supported by Judge Ignazio Ruvolo and Judge Timothy Reardon wrote that, “The defendants moved to vacate the defaults and default judgments on the ground of attorney fault, relying on the mandatory relief provision of Code of Civil Procedure section 473, subdivision(b). The trial court denied the motion, and this appeal followed. We conclude the court erred, because the motion and accompanying attorney declaration of fault satisfied the requirements of the mandatory relief provision of section 473(b).  We therefore reverse."

In addition, the three-judge panel also stated that, “We agree with defendants that not one of the stated grounds supports the court’s denial of the motion.”

According to the opinion, N.A. Sales Co. Inc. had filed a lawsuit in December 2013 on allegations of breach of contract and fraud to recover an allegedly unpaid balances of $216,000 incurred over several years for the delivery of frozen fish and other products to four Japanese restaurants - ISIF Madfish Inc., Town & Country Madfish Inc., Fremont Gateway Inc. and Bishop Ranch Gateway Inc. Defendants Hae-Suk Lee, Moon Joo Lee, Jun Ho Kim and Soon Bok Park were affiliated with the restaurants.


According to the opinion, defaults were later entered against the defendants except Park. 

The progression of the lawsuit was complicated by the fact that two defendants lived in South Korea. Nevertheless, on Feb. 20, 2014, N.A. Sales filed proofs of service stating it had served the summons and complaint on Hae Suk Lee and Park in South Korea in accordance with the Hague Service Convention.

The attorney representing the defendants living in South Korea filed a motion to quash service of summons, saying that the court lacked personal jurisdiction over them because they did not have the required minimum contacts with California, the opinion states. This motion was denied in court as the plaintiff said that these two people had substantial contacts in California through operation of the four restaurants.

According to the opinion, eventually on Nov. 19, 2014, Hae-Suk Lee and Moon Joo Lee were ordered to pay a total of $500,160, including interest. In February 2015, they were also ordered to pay the plaintiff’s attorneys $100,000 and other charges. The total finally was determined to be $615,181.53.

In another hearing on Dec. 16, 2014, the court entered a default judgment against Jun Ho Kim and certain other defendants.

"The court awarded $216,000 in damages and prejudgment interest totaling $172,584 to the plaintiff, for a total of $388,584," the opinion states.

"On March 18, 2015, Hae-Suk Lee, Soon Bok Park, Moon Joo Lee, Jun Ho Kim and one other defaulting defendant (Seraphina Jang) filed a motion to dismiss the defaults and default judgments on the grounds of attorney mistake and neglect," the opinion states.

The legal battle continued and was finally brought before the appellate court.

"As to defendants Hae-Suk Lee, Moon Joo Lee and Jun Ho Kim, the trial court’s April 14, 2015, order denying the motion to vacate the defaults and default judgments is reversed. The trial court is directed to vacate the defaults and default judgments entered against Hae-Suk Lee, Moon Joo Lee and Jun Ho Kim," the appellate court ruled. "Deeming defendant Soon Bok Park’s appeal to be a petition for a writ of mandate challenging the April 14, 2015, order denying the motion to set aside her default, the petition is granted. The trial court is directed to vacate the default entered against Soon Bok Park."

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