Motion to Correct Clerical Error in California Judgment

A motion to correct a clerical error in a California judgment is the topic of this article. Correcting a clerical error in a judgment entered in California requires the filing of a motion to amend the judgment in California to correct a clerical error under the provisions of Code of Civil Procedure section 473(d).

This procedure is used to correct inadvertence or errors in recording the judgment. However it should be noted that it cannot be used to contest the intended terms of the judgment. The motion can also request that the judgment be amended nunc pro tunc as of the date the original judgment was entered.

A motion to amend a California judgment to correct a clerical error is filed on the grounds that the recorded terms of the judgment do not agree with the outcome indicated when the judgment was initially declared. This motion is a very limited tool as it is authorized to be used only to correct clerical errors.

However the trial court is given very broad discretion in classifying such errors as an omission or mistake in a judgment; a misdescription in a judgment, inadvertence in signing a faulty judgment, and an ambiguity in a judgment.

The characterization of an error in a judgment as clerical rather than judicial is critical as a clerical error can be corrected at any time, sua sponte by the court or on a motion from one of the parties, even years or decades after the case has closed. But a judicial error can be only corrected on a motion for new trial or on a motion to vacate and enter a new judgment.

Thus the party who is seeking to persuade the court that the error was merely clerical must be very careful and also aware of how to properly characterize the error, and should be sure that the error is in fact clerical and not judicial.

However it should also be noted that there are many instances in the California Supreme Court and the California Courts of Appeal have ruled in which an omission or mistake in a judgment has been characterized as a clerical error. These instances include:

An omission in the determination of an account and decree of distribution involving the probate of an estate;

The failure to include a direction that one party pay another party’s attorney’s and accountant’s fees when recording a judgment, and

The failure of a judgment to clearly name the defendants, and to state their liability to the plaintiff.

The California Supreme Court stated in a case decided over 75 years ago that California Courts have the power to correct clerical errors in their judgments at any time, regardless of how much time has passed since the error was made or the judgment entered. In that case the Supreme Court stated that a hearing and the resulting order nunc pro tunc correcting a clerical error in a decree of final distribution of an estate 35 years after the original entry was valid.

The California Supreme Court also stated in a case decided over 40 years ago that all courts have the inherent power to enter an order entering a judgment nunc pro tunc All courts have the inherent power to enter orders for judgments nunc pro tunc so that the judgment will be held effective as of the date on which it was actually entered.

Used in the right situations, a motion to amend a judgment to correct a clerical error can allow the moving party to correct a clerical error in a judgment, even if years or decades have passed since the date of the original judgment or decree. But the motion should only be used in the right situations when the error is clearly a clerical error and not a judicial error.