California's summary judgment statute was amended effective Jan. 1, 2012 to allow -- for the first time -- "adjudication of a legal issue or a claim for damages other than punitive damages that does not completely dispose of a cause of action, an affirmative defense, or an issue of duty." See the new sub-sections of 437c pasted below.
Prior to the amendment, a party could move for summary adjudication of (1) one or more causes of action, (2) affirmative defenses, (3) claims for damages, or (4) issues of duty. The only option to adjudicate issues was through a motion in limine. The new procedure requires a stipulation, but there are definitely situations where both sides may find it economical or otherwise preferable to know the judge's ruling on a key issue well before trial.
The new provisions are experimental: they sunset on 1/1/15 unless the Legislature acts to keep them.
New Subsections of CCP 437c
(s)(1) Notwithstanding subdivision (f), a party may move for summary adjudication of a legal issue or a claim for damages other than punitive damages that does not completely dispose of a cause of action, an affirmative defense, or an issue of duty.
(2) This motion may be brought only upon the stipulation of the parties whose claims or defenses are put at issue by the motion and a prior determination and order by the court that the motion will further the interests of judicial economy, by reducing the time to be consumed in trial, or significantly increase the ability of the parties to resolve the case by settlement.
(3) Before a motion may be filed pursuant to this subdivision, the parties shall submit to the court a joint stipulation clearly setting forth the issue or issues to be adjudicated, with a declaration from each stipulating party demonstrating that a ruling on the motion will further the interests of judicial economy by reducing the time to be consumed in trial or significantly increasing the probability of settlement. Within 15 days of the court's receipt of the stipulation and declarations, unless the court has good cause for extending the time in which to make the determination, the court shall notify the submitting parties as to whether the motion may be filed. If the court elects not to allow the filing of the motion, the stipulating parties may request, and upon that request the court shall conduct, an informal conference with the stipulating parties to permit further evaluation of the proposed stipulation; but no further papers may be filed by the parties in support of the proposed motion.
(4) Any motion for summary adjudication brought under this subdivision shall contain the following language, or its substantial equivalent, in the notice of motion:
“This motion is made pursuant to subdivision (s) of Section 437c of the Code of Civil Procedure. The parties to this motion stipulate that the court shall hear the motion and that the resolution of this motion will either further the interests of judicial economy by reducing the time to be consumed in trial or significantly increase the ability of the parties to resolve the case by settlement.”
(5) The notice of motion shall be signed by counsel for all parties, and by those parties in propia persona, to the motion.
(6) The joint stipulation shall be served on all parties, if any, who are not parties to the motion specified in paragraph (1). If, within 10 days of the submission of the stipulation, any nonstipulating party files an objection to the determination of the issue, the court may consider the objection in determining whether or not to allow the motion to be filed.
(7) A motion for summary adjudication brought pursuant to this subdivision may be made by itself or as an alternative to a motion for summary judgment and shall proceed in all procedural respects as a motion for summary judgment.
(t) For the purposes of this section, a change in law does not include a later enacted statute without retroactive application.
(u) This section shall remain in effect only until January 1, 2015, and as of that date is repealed, unless a later enacted statute, that is enacted before January 1, 2015, deletes or extends that date.