CCP 580(a) means what it says. A court may not enter judgment by default in an amount that exceeds the amount demanded in the complaint. Here, the complaint sought damages in an amount to be proved at trial but in excess of $25,000. The defendant answered the complaint, but after a settlement conference at which plaintiff demanded $5 million, withdrew the answer and allowed its default to be taken. After a prove-up hearing, the court entered a $3 million judgment against the defendant. Five years later, defendant moved to set aside the judgment. Held, the trial court erred in denying the motion. The judgment was void because it exceeded the amount demanded in the complaint. The fact that defendant is given actual notice of the damages plaintiff seeks by some means other than the complaint is irrelevant as CCP 580(a) limits default judgments to the amount demanded in the complaint. The judgment was void, not voidable, and so could be set aside at any time under CCP 473(d). Assuming the dubious proposition that a court has discretion under that section not to vacate a void judgment, here the trial court did not purport to exercise such discretion. The court reverses and remands for the plaintiff to choose between a $25,000 default judgment or an amendment to its complaint which would reopen the default and allow the defendant to answer the amended pleading.
California Court of Appeal, Fourth District, Division 1 (Dato, J.); May 23, 2018; 2018 Cal. App. LEXIS 494