Many wage and hour lawyers do not know that a plaintiff with a claim for unpaid wages can apply for a right to attach order and obtain a prejudgment writ of attachment, and then levy upon the employer's assets to satisfy the eventual judgment.
In general, an unsecured claim for a certain or reasonably ascertainable sum, based upon an express or implied contract, can be secured by a right to attach order. Code of Civl Procedure § 483.010(a); Korea Water Resources Corp. v. Lee (2004) 115 Cal.App.4th 389. Even claims based upon quasi-contract qualify. "Implied contract" covers restitutionary obligations; e.g., where defendant has acquired plaintiff's property through fraud, conversion or mistake and refuses to return it. Klein v. Benaron (1967) 247 Cal.App.2d 607, 610. An attachment will lie upon an employment contract. Lewis v. Steifel (1950) 98 Cal.App.2d 648; Rose v. Pearman (1958) 163 Cal.App.2d 480, 483. Arguably, any wage claim arising out of the Labor Code can justify an attachment, because statutory obligations arise out of contract in their nature. Arcturus Manufacturing Corp. v. Rork (1962) 198 Cal.App.2d 208, 210.
However, by obtaining an attachment, the plaintiff is electing non-tort remedies for those particular claims. Because attachment lies only on contract claims, a plaintiff with alternative tort and contract claims based on the same set of facts waives the tort claim by obtaining a writ of attachment, or, to be more precise, the plaintiff is equitably estopped by virtue of having obtained an advantage by proceeding on the contract claim. Baker v. Superior Court (San Diego Best Builders, Inc.) (1983) 150 Cal.App.3d 140, 145. Hence, punitive damages cannot be recovered once a right to attach order and writ of attachment have been issued.
Don't be fooled by defense counsel who will argue that prejudgment attachment of earnings is prohibited under Code of Civl Procedure § 487.020(c). Some of our adversaries have cut and pasted language to that effect from Rutter's Practice Guide, without understanding that the prohibition applies not to an employee seeking attachment, but rather, to an employee's creditors seeking to attach the employee's wages.
In addition to the primary purpose of securing the satisfaction of an employee's inevitable judgment for unpaid wages, a prejudgment right to attach order is also a powerful settlement tool and one of the best discovery devices out there. When you serve interrogatories, the defense often begins with boilerplate frivolous objections, triggering the meet and confer process, followed by motions to compel. It can be months before you really find out what defenses are being asserted and what supports them. Apply for a right to attach order and the defense will lay their cards out on the table, all of them, in the opposition. It's better than a half dozen motions to compel.