The punitive damage decision in Brewer v. Premier Golf Properties (2008) 168 Cal.App.4th 1243, though hardly a surprise to wage and hour specialists*, has been received as good news for employers and their attorneys, but some are not taking the good news far enough. In the past week, we have seen two separate alerts that have advised employers that the Brewer decision is binding precedent in the counties of the 4th District Court of Appeal, meaning San Diego, Imperial, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Inyo Counties. Technically, that's true, but it's not the whole truth. Brewer is binding precedent in the trial courts of all 58 counties in California. People v. Bullock (1994) 26 Cal.App.4th 985, 990, 31 Cal.Rptr.2d 850, 854 (opinions of the various district appellate courts are equally binding on all trial courts.) Stare decisis binds your trial court in Los Angeles just as surely as it does your trial court in San Diego.
Another Court of Appeal, in another district or another division of the 4th District, would not be similarly bound, but the only case we know of that currently has the opportunity to go in another direction is Savaglio v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., which is now stayed pending the outcome of Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court (2008) 165 Cal.App.4th 25.
* There is no wage and hour specialty certified by the State Bar of California.