Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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After plaintiff's foreclosure action was dismissed, the trial court ordered plaintiff to pay attorney fees to defendants, finding certain provisions in the deed of trust she signed authorized the fee award. In the published portion of the opinion, the Court of Appeal held that the deed of trust authorized the addition of attorney fees to the loan amount, not a separate award to pay fees. The court also held that the Rosenthal Fair Debt Collections Practices Act provided no independent basis for ordering plaintiff to pay attorney fees. Accordingly, the trial court's order compelling plaintiff to pay attorney fees was reversed and the matter remanded. View "Chacker v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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In a wrongful foreclosure action, the Court of Appeal reversed the award of attorney's fees to Nationstar Mortgage that was based on a clause in the deed of trust. The court held that the clause at issue was not an attorney's fee provision. The court also held that simply pleading a right to attorney's fees was not a sufficient basis to judicially estop a party from challenging the opposing party's alleged contractual basis for an award of attorney's fees. Therefore, the trial court erred in relying on judicial estoppel as an alternative basis for its fee award. View "Hart v. Clear Recon Corp." on Justia Law

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Francis Bottini, Jr., Nina Bottini, and the Bernate Ticino Trust (the Bottinis) applied to the City of San Diego for a coastal development permit (CDP) to construct a single-family home on a vacant lot in La Jolla. City staff determined that the Bottinis' proposed construction project was categorically exempt from environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act, but the City Council of San Diego reversed that determination. In reaching its decision, the City Council found that full environmental review was necessary because the Bottinis had removed a 19th century cottage from the lot on which they planned to build their residence shortly before they applied for a CDP. The City had previously voted against designating that cottage as a historical resource, declared that the cottage was a public nuisance, and authorized the Bottinis to demolish the cottage. Nevertheless, after the cottage's demolition, the City Council declared the cottage "historic," concluded that the cottage's demolition must be considered part of the Bottinis' project for purposes of CEQA, and found that there was a reasonable possibility that CEQA's "historical resources" and "unusual circumstances" exceptions applied to the Bottinis' construction project, thus requiring full environmental review. The Bottinis filed a petition for a writ of administrative mandamus seeking to compel the City Council to set aside its decision, as well as a complaint for damages against the City, based on alleged violations of the takings, due process, and equal protection clauses of the California Constitution. The City moved for summary judgment on the Bottinis' constitutional causes of action. The court granted the Bottinis' petition concluding the demolition of the cottage was not a component of the Bottinis' construction project and, as a result, the City Council's determination that the project was not categorically exempt from CEQA review lacked substantial evidentiary support. The court also granted the City's motion for summary judgment on the Bottinis' constitutional claims. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court. View "Bottini v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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This appeal challenged the trial court’s denial of a special motion to strike pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, the anti-SLAPP statute,, directed at a cross-complaint asserting causes of action arising from a civil enforcement action brought by Feather River Air Quality Management District against Harmun Takhar for multiple violations of state and local air pollution laws. Specifically, this case involved dust. Takhar owned a piece of property in Yuba County. In June 2014, he began the process of converting that property from pasture land to an almond orchard. This process required the clearing, grading, and disking of the land in order to prepare the site for planting. The earthwork generated dust that was carried from Takhar’s property and deposited onto neighboring properties. These neighboring property owners complained to the District. District staff contacted Takhar, informed him the dust emissions were impacting neighboring properties causing a public nuisance, and requested he take reasonable precautions to prevent the dust from reaching the affected properties, such as waiting for the wind to change directions before engaging in earthwork. Violations were ultimately imposed, and an offer to settle the civil penalties was made. Takhar did not take the District up on its settlement offer and instead continued with his clearing activities. The District then brought a civil enforcement action against Takhar. The Court of Appeal concluded Takhar did not demonstrate he qualified for an exemption to the anti-SLAPP statute. The causes of action alleged in Takhar’s cross-complaint arose from protected petitioning activity and he did not establish a probability of prevailing on the merits of these claims. The Court therefore remanded the matter to the trial court with directions to grant the anti-SLAPP motion and dismiss the cross-complaint. View "Takhar v. California ex rel. Feather River Air Quality Management Dist." on Justia Law

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Coyne's San Francisco property includes a building with three apartments and a free-standing, three-bedroom cottage. De Leo, age 81, had resided in the cottage since 1989. In 2012, Coyne decided to move into the cottage. Martin asked De Leo to move to the lower unit for a reduced rent. De Leo initially agreed. Martin paid that tenant $10,000 to vacate and painted the lower unit. De Leo’s son expressed concerns that no caregiver would have a place to stay if De Leo moved to the lower unit. Martin explained that he could invoke the Ellis Act to evict the tenants. De Leo refused to vacate. Martin transferred ownership to trusts, executed a tenancy in common agreement, and filed a “Notice of Intent to Withdraw Residential Units from the Rental Market” with the Residential Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Board, listing himself as the occupant of the upper unit, although he did not then reside there. Esclamado, a Coyne employee, was listed as the lower unit occupant, but no rent was listed; lower and upper units the as “owner-occupied.” After extensions, the Board recorded notices that the units would be withdrawn from the rental market (Gov. Code, 7060.2). Ultimately, Coyne obtained a judgment of possession. The court of appeal reversed. The trial court abused its discretion excluding De Leo’s evidence on the key factual issue of whether Martin had a bona fide intent to withdraw the Property from the residential rental market--evidence that Martin sold Esclamado a sham ownership interest. View "Coyne v. De Leo" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Branches Neighborhood Corporation, a community association incorporated pursuant to the Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act, filed an arbitration claim against the association’s developer, defendant CalAtlantic Group, Inc., formerly known as Standard Pacific Corp. (Standard), for construction defects. The arbitrator granted summary judgment in Standard’s favor, concluding the association did not receive the consent of its members to file the claim until after the claim was filed, in violation of its declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs). The trial court subsequently denied the association’s motion to vacate the award, concluding the court had no power to review the arbitrator’s decision. Branches argued on appeal the trial court incorrectly denied its motion to vacate because the arbitrator exceeded its powers by abridging an unwaivable statutory right or public policy. Finding no such right or policy, the Court of Appeal determined the plain language of the CC&Rs controlled. The Court therefore affirmed the judgment. View "Branches Neighborhood Corp. v. CalAtlantic Group, Inc.," on Justia Law

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The successor trustee to the 1713 Stearns LaVerne Family Trust (Stearns), filed suit against numerous defendants for claims arising from an allegedly void assignment of the deed of trust (DOT) on real property located at 1713-1717 Stearns Drive in Los Angeles, California (the property), and a failed short sale agreement. The trial court sustained the demurrer as to some defendants and denied the trustee's request for leave to amend. The Court of Appeal reversed and held that the trial court abused its discretion in denying leave to amend. The court held that the trial court properly sustained the demurrers to all causes of action; but that the trial court abused its discretion in denying leave to amend because the trustee was the owner of the property and had proposed facts that, if true, were sufficient to establish that the August 21, 2008 assignment was void. Accordingly, the trial court was directed to grant the trustee leave to amend the complaint. View "Hacker v. Homeward Residential, Inc." on Justia Law

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The owner of Greenfield Ranch in Mendocino County subdivided the property into 25 parcels with a minimum acreage of 160 acres each. One of those parcels was divided by a 1975 partition judgment into three parcels. McLear-Gary owns the westernmost parcel (1-A). The Scotts own the easternmost parcel (1-C). The Brandon-Scotts own the center parcel (1-B). McLear-Gary claims an easement along a skid trail that passes through parcel 1-C, terminates at a creek and continues on a footpath over parcel 1-B to her parcel 1-A. In 2006, Scott replaced an old wooden gate with a metal gate across the easement route and kept it locked, blocking McLear-Gary from accessing the easement. McLearGary sued to quiet title. The Scotts had timely paid taxes on parcel 1-C; the taxes levied against parcel 1-B for the years 2005-2008 were not paid on time and remained delinquent until Scott made a lump sum payment in 2011. The court of appeal held that the covenants did not grant McLear-Gary an express easement and that McLear-Gary had not established a prescriptive easement for vehicular use. Scotts’ lump sum payment of several years’ worth of delinquent taxes did not constitute “timely” payment of taxes under Code of Civil Procedure section 325(b), so the Scotts did not extinguish her easement by adverse possession. View "McLear-Gary v. Scott" on Justia Law

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Stabilis Fund II, LLC (Stabilis) held a trust deed on an apartment complex in Indio. In 2013, Stabilis sued the owners of the property, alleging that the underlying loan was in default, seeking judicial foreclosure, and, in the interim, seeking a receiver “to make sure that the Real Property is properly maintained and that property conditions do not pose a risk of harm to tenants and third parties.” On Stabilis’s motion, the trial court appointed a receiver. In 2014, the City of Indio (City) intervened, alleging the property was a public nuisance, riddled with hazardous and substandard conditions in violation of state and local law. It moved to modify the receivership by instructing the receiver to remedy these conditions. Stabilis did not argue that the City was not entitled to the requested modification; however, it did argue that the motion was premature, that the receiver already had the necessary powers, and that it should be allowed to proceed with foreclosure. The trial court nevertheless granted the motion. The City then moved for an award of its attorney fees and expenses. The trial court granted the motion; it awarded the City $98,190.47, to be paid out of the receivership estate, if there were sufficient funds, and if not, then by Stabilis. Stabilis appealed, arguing that it was only the lender: if anyone was liable for attorney fees and expenses, it should have been the owners. More specifically, it argued that none of the three statutes cited by the City authorized the trial court’s award of attorney fees and expenses against it under the circumstances of this case. The Court of Appeal agreed, and reversed. View "Kaura v. Stabilis Fund II, LLC" on Justia Law

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Tan sued Summers and Gomez to resolve a dispute about investment real estate they jointly own in San Francisco, concerning the amount of each party’s ownership interest and corresponding right to receive income and obligation to pay expenses. The parties sought quiet title, partition, and an accounting. Tan moved for summary adjudication, requesting the property be partitioned and sold by private sale with the proceeds to be held in escrow until resolution of the litigation. Although Summers and Gomez also sought partition, they opposed the motion because the sold property would not generate rental income while their interests were litigated. The court granted Tan’s motion, stating: “Judgment is entered for the real property [at issue] to be partitioned and sold by private sale, for all liens to be paid, a referee shall be appointed, and all sale proceeds shall be held in escrow until final resolution of this matter.” The court of appeal reversed. The partition statutes do not allow a court to order the manner of a property’s partition, such as the sale here, before it determines the ownership interests in the property, Code of Civil Procedure 872.720(a). View "Sumners v. Superior Court" on Justia Law