Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
California v. Gonzalez
In May 2014, George Gonzalez pled guilty to two misdemeanor counts of using his premises without a permit or variance, and one count of maintaining an unauthorized encroachment. The trial court placed Gonzalez on probation for three years, subject to various stipulated conditions, including that he must bring all properties up to code. Gonzalez violated probation on five separate occasions; each time, the court revoked and then reinstated Gonzalez’s probation, with terms to which Gonzalez expressly agreed, including stayed terms of custody of increasing lengths. During a hearing on the third of these violations, Gonzalez agreed to additional specific probation conditions relating to property that he owned on Aldine Drive. Gonzalez specifically agreed to a probation condition that required he sell the Aldine Property for fair market value if he failed to comply with various probation conditions mandating that he undertake specified corrective work on the property. In March 2017, after admitting a fourth probation violation, Gonzalez agreed to an extension of the probationary period and to modify the stayed term of custod. After a hearing concerning the Aldine Property, the trial court found Gonzalez in violation of probation for a fifth time. Gonzalez was again given an opportunity to cure the violations prior to the next hearing; when conditions were not cured, the court ordered Gonzalez to sell the Aldine Property. Gonzalez challenged the order to sell the Aldine Property, arguing, among other things, the order to sell the Aldine Property was invalid because it was entered after the expiration of the maximum three-year probation period as authorized by his 2014 guilty plea, and an order directing the sale of real property was not specified as a potential punishment for municipal code violations in the San Diego Municipal Code. The Court of Appeal determined: (1) the order to sell the Aldine Property was a condition of probation, not a punishment; (2) Gonzalez’s takings claim was without merit; and (3) Gonzalez forfeited any challenge to the reasonableness of the probation condition by failing to raise such a challenge in the trial court or in his opening brief on appeal. The trial court’s order directing the sale of the Aldine Property was affirmed. View "California v. Gonzalez" on Justia Law
St. Mary & St. John Coptic Orthodox Church v. SBC Insurance Services, Inc.
The Church experienced water damage 57 days after escrow closed on a residence it had purchased; its insurance broker, SBC, had procured commercial property insurance for the residence with Philadelphia Indemnity. Philadelphia denied a claim. The policy states the insurer will not pay for losses if the building where the loss occurs was vacant for more than 60 consecutive days before the loss. The parties entered into an agreement whereby the Church gave Philadelphia the right to control litigation in the Church's name against SBC or third parties in exchange for a loan of money to repair and remediate the residence; the loan was to be repaid out of any recovery.In a suit against SBC for professional negligence, the court found that SBC had breached its duty of care, but that the Church suffered no damages because the loss was covered under the Philadelphia policy. The court found the vacancy provision ambiguous and concluded that it did not include time before the insured owned the residence.The court of appeal reversed. When the vacancy provision is properly interpreted and applied to the undisputed evidence, there was no coverage for the loss. The residence did not contain enough personal property to conduct operations as a residence for the Coptic Pope and visiting clergy or the prior owner. The court rejected an argument that the residence was not vacant under the policy because it was being held out for sale. View "St. Mary & St. John Coptic Orthodox Church v. SBC Insurance Services, Inc." on Justia Law
Reuter v. Macal
After plaintiff executed a deed granting defendant a joint interest in his condominium, plaintiff filed suit years later seeking quiet title to the condominium in his favor. Plaintiff argued, among other things, that the deed should be rescinded under Civil Code section 1590 as a gift made in contemplation of marriage. The trial court ruled in favor of plaintiff on the quiet title claim and entered judgment requiring defendant to reconvey title.In the published portion of this opinion, the Court of Appeal held that the tolling rule in Muktarian v. Barmby (1965) 63 Cal.2d 558, 560, applies to defendant's statute of limitations defense and applies in the context of plaintiff's claim for relief under section 1590. The court explained that, as long as plaintiff enjoyed possession of the condominium and defendant did not press her adverse claim against him in a manner that threatened or disturbed that possession, no statute of limitations began to run. That plaintiff's theory of relief at trial was premised on section 1590 does not change the court's analysis of whether the Muktarian tolling rule applies to the quiet title claim under the facts of this case. View "Reuter v. Macal" on Justia Law
Hoffman v. Young
Where, as here, a child of the landowner is living with the landowner on the landowner's property and the landowner has consented to this living arrangement, the child's express invitation of a person to come onto the property operates as an express invitation by the landowner within the meaning of Civil Code section 846, subdivision (d)(3), unless the landowner has prohibited the child from extending the invitation.Appellant filed suit against her friend and his parents after she was injured while riding her motorcycle on the parents' motocross track. The jury found that the parents had no liability for the collision or the allegedly negligent medical care provided to appellant after the collision. The court held that the friend's express invitation to appellant stripped his parents of the immunity that would otherwise have been provided to them by the recreational use immunity defense under section 846. In this case, the trial court erroneously instructed the jury that the express invitation exception to the immunity defense applies only if one of the friend's parents, i.e., the actual landowner, expressly invited appellant onto the property. The court held that the erroneous instruction was prejudicial to appellant. Furthermore, the trial court erroneously instructed the jury that the express invitation must be for a recreational purpose. The court reversed as to the general negligence and premises liability causes of action. The court affirmed in all other respects. View "Hoffman v. Young" on Justia Law
Tiburon/Belvedere Residents United to Support the Trails v. Martha Co.
Before the 1972 effective date of Civil Code section 1009(b), the California Supreme Court held that an implied by law dedication is established when “the public has used the land ‘for a period of more than five years with full knowledge of the owner, without asking or receiving permission to do so and without objection being made by anyone.’” Since the 1920s, Martha has owned 110 acres of undeveloped land on the Tiburon peninsula, which has views of Angel Island, San Francisco, and the Golden Gate Bridge. In 2017, TRUST filed suit to quiet title, in favor of the public, to recreational easements over trails on the property, arguing that, nearly 50 years ago, the public’s use of trails on Martha’s property established a recreational easement under the doctrine of implied dedication.The court of appeal affirmed judgment in favor of Martha. Substantial evidence supports a finding that Martha’s attempts to deter trespassers showed it did not acquiesce to public dedication. There was “a running battle between some users, who took down signs and fences”, and owners, who repaired them, indicating both that the users did not believe that they had a right to use the property and that the owner made bona fide efforts to deter them. View "Tiburon/Belvedere Residents United to Support the Trails v. Martha Co." on Justia Law
RGC Gaslamp v. Ehmcke Sheet Metal Co.
Subcontractor Ehmcke Sheet Metal Company (Ehmcke) recorded a mechanic’s lien to recoup payment due for sheet metal fabrication and installation work done on a luxury hotel project in downtown San Diego. Project owner RGC Gaslamp, LLC (RGC) secured a bond to release the lien. Thereafter Ehmcke filed three successive mechanic’s liens, each identical to the first, prompting RGC to sue it for quiet title, slander of title, and declaratory and injunctive relief. The trial court granted Ehmke’s special motion to strike under the anti-SLAPP statute. The trial court found that Ehmcke met its moving burden because the filing of even an invalid lien was protected petitioning activity. Thereafter, the court found that RGC failed to make a prima facie showing that its sole remaining cause of action for slander of title could withstand application of the litigation privilege. RGC appeals both findings, arguing that the duplicative filing of mechanic’s liens after the posting of a bond was not protected activity. The Court of Appeal concluded after review that RGC erroneously imported substantive requirements of the litigation privilege into the first step of the anti-SLAPP inquiry. Ehmcke met that moving burden once its erroneously excluded reply declarations were considered. With the burden shifted on prong two, RGC failed to make a prima facie showing that the litigation privilege did not bar its slander-of-title cause of action. The anti-SLAPP motion was thus properly granted, and Court likewise affirmed the subsequent attorney’s fees and costs award. View "RGC Gaslamp v. Ehmcke Sheet Metal Co." on Justia Law
Robin v. Crowell
In this quiet title action, plaintiffs, holders of a first deed of trust on certain property, judicially foreclosed, but failed to name defendant, the holder of a second deed of trust on the same property, as a defendant in that action. Plaintiffs subsequently sought to quiet title to correct their mistake and to terminate defendant's lien.The Court of Appeal concluded that the statute of limitations on a judicial action to foreclose the first deed of trust had run, and the lien had been extinguished, prior to the filing of the quiet title action. In this case, the 60-year statute of limitations on which the trial court relied applied only to a nonjudicial trustee's sale; the trial court could not exercise the trustee's power of sale through a quiet title action after the expiration of the statute of limitations on a judicial action to foreclose; and, after the judicial foreclosure sale, there was no trustee holding title to the property who could transfer title through a trustee's sale. Therefore, plaintiffs' action was barred by the statute of limitations. The court reversed and vacated the trial court's judgment and entered a new judgment in favor of defendant. View "Robin v. Crowell" on Justia Law
County of Sonoma v. U.S. Bank N.A.
Quail's 47,480-square-foot unincorporated Sonoma County property contained two houses, garages, and several outbuildings. In 2013, a building with hazardous and unpermitted electrical wiring, hazardous decking and stairs, unpermitted kitchens and plumbing, broken windows, and lacking power, was destroyed in a fire. Two outbuildings, unlawfully being used as dwellings, were also damaged. One report stated: “The [p]roperty . . . exists as a makeshift, illegal mobile home park and junkyard.” After many unsuccessful attempts to compel Quail to abate the conditions, the county obtained the appointment of a receiver under Health and Safety Code section 17980.7 and Code of Civil Procedure section 564 to oversee abatement work. The banks challenged a superior court order authorizing the receiver to finance its rehabilitation efforts through a loan secured by a “super-priority” lien on the property and a subsequent order authorizing the sale of the property free and clear of U.S. Bank’s lien.The court of appeal affirmed in part. Trial courts enjoy broad discretion in matters subject to a receivership, including the power to issue a receiver’s certificate with priority over pre-existing liens when warranted. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in subordinating U.S. Bank’s lien and confirming the sale of the property free and clear of liens so that the receiver could remediate the nuisance conditions promptly and effectively, but prioritizing the county’s enforcement fees and costs on equal footing with the receiver had no basis in the statutes. View "County of Sonoma v. U.S. Bank N.A." on Justia Law
Skaff v. Rio Nido Roadhouse
Skaff sued the Roadhouse restaurant and grill, located in Sonoma County, alleging that the Roadhouse and parking lot were inaccessible to wheelchair users. Skaff cited Health and Safety Code section 19955 and the Unruh Civil Rights Act, Civ. Code section 51. Under section 19955, public accommodations must comply with California Building Code disability access standards if repairs and alterations were made to an existing facility, triggering accessibility mandates. No evidence was presented that the Roadhouse's owner had undertaken any triggering alterations. The owner nonetheless voluntarily remediated the identified barriers to access. The court entered judgment against Skaff on his Unruh Act claim but ruled in his favor on the section 19955 claim, reasoning that he was the prevailing party under a “catalyst theory” because his lawsuit was the catalyst that caused the renovations. Skaff was awarded $242,672 in attorney fees and costs.The court of appeal reversed the judgment and fee award. A plaintiff cannot prevail on a cause of action in which no violation of law was ever demonstrated or found. Nor is the catalyst theory available when a claim lacks legal merit. That a prelitigation demand may have spurred action that resulted in positive societal benefit is not reason alone to award attorney fees under the Civil Code. View "Skaff v. Rio Nido Roadhouse" on Justia Law
Lopez v. City of Los Angeles
After plaintiff, a pedestrian, tripped and fell in a pothole located on city-owned property, he filed suit against the City and Wally's Wine & Spirits for negligence and premise liability. The Court of Appeal held that the commercial business leasing the property that the driveway services did not exercise control over the location of the pothole (so as to create a duty of care to passersby) when the business has done no more than put the driveway and gutter to their "ordinary and accustomed" uses. Therefore, the trial court was correct in granting judgment notwithstanding the verdict to overturn a jury verdict that found the business partially liable for the pedestrian's injury. View "Lopez v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law