Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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The Court of Appeal reversed in part and vacated in part in a dispute over ownership of two parcels of real property between wife, her husband, and the husband's mother. The court concluded that the trial court abused its discretion when it amended husband's mother's complaint to include a cause of action for breach of fiduciary duty. Therefore, the court reversed the judgment on the third cause of action. The court also concluded that the trial court erroneously determined that conditional delivery of the deed was valid. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment on the causes of action for slander of title, quiet title, declaratory relief, and cancellation of deeds. Finally, the court concluded that the trial court's findings and orders interfered with issues under the jurisdiction of the family law court; the trial court did not err when it admitted impeachment evidence about wife's financial circumstances in 2009; and the trial court did not deprive wife of a fair trial by cutting off her trial time unexpectedly. The court remanded with instructions to the trial court to amend the language of the judgment to provide that its orders do not preclude wife from raising proper claims for community property interests, Epstein credits, Watts charges, or other similar claims in the family law court. View "McMillin v. Eare" on Justia Law

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In this California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) case, the Court of Appeal granted the petition for writ of mandate and directed respondent Los Angeles Superior Court to vacate its order awarding attorney fees to Charter and to conduct a new hearing to reconsider Charter's motion for attorney fees. At issue is whether an employer's arbitration agreement authorizes the recovery of attorney fees for a successful motion to compel arbitration of a FEHA lawsuit even if the plaintiff's opposition to arbitration was not frivolous, unreasonable or groundless.The court concluded that, because a fee-shifting clause directed to a motion to compel arbitration, like a general prevailing party fee provision, risks chilling an employee's access to court in a FEHA case absent Government Code section 12965(b)'s asymmetric standard for an award of fees, a prevailing defendant may recover fees in this situation only if it demonstrates the plaintiff's opposition was groundless. In this case, no such finding was made by the superior court in the underlying action before awarding real party in interest Charter its attorney fees after granting Charter's motion to compel petitioner to arbitrate his FEHA claims. View "Patterson v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Ryan and Genevieve Weeden appealed a judgment entered in favor of defendant William Hoffman after the trial court granted Hoffman’s anti-SLAPP motion with respect to the Weedens’ complaint against Hoffman for quiet title, slander of title, and cancellation of an instrument. According to the allegations in the complaint, Hoffman sent the Weedens a letter threatening a forced sale of real property that the Weedens had purchased, based on a judgment lien created when Hoffman recorded an abstract of judgment that he obtained in a long-standing divorce proceeding between Hoffman and his former wife, Pamela Mitchell. The Weedens sought to quiet title to the property by filing this action. In response, Hoffman filed an anti-SLAPP motion, arguing that the conduct underlying the Weedens’ claims against him was protected activity under the anti-SLAPP law and the Weedens were unable to demonstrate a probability of prevailing on their claims. The Court of Appeal concluded the Weedens’ claims arose from protected activity, and that the trial court therefore properly shifted the burden to the Weedens to demonstrate a probability of prevailing on their claims. However, the Court further concluded the litigation privilege provided a defense to only one of the three pleaded causes of action. “The litigation privilege shields a defendant from liability only for tort damages that are based on litigation-related communications; the Weedens’ causes of action for quiet title and cancellation of an instrument do not seek to hold Hoffman liable for tort damages but, rather, seek to ascertain the interests of the parties with respect to a parcel of real property and to determine the validity of an instrument. The litigation privilege does not shield Hoffman from these claims.” Furthermore, the Court found the Weedens sufficiently demonstrated a probability of prevailing on the merits; the documents attached as exhibits to the complaint demonstrated that the abstract of judgment that Hoffman recorded with the county clerk did not accurately reflect the terms of the judgment entered in the divorce proceeding, thereby undermining the validity of the abstract of judgment. The trial court therefore erred in granting Hoffman’s anti-SLAPP motion with respect to the causes of action for quiet title and cancellation of an instrument. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Weeden v. Hoffman" on Justia Law

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This action concerned a piece of property in Rancho Mirage. At one time, the owners of record were Val Janelunas and his father, Joseph Janelunas, as joint tenants; however, Joseph died, leaving Val as sole owner. Thereafter, Val died. Plaintiff Douglas Humphrey asserted a claim to the property; he filed this action to quiet title to it, and he filed a lis pendens. He served process by publication. None of the named defendants (including Val Janelunas’s heirs) responded. At Humphrey’s request, the trial court entered their default. Thereafter, Peter Bewley became the administrator of Val Janelunas’s estate. He filed a motion to intervene, so he could move to expunge the lis pendens. In response, Humphrey withdrew the lis pendens; the trial court then denied the motion to intervene as moot. Bewley proceeded to sell the property. Humphrey filed a request for a prove-up hearing and a default judgment, to which Bewley objectied. The trial court, on its own motion, quashed the service by publication and vacated the default. Humphrey appealed, contending: (1) service by publication was proper, therefore the trial court erred in quashing service, vacating the default and failing to hold a prove-up hearing; (2) the trial court should not have quashed service as to Val Janelunas’ heirs because Bewley made a general appearance; and (3) the trial court erred in setting aside the default on its own motion because Bewley’s request to have to set aside was untimely. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal held the trial court’s order granting the motion to quash was appealable, and in such an appeal the Court could also review its order vacating the default. The Court also held Humphrey did not properly effect service by publication because the notices that he published specified the property only by assessor’s parcel number (APN) and not by either legal description or street address. However, the Court held Bewley made a general appearance. Accordingly, the trial court erred by quashing service on Bewley, but not by quashing service on other parties who had not appeared nor by vacating the default. In the unpublished portion of its opinion, the Court rejected all other contentions raised. View "Humphrey v. Bewley" on Justia Law

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Government Code 65915 requires that municipalities allow increased building density, and grant concessions and waivers of permit requirements, in exchange for an applicant’s agreement to dedicate a specified number of dwelling units to low-income or very low-income households. Neman proposed a Los Angeles mixed-use development, with retail space on the ground floor and 54 residential units above, including five very low-income units and five moderate-income units. The application included a Financial Feasibility Analysis, calculating the cost per unit as $1,106,847 without requested incentives, and $487,857 with incentives. At the City Planning Commission (CPC) hearing, a city planner stated that as a result of A.B. 2501, “financial pro formas, or financial analyses can no longer be considered as part of the density-bonus application.” The CPC approved the project including the requested density bonus plus increased floor area and maximum height, and two waivers (transitional height and rear yard setback requirements). Neighboring owners sued.The court of appeal upheld the approvals. Neither the statute nor the implementing ordinance requires the applicant to provide financial documentation to prove that the requested concessions will render the development “economically feasible.” CPC was required to grant the incentives unless it made a finding that they did not result in cost reductions. It did not make such a finding. It was not required to make an affirmative finding that the incentives would result in cost reductions. View "Schreiber v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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Three appeals arose from an insurance coverage dispute following a wildfire that burned in Siskiyou County, California. In September 2014, the Boles Fire damaged and destroyed numerous homes in the town of Weed, including the homes owned by plaintiffs Gary Andrighetto, James Dalin, and Matthew Vulk. Plaintiffs and others filed suit against their insurance company, defendant State Farm General Insurance Company, alleging various claims, including breach of contract and negligence. Central to the parties’ dispute was whether State Farm intentionally or negligently underinsured plaintiffs’ homes. Plaintiffs argued their homes were insufficiently insured due to State Farm’s alleged failure to calculate reasonable or adequate policy limits on their behalf for the full replacement cost of their homes. After the trial court granted State Farm’s motion for summary judgment against Andrighetto, Dalin and Vulk stipulated to entry of judgment in favor of State Farm. Each plaintiff timely appealed, and the Court of Appeal consolidated the appeals for argument and disposition. Thereafter, the Court requested that the parties discuss in their briefing whether the judgments in the Dalin and Vulk matters needed to be reversed pursuant to Magana Cathcart McCarthy v. CB Richard Ellis, Inc., 174 Cal.App.4th 106 (2009). After review, the Court affirmed the trial court in the Andrighetto matter; the Court reversed in the Dalin and Vulk matters, and remanded those for further proceedings. View "Vulk v. State Farm General Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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A Monterey pine tree grows in the Prices’s backyard and obstructs Kahn’s views of the San Francisco Bay and Marin County from the main level of her residence. Kahn sought relief under the San Francisco Tree Dispute Resolution Ordinance, which creates “rights in favor of private property owners” to restore their “views lost due to tree growth” on adjoining property.The court entered judgment in favor of Kahn, directing the tree’s removal, and granting Kahn’s request for Code of Civil Procedure section 128.5 sanctions of $47,345.30, payable by the Prices and their trial counsel Weisberg. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting arguments that the lawsuit was barred by the statute of limitations, that dismissal was required for Kahn’s failure to comply with the Ordinance’s prelitigation procedures, and that the trial court erred in directing the tree’s removal. The court also upheld the award of sanctions. The lawsuit “meets the crucial test” for an action to abate a continuing nuisance for which any statute of limitations is inapplicable. The court was not required to dismiss the action predicated on Kahn’s failure to include in her prelitigation tree claim visual images of unobstructed views from the main level of her residence before the growth of the tree. View "Kahn v. Price" on Justia Law

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After the City of San Mateo denied an application to build a ten-unit apartment building, petitioners sought a writ of administrative mandamus seeking to compel the project's approval. The trial court denied the petition, ruling that the project did not satisfy the City's design guidelines for multifamily homes and that, to the extent the Housing Accountability Act (HAA), Government Code section 65589.5, required the City to ignore its own guidelines, it was an unconstitutional infringement on the City's right to home rule and an unconstitutional delegation of municipal powers.The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that the design guideline the City invoked as part of its reason for rejecting this housing development is not "objective" for purposes of the HAA, and so cannot support the City's decision to reject the project. Furthermore, because the HAA checks municipal authority only as necessary to further the statewide interest in new housing development, the HAA does not infringe on the City's right to home rule. The court rejected the City's remaining constitutional arguments. The trial court shall issue a writ of mandate directing the City to (1) vacate its February 5, 2018 action upholding the Planning Commission's decision to deny the application, and (2) reconsider the challenge to the Planning Commission's decision. View "California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund v. City of San Mateo" on Justia Law

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Duncan moved into a San Francisco apartment in 1994. Duncan’s wife moved into the unit in 2010, and they lived together with their daughter. Duncan never missed a rent payment and was never late with his rent. Duncan’s unit was subject to San Francisco’s rent-control ordinance. During his tenancy, the maximum that stabilized rent could be increased was a total of 31 percent, whereas the market rent for a two-bedroom unit in San Francisco increased by 254 percent. In 2014, the building was sold. For the next 14 months, until Duncan was forced to rent a new apartment, the landlords took away various benefits, ignored or delayed responding to maintenance issues, were uncommunicative, and became increasingly hostile in imposing new rules. Duncan contacted the building department. Violations were noted. At different times, the water and power were turned off for nonpayment. Duncan and other residents formed a tenants union.Duncan filed a notice with the Rent Board. The next day, Duncan was served with a 60-day notice of termination of tenancy as an owner move-in. Duncan filed suit under San Francisco’s Residential Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Ordinance. The city also sued the landlords. Jurors found that the landlords engaged in a wrongful eviction and tenant harassment. After damages were trebled, Duncan's recovery was $2.7 million. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting challenges to evidentiary rulings and the sufficiency of the evidence. The trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting evidence of the landlords’ conduct at other properties. View "Duncan v. Kihagi" on Justia Law

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A reverse validation action was brought by petitioners Bonnie Wolstoncroft, William Unkel, and Michael Wilkes against the County of Yolo (County) to challenge the County’s plan to continue water service to 95 residences within the North Davis Meadows County Service Area (County Service Area) by replacing two aging groundwater wells with the City of Davis’s (City) water supply. Under this plan, North Davis Meadows residents would pay substantially higher water rates to pay for the project. The County considered the increased water rates to be property-related fees and noticed a Proposition 218 (as approved by voters, Gen. Elec. (Nov. 5, 1996)) hearing. More than five months after the County adopted its resolution, but before the deadline contemplated by the parties’ tolling agreement, petitioners filed their action in superior court. The trial court rejected petitioners’ argument that the increased levy constituted an assessment for which majority approval was required by Proposition 218. The trial court also rejected petitioners’ contentions that the County wrongfully rejected protest votes it claimed not to have received or received in an untimely manner. After review of petitioners' arguments on appeal, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court correctly determined that the levy constituted a property-related fee under Proposition 218. "The fact that maintaining adequate water supply requires switching water sources does not turn the fee into an assessment. Thus, the County properly employed the majority protest procedure under article XIII D, section 6." Further, the Court concluded that even if the trial court erred in denying petitioners’ motion to augment the record with declarations regarding two mailed protest votes, petitioners’ evidence would not prove timely compliance with the protest procedure. Without the protest votes for which only evidence of mailing was tendered, the protest lacked a majority. Accordingly, the trial court's judgment was affirmed. View "Wolstoncroft v. County of Yolo" on Justia Law