Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of California
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The Supreme Court answered a question from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit regarding which presumption governs the characterization of joint tenancy property in a dispute between a couple and the bankruptcy trustee of one of the spouses.The Supreme Court held (1) Cal. Evid. Code 662 does not apply when it conflicts with the Cal. Fam. Code 760 community property presumption; (2) when a married couple uses community funds to acquire property with joint tenancy title on over after January 1, 1975 the property is presumptively community property under Cal. Fam. Code 760 in a dispute between the couple and a bankruptcy trustee, and for properly purchased before January 1, 1975, the presumption is that separate property interests arise from joint tenancy title; and (3) joint tenancy titling of property acquired by spouses using community funds on or after January 1, 1985 is not sufficient by itself to transmute community property into separate property. View "Speier v. Brace" on Justia Law

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In this inverse condemnation action, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeal reversing the judgment of the trial court, holding that the trial court erred in borrowing section 1260.040 from the Eminent Domain Law and using to it making a dispositive pretrial ruling on inverse condemnation liability.The public entity defendants in this inverse condemnation action asked the trial court to use Cal. Code Civ. P. 1260.40, which authorizes a pretrial motion for a ruling on "an evidentiary or other legal issue affecting the determination of compensation," in inverse condemnation procedure. The trial court granted the motions and entered judgment in the defendants' favor. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the procedure at issue did not meaningfully supplement existing pretrial procedures governing a summary judgment motion. Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) this Court declines to import section 1260.070 into inverse condemnation procedure; and (2) the trial erred in entering judgment on the defendants' "Motion for Legal Determination of Liability," holding that the trial court erred in using the procedures because the summary judgment statute was available for that purpose, and any disputes could have been resolved in a bench trial. View "Weiss v. People ex rel. Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeal affirming the trial court's grant of Defendant's demurrer and dismissing Plaintiff's complaint alleging that Defendant negligently allowed a fire to spread from Defendant's property to Plaintiff's property, harming some of Plaintiff's trees, holding that Plaintiff could not rely on Cal. Civ. Code 3346's extended statute of limitations and that his complaint was otherwise untimely.Section 3346 provides enhanced damages to plaintiffs suffering wrongful injuries to timber, trees, or underwood. The relevant statute of limitations where a plaintiff seeks such damages is five years. In this case, Plaintiff alleged that section 3346's enhanced damages and five-year statute of limitations applied to property damage from a fire negligently allowed to escape from Defendant's property. Defendant filed a demurrer, arguing that Plaintiff's claims were time-barred. The trial court granted the demurrer. The court of appeal affirmed, concluding that the three-year statute of limitations in Cal. Code Civ. Proc. 338(b) applied to this action for trespass upon or injury to real property. The court of appeal agreed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that section 3346 is inapplicable to damages to timber, trees, or underwood from negligently escaping fires and that Plaintiff's complaint was otherwise untimely. View "Scholes v. Lambirth Trucking Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal finding the City of Oroville liable in inverse condemnation for property damage suffered by a dental practice when raw sewage began spewing from the toilets, sinks, and drains of its building, holding that where the dentists did not install a legally required backwater valve on their premises the City was not liable for the property damage.The dentists argued that the City was legally responsible for the property damage because it was caused by the sewer system's failure to function as intended. The City argued in response that the damage occurred because the dentists failed to install the backwater valve that would have prevented sewage from entering their building in the event of a sewer main backup. The trial court concluded that an inverse condemnation had occurred. The court of appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the damage was not substantially caused by the sewer system when the dentists failed to fulfill a responsibility to install a backwater valve that would have prevented or substantially diminished the risk of the mishap that occurred in this case. View "City of Oroville v. Superior Court of Butte County" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that when an agency considers increasing a property-related fee, the fee payor challenging the method of fee allocation need not exhaust administrative remedies by participating in a Proposition 218 hearing that addresses only a proposed rate increase.Cal. Const. art. XIII D, 6, which was added in 1996 by Proposition 218, requires that before a local governmental agency may impose or increase property-related fees and charges it must notify affected property owners and hold a public hearing. The representative plaintiffs in this class action sought to invalidate a wastewater service charge imposed by a water district, claiming that the district's method for calculating the charge violated one of the substantive requirements of Proposition 218. The trial court concluded that the suit was barred because the plaintiffs failed to exhaust administrative remedies by raising their challenge at public hearings on proposed increases to the rate charged for services. The court of appeal reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that a Proposition 218 rate hearing was not an administrative remedy that the plaintiffs were required to exhaust under these particular circumstances. View "Plantier v. Ramona Municipal Water District" on Justia Law

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In this real property dispute, the Supreme Court held that Cal. Code Civ. Proc. 580d does not preclude a creditor holding two deeds of trust on the same property from recovering a deficiency judgment on the junior lien extinguished by a nonjudicial foreclosure sale on the senior.In two separate transactions, Defendants borrowed sums of money by executing promissory notes secured by deeds of trust on the same parcel of commercial property. Plaintiff eventually acquired both loans and then purchased the property at a public auction. Plaintiff filed a lawsuit to recover the amount still owed on the second deed of trust extinguished by the foreclosure sale. The trial court concluded that section 580d barred the monetary judgment sought by Plaintiff. The court of appeal reversed, concluding that section 580d did not apply to preclude Plaintiff from suing for the balance due on the junior note in this case. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that section 580d does not bar a deficiency judgment on a junior lien held by a senior lien holder that sold the property comprising the security for both liens. View "Black Sky Capital, LLC v. Cobb" on Justia Law

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At issue was the timing of the notice that must precede an unlawful detainer action where the action is not brought by a landlord but by a new owner who has acquired title to the property under a power of sale contained in a deed of trust.The Supreme Court held that perfection of title, which includes recording the trustee’s deed, is necessary before the new owner serves a three-day written notice to quit on the possessor of the property. The Court thus reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeal concluding that perfection of title need only precede the filing of the unlawful detainer action and that the new owner may serve the notice to quit immediately after acquiring ownership. View "Dr. Leevil, LLC v. Westlake Health Care Center" on Justia Law

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At issue was whether this common law action alleging construction defects resulting in both economic loss and property damage was subject to the prelitigation notice and cure procedures set forth in the Right to Repair Act, Cal. Civ. Code 895-945.5. After noting that the answer depended on the extent to which the Act was intended to alter the common law, the Supreme Court held that the Legislature intended that the Act was to supplant the common law with new rules governing the method of recovery in actions alleging property damage rather than to supplement common law remedies with a statutory claim for purely economic loss. Thus, the court held that the present suit for property damage was subject to the Act’s prelitigation procedures, and the court of appeal properly ordered a stay until those procedures were followed. View "McMillin Albany LLC v. Superior Court of Kern County" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part the decision of the court of appeal in this case concerning the application of constitutional limitations to a statutorily authorized ground water charge imposed on well operators by a local water conservation district to fund certain conservation activities. The City of San Buenaventura argued (1) the charges violate article XIII D of the California Constitution; and (2) alternatively, the charges violate article XIII C of the California Constitution, as amended by Proposition 26. The Supreme Court held (1) the court of appeal properly concluded that article XIII C, as amended by Proposition 26, rather than article XIII D, supplies the proper framework for evaluating the constitutionality of the groundwater pumping charges at issue in this case; but (2) because the court of appeal did not address the City’s argument that the charges do not bear a fair or reasonable relationship to the payor’s burdens or on benefits from the United Water Conservation District’s conservation activities, as required by article XIII C, this case must be remanded for consideration of that question. View "City of San Buenaventura v. United Water Conservation District" on Justia Law

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In this real estate purchase transaction the Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeal’s judgment reversing the trial court’s denial of an award of attorney fees. Here Seller brought a breach of contract action against Buyers for failing to purchase the subject property. The trial court concluded that Buyers were not liable under the purchase agreement because it had been superseded by the parties’ option agreement that granted Buyers the exclusive right, but not the obligation, to purchase the property. At issue before the Supreme Court was whether Buyers were entitled to attorney fees under the attorney fees provision in the option agreement. The Supreme Court held (1) Buyers’ assertion of the option agreement as an affirmative defense did not trigger the attorney fees provision in that agreement; but (2) under the circumstances of this case Buyers were nevertheless entitled to attorney fees under the attorney fees provision in the option agreement. View "Mountain Air Enterprises, LLC v. Sundowner Towers, LLC" on Justia Law