Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
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Plaintiff filed suit against Quicken, on behalf of himself and others similarly situated, alleging causes of action for breach of fiduciary duty and violations of Civil Code section 2954.8 and Business and Professions Code section 17200, contending that section 2954.8 requires a lender to pay interest on insurance proceeds held in escrow following the partial or total destruction of the insured's residence or other structure. In this case, plaintiff's home was destroyed by Ventura's Thomas Fire and his hazard insurance policy jointly paid him and his mortgage lender, Quicken, a total of $1,342,740. The Deed of Trust allowed Quicken to hold the insurance proceeds in escrow and to disburse the funds as repairs to the home were being made.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's decision sustaining Quicken's demurrer to the complaint without leave to amend, concluding that neither section 2954.8 nor the parties' loan agreement required the payment of interest. Based upon the statutory and contractual language, the court agreed with Lippitt v. Nationstar Mortgage, LLC (C.D.Cal. Apr. 16, 2020, No. SA CV 19-1115-DOC-DFM) 2020 U.S. Dist. Lexis 122881, that section 2954.8 "applies to common escrows maintained to pay taxes, assessments, and insurance premiums -- not to the comparatively unique example of hazard insurance proceeds held by a lender pending property rebuilding." Therefore, the court concluded that the insurance proceeds held by Quicken pursuant to section 5 of the Deed of Trust fall outside the scope of section 2954.8. Furthermore, plaintiff's secondary reliance on the purported purposes of section 2954.8 does not and cannot circumvent the statute's plain language. View "Gray v. Quicken Loans, Inc." on Justia Law

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Ashford San Francisco owns the 2nd Street property. In 2013, a majority ownership interest in Ashford San Francisco was acquired by Ashford Hospitality. The transfer resulted in a change in ownership of the property, which the city determined triggered the imposition of the transfer tax. Ashford paid $3,348,025 in transfer taxes based upon the $133,920,700 self-reported value of the property, then filed an administrative claim for a refund. The transfer tax has five tiered (graduated) tax rates.When the city did not timely act, Ashford filed suit. seeking a refund, alleging that the transfer tax “imposes different tax rates on taxpayers for performing the same exact function” and arbitrarily classifies property transfer instruments for the imposition of a varying rate of taxation, solely by reference to the amount of the consideration in the transactions in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.The court of appeal affirmed a judgment in favor of the city. The city rationally chose to treat the sale or transfer of a higher-valued property differently from the sale of a lower-valued property; the transfer tax “taxes all transfers of the same consideration or value equally.” The court noted the city’s justifications: the owner’s ability to pay and that time and costs associated with the city’s audits for the self-reported transfer tax may increase depending on the value of the property. View "Ashford Hospitality v. City and County of San Francisco" on Justia Law

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San Rafael voters approved by a two-thirds vote a Paramedic Services Special Tax, imposing an annual special tax up to a maximum of 14 cents per square foot on all nonresidential structures in the city to fund paramedic services. In 2015-2016, the city determined that the Assessor had been inadvertently omitted certain properties from the Paramedic Tax assessment. City officials rectified this oversight prospectively and sought to collect a portion of the Tax that had gone unpaid. One property owner that received notice of the levy was Valley Baptist, a nonprofit religious organization that operates a church on property within city boundaries. The city requested payment of $13,644.Valley Baptist filed suit, challenging the constitutionality of the Tax as applied to a place of worship. Valley Baptist argued that it is exempted from payment of all property taxes under article XIII, section 3(f) of the California Constitution, including the Paramedic Tax. Reversing the trial court, the court of appeal held that the religious exemption does not extend to non-ad valorem special property taxes like the Paramedic Tax. The constitutional articles added by Propositions 13 and 218 do not evince an intent by the electorate to extend the scope of article XIII exemptions to special property taxes. View "Valley Baptist Church v. City of San Rafael" on Justia Law

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A subcontractor built a retaining wall that collapsed years later, causing damage to a nearby residential lot. The homeowner sued the subcontractor, obtained a default judgment, and then sued the subcontractor’s insurance company to enforce the default judgment. The insurance company moved for summary judgment, arguing the homeowner’s damages occurred long after the insurance policy had expired, and therefore the insurance company had no duty to cover the default judgment. The trial court agreed and granted the motion. On appeal, the homeowner alleged “continuous and progressive” damage began to occur shortly after the subcontractor built the retaining wall during the coverage period of the insurance policy. The insurance company disagreed. The Court of Appeal determined that was a triable issue of material fact, thus reversing the trial court’s grant of summary judgment. View "Guastello v. AIG Specialty Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Sweeney bought the 39-acre Point Buckler Site, located in Suisun Marsh in the San Francisco Bay's Grizzly Bay, which apparently was previously operated as a managed wetland for duck hunting. Sweeney undertook unpermitted construction and development, including restoring an exterior levee and opening a private recreational area for kiteboarding. The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) inspected the Site, noting the unauthorized work and multiple violations; the levee construction work had removed tidal flow to the Site’s interior and dried out tidal marsh areas. BCDC concluded the Site never functioned as a managed wetland and had long reverted to a tidal marsh. Sweeney was directed to stop work and informed that a marsh development permit was required to develop the Site; BCDC indicated that any work that could not be retroactively approved would need to be removed.The Regional Water Quality Control Board commenced separate proceedings, citing violations of the federal Clean Water Act and the California Water Code. BCDC staff observed that additional work had been performed since the earlier inspection. The Board issued a cleanup and abatement order (CAO), imposed administrative civil liabilities and required payment of approximately $2.8 million in penalties. The superior court set aside those orders.The court of appeal reversed. In issuing the CAO, the Board did not violate the requirements of Water Code section 13627; the CAO satisfied the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act criteria for enforcement actions and did not conflict with the Suisun Marsh Preservation Act. The court rejected arguments that the definition of waste cannot include earthen material, that the activities did not constitute “discharges,” and that any discharges were not into “waters of the state.” View "Sweeney v. California Regional Water Quality Control Board" on Justia Law

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Daniel and Indiana Cabatit entered into a solar power lease agreement (the agreement) with Sunnova Energy Corporation. After a solar power system was installed on the Cabatits’ residence, the Cabatits sued Sunnova, alleging damage to their roof. Sunnova moved to compel arbitration based on an arbitration clause in the agreement, but the trial court found the arbitration clause unconscionable and denied the motion. On appeal, Sunnova contended: (1) the arbitration clause required the Cabatits to submit to an arbitrator the question whether the clause was enforceable; (2) the trial court erred in finding the arbitration clause unconscionable, and (3) despite the trial court’s conclusion to the contrary, the rule announced in McGill v. Citibank, N.A. 2 Cal.5th 945 (2017), did not apply to the circumstances of this case. The Court of Appeal determined: (1) Sunnova did not raise at trial the issue of whether the arbitration clause was itself had to be decided by an arbitration, thus not addressed on appeal; (2) the arbitration clause was procedurally and substantively unconscionable and therefore unenforceable, and (3) the Court did not consider whether the McGill rule applied here because general considerations of unconscionability, independent of the McGill rule, supported the trial court’s determination. Thus, the Court affirmed the trial court's denial of Sunnova's motion to compel arbitration. View "Cabatit v. Sunnova Energy Corporation" on Justia Law

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The Tribe purchased the coastal property and applied to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to take the property into trust, 25 U.S.C. 5108. The federal Coastal Zone Management Act requires that each federal agency whose activity affects a coastal zone must certify that the activity is consistent with state coastal management policies, 16 U.S.C. 1456(c). The Bureau determined the Tribe’s proposal is consistent with state coastal policies, including public access requirements in the Coastal Act. (Pub. Resources Code 30210). The Coastal Commission concurred after securing commitments from the Tribe to protect coastal access and coordinate with the state on future development. If the Tribe violates those policies, the Coastal Commission may request that the Bureau take remedial action. The plaintiffs use the Tribe’s coastal property to access the beach. They allege that the property's prior owner dedicated a portion of it to public use, in 1967-1972 and sought to quiet title to a public easement for vehicle access and parking; they did not allege that the Tribe has interfered with their coastal access or plans to do so.The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Sovereign immunity bars a quiet title action to establish a public easement for coastal access on property owned by an Indian tribe. Tribal immunity is subject only to two exceptions: when a tribe has waived its immunity or Congress has authorized the suit. Congress has not abrogated tribal immunity for a suit to establish a public easement. View "Self v. Cher-AE Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria" on Justia Law

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This cases concerns a dispute regarding terms included in a 1957 grant deed (and incorporated by reference into various other documents) transferring the land on which SCST's campus sits from Claremont College to SCST. The deed at issue contained two conditions subsequent, one regarding permissible uses of the property (Educational Use Clause) and one regarding conditions that would require SCST to offer the property for sale to Claremont on agreed terms (First Offer Clause), enforceable by a power of termination and right of reentry. On appeal, Claremont challenges the trial court’s use of the forfeiture doctrine to decline to enforce the deed's First Offer Clause and to create a first right of refusal in its stead.The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's judgment, agreeing with Claremont that the forfeiture doctrine has no application under these circumstances. The court need not decide whether the Marketable Record Title Act (MRTA) applies to the parties' dispute because even if it does apply, the First Offer Clause is an equitable servitude that the MRTA does not extinguish. The court concluded that enforcing the First Offer Clause as written would operate no forfeiture to either party; indeed, each party would receive that for which they bargained, and that to which they agreed. The court remanded with instructions. View "Southern California School of Theology v. Claremont Graduate University" on Justia Law

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Bernard and Sheila created the Family Trust and transferred their home to themselves as trustees. The trust became irrevocable upon the death of the surviving spouse, when the estate would be distributed to Sheila’s 13 children, including Bohnett. Sheila died in 2003. Bernard died in 2008. The property was rented out. The rent was deposited into the trust’s bank account. In 2012, the trustee filed a successful Claim for Reassessment Exclusion for Transfer Between Parent and Child (Proposition 58 claim), listing Sheila and Bernard as transferors, her children as transferees, and the date of Bernard’s death as the date of transfer.In 2013, the property was transferred by the trustee to Bohnett. A Preliminary Change of Ownership Report listed the trust as the seller/transferor, stated that the purchase was a transfer between parent(s) and child(ren), and listed the sale price as $1,030,000. The trustee distributed the money in equal shares to the 13 siblings. A second Proposition 58 claim listed Sheila and Bernard as transferors and Bohnett as transferee, leaving blank the date of transfer.The county found that there was a 12/13 change in ownership and reassessed the property from $157,731 to $962,873 for 2012/2013, and $963,114 for 2013/2014. Bohnett filed unsuccessful Applications for Changed Assessment. The court of appeal affirmed in favor of the County. The purchase by one beneficiary from his siblings and co-beneficiaries was not a parent-child transfer exempt from reassessment for property tax purposes. View "Bohnett v. County of Santa Barbara" on Justia Law

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After unsuccessful attempts to subdivide his property, appellant petitioned for exclusion under the Subdivision Map Act, Government Code section 66410 et seq., seeking orders declaring the 1974 parcel map void and restoration of the historical lot lines.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the petition based on the doctrine of laches and entry of judgment without reaching appellant's legal arguments. The court held that the doctrine of latches applies to petitions for exclusion, and that substantial evidence supports the trial court's laches ruling. In this case, the trial court found the County's determination, that a prior landowner that commissioned the creation of the 1974 map missed an opportunity to correct the map's flaws, more persuasive. The trial court noted that it would be patently unfair to rely upon indirect evidence that is subject to conflicting reasonable interpretations when direct evidence was once available and could have been provided in the absence of needless delay. Thus, the court concluded that the time to address the map's purported errors passed 35 years ago, and it would be inequitable to awaken the issues now. View "Decea v. County of Ventura" on Justia Law