Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law

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Litigation under the Public Records Act (PRA) (Gov. Code, sec. 6250 et seq.) is one of the rare instances where a losing party may still be deemed a prevailing party entitled to an attorney fee award. Ponani Sukumar appeals an order denying his motion for prevailing party attorney fees against the City of San Diego (City). Sukumar owns a home in San Diego (the Property). In about 1992, Sukumar's neighbors began complaining to the City about Sukumar's use of the Property. These complaints mostly involved parking issues and noise. In 2006 the City ordered Sukumar to take "immediate action to correct" municipal code violations occurring on the Property that constituted "a public nuisance." However, the City decided to not pursue the matter absent additional neighbor complaints. In 2015, Sukumar's attorney delivered a request to the City for "production of documents and information" under the PRA. The request sought 54 separate categories of documents, all relating to any neighbor's complaints about Sukumar. Twenty-four days after the request, the City wrote to Sukumar's attorney, stating that some potentially responsive documents were exempt from disclosure, and responsive, nonexempt records would be made available for Sukumar's review. Sukumar's attorney remained unconvinced that the City had produced all documents responsive to its request, and sought a writ of mandate or used other mechanisms to compel the documents' production. Though every time the City offered to certify it produced "everything," it would release additional documents. The trial court ultimately denied Sukumar's writ petition, finding that by 2016, the City had "in some fashion" produced all responsive documents. After stating Sukumar's writ petition was "moot" because all responsive documents had now been produced, the court stated, "Now, you might argue that you're the prevailing party, because the City didn't comply until after the lawsuit was filed. That's another issue." Asserting the litigation "motivated productions of a substantial amount of responsive public documents, even after the City represented to this [c]ourt there was nothing left to produce," Sukumar sought $93,695 in fees (plus $5,390 incurred in preparing the fee motion). Sukumar appealed the order denying his motion for prevailing party attorney fees against the City. The Court of Appeal reversed because the undisputed evidence established the City produced, among other things, five photographs of Sukumar's property and 146 pages of e-mails directly as a result of court-ordered depositions in this litigation. The Court remanded for the trial court to determine the amount of attorney fees to which Sukumar is entitled. View "Sukumar v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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Defendant Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Company (Coldwell) marketed a vacant, bank-owned property in Simi Valley for sale. The property had a backyard with an empty swimming pool and diving board. While plaintiffs Jacques and Xenia Jacobs were viewing the property as potential buyers, Jacques stepped onto the diving board to look over the fence. The diving board base collapsed and Jacques fell into the empty pool. Plaintiffs sued Coldwell for negligence and loss of consortium. The trial court granted Coldwell’s motion for summary judgment, finding Coldwell was entitled to judgment on plaintiffs’ claim regarding the negligent condition of the diving board. Plaintiffs argued that they also were claiming that the empty pool was a dangerous condition. The court rejected this unpled, undisclosed theory of liability, concluding that even if the theory had been pled, Coldwell could not be held liable for failing to remedy the dangerous condition of the empty pool because Jacques’ accident was not reasonably foreseeable. The Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Jacobs v. Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Co." on Justia Law

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Property owners who purchased through a foreclosure sale sued the bank that sold the house, alleging that they were mislead the bank’s deed of trust was the first deed of trust, when another remained on the property, and was not extinguished by the foreclosure sale. Wells Fargo assigned any claim against the title insurer it had to David and Lina Hovannisian (the property owners), and the Hovannisians sued First American Title Insurance Company, alleging breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. First American moved for summary judgment, arguing its title insurance coverage had terminated, and no benefits were due. The motion was granted, and the Hovannisians appealed, arguing First American failed to establish that coverage did not continue under the title policy or there were no benefits due under the policy. They also contended triable issues of fact existed regarding their bad faith claim. The Court of Appeal affirmed, finding First American showed, based on the facts Wells Fargo and the Hovannisians presented before and after the underlying action was filed, that there was no potential for coverage under the policy. The Hovannisians did not learn about the first deed of trust until after they purchased the property at the foreclosure sale without warranty. Thus, the only potential claim they had against Wells Fargo was for the alleged misrepresentations for which there was no liability or loss under the policy. View "Hovannisian v. First American Title Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Before appellants purchased Martins Beach, the public was permitted to access the coast by driving down Martins Beach Road and parking along the coast, usually upon payment of a fee. Because it is sheltered by high cliffs, Martins Beach lacks lateral land access. In 2008, appellants purchased Martins Beach and adjacent land including Martins Beach Road. A year or two later, appellants closed the only public access to the coast at that site. Surfrider, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of access for recreation, brought suit. The trial court held the California Coastal Act (Pub. Res. Code, 30000–30900) applied and the appellants were required to apply for a coastal development permit (CDP) before closing public access. The court issued an injunction that requires appellants to allow public coastal access at the same level that existed when appellants bought the Martins Beach property. The court of appeal affirmed. Appellants‘ conduct is “development” requiring a CDP under section 30106 of the Coastal Act. Appellants‘ constitutional challenge to the Coastal Act‘s permitting requirement under the state and federal takings clauses is not ripe, The injunction is not a per se taking. The court affirmed an award of attorney fees to Surfrider. View "Surfrider Foundation v. Martins Beach 1, LLC" on Justia Law

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PGA West Residential Association, Inc. (PGA West) alleged defendant Dempsey Mork tried to fraudulently insulate the equity in his condominium from creditors by naming Hulven International, Inc. (Hulven), a sham corporation entirely owned and controlled by Mork, as the beneficiary of a deed of trust and note, and by later directing Hulven to foreclose on the condominium. Hulven demurred to the complaint, arguing PGA West's lawsuit was barred by a seven-year limitations period for actions under the former Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act. The superior court overruled the demurrer and, after conducting a bench trial, entered judgment for PGA West. In this appeal, Hulven argued the superior court erred by overruling its demurrer. According to Hulven, the allegedly fraudulent activities by Mork and Hulven were a “transfer” for purposes of the UFTA and, therefore, this lawsuit was governed by that act and its seven-year limitations period. Because PGA West filed its lawsuit more than seven years after the alleged fraudulent transfer, Hulven contends PGA West's claims were completely extinguished. The Court of Appeal agreed with Hulven that Mork's alleged fraudulent attempt to insulate the equity in his condominium from creditors by naming a sham corporation as the beneficiary on the deed of trust constituted a “transfer” for purposes of the UFTA and that the act's limitations period applied here: "the seven-year limitations period for actions under the UFTA is not simply a procedural statute of limitations that bars a remedy and is forfeited if not properly raised by a defendant. Rather, the UFTA's seven-year limitations period is a substantive statute of repose that completely extinguishes a right or obligation and, under the majority view that we adopt, a statute of repose is not subject to forfeiture." Because PGA West filed its lawsuit after the UFTA's statute of repose had run, its rights under the act were completely extinguished. Therefore, the Court concluded the superior court erred as a matter of law by overruling Hulven's demurrer. View "PGA West Residential Assn. v. Hulven International" on Justia Law

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In 1999, Ayala, unable to qualify for a mortgage to buy a five-unit Vacaville residential property, sought assistance from Dawson, a real estate broker. According to Ayala, they orally agreed that Dawson would obtain the loan and buy the property in Dawson’s name for $330,000; Ayala would pay the 20% downpayment and pay Dawson a $200 per month fee, plus the monthly principal and interest on the mortgage. The parties executed a written contract provided by Dawson, which Ayala claims he understood to confirm an installment contract on terms the two had previously discussed. Ayala moved into one of the units and claims he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars improving the property. From 2000-2008, he paid Dawson $2,700 per month; from 2008-2012, he paid $2,900 per month. Ayala actually had signed a standard form lease/option; the option expired in 2004. In 2011 Dawson offered to sell Ayala the property for $330,000, with a credit for the down payment. In Dawson’s unlawful detainer action, Ayala defended by claiming he held equitable title. Dawson prevailed. In Ayala's separate action against Dawson for fraud, the court granted Dawson summary judgment. The court of appeal affirmed, stating that, under the doctrine of collateral estoppel, Ayala is barred from relitigating his fraud-in-the-inducement theory. View "Ayala v. Dawson" on Justia Law

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In 2005, Nicholas and Mary Conroy refinanced their home with a mortgage loan secured by a deed of trust on the property. Five years later, the Conroys stopped making payments and defaulted on their loan. In an effort to avoid foreclosure, the Conroys filed suit against defendants Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., successor by merger to Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, Inc.; Fidelity National Title Insurance Company aka Default Resolution Network, LLC; and HSBC Bank USA, N.A. as trustee for Merrill Lynch Mortgage Backed Securities Trust, Series 2007-2 (Wells Fargo). The trial court sustained Wells Fargo’s demurrer without leave to amend and entered a judgment of dismissal. On appeal, the Conroys contended the trial court erroneously dismissed their claims. After review, the Court of Appeal found the Conroys’ operative complaint did not state valid causes of action for intentional or negligent misrepresentation because they did not properly plead actual reliance or damages proximately caused by Wells Fargo. The trial court properly determined the Conroys could not assert a tort claim for negligence arising out of a contract with Well Fargo. For lack of detrimental reliance on any of Wells Fargo’s alleged promises, the Conroys did not set forth a viable cause of action for promissory estoppel even under a liberal construction of the operative complaint. Because Wells Fargo considered and rejected a loan modification for the Conroys before that date, section 2923.6 does not apply to them. The plain language of section 2923.7 requires a borrower to expressly request a single point of contact with the loan servicer. The Conroys’ operative complaint did not allege they ever requested a single point of contact, and the Conroys did not state they could amend their cause of action to allege they actually requested one. The trial court properly dismissed the Conroys’ Unfair Competition Law claim because it was merely derivative of other causes of action that were properly dismissed. View "Conroy v. Wells Fargo Bank" on Justia Law

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Mission Bay Park was the largest man-made aquatic park in the country. While Lorin Toeppe was walking through Mission Bay Park with her boyfriend, a branch fell off a eucalyptus tree and struck her. Toeppe sustained serious injuries. She filed suit against the City of San Diego (City) alleging the existence of a dangerous condition on public property, namely a negligently maintained eucalyptus tree. The City prevailed on summary judgment, arguing that Toeppe was struck by the tree branch while standing on a trail; thus, the City could not be liable under Government Code section 831.4 (trail immunity). Toeppe appealed the subsequent final judgment following the City's successful motion for summary judgment. Toeppe argued: (1) trail immunity did not apply under the facts of this case because her claim of a dangerous condition was based on a negligently maintained eucalyptus tree, not the condition of the trail passing through the park; and (2) even if trail immunity did apply, a disputed issue of material fact existed as to where she was located when the branch struck her. The Court of Appeal agreed with her on both grounds, and thus reversed. View "Toeppe v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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The land underlying the 100-unit condominium project was owned and used by Shell as a fuel distribution terminal from 1925-1980, then owned by others. Petroleum products were delivered to the property and stored in aboveground and underground storage tanks. The Estuary Owners Association (EOA) and individual unit owners sued, alleging contamination of the soil and groundwater at the site and improper construction of the condominiums. After the plaintiffs settled with developers and other defendants, the court granted Shell summary judgment, reasoning that the causes of action for negligence and nuisance were barred by a 10-year statute of repose; the negligence claims also were barred by a three-year statute of limitations; and Shell did not owe a duty of care to the plaintiffs. The court of appeal affirmed as to negligence and reversed as to nuisance. The trial court erred in finding the statute of repose applicable but was correct with respect to the statute of limitations. Any claim of negligence causing damage to real property accrued in favor of prior landowners and cannot be pursued by plaintiffs now. Rejecting Shell’s assertion that the plaintiffs were only claiming construction defects as the basis of nuisance, the court noted a possible argument that Shell‘s negligent mishandling of petroleum products and subsequent failure to remediate created a continuing nuisance. View "Estuary Owners Association. v. Shell Oil Co." on Justia Law

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A 72-foot diseased tree fell on a sleeping child’s tent, in a campground within a 499-acre public wilderness park, owned by San Mateo County. The county claimed immunity as a matter of law for the allegedly dangerous condition of its property under Government Code section 831.2, “natural condition immunity,” which states: “Neither a public entity nor a public employee is liable for an injury caused by a natural condition of any unimproved public property, including but not limited to any natural condition of any lake, stream, bay, river or beach.” The court of appeal upheld the trial court’s denial of the county’s motion for summary judgment. There are triable issues of fact as to whether the property was “unimproved.” The heavily wooded park has trails. Its campsites are cleared of trees. The campground area has amenities including paved roads, telephones, restrooms (with electricity, sinks and flush toilets), showers, dedicated parking areas, a dumping station and a store. Plaintiffs’ campsite had two picnic tables, a fire pit, and a metal food locker. A professional land surveyor determined there were 34 man-made improvements within 126 feet of where the tree stood. View "County of San Mateo v. Superior Court" on Justia Law