Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property 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

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Pacific Harmony Grove Development, LLC and Mission Valley Corporate Center, Ltd. (Owners) appealed the judgment entered in a condemnation case following the first phase of a bifurcated trial at which the trial court resolved certain legal issues concerning how to value the condemned property. The City of Escondido (City) sought to acquire by condemnation from Owners a 72-foot-wide strip of land (the strip) across a mostly undeveloped 17.72-acre parcel (the Property) to join two disconnected segments of Citracado Parkway. The City argued that the strip should have been valued under the doctrine from City of Porterville v. Young, 195 Cal.App.3d 1260 (1987). Owners argued the Porterville doctrine did not apply, and that the court should have instead applied the “project effect rule.” After a four-day bench trial, the court issued a comprehensive statement of decision ruling in the City’s favor on all issues. Owners appealed, contending the trial court erred by finding the Porterville doctrine applied, the project effect rule did not, and the City was not liable for precondemnation damages. After review, the Court of Appeal concurred with the City’s position and affirmed the judgment. View "City of Escondido v. Pacific Harmony Grove Development" on Justia Law

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After her husband Benny Wall (decedent) died, petitioner Cindy Wall (wife) petitioned the probate court to determine that a home, titled in decedent’s name, was community property. Decedent’s children, objectors Timothy Wall and Tamara Nimmo (the children) unsuccessfully objected. On appeal, the children contended the trial court erred: (1) in determining the Family Code section 760 community property presumption prevailed over the Evidence Code section 662 form of title presumption; (2) in failing to consider tracing evidence rebutting the community property presumption; (3) in determining the Family Code section 721 undue influence presumption prevailed over the Evidence Code section 662 form of title presumption; and (4) by applying the undue influence presumption where there was no showing of unfair advantage. Though the Court of Appeal concluded the first two contentions had merit, it affirmed the trial court’s judgment. View "Estate of Wall" on Justia Law

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An individual bought a condominium, which she consistently rented for short terms. Sixteen years after her purchase, the owner’s association amended its governing documents to prohibit renting properties for less than 30 days. The Court of Appeal agreed with the owner that she was exempt from this prohibition under Civil Code section 4740 (a), which provided that an owner of a property in a common interest development “shall not be subject to a provision in a governing document or an amendment to a governing document that prohibits the rental or leasing of” the owner’s property unless that document or amendment “was effective prior to the date the owner acquired title” to the property. The trial court held that she was not exempt, so judgment was reversed. View "Brown v. Montage at Mission Hills, Inc." on Justia Law

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Where it is undisputed that there is a community property interest in real property, it is the obligation of both spouses to ensure that the family court has the information necessary to determine that interest, no matter which spouse brought the dissolution action. If the spouses fail to do so, the family court must direct them to furnish the missing information, reopening the case if necessary.Appellant challenges the family court's determination of the community property interest in the family home. Because the determination of the community property interest in the property at issue in this case was based upon incomplete information, the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment and remanded with directions to the family court to hold a limited retrial to determine the amount of community funds used to reduce the mortgage principal and to recalculate the community property interest. View "Ramsey v. Holmes" on Justia Law

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Mark Yazdani was the president and sole owner of Meridian Financial Services, Inc. (Meridian). Over the span of a year, Yazdani made a series of investments totaling $5,079,000 in an international gold-trading scheme run by a loan broker, Lananh Phan, who promised him “guaranteed” returns of 5 or 6 percent per month. It turned out to be a Ponzi scheme and when it collapsed, Yazdani lost most of his money. In exchange for some of his investments, Yazdani demanded “collateral” from Phan, in the form of "loans" or promissory notes secured by deeds of trust in favor of Meridian on Phan's residence, and the residences of unwitting third parties ensared in Phan's scheme. The loans were facilitated through escrow at Chicago Title Company. The purported borrowers never knew of these transactions; their signatures on the Meridian deeds of trusts were forged or obtained by Phan under false pretenses. After the Ponzi scheme collapsed and unable to recover his investment, Yazdani moved to foreclose on the purported borrowers. In one of two lawsuits, two of the purported borrowers sued Yazdani and Meridian (collectively, Appellants) to prevent foreclosure of and quiet title to their home. A judge cancelled the Meridian deeds of trust, finding that they were “forged” and that Appellants had acted with unclean hands in procuring them (the Orange County decision). In this, the second lawsuit, Appellants sued Chicago Title, among others, alleging they were induced to invest with Phan because Chicago Title’s involvement in the transactions reassured them that Phan’s investment scheme was legitimate. Appellants also sued more than 50 individuals who allegedly received payments from Phan, asserting they were Phan’s creditors, and the transfers of money to the individuals should have been set aside. Summary judgment was entered in favor of Chicago Title and the individuals. Appellants appealed both judgments, contending the trial court erred in giving preclusive effect to the Orange County decision. They also argued the award of attorney fees was grossly excessive and an abuse of discretion. Finding no merit to these contentions, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgments and the fee award. View "Meridian Financial etc. v. Phan" on Justia Law