Judge: Barbara M. Scheper, Case: 20STCV18357, Date: 2023-02-23 Tentative Ruling

Case Number: 20STCV18357    Hearing Date: February 23, 2023    Dept: 30

Dept. 30

Calendar No.

Bankuthy, et. al. vs. Millennium House, Inc., et. al., Case No. 20STCV18357


Tentative Ruling re:  Defendants’ Motion for Summary Adjudication of Issues


Defendants 127 Boyle, LLC and Caara Shayne (collectively, Defendants) move for summary adjudication against Plaintiffs Michael Bankuthy, Abraham Cheng, Luke Pollock, Michael Salazar, Ryan Stegen (collectively, Plaintiffs) on Plaintiffs’ eighth cause of action, and on Plaintiffs’ claims for punitive damages based on their second and eighth causes of action. The motion is granted as to Plaintiffs’ claim for punitive damages under the second cause of action, and otherwise denied.

The function of a motion for summary judgment or adjudication is to allow a determination as to whether an opposing party can show evidentiary support for a pleading or claim and if not to enable an order of summary dismissal without the need for trial. (Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co. (2001) 25 Cal.4th 826, 843 (Atlantic Richfield).) Code of Civil Procedure Section 437c, subdivision (c) “requires the trial judge to grant summary judgment if all the evidence submitted, and ‘all inferences reasonably deducible from the evidence’ and uncontradicted by other inferences or evidence, show that there is no triable issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” (Adler v. Manor Healthcare Corp. (1992) 7 Cal.App.4th 1110, 1119.)

As to each claim as framed by the complaint, the defendant moving for summary judgment must satisfy the initial burden of proof by presenting facts to negate an essential element, or to establish a defense. (Code Civ. Proc, § 437c, subd. (p)(2).) Courts “liberally construe the evidence in support of the party opposing summary judgment and resolve doubts concerning the evidence in favor of that party.”  (Dore v. Arnold Worldwide, Inc. (2006) 39 Cal.4th 384, 389.)

Once the moving party has met that burden, the burden shifts to the opposing party to show that a triable issue of one or more material facts exists as to that cause of action or a defense thereto. To establish a triable issue of material fact, the party opposing the motion must produce substantial responsive evidence. (Sangster v. Paetkau (1998) 68 Cal.App.4th 151, 166.)

            The Court’s “role on summary judgment is simply to decide whether the parties possess evidence requiring the fact-weighing procedures of a trial. (Soto v. County of Riverside (2008) 162 Cal.App.4th 492, 496.) “The purpose of the summary judgment procedure is not to try the issues, but merely to determine whether there are issues to be tried.” (Orser v. George (1967) 252 Cal.App.2d 660, 668.)

Plaintiffs do not oppose the motion insofar as it seeks summary adjudication of their claim for punitive damages under the second cause of action for Breach of Warranty of Habitability. Accordingly, summary adjudication is granted as to Issue 1 (“As a matter of law, Plaintiffs Cannot Recover Punitive Damages on a Contract-Based Claim for Breach of Warranty of Habitability (Count 2)”). The motion is denied as moot as to Issue 2. (“Plaintiffs’ Have No Evidence in Support of Their Punitive Damages Claim against Defendants Based on a Theory of Breach of Warranty of Habitability (Count 2).”)


Eighth Cause of Action for Nuisance

            Defendants seek summary adjudication on Plaintiffs’ eighth cause of action for Nuisance and the claim for punitive damages under that cause of action.

California law defines a nuisance as “[a]nything which is injurious to health, including, but not limited to, the illegal sale of controlled substances, or is indecent or offensive to the senses, or an obstruction to the free use of property, so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property, or unlawfully obstructs the free passage or use, in the customary manner, of any navigable lake, or river, bay, stream, canal, or basin, or any public park, square, street, or highway.” (Civ. Code § 3479.)

“A public nuisance is one which affects at the same time an entire community or neighborhood, or any considerable number of persons, although the extent of the annoyance or damage inflicted upon individuals may be unequal.” (Civ. Code, § 3480; see¿Birke v. Oakwood Worldwide¿(2009) 169 Cal.App.4th 1540, 1548.) “A private person may maintain an action for a public nuisance, if it is specially injurious to himself, but not otherwise.” (Civ. Code, § 3493.)

“In determining whether something is a public nuisance, the focus must be upon whether an entire neighborhood or community or at least a considerable number of persons are affected in the manner and by the factors that make the thing a nuisance under Civil Code section 3479. [Citations.] In other words, a private nuisance does not become a public nuisance merely because the public may be said to be affected in some tangential manner rather than specifically in the manner set forth in Civil Code section 3479.” (Beck Development Co. v. Southern Pacific Transportation Co. (1996) 44 Cal.App.4th 1160, 1209.)

            Under the Nuisance cause of action, Plaintiffs’ Third Amended Complaint alleges that moving Defendants “were given written notices of various health violations constituting public nuisances affecting the entire community of over twenty tenants at Millennium House at any given time, as well as those properties in proximity to the house, but [Defendants] intentionally took no action to ensure that [Peter] Schuster and Millennium House would fix the problems.” (TAC ¶ 163.) As a result of Defendants’ alleged failure to act, “Plaintiffs were routinely exposed to uninhabitable conditions amounting to a nuisance while living at Millennium House as tenants,” including rodent and insect infestations, mold and dampness, broken plumbing, and electrical problems. (TAC ¶ 164.)


Defendant 127 Boyle LLC, solely owned by Defendant Caara Shayne (Shayne), is the lessor of the property at which Millennium House is located. (Ricketts Decl., Ex. 3 [26].)


            Defendants argue that Plaintiffs cannot maintain a claim for public nuisance because they either did not reside at Millennium House during the period that housing violations were documented, or resided at the house for only a short period before the violations were abated. Defendants present a Notice of Order to Comply from the Los Angeles Housing & Community, dated July 30, 2018, citing the property for various violations. (UMF 22; Defendants’ Evidence (DE), Ex. E [101].) A subsequent entry made following a re-inspection on September 8, 2018, states, “All cited violations have been corrected, case closed.” (Id. [99].) Additionally, Defendants present Inspections Reports issued by the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health from August 3, 2019, to September 28, 2019, which initially documented some violations, but later found that those violations were corrected. (DE, Exs. F-H.)


            However, Plaintiffs have met their burden to present evidence showing a triable issue of material fact as to whether they were exposed to the alleged conditions at Millennium House. Plaintiffs’ experiences of the conditions are supported by their testimony, photographs, and contemporaneous complaints to the Department of Public Health. (Bankuthy Decl. ¶ 11-14, Exs. 8-18; Stegen Decl. ¶¶ 6-11; Pollock Decl. ¶¶ 5-10.) The effect of the defective conditions on the tenants, workers, and visitors at Millennium House (Bankuthy Decl. ¶ 20) is sufficient to satisfy the requirement that a public nuisance “affect[s] a substantial number of people at the same time.” (Birke v. Oakwood Worldwide (2009) 169 Cal.App.4th 1540, 1548.)


            Defendants also argue that they were never provided written notice of the violations allegedly constituting the public nuisances. Defendants’ own evidence contradicts this claim. (DE, Ex. E, Ex. F.)


            Finally, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs lacked a sufficient interest in Millennium House to maintain a claim for private nuisance.

“[A] private nuisance can support recovery only for harm to a property interest, not for personal injury. Although a public nuisance can support recovery for either personal harm or property damage, a plaintiff suing on this basis must show special injury to himself of a character different in kind—not merely in degree—from that suffered by the general public.” (Institoris v. City of Los Angeles (1989) 210 Cal.App.3d 10, 20.) “Although ‘any interest sufficient to be dignified as a property right’ will support an action based on a private nuisance, and this includes within its purview a tenancy for a term, such right does not inure in favor of a licensee, lodger or employee.” (Venuto v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp. (1971) 22 Cal.App.3d 116, 125.)

The Los Angeles Municipal Code (LAMC) defines a “tenant” as “A tenant, subtenant, lessee, sublessee or any other person entitled to use or occupancy of a rental unit.” (People v. Venice Suites, LLC (2021) 71 Cal.App.5th 715, 729 [citing LAMC, § 151.02].) The LAMC further provides, “Housing accommodations in hotels, motels, inns, tourist homes and boarding and rooming houses, provided that at such time as an accommodation has been occupied as the primary residence of one or more of the same tenants for any period more than 30 days such accommodation shall become a rental unit subject to the provisions of this chapter.” (Ibid.)

It is undisputed that each Plaintiff resided at Millennium House for at least four months. (UMF 12-16.) Because Plaintiffs each occupied Millennium House as their primary residence for more than thirty days, Millennium House was a “rental unit” and Plaintiffs were “tenants” under the LAMC. Plaintiffs therefore possessed a sufficient property interest in Millennium House to bring their claim for private nuisance.


The Court also finds Plaintiffs’ evidence sufficient to show a triable issue of material fact as to their entitlement to punitive damages against Defendants. “A nuisance may be either a negligent or an intentional tort. If the latter, then exemplary damages are recoverable.” (Stoiber v. Honeychuck (1980) 101 Cal.App.3d 903, 920.) A landlord’s failure to remedy defective conditions in a property despite full knowledge is sufficient to support recovery of punitive damages. (Ibid.)