Judge: Deborah C. Servino, Case: 30-2020-01162608, Date: 2022-07-22 Tentative Ruling

Defendants Theresa Le Nguyen, Thomas Le, Tracey Le, and Trump Le’s demurrer to Plaintiff Qui Tu Vuong’s Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”), is sustained in part and overruled in part. The demurrer as to the second cause of action is sustained without leave to amend.  The demurrer as to the first and third causes of action is overruled. 


Special Demurrer for Uncertainty


Defendants argue that the SAC is uncertain. A demurrer for uncertainty is strictly construed, even where a complaint is in some respects uncertain, because ambiguities can be clarified under modern discovery procedures.” (Khoury v. Maly’s of California, Inc. (1993) 14 Cal.App.4th 612, 616.) Errors and confusion created by “the inept pleader” are to be forgiven if the pleading contains sufficient facts entitling plaintiff to relief. (Saunders v. Cariss (1990) 224 Cal.App.3d 905, 908.) A demurrer for uncertainty should be overruled if the facts are presumptively within defendant’s knowledge. (Khoury v. Maly’s of California, Inc., supra, 14 Cal.App.4th at p. 616.) A party attacking a pleading on “uncertainty” grounds must specify how and why the pleading is uncertain, and where that uncertainty can be found in the challenged pleading. (Fenton v. Groveland Community Services Dept. (1982) 135 Cal.App.3d 797, 809, disapproved on other grounds in Katzberg v. Regents of the University of California (2002) 29 Cal.4th 300.) Here, the SAC is not so unintelligible that Defendants cannot reasonably respond. Any ambiguities can be clarified through discovery. (Lickiss v. Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (2012) 208 Cal.App.4th 1125, 1135; Khoury v. Maly’s of California, 14 Cal.App.4th at p. 616.) Accordingly, the special demurrer for uncertainty is overruled. 


Reformation of Written Instrument (Second Cause of Action)


The Court sustains the demurrer to the second cause of action for reformation of written instrument, without leave to amend, because Plaintiff has not alleged facts to support a reformation of the Certificate of Title.


Reformation is available when “through fraud or a mutual mistake of the parties, or a mistake of one party, which the other at the time knew or suspected, a written contract does not truly express the intention of the parties, it may be revised on the application of a party aggrieved, so as to express that intention, so far as it can be done without prejudice to rights acquired by third persons, in good faith and for value.” (Civ. Code, § 3399.) Plaintiff does not allege the existence of a written contract between him and anyone else, and he also does not allege that the Certificate of Title, which he seeks to “reform,” is in and of itself a written contract. Rather, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants “mistakenly or fraudulently claimed in the Certificate of Title that they own the Subject Premise . . .” (SAC, at ¶ 46.) Plaintiff alleges reformation as an “alternative to the First Cause of Action,” but he fails to plead facts to support this “alternative” relief. Thus, the demurrer is sustained as to the second cause of action without leave to amend.


Cancellation of Written Instrument (First Cause of Action) and Quiet Title (Third Cause of Action)


Civil Code section 3412 provides: “A written instrument, in respect to which there is a reasonable apprehension that if left outstanding it may cause serious injury to a person against whom it is void or voidable, may, upon his application, be so adjudged, and ordered to be delivered up or canceled.”


Under Code of Civil Procedure section 760.020(a), “[a]n action may be brought under this chapter to establish title against adverse claims to real or personal property or any interest therein.”


Here, Plaintiff is suing Defendants for allegedly causing a Certificate of Title to be issued in their favor, as the registered owners, of the subject manufactured home/mobile home. (See SAC, at ¶¶ 20, 36.) In obtaining a transfer of title to the Mobilehome, Defendants allegedly falsely stated that “no one has a right to the decedent's manufactured home, mobilehome, commercial coach, truck camper, or floating home that is superior to that of the declarant.” (Health & Saf. Code, § 18102(c).) However, Plaintiff alleges he has an “ownership right” to the mobile home “that is superior to that of the Defendants,” pursuant to an oral agreement with Defendants’ mother, which was “first made” in July 2015, but “repeated from July 2015 to November 2019,” (i.e., up until Defendants’ mother’s passing). (SAC, at ¶¶ 20, 36.)


Defendants contend the oral agreement made in 2015 is unenforceable under the statute of frauds, because it was both an agreement “that by its terms is not to be performed within a year from the making thereof” and an agreement “for the sale of real property, or of an interest therein.”  (Civ. Code, § 1624, subds. (a)(1), (a)(3).)  The court previously sustained the demurrer to the First Amended Complaint, reasoning that it appeared that the statute of frauds barred all of Plaintiff’s claims.  (4/29/2022 Minute Order.)  The SAC now has added allegations that Plaintiff and Defendants’ mother had made an oral property agreement as cohabitants, pursuant to Marvin v. Marvin (1976) 18 Cal.3d 660.  The SAC also alleged that Plaintiff relied on Defendants’ mother’s agreement and representations.  (SAC, at ¶¶ 12-18.)  Plaintiff asserts that equitable estoppel may preclude the use of statute of frauds defense.  Here, at this preliminary juncture and with the additional allegations in the SAC, the court cannot find that first and third causes of action are barred as a matter of law by the statute of frauds.  (Byrne v. Laura (1997) 52 Cal.App.4th 1054, 1069.)    


With respect to the statute of limitations, Defendants argue their mother “breached the agreement” with Plaintiff, and that this breach “occurred when [Plaintiff] turned 55.” (Dem., at 16-17  [citing Code Civ. Proc., § 339].) But nowhere does Plaintiff allege that any breach occurred when he turned 55. Plaintiff alleges he and Defendants’ mother “agreed that the moment for [her] to perform this agreement would be in 2018 or any reasonable time after [their] health and mental conditions would allow her to do so.” (SAC, at ¶ 15.) In liberally construing the SAC “with a view to substantial justice between the parties,” the court “draws inferences favorable to the plaintiff, not the defendant.” (Perez v. Golden Empire Transit Dist. (2012) 209 Cal.App.4th 1228, 1238, citations omitted.) In applying the rule of liberal construction, here, the court construes the SAC to mean that the earliest Defendants’ mother could have performed occurred when Plaintiff turned 55, but she did not necessarily breach the contract, whether by nonperformance or repudiation, by not performing at that exact moment. (Central Valley General Hospital v. Smith (2008) 162 Cal.App.4th 501, 514, fn. 3, citation omitted.)


Finally, Defendants’ “unclean hands” argument unpersuasive, particularly in a demurrer. Defendants fail to show how the alleged oral agreement was illegal or unlawful, notwithstanding the fact that it was made to allow Plaintiff to own the mobile home, although not as the record title owner, before he turned 55. Even assuming there was anything dishonest about this arrangement, equity does not support giving Defendants a “windfall.” (See Gardiner Solder Co. v. Supalloy Corp., Inc. (1991) 232 Cal.App.3d 1537, 1543.)  Accordingly, the demurrer as to the first and third causes of action is overruled.


Within 15 days, Defendants shall file an answer to the SAC. 


Plaintiff shall give notice of the ruling.