Judge: Walter P. Schwarm, Case: 30-2020-01159948, Date: 2022-08-02 Tentative Ruling

Defendants’ (Stephen Paul Dwayne Morita, Russell Jay Pham Morita, and Christopher Farrell) Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Motion), filed on 5-27-22 under ROA No. 82, is DENIED.

 

Code of Civil Procedure section 438, subdivision (c)(1)(B) states, “If the moving party is a defendant, that either of the following conditions exist: [¶] (i) The court has no jurisdiction of the subject of the cause of action alleged in the complaint. [¶] (ii) The complaint does not state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action against that defendant.”  Eckler v. Neutragena Corporation (2015) 238 Cal.App.4th 433, 439 (Eckler), states, “ ‘A motion for judgment on the pleadings serves the function of a demurrer, challenging only defects on the face of the complaint.’ [Citation.] As with a demurrer, ‘[t]he grounds for a motion for judgment on the pleadings must appear on the face of the complaint or from a matter of which the court may take judicial notice.’ [Citation.]”  “A trial court’s determination of a motion for judgment on the pleadings accepts as true the factual allegations that the plaintiff makes. [Citations.]  In addition, it gives them a liberal construction.”  (Gerawan Farming, Inc. v. Lyons (2000) 24 Cal.4th 468, 515-516 (Gerawan).)

 

The Motion challenges Plaintiffs’ (Erica C. Banuelos and Nick Morita) “. . . standing to bring their First, Second, Fourth, and Fifth causes of action . . . .” (Motion; 3:5-7.) 

 

As to the first cause of action (Quiet Title), Chao Fu, Inc. v. Chen (2012), 206 Cal.App.4th 48, 58-59 (Chao Fu), states “ ‘A quiet title action seeks to declare the rights of the parties in realty. . . . “ ‘The object of the action is to finally settle and determine, as between the parties, all conflicting claims to the property in controversy, and to decree to each such interest or estate therein as he may be entitled to.’ ” ’ [Citations.] ‘A description of the parties' legal interests in real property is all that can be expected of a judgment in an action to quiet title.’ [Citation.] Title is quieted ‘as to legal interests in property.’ [Citation.] It follows that absent an interest in the property, a party has no standing to ask the court to quiet title in the property or to obtain damages for the cloud on title. An action to cancel a trustee's deed or other instrument purportedly transferring title is no different. ‘One without any title or interest in the property cannot maintain such an action.’ [Citation.]” 

 

As to the second cause of action, Thompson v. Ioane (2017) 11 Cal.App.5th 1180, 1193-1194 (Thompson), states, “ ‘Under Civil Code section 3412, “[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.” To prevail on a claim to cancel an instrument, a plaintiff must prove (1) the instrument is void or voidable due to, for example, fraud; and (2) there is a reasonable apprehension of serious injury including pecuniary loss or the prejudicial alteration of one's position. [Citation.]’ [Citation.]”

 

As to the fourth cause of action, Code of Civil Procedure section 1060 states, in part, “Any person . . . who desires a declaration of his or her rights or duties with respect to another, or in respect to, in, over or upon property . . . may, in cases of actual controversy relating to the legal rights and duties of the respective parties, bring an original action . . . in the superior court for a declaration of his or her rights and duties in the premises, including a determination of any question of construction or validity arising under the instrument or contract. . . .”

 

As to the fifth cause of action, Code of Civil Procedure section 872.230 states, “The complaint shall set forth: [¶] (a) A description of the property that is the subject of the action. . . . In the case of real property, the description shall include both its legal description and its street address or common designation, if any. [¶] (b) All interests the plaintiff has or claims in the property. [¶] (c) All interests of record or actually known to the plaintiff that persons other than the plaintiff have or claim in the property and that the plaintiff reasonably believes will be materially affected by the action, whether the names of such persons are known or unknown to the plaintiff. [¶] (d) The estate as to which partition is sought and a prayer for partition of the interests therein. [¶] (e) Where the plaintiff seeks sale of the property, an allegation of the facts justifying such relief in ordinary and concise language.”

 

The Motion contends, “Thus, the key provision for this matter is Probate Code §6402(a) which provides that the ‘entire intestate estate’ passes ‘To the issue of the decedent, the issue taking equally if they are the same degree of kinship to the decedent . . .’ Accordingly, since the Decedent's issue are Plaintiffs and Stephen, they are together ‘all of the persons’ who succeed to any cause of action that was held by the Decedent and they are together the ‘beneficiary of the decedent's estate’ under Code of Civil Procedure §377.10(b). This means that Plaintiffs and Stephen together are the ‘decedent's successor in interest’ under Code of Civil Procedure §377.11 and under Code of Civil Procedure §377.30 they are together entitled to commence an action that survived the Decedent's death. However, Plaintiffs alone without Stephen, lack standing to bring the First, Second, Fourth and Fifth Causes of Action because they are not ‘all of the persons’ who succeed to the causes of action. Accordingly, those claims fail to state caused of action against Russell and Stephen.” (Motion; 5:14-27; Emphasis an underscore in Motion.)

 

Plaintiffs’ Opposition to Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Opposition), filed on 7-20-22 under ROA No. 90, provides that Stephen Morita “. . . should not be allowed to benefit from his fraudulent actions by claiming that he is a beneficiary of this father’s estate and can prevent his siblings from seeking redress because he was not named as a Plaintiff.” (Opposition; 7:3-7.)

 

Probate Code section 6400 states, “Any part of the estate of a decedent not effectively disposed of by will passes to the decedent's heirs as prescribed in this part.”  Probate Code section 6402 provides in part, “Except as provided in Section 6402.5, the part of the intestate estate not passing to the surviving spouse, under Section 6401, or the entire intestate estate if there is no surviving spouse, passes as follows: [¶] (a) To the issue of the decedent, the issue taking equally if they are all of the same degree of kinship to the decedent, but if of unequal degree those of more remote degree take in the manner provided in Section 240.”

 

Estate of Britel (2015) 236 Cal.App.4th 127, 135 (Britel), states, “Section 6400 et seq. governs intestate succession. As relevant here, if there is no surviving spouse or domestic partner of an intestate decedent, the intestate estate passes to the decedent's ‘issue’ (§ 6402, subd. (a)), or if there is no surviving issue, to the decedent's ‘parent or parents’ (id. subd. (b)). ‘ “Issue” of a person means all his or her lineal descendants of all generations, with the relationship of parent and child at each generation being determined by the definitions of child and parent.’ [Citation.]” (Footnote 3 omitted.)

 

Code of Civil Procedure section 377.30 states, “A cause of action that survives the death of the person entitled to commence an action or proceeding passes to the decedent's successor in interest, subject to Chapter 1 (commencing with Section 7000) of Part 1 of Division 7 of the Probate Code, and an action may be commenced by the decedent's personal representative or, if none, by the decedent's successor in interest.”  Code of Civil Procedure section 377.10 states, “For the purposes of this chapter, ‘beneficiary of the decedent's estate’ means: [¶] (a) If the decedent died leaving a will, the sole beneficiary or all of the beneficiaries who succeed to a cause of action, or to a particular item of property that is the subject of a cause of action, under the decedent's will. [¶] (b) If the decedent died without leaving a will, the sole person or all of the persons who succeed to a cause of action, or to a particular item of property that is the subject of a cause of action, under Sections 6401 and 6402 of the Probate Code or, if the law of a sister state or foreign nation governs succession to the cause of action or particular item of property, under the law of the sister state or foreign nation.”

 

Based on the allegations in the Complaint (for example, see ¶¶ 10-18 of the Complaint filed on 9-11-20 under ROA No. 2), Plaintiffs would have inherited a portion of the Property had Defendant—Stephen Morita not transferred title to the Property to himself before to Paul Morita’s death under the intestate succession rules. Beckwith v. Dahl (2012) 205 Cal.App.4th 1039, 1046 (Beckwith) recognized the tort of intentional interference with an expected inheritance.  The challenged causes of action do not appear to belong to Paul Morita, the decedent.  The challenged causes of action did not arise until after the decedent’s death.  The Motion does not identify a cause of action that the decedent had before the decedent’s death.  Therefore, it does not appear that Code of Civil Procedure section 377.30 applies to this dispute between Plaintiffs and Defendants. As such, Plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged a legal interest in the Property to have standing to sue on the first, second, fourth, and fifth causes of action.

 

Based on the above, the court DENIES Defendants’ (Stephen Paul Dwayne Morita, Russell Jay Pham Morita, and Christopher Farrell) Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings filed on 5-27-22 under ROA No. 82.

 

Plaintiffs are to give notice.