Dicta in Decision May Be Broader, But No Apportionment Required.
For all of you real estate buffs out there, we report on the Fifth District’s 76-page decision in Sumner Hill Homeowners’ Assn. v. Rio Mesa Holdings, LLC, Case No. F058617 (5th Dist. Apr. 2, 2012) (certified for partial publication, slander of title fee discussion published), which was a wild fight over subdivision rights by a private community to San Joaquin River access. There are tons of issues for you real estate attorneys--easements, Map Act rights and statute of limitations, and navigable water concerns. Justice Kane wrote a very eloquent decision here on behalf of a 3-0 panel.
However, for attorney’s fees purposes, the issue under consideration was whether attorney’s fees/costs alone could be compensable damages under a slander of title claim where there was no add-on damages of impairment to vendability. The answer was “yes,” but with a caveat. The appellate court held that attorney’s fees, as damages, were allowable without any proof of vendability impairment in a case where the slander arose from a recorded instrument. Yes, that is the direct holding. We bloggers would argue that the reasoning from this case might be extended more broadly to encompass fees as allowable compensatory damages in any slander of title case, but we do respect the Court of Appeal’s holding which was restricted to “the particular facts of this case.” (Slip Opn., p. 66.) Read it and see if you agree with us that there might be broader implications here.
The appellate court rejected that any fee apportionment was required, because the jury was instructed on the pros and cons, including the exception that “inextricably intertwined” fee work does not have to apportioned out. Because fees were claimed as damages, this issue was addressed by the jury in the absence of a stipulation for it to be heard by the court. Compensatory damages were $803,951, with punitives of $2,419,800 also being assessed by the jury.
BLOG UNDERVIEW--Attorney Jerry H. Mann was an expert witness used by plaintiffs, successfully, on the apportionment issue. Co-contributor Mike was a law clerk on the Fifth District with Jerry quite a while ago, with Jerry staying in Fresno to build his practice. Mike sends his greetings.