Tuesday, November 30, 2010
C.A. Upholds Security Deposit Award for Greek Princess
Justices Say Soap Opera Actress Who Leased Beverly Hills Abode Acted in Bad Faith
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
Former soap opera actress Lisa Marie must pay nearly $233,000 to the crown princess of Greece for wrongfully withholding a $75,000 security deposit for a lease on a Beverly Hills home, this district’s Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Div. Two, in an unpublished opinion, said Princess Marie-Chantal was entitled to actual damages plus twice the amount of the deposit because Smith, who appeared on General Hospital in 1980, acted in bad faith when she withheld nearly $59,000 of the deposit.
The princess sued in 2008, claiming that Marie’s deductions for alleged damage to furniture stored in the home were unsupported. Marie-Chantal also contended that deductions for photography and administrative expenses, and for loss of estimated rent were not permitted under California’s security deposit law, Civil Code Sec. 1950.5.
The law generally allows landlords to withhold security deposits only for defaults in rent; for repairs not due to ordinary wear and tear; or for cleaning to bring the premises back to the same condition that existed when the lease began. It also authorizes damages of up to twice the deposit amount, plus actual damages, if the landlord makes deductions in bad faith.
The Los Angeles Superior Court entered a default judgment against Marie in November 2008 after she failed to answer. The actress, through attorney Kathryn Stanton, moved later that month to quash service of process, claiming that the summons was only left on her doorstep, but Judge Zaven V. Sinanian denied the motion after Marie-Chantal provided a declaration by a process server who said he personally served a woman who identified herself as Marie.
Sinanian ordered Marie to file an answer and a motion to set aside the default within 10 days. The actress, through attorney Richard Gordon, did so, alleging “mistake, inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect.”
The judge, however, rejected the contention and said Marie failed to demonstrate any attorney fault. He entered judgment for the princess and awarded her $225,000 in damages, plus $17,299.89 in prejudgment interest and $582.80 in costs.
On appeal, Marie argued that Sinanian should have quashed the service of process, but Presiding Justice Roger W. Boren said the process server’s declaration gave the trial court “ample proof” of service warranting entry of the default.
He also wrote that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying relief from the default because Marie failed to show any misconduct by either of her attorneys.
Boren pointed out that Marie submitted an “attorney fault” affidavit by Stanton indicating that she was engaged only to file the motion to quash, and not actually admitting any misconduct. He also reasoned that the actress’ “failure to prevail” did not establish misconduct by Gordon, and he noted that she submitted no fault affidavit from Gordon.
The justice then said that Marie could not show any actual mistake because her decision to retain Stanton for the limited purpose of quashing service represented a “conscious and apparently strategic decision.”
Boren further concluded that the trial court correctly calculated damages, rejecting the actress’ argument that they should be offset by a $16,045 check she sent to Marie-Chantal, which the princess never cashed. Writing that Marie’s default admitted the allegations in the complaint, and that she failed to meet her burden to prove the reasonableness of the deductions, he said Sinanian acted within his discretion in awarding double the amount of the deposit, plus the deposit itself, because the uncontroverted evidence demonstrated bad faith.
Justices Judith M. Ashmann-Gerst and Victoria M. Chavez joined Boren in his opinion.
The case is Marie-Chantal v. Marie, B219129.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company