Friday, September 13, 2013
C.A. Rejects Bid to Use Earthquake Law in Quiet Title Suit
Panel Says Statute Does Not Provide Relief to Homeowners Affected by Slow Landslide
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A state law designed to protect owners from losing title when their property has moved due to earthquakes and similar natural disasters does not apply to lot line displacements resulting from “ongoing and gradual earth movements,” the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Div. Eight affirmed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Alan S. Rosenfield’s grant of summary judgment to the City of Rancho Palos Verdes, which was sued by the owners of two homes that came to rest on city-owned land as a result of a slow-moving landslide.
The homes are in an area of hillside property, just under one mile square, in Portugese Bend. Homes in the area have been moving, Justice Laurence Rubin explained for the court, as a result of road construction in the then-unincorporated area that began in 1956.
Rancho Palos Verdes incorporated in 1972 and took title to a piece of land in the slide area, directly south of Palos Verdes Dr., in 1987. The homes purchased by the plaintiffs in 2005 and 2009 migrated onto that piece of land sometime between 1956 and 1987.
After incurring tens of thousands of dollars in fees for surveyors, civil engineers, geologists and other experts, and failing to negotiate a solution with the city, the plaintiffs filed a quiet title action. They claimed that the Cullen Earthquake Act, enacted after the Sylmar earthquake, applies to their case and entitles them to have the boundaries of their properties redrawn.
The act provides, in part:
“If the boundaries of land owned either by public or private entities have been disturbed by earth movements such as, but not limited to, slides, subsidence, lateral or vertical displacements or similar disasters caused by man, or by earthquake or other acts of God, so that such lands are in a location different from that at which they were located prior to the disaster, an action in rem may be brought to equitably reestablish boundaries and to quiet title to land within the boundaries so reestablished.”
Act Held Inapplicable
Rosenfield said the act does not apply to slow, gradual movements, and the Court of Appeal agreed.
Rubin cited the repeated reference to “disasters” and to adjusting boundaries as “fixed” by a disaster show a legislative intent not to apply the statute to gradual movement, rejecting the plaintiffs’ argument for a more “flexible” definition.
“Although broader definitions of ‘disaster’ exist, we believe that when it comes to earth movements, the conventional and commonly understood definition refers to those that are sudden or instantaneous,” he wrote.
Attorneys on appeal were Douglas W. Beck of Douglas W. Beck & Associates for the plaintiffs and Mitchell E. Abbott and Andrew J. Brady of Richards, Watson & Gershon for the city.
The case is Joannou v. City of Rancho Palos Verdes, B241035.
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