Court of Appeal:
Los Angeles Panel Repudiates 1996 Decision by San Francisco-Based Division, Saying First District’s Opinion Contravenes 1965 Holding of California Supreme Court
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district has held that no statute of limitation had run on an action brought by a man in 2018 to quiet title of his condominium, based on his realization in 2011 that he had been tricked into adding his then-fiancée’s name on the deed, because both of them continued to occupy the premises and, absent a move on her part to assert an interest adverse to his, he had no need to take action.
The opinion, filed Wednesday, repudiates a contrary view expressed 24 years ago by the San Francisco-based Court of Appeal, saying that it contravenes a 1965 California Supreme Court pronouncement.
Justice Dorothy Kim of Div. Five wrote Wednesday’s opinion. It affirms a judgment by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael P. Vicennia in favor of Long Beach business executive Bernd Reuter.
Under the facts, as determined by Vicencia, Reuter, now 66, in 2005 placed the name of his then-live-in girlfriend, Claudia L. Macal, who is 19 years his junior, on the title to his condominium because she set that as a condition to agreeing to marry him. She and a daughter of hers had moved into the condominium in 2004.
Reuter broke off his relationship with Macal in 2011 when she announced that she was bearing the child of another man. Nonetheless, Reuter acquiesced to her entreaty that she be allowed time—“about a year,” she said—to relocate to other lodgings.
Macal had the child that had been fathered by someone other than Reuter, and he cared for the young boy, as well as Macal’s daughter, while Macal went out scouting for new boyfriends. She continually beseeched him to let her remain longer in the condominium, and he repeatedly relented.
Reuter Brings Suit
Eventually, Reuter sued on Jan. 8, 2018, to clear up what the parties’ respective interests were in the real property. Vicencia ordered a reconveyance by Macal to Reuter.
Macal argued on appeal that Vicencia erred in adhering slavishly to the California Supreme Court’s 1965 utterance in Muktarian v. Barmby, authored by then-Chief Justice Roger Traynor. There, it was held that there is no specific statute of limitation relating to actions to quiet title and that the three-year time-bar on fraud suits should not be applied where the plaintiff remains in possession of the premises in issue, declaring that “there is no reason to put him to the expense and inconvenience of litigation until” an adverse claim “is pressed against him.”
Rather than applying that decision, Macal urged, the 1996 Court of Appeal opinion from the First District’s Div. Two in Ankoanda v. Walker-Smith should be followed. That opinion confines the holding in Muktarian to circumstances where, as in that case, the plaintiff had remained in exclusive and undisputed possession of the premises.
Kim said, in the published portion of Wednesday’s opinion:
“[U]nder the rationale of Muktarian…, there was no reason for plaintiff to incur the expense or inconvenience of litigation against defendant. Accordingly, regardless of which statute of limitations governed plaintiff’s quiet title claim, it could not have begun to run against him while he was in undisturbed possession of his condominium.”
She went on to set forth that to the extent that the opinion in Ankoanda “purports to limit the Muktarian tolling rule” to quite-title plaintiffs who were in exclusive and unchallenged possession of premises, “we disagree with that conclusion.” Kim noted that the court in Ankoanda “acknowledged” that “no such limitation appears in Muktarian,” and pointed out that the state Supreme Court in its 2008 opinion in Mayer v. L&B Real Estate “cited Muktarian with approval, repeating that ‘[i]t long has been the law that whether a statute of limitations bars an action to quiet title may turn on whether the plaintiff is in undisturbed possession of the land.’ ”
Bound by Precedent
The jurist reasoned:
“That the court in Mayer did not revisit the broad language of the Muktarian tolling rule suggests that it was not limited in the manner stated in Ankoanda. We therefore are bound to follow that rule.”
Applying that rule, she said that while Reuter “enjoyed possession of the condominium” and Macal “did not press her adverse claim against him in a manner that threatened or disturbed that possession, no statute of limitations began to run.”
Kim noted that although Reuter had brought suit to quiet title—and Muktarian has only been applied to such actions—by the time of trial, he was relying solely on Civil Code §1590 which permits the voiding of a gift made in contemplation of marriage.
“[T]hat plaintiff’s theory of relief at trial was premised on section 1590,” she said, “does not change our analysis of whether the Muktarian tolling rule applies to the quiet title claim under the facts of this case.”
The case is Reuter v. Macal, 2020 S.O.S. 5489.
Three Long Beach attorneys were involved in the appeal. Albert S. Israel and Bruce A. Dybens represented Reuter and Thomas Armstrong argued Macal’s position.
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