On 05/04/2018 B S SONDHU filed a Contract - Other Contract lawsuit against GILBERTO TELLO. This case was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Courts, Stanley Mosk Courthouse located in Los Angeles, California. The Judge overseeing this case is JON R. TAKASUGI. The case status is Pending - Other Pending.
Pending - Other Pending
Los Angeles County Superior Courts
Stanley Mosk Courthouse
Los Angeles, California
JON R. TAKASUGI
KING ALLEN ROBERT
4201 Wilshire Blvd Ste 207,
Los Angeles, CA 90010
Attorney at Neighborhood Legal Services of LA County
13327 Van Nuys Blvd,
Pacoima, CA 91331
8/27/2018: Minute Order - (Order to Show Cause re: Payment of Reclassification Fee)
8/16/2018: Other - - Response to court's order to pay reclassification fee
7/3/2018: Stipulation - for order reclassifying case as unlimited .
7/3/2018: Minute Order - (Court Order)
7/3/2018: Certificate of Mailing for - Minute Order (Court Order) of 07/03/2018
7/12/2018: Opposition - to cross-defendant's motion to strike
6/28/2018: Motion for Order
5/17/2018: General Denial
6/26/2018: Demand for Jury Trial - and declaration
6/19/2018: Demurrer - without Motion to Strike
Notice of Ruling; Filed by: Gilberto Tello (Cross-Complainant); Martha Tello (Cross-Complainant)Read MoreRead Less
Minute Order (Order to Show Cause re: Payment of Reclassification Fee)Read MoreRead Less
Order to Show Cause re: Payment of Reclassification Fee scheduled for 08/27/2018 at 08:30 AM in Stanley Mosk Courthouse at Department 94 updated: Result Date to 08/27/2018; Result Type to HeldRead MoreRead Less
On the Court's own motion, Order to Show Cause - Hearing Payment of Reclassification Fee scheduled for 08/31/2018 at 08:30 AM in Stanley Mosk Courthouse at Department 94 Not Held - Advanced and Vacated on 08/27/2018Read MoreRead Less
Other - Response to court's ordert o pay reclassification fee; Filed by: Gilberto Tello (Cross-Complainant); Martha Tello (Cross-Complainant)Read MoreRead Less
Other - Response to court's order to pay reclassification fee; Filed by: Gilberto Tello (Cross-Complainant); Martha Tello (Cross-Complainant)Read MoreRead Less
Notice of Ruling; Filed by: B.S. Sondhu (Plaintiff)Read MoreRead Less
Order to Show Cause - Hearing Payment of Reclassification Fee scheduled for 08/31/2018 at 08:30 AM in Stanley Mosk Courthouse at Department 94Read MoreRead Less
On the Court's own motion, Non-Jury Trial scheduled for 11/01/2019 at 08:30 AM in Stanley Mosk Courthouse at Department 94 Not Held - Vacated by Court on 07/03/2018Read MoreRead Less
On the Court's own motion, Order to Show Cause - Failure to File Proof of Service scheduled for 05/07/2021 at 08:30 AM in Stanley Mosk Courthouse at Department 94 Not Held - Vacated by Court on 07/03/2018Read MoreRead Less
Cross-Complaint; Filed by: Gilberto Tello (Cross-Complainant); Martha Tello (Cross-Complainant); As to: B.S. Sondhu (Cross-Defendant)Read MoreRead Less
General Denial; Filed by: Gilberto Tello (Defendant)Read MoreRead Less
Order on Court Fee Waiver (Superior Court); Signed and Filed by: Clerk; As to: Gilberto Tello (Defendant)Read MoreRead Less
Complaint; Filed by: B.S. Sondhu (Plaintiff); As to: Gilberto Tello (Defendant); Martha Tello (Defendant)Read MoreRead Less
Civil Case Cover Sheet; Filed by: B.S. Sondhu (Plaintiff)Read MoreRead Less
Summons on Complaint; Issued and Filed by: ClerkRead MoreRead Less
Notice of Case Assignment - Limited Civil Case; Filed by: ClerkRead MoreRead Less
Case assigned to Hon. Jon R. Takasugi in Department 94 Stanley Mosk CourthouseRead MoreRead Less
Non-Jury Trial scheduled for 11/01/2019 at 08:30 AM in Stanley Mosk Courthouse at Department 94Read MoreRead Less
Order to Show Cause - Failure to File Proof of Service scheduled for 05/07/2021 at 08:30 AM in Stanley Mosk Courthouse at Department 94Read MoreRead Less
Case Number: 18STLC06869 Hearing Date: March 18, 2021 Dept: 54
Superior Court of California
County of Los Angeles
Gilberto Tello and Martha Tello,
Hearing Date: March 18, 2021
Department 54, Judge Maurice A. Leiter
Motion for Summary Adjudication
Moving Party: Cross-Complainants Gilberto Tello and Martha Tello
Responding Party: Cross-Defendants B.S. Sondhu, in his individual capacity and his capacity as trustee of the Sondhu Family Trust; Rajinder Kaur Sondhu, in his individual capacity and his capacity as trustee of the Sondhu Family Trust
T/R: CROSS-COMPLAINANTS’ MOTION FOR SUMMARY ADJUDICATION IS DENIED.
cross-DEFENDANTS to notice.
The Court considers the moving papers, opposition and reply.
BACKGROUND & STATEMENT OF FACTS
This is a landlord-tenant action. On May 4, 2018, B.S. Sondhu filed a complaint against Gilberto Tello and Martha Tello for breach of contract and common count arising from unpaid rent. On May 17, 2018, Gilberto Tello and Maria Tello filed a cross-complaint against B.S. Sondhu, in his individual capacity and his capacity as trustee of the Sondhu Family Trust; Rajinder Kaur Sondhu, in his individual capacity and his capacity as trustee of the Sondhu Family Trust for violations of the Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance (“LARSO”) and the Rosenthal Act as well as emotional distress.
On February 21, 2019, the Court sustained Sondhu’s demurrer to the cross-complaint; the Tellos filed a first amended cross-complaint for violations of LARSO only on March 1, 2019. On August 5, 2019, the Court granted the Tello’s motion for leave to file a second amended cross-complaint. Following a demurrer, the Tello’s filed the operative third amended cross-complaint, asserting causes of action for (1) violation of LARSO; (2) retaliatory eviction; (3) financial elder abuse; (4) fraud, deceit and concealment; (5) negligent misrepresentation; (6) negligent hiring, training and supervision; and (7) failure to return or account for security deposit.
On January 25, 2021, the Court granted Sondhu’s request for dismissal of the complaint without prejudice.
In January 1994, the Tellos moved into a rental unit at 939 South Sycamore Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90026 pursuant to a written lease agreement (“1994 lease”) between the Tellos and Sondhu. (Pl. Exh. 1.) The monthly rent was $785.00, and the unit was subject to LARSO. (Id.) The 1994 lease states that “Tenant will pay the utilities and is aware that the room in the back is hooked up to the front unit utilities.” (Id.) The Tellos contend that “room in the back” refers to an illegal back unit identified by the Los Angeles Housing Department (“LAHD”) as unit 939A. (Pl. RJN, Exh. B at ¶ 6.) This unit had its own entrance accessible from the outside of the building and was separated from the Tellos’ unit by a door, which was locked on both sides. (Id.) The Tellos assert that they never rented, occupied, had keys to its separate entrance, nor otherwise had access to it. (Id.)
In December 2015, the Tellos’ monthly rent was $1,187.00. In January 2016, Sondhu rented the back unit to the Tellos’ daughter, Ada Pearson, pursuant to a written lease agreement (“2016 lease”). (Pl. Exh. 8.) The 2016 lease was signed by Pearson. (Id.) It listed 939 S. Sycamore Avenue as the rental address and the Tellos as occupants, with a monthly rent of $2,025.00. (Id.) The Tellos assert that at the time of signing, Sondhu orally informed Pearson that the rent for the back unit was unit was $800 and the Tellos’ rent was $1,225.00. (Pl. RJN, Exh. C at ¶¶ 5-6.) The Tellos contend that both before and during her tenancy, Pearson would handle the tender of rent for the Tellos because they were elderly, disabled and monolingual Spanish speakers. (Pl. Exh. 9; RJN, Exh. B at ¶¶ 11-12; Exh. C at ¶¶ 3-4, 9, 11.)
On March 19, 2017, the Sondhus increased the rent for the two units to $2,085.75. (Pl. Exh. 10.) Pearson informed the Tellos that their share of the rent had increased to $1,255.00. (Pl. RJN, Exh. B at ¶ 12; Exh. C at ¶ 10.) In June 2017, Pearson vacated the back unit. (Pl. RJN, Exh. C at ¶ 14.) The Tellos tendered $1,255 in rent for their unit on June 19, 2017, which the Sondhus accepted. (Id.)
On July 7, 2017, the Sondhus filed an unlawful detainer action (“first UD action”) based on a three-day notice to pay rent or quit alleging nonpayment of rent in the amount of $834.36 for the period of June 19, 2017 through July 18, 2017 under the 2016 lease. (Pl. Exh. 16.) The Tellos contend they sent Sondhu a “reasonable accommodation request” stating they were vulnerable, elderly, and disabled, and requesting the Sondhus dismiss the action in light of the LARSO violation. (Pl. Exh. 9; Rapoport Dec. at ¶ 7.) The Tellos assert they did not receive a response. (Id.)
On February 2, 2018, the Court in the first UD action granted the Tellos’ motion for summary judgment on the grounds that (1) the 2016 Lease was not signed by the Tellos and was unenforceable because LARSO requires that changes to a tenancy be “the result of an express written agreement signed by both of the parties” (L.A.M.C. §151.09(A)(2)(C)); (2) the Sondhus increased their rent in violation of LARSO; and (3) the three-Day Notice overstated the rent due. (Pl. RJN, Exh. A.) The Sondhus filed an appeal.
On April 25, 2018, the Sondhus sent a letter demanding past due rent in the amount of $19,638.60 for the period of June 2017 to April 2018, claiming that the Tellos’ monthly rent was $2,089.36 pursuant to the 2016 lease. (Pl. Exh. 11.) The Tellos’ counsel sent a letter requesting the Sondhus withdraw the request, but the Sondhus refused. (Pl. Exh. 12; Rapoport Dec. at ¶ 12.) On May 4, 2018, Sondhu filed this action seeking unpaid rent under an alleged oral agreement to pay increased rent. On May 17, 2018, the Tellos filed their cross-complaint.
On May 18, 2018, the Sondhus’ issued a second three-day notice to pay rent or quit alleging nonpayment of rent in the amount of $2,089.36. (Pl. Exh. 14.) On June 1, 2018, Sondhu filed a second unlawful detainer action (“second UD action”). (Rapoport Dec. at ¶ 14.) Gilberto Tello passed away on June 11, 2018. (Id. at ¶ 15.)
On July 13, 2018, Martha Tello and Sondhu entered into a stipulated judgment in which she agreed to vacate the property and in exchange Sondhu agreed to not seek past or future rents from the Tellos. (Pl. Exh. 15.). On November 15, 2018, Martha Tello vacated the unit. (Rapoport Dec. at ¶ 17.) On October 26, 2018, the Appellate Division affirmed the summary judgment ruling in the first UD action, finding that the Tellos were not bound by the 2016 lease. (Pl. RJN, Exh. D.)
REQUEST FOR JUDICIAL NOTICE
The Tellos’ requests are GRANTED as to the existence of documents, but not as to the truth of the matters asserted in them. (Evid. Code § 452(d); Herrera v. Deutsche Bank National Trust Co. (2011) 196 Cal.App.4th 1366, 1375.)
“In granting or denying a motion for summary judgment or summary adjudication, the court need rule only on those objections to evidence that it deems material to its disposition of the motion.” (CCP § 437c(q).) The Tellos’ objections nos. 1-3 are OVERRULED. To the extent the Sondhus’ objections are based on the litigation privilege, see the discussion below.
“In moving for summary judgment, a ‘plaintiff . . . has met’ his ‘burden of showing that there is no defense to a cause of action if’ he ‘has proved each element of the cause of action entitling’ him ‘to judgment on that cause of action.’” (Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co. (2001) 25 Cal.4th 826, 849 (as modified (July 11, 2001).) The plaintiff “must present evidence that would require a reasonable trier of fact to find any underlying material fact more likely than not—otherwise, he would not be entitled to judgment as a matter of law, but would have to present his evidence to a trier of fact.” (Id., at 851, original italics.)
Once the plaintiff has met that burden, the burden shifts to the defendant to show that a triable issue of one or more material facts exists as to the cause of action or a defense thereto. (CCP § 437c(p)(1).) “There is a triable issue of material fact if, and only if, the evidence would allow a reasonable trier of fact to find the underlying fact in favor of the party opposing the motion in accordance with the applicable standard of proof.” (Aguilar, supra, 25 Cal.4th at 850.) The defendant “shall not rely upon the allegations or denials of its pleadings to show that a triable issue of material fact exists but, instead, shall set forth the specific facts showing that a triable issue of material fact exists as to the cause of action or a defense thereto.” (CCP § 437c(p)(1).)
The Tellos move for summary adjudication of the TACC’s first cause of action for violation of LARSO and third cause of action for financial elder abuse. The Tellos also move for summary adjudication of the complaint’s cause of action for breach of contract (which has since been dismissed) and the fact that the Sondhu’s are collaterally estopped from relitigating the lawfulness of the 2016 rent increases.
A. Collateral Estoppel/Issue Preclusion
As an initial matter, CCP § 437c does not permit piecemeal adjudication of facts. CCP § 437c(f)(1) provides, in pertinent part, “[a] motion for summary adjudication shall be granted only if it completely disposes of a cause of action, an affirmative defense, a claim for damages, or an issue of duty.” “The purpose of the enactment of Code of Civil Procedure section 437c, subdivision (f) was to stop the practice of piecemeal adjudication of facts that did not completely dispose of a substantive area.” (Catalano v. Superior Court (2000) 82 Cal.App.4th 91, 97.) Summary adjudication of an issue may be appropriate when a Defendant is the moving party because a Defendant need only disprove one element of a cause of action. (CCP § 437c(p)(2).) By contrast, when the moving party is the plaintiff, the plaintiff must prove each element. (CCP § 437c(p)(1).)
The Tellos do not state whether they are moving for summary adjudication of this issue as it relates to the cause of action for breach of contract in the complaint, the causes of action in the TACC, or as a standalone issue. As noted above, Sondhu dismissed the complaint for breach of contract. Thus, to the extent it relates to the complaint, the issue is moot. Moreover, the Court cannot grant summary adjudication on this issue because it does not completely dispose of a cause of action, an affirmative defense, a claim for damages, or an issue of duty. But this does not bar the Court from considering whether collateral estoppel applies for the purposes of adjudication of the TACC’s first and third causes of action.
Collateral estoppel or issue preclusion “prohibits the relitigation of issues argued and decided in a previous case, even if the second suit raises different causes of action.” (DKN Holdings LLC v. Faerber (2015) 61 Cal.4th 813, 824.) “Under issue preclusion, the prior judgment conclusively resolves an issue actually litigated and determined in the first action.” (Id.) “[I]ssue preclusion applies: (1) after final adjudication (2) of an identical issue (3) actually litigated and necessarily decided in the first suit and (4) asserted against one who was a party in the first suit or one in privity with that party.” (Id. at 825.) “The identical issue requirement addresses whether identical factual allegations are at stake in the two proceedings, not whether the ultimate issues or dispositions are the same.” (Hernandez v. City of Pomona (2009) 46 Cal.4th 501, 511-2, internal quotations omitted.)
The Tellos contend that the issues of whether the Tellos are bound by the 2016 lease and whether the resulting rent increases violated LARSO were considered and conclusively decided by the trial court and Appellate Division in the first UD action. The trial court’s ruling granting the Tello’s summary judgment in the first UD action was explicitly based on three findings: (1) that the Tellos were not bound by the 2016 lease as non-signatories; (2) that 2016 rent increase to $2,025.00 violated LARSO; and (3) that the first three-day notice to quit overstated the rent. (Pl. RJN, Exh. A.) The Appellate Division affirmed this ruling, but found only that the Tellos were not bound by the 2016 lease. (Pl. RJN, Exh. D.) The Appellate Division did not address whether any rent increase violated LARSO or whether the notice to quit overstated the rent. (Id.)
In opposition, the Sondhus assert that UD actions are narrow and are rarely given preclusive effect, citing Vella v. Hudgins (1977) 20 Cal.3d 251. Though Vella noted that UD actions are narrow in scope, Vella specifically stated that “ ‘full and fair’ litigation of an affirmative defense - even one not ordinarily cognizable in unlawful detainer, if it is raised without objection, and if a fair opportunity to litigate is provided - will result in a judgment conclusive upon issues material to that defense.” (Id. at 256-7.) This is precisely what occurred in the first UD action.
Alternatively, the Sondhus argue that the only issue that can be given preclusive affect is that the Tellos are not bound by the 2016 lease agreement. This is correct. The California Supreme Court held in Samara v. Matar (2018) 5 Cal.5th 322 that “a ground reached by the trial court and properly challenged on appeal, but not embraced by the appellate court's decision” will not be given preclusive affect. (Id. at 334.) Here, the Appellate Division only addressed the issue of the enforceability of the 2016 lease against the Tellos. For this motion, this is the only issue subject to collateral estoppel.
B. Violation of LARSO
Los Angeles Municipal Code § 151.10(A) provides, “[a]ny person who demands, accepts or retains any payment of rent in excess of the maximum rent or maximum adjusted rent in violation of the provisions of this chapter, or any regulations or orders promulgated hereunder, shall be liable in a civil action to the person from whom such payment is demanded, accepted or retained for damages of three times the amount by which the payment or payments demanded, accepted or retained exceed the maximum rent or maximum adjusted rent which could be lawfully demanded, accepted or retained together with reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs as determined by the court.”
The Tellos assert that the maximum monthly rent was $1,187.00 – the amount the Tellos paid before the 2016 lease. The Tellos contend that because they were not bound by the 2016 lease, any rent increases after December 2015 were in violation of LARSO. More specifically, the Tellos argue that the Sondhus violated LARSO when they made demands for: (1) $2,025.00 in monthly rent in 2016 via the 2016 lease; (2) $2,085.75 in monthly rent in March 2017; (3) $834.36 in unpaid rent for the month of July 2017 via the first three-day notice to quit and first UD action in July 2017; (4) $19,638.60 in unpaid rent for the period of June 2017 through April 2018 via the April 2018 letter; (5) $2,089.36 in unpaid rent via the second three-day notice to pay or quit in May 2018; and (6) $2,089.36 in monthly rent continually until the second UD action was settled in July 2018. The Tellos contend that the total rent demanded in excess of the maximum rent, ($1,187.00 per month) is $27,010.75.
In opposition, the Sondhus argue that the demands for rent contained in the notices to quit and April 2018 letter are all absolutely privileged per Civ. Code § 47(b). Civ. Code § 47(b) provides an absolute privilege for communications made in any legislative proceeding, in any judicial proceeding, in any other official proceeding authorized by law, or in the initiation or course of any other proceeding authorized by law. (See also Hagberg v. California Federal Bank FSB (2004) 32 Cal.4th 350, 360.) “‘The usual formulation is that the privilege applies to any communication (1) made in judicial or quasi-judicial proceedings; (2) by litigants or other participants authorized by law; (3) to achieve the objects of the litigation; and (4) that [has] some connection or logical relation to the action.’” (Kenne v. Stennis (2014) 230 Cal.App.4th 953, 964 (quoting Silberg v. Anderson (1990) 50 Cal.3d 205, 212).) The privilege “protects any statements or writings that have ‘some relation’ to a lawsuit,” meaning that “communications made both during and in anticipation of litigation are covered by the statute.” (Id. at 965 (quoting Rubin v. Green (1993) 4 Cal.4th 1187, 1193-94).) “‘The privilege is broadly applied to protect most publications within lawsuits provided there is some connection between the lawsuit and the publication.’” (Obos v. Scripps Psychological Associates, Inc. (1997) 59 Cal.App.4th 103, 108 (quoting Adams v. Superior Court (1992) 2 Cal.App.4th 521, 529).) “‘Any doubt as to whether the privilege applies is resolved in favor of applying it.’” (Id. (emphasis in original).)
Here, the notices to quit and April 2018 letter are arguably protected as communications made to achieve the objects of the litigation. (See e.g. Action Apartment Assn., Inc. v. City of Santa Monica (2007) 41 Cal.4th 1232, 1250-2 [Whether an eviction notice is a privileged prelitigation communication is an issue of fact.] See also Feldman v. 1100 Park Lane Associates (2008) 160 Cal.App.4th 1467, 1488.) The notices to quit were each followed by UD actions and the April 2018 letter specifically references the first UD action and threatens another. (Rapoport Dec. at ¶¶ 6, 13-14; Pl. Exh. 11.)
In reply, the Tellos assert that they are seeking redress for the demands of rent themselves and not for the UD actions. The Tellos rely on Chacon v. Litke (2010) 181 Cal.App.4th 1234, which found that a landlord’s actions to prevent tenants from reoccupying the premises were not in furtherance of litigation and thus not privileged. (Id. at 1257 [“Litke's conduct in refusing to allow the Chacons to reoccupy the premises after their temporary eviction, was not an effort by him to “enforce” the unlawful detainer judgment or the Stipulation, neither of which awarded him permanent possession. Rather, it was the type of ‘independent, noncommunicative, wrongful act’ that is clearly unprotected by the privilege.”]) Chacon is inapplicable to the case at hand. The demands for rent at issue here were made in the form of notices to pay or quit and a demand letter arguably in contemplation of litigation.
The Sondhus have shown a triable issue of material fact as to whether the demands for rent are privileged. (See Eisenberg v. Alameda Newspapers, Inc. (1999) 74 Cal.App.4th 1359, 1381 [Court of Appeal reversed grant of summary judgment because [i]t remain[ed] a triable issue of fact whether ... imminent litigation was seriously proposed and actually contemplated in good faith as a means of resolving the dispute between [the parties].])
The motion for summary adjudication of the first cause of action for violation of LARSO is DENIED.
C. Financial Elder Abuse
Financial elder abuse occurs when a person takes the property of an elder for a wrongful use or with intent to defraud or by undue influence. (Welf. & Inst. Code § 15610.30(a).) A person is deemed to have taken the property when he or she has deprived an elder of any property right. (Id. § 15610.30(c).) Although bad faith or intent to defraud is no longer required, wrongful use of property must still be alleged. (Stebley v. Litton Loan Servicing, LLP (2011) 202 Cal.App.4th 522, 527-28.) “A person . . . shall be deemed to have taken . . . property for a wrongful use if . . . the person . . . takes . . . the property and the person . . . knew or should have known that this conduct is likely to be harmful to the elder . . . .” (Id. § 15610.30(b).)
The Tellos contend that the Sondhus committed financial elder abuse because the Tellos were elderly, the Sondhus took, appropriated, obtained, and retained rent from the Tellos beyond the limit allowed by LARSO under the 1994 lease and the Sondhus knew or should have known that the increase would harm the Tellos.” (Mot. 20:18-21.) The Tellos assert that the Sondhus knew or should have known that the increase would harm the Tellos because of the November 2017 letter sent to Sondu requesting accommodation due to the Tellos age and disabilities. (Pl. Exh. 9.) In opposition, the Sondhus’ contend that they did not receive this letter. (Def. Exh. A. 76:18-77:3; Exh. B 71:15-73:9.) In reply, the Tellos argue that the letter was served on the Sondhus’ counsel, but provide no authority which states this should impute knowledge of harm for financial elder abuse on the Sondhus.
The Sondhus have established a triable issue of fact as to whether they knew or should have known any rent increases would cause harm. The motion for summary adjudication of the third cause of action is DENIED.
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