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This case was last updated from Los Angeles County Superior Courts on 06/06/2021 at 01:25:54 (UTC).

THE LAW MAN GROUP, APC, ET AL. VS MERCURY INSURANCE COMPANY, ET AL.

Case Summary

On 10/25/2018 THE LAW MAN GROUP, APC filed a Contract - Business lawsuit against MERCURY INSURANCE COMPANY. This case was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Courts, Spring Street Courthouse located in Los Angeles, California. The Judge overseeing this case is WENDY CHANG. The case status is Pending - Other Pending.

Case Details Parties Documents Dockets

 

Case Details

  • Case Number:

    *******3511

  • Filing Date:

    10/25/2018

  • Case Status:

    Pending - Other Pending

  • Case Type:

    Contract - Business

  • Court:

    Los Angeles County Superior Courts

  • Courthouse:

    Spring Street Courthouse

  • County, State:

    Los Angeles, California

Judge Details

Judge

WENDY CHANG

 

Party Details

Plaintiffs

THE LAW MAN GROUP APC

GOZARKAH SHAWN

Defendants and Cross Plaintiffs

MERCURY INSURANCE COMPANY

PETICOFF BETH

HAGEMAN JACK

Cross Defendant

DERRICK JULIA

Attorney/Law Firm Details

Plaintiff Attorney

BYBERG GREGORY BOWEN

Defendant and Cross Plaintiff Attorneys

WARD KATHLEEN MARY

CASTRONOVO TOD M.

CASTRONOVO TOD M

 

Court Documents

Request for Entry of Default / Judgment - Request for Entry of Default / Judgment

12/3/2020: Request for Entry of Default / Judgment - Request for Entry of Default / Judgment

Notice of Ruling - Notice of Ruling

2/11/2021: Notice of Ruling - Notice of Ruling

Minute Order - Minute Order (Hearing on Motion to Compel Discovery (not "Further Discovery...)

4/6/2021: Minute Order - Minute Order (Hearing on Motion to Compel Discovery (not "Further Discovery...)

Stipulation and Order (name extension) - Stipulation and Order TO CONTINUE TRIAL AND RELATED MOTION/DISCOVERY DATES; ORDER

7/22/2020: Stipulation and Order (name extension) - Stipulation and Order TO CONTINUE TRIAL AND RELATED MOTION/DISCOVERY DATES; ORDER

Notice (name extension) - Notice Notice of Entry of Judgment or Order

3/17/2020: Notice (name extension) - Notice Notice of Entry of Judgment or Order

Judgment - Judgment of Dismissal After Sustaining Demurrer to First Amended Complaint Without Leave to Amend

3/6/2020: Judgment - Judgment of Dismissal After Sustaining Demurrer to First Amended Complaint Without Leave to Amend

Substitution of Attorney - Substitution of Attorney

2/28/2020: Substitution of Attorney - Substitution of Attorney

Answer - Answer

2/24/2020: Answer - Answer

Summons - Summons on Cross Complaint

2/24/2020: Summons - Summons on Cross Complaint

Minute Order - Minute Order (Hearing on Demurrer - with Motion to Strike (CCP 430.10))

2/4/2020: Minute Order - Minute Order (Hearing on Demurrer - with Motion to Strike (CCP 430.10))

Motion to Strike (not initial pleading) - Motion to Strike (not initial pleading)

12/23/2019: Motion to Strike (not initial pleading) - Motion to Strike (not initial pleading)

Amended Complaint - Amended Complaint

11/19/2019: Amended Complaint - Amended Complaint

Notice of Ruling - Notice of Ruling

11/12/2019: Notice of Ruling - Notice of Ruling

Demurrer - with Motion to Strike (CCP 430.10) - Demurrer - with Motion to Strike (CCP 430.10)

2/21/2019: Demurrer - with Motion to Strike (CCP 430.10) - Demurrer - with Motion to Strike (CCP 430.10)

Notice of Ruling - Notice of Ruling

5/9/2019: Notice of Ruling - Notice of Ruling

Opposition (name extension) - Opposition PLAINTIFF'S OPPOSITION TO DEMURRER OF DEFENDANTS

2/26/2019: Opposition (name extension) - Opposition PLAINTIFF'S OPPOSITION TO DEMURRER OF DEFENDANTS

Proof of Personal Service - Proof of Personal Service

12/10/2018: Proof of Personal Service - Proof of Personal Service

47 More Documents Available

 

Docket Entries

  • 07/27/2021
  • Hearing07/27/2021 at 09:30 AM in Department 26 at 312 North Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012; Order to Show Cause Re: Dismissal (Settlement)

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  • 05/25/2021
  • DocketOrder to Show Cause Re: Dismissal (Settlement) scheduled for 07/27/2021 at 09:30 AM in Spring Street Courthouse at Department 26

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  • 05/25/2021
  • DocketMinute Order (Order to Show Cause Re: Dismissal (Settlement))

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  • 05/25/2021
  • DocketCertificate of Mailing for (Order to Show Cause Re: Dismissal (Settlement)) of 05/25/2021; Filed by: Clerk

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  • 05/25/2021
  • DocketOn the Court's own motion, Order to Show Cause Re: Dismissal (Settlement) scheduled for 05/25/2021 at 09:30 AM in Spring Street Courthouse at Department 26 Held - Continued was rescheduled to 07/27/2021 09:30 AM

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  • 04/07/2021
  • DocketOrder to Show Cause Re: Failure to File Proof of Service scheduled for 10/28/2021 at 10:30 AM in Spring Street Courthouse at Department 26 Not Held - Advanced and Vacated on 04/06/2021

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  • 04/06/2021
  • DocketOrder to Show Cause Re: Dismissal (Settlement) scheduled for 05/25/2021 at 09:30 AM in Spring Street Courthouse at Department 26

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  • 04/06/2021
  • DocketMinute Order (Hearing on Motion to Compel Discovery (not "Further Discovery...)

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  • 04/06/2021
  • DocketHearing on Motion to Compel Discovery (not "Further Discovery") scheduled for 04/06/2021 at 09:30 AM in Spring Street Courthouse at Department 26 updated: Result Date to 04/06/2021; Result Type to Held

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  • 04/06/2021
  • DocketHearing on Motion to Compel Discovery (not "Further Discovery") scheduled for 04/06/2021 at 09:30 AM in Spring Street Courthouse at Department 26 updated: Result Date to 04/06/2021; Result Type to Held

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92 More Docket Entries
  • 12/10/2018
  • DocketProof of Personal Service; Filed by: The Law Man Group, APC (Plaintiff); Shawn Gozarkah (Plaintiff); As to: Mercury Insurance Company (Defendant)

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  • 11/05/2018
  • DocketOrder to Show Cause Re: Failure to File Proof of Service scheduled for 10/28/2021 at 08:30 AM in Stanley Mosk Courthouse at Department 94

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  • 11/05/2018
  • DocketNon-Jury Trial scheduled for 04/23/2020 at 08:30 AM in Stanley Mosk Courthouse at Department 94

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  • 10/26/2018
  • DocketSummons on Complaint; Issued and Filed by: Clerk

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  • 10/26/2018
  • DocketUpdated -- Civil Case Cover Sheet: Status Date changed from 10/25/2018 to 10/26/2018; As To Parties: removed

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  • 10/26/2018
  • DocketUpdated -- Complaint: Status Date changed from 10/25/2018 to 10/26/2018; As To Parties changed from Jack Hageman (Defendant), Mercury Insurance Company (Defendant), Beth Peticoff (Defendant) to Jack Hageman (Defendant), Beth Peticoff (Defendant), Mercury Insurance Company (Defendant)

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  • 10/26/2018
  • DocketNotice of Case Assignment - Limited Civil Case; Filed by: Clerk

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  • 10/25/2018
  • DocketCase assigned to Hon. Wendy Chang in Department 94 Stanley Mosk Courthouse

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  • 10/25/2018
  • DocketCivil Case Cover Sheet; Filed by: The Law Man Group, APC (Plaintiff); Shawn Gozarkah (Plaintiff)

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  • 10/25/2018
  • DocketComplaint; Filed by: The Law Man Group, APC (Plaintiff); Shawn Gozarkah (Plaintiff); As to: Mercury Insurance Company (Defendant); Beth Peticoff (Defendant); Jack Hageman (Defendant)

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Tentative Rulings

Case Number: 18STLC13511    Hearing Date: April 6, 2021    Dept: 26

MOTION TO COMPEL RESPONSES TO INTERROGATORIES AND DEMAND FOR PRODUCTION; REQUEST FOR SANCTIONS

(CCP §§ 2030.290, 2031.300)

ANALYSIS:

Defendant Mercury Insurance Company (“Defendant”) propounded Special Interrogatories and Requests for Production of Documents on Plaintiff The Law Man Group, APC (“Plaintiff LMG”) on December 3, 2019. (Motions, Vo Decl., Exh. A.) Following Plaintiff LMG’s failure to provide timely responses, defense counsel sent meet and confer letters to Plaintiff LMG’s counsel. (Id. at Exhs. B-F.) To date, Plaintiff LMG has not served responses to the initial sets of discovery. (Id. at ¶18.) Defendant Mercury filed the instant (1) Motion To Compel Responses To Special Interrogatories, Set One and Request for Sanctions; and (2) Motion To Compel Responses To Demand For Production Of Documents and Request for Sanctions on October 23, 2020.

Based on Plaintiff LMG’s failure to serve initial responses, the Motions to compel responses to interrogatories and request for production are granted. There is no requirement for a prior meet and confer effort before a motion to compel initial responses or deem admissions admitted can be filed. (Code Civ. Proc., §§ 2030.290, 2031.300.) Further, the motion can be brought any time after the responding party fails to provide the responses. (Code Civ. Proc., §§ 2030.290, 2031.300.)

Plaintiff LMG’s failure to timely respond constitutes a misuse of the discovery process. (Code Civ. Proc., § 2023.010, subd. (d).) Sanctions are appropriate under Code of Civil Procedure sections 2023.010 and 2023.030 and have been properly noticed. However, the amount sought is excessive under a lodestar calculation. Therefore, the requests for sanctions are granted against Plaintiff LMG and counsel of record in the amount of $345.00 based on one hour of attorney time billed at $225.00 an hour, plus $120.00 in costs. (Motions, Vo Decl., ¶20.) The sanctions are to be paid within 20 days’ service of this order.

Therefore, Defendant Mercury Insurance Company’s (1) Motion To Compel Responses To Special Interrogatories and Request for Sanctions; and (2) Motion To Compel Responses To Demand For Production Of Documents and Request for Sanctions are GRANTED. PLAINTIFF THE LAW MAN GROUP, APC IS TO SERVE VERIFIED RESPONSES WITHOUT OBJECTION WITHIN 20 DAYS’ SERVICE OF THIS ORDER. PLAINTIFF THE LAW MAN GROUP, APC AND COUNSEL OF RECORD ARE JOINTLY AND SEVERALLY ORDERED TO PAY SANCTIONS TO $345.00 TO DEFENSE COUNSEL WITHIN 20 DAYS’ SERVICE OF THIS ORDER.

Moving party to give notice.

Case Number: 18STLC13511    Hearing Date: February 09, 2021    Dept: 26


Case Number: 19STLC04378    Hearing Date: February 09, 2021    Dept: 26

Hook, Jr., et al. v. Superior Court of California, et al.

DEMURRER

(CCP §§ 430.31, et seq.)

TENTATIVE RULING:

Demurrer of Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles and Sherri R. Carter, Court Executive Officer to the First Amended Complaint is ruled on as follows:

The Demurrer is sustained without leave to amend as to Plaintiff Henry Hook, Jr.’s first cause of action for failing to timely file an action under Cal. Govt. Code section 68084.1, subdivision (d). The Demurrer is sustained without leave to amend as to Plaintiffs Chaundra Mills, Sharon Hooks, Philip Hooks, Tonia Hooks, Karen Shelton, and Felicia Hooks for failing to allege the submission of a claim under Cal. Govt. Code section 68084.1. All Plaintiffs’ claims against Defendant Carter are further sustained without leave to amend.

The Demurrer is sustained with 30 days’ leave to amend as to Plaintiffs’ second cause of action for failing to allege that application of Cal. Probate Code section 13100, et seq. to the Surplus Funds is appropriate based on the value of Decedent Henty Hook, Sr.’s real and personal property in this state.

ANALYSIS:

On May 2, 2019, Plaintiff Henry Hook, Jr. (“Plaintiff Hook”), as the successor in interest to Henry Hook, Sr. and Ella Mae Hook, filed the verified Complaint in this action asserting a single cause of action to “Recover Funds Deposited with the Superior Court under Govt. Code section 68084.1.” Prior to the hearing on the demurrer of Defendants Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles (“the Court”) and Sherri R. Carter, Court Executive Officer (“Defendant Carter”), a verified First Amended Complaint was filed on September 9, 2020. The First Amended Complaint is additionally brought by Plaintiffs Chaundra Mills, Sharon Hooks, Philip Hooks, Tonia Hooks, Karen Shelton, and Felicia Hooks, also as successors in interest to Henry Hook, Sr. and Ella Mae Hook. The First Amended Complaint also adds a cause of action for “Refusal To Deliver Property To Successors Of An Estate Within A Reasonable Time under Probate Code section 13105, subdivision b.”

On October 23, 2020, Defendants filed the instant Demurrer to the First Amended Complaint. Plaintiffs filed an opposition on January 27, 2021 and Defendant replied on February 2, 2021.

Discussion

The Demurrer is accompanied by a meet and confer declaration as required by Code of Civil Procedure section 430.41. (Demurrer, McCormick Decl., ¶¶2-3.) Defendants demur to the First Amended Complaint on the grounds that (1) it fails to allege facts sufficient to state a cause of action (Code Civ. Proc., § 430.10, subd. (e)); (2) lack of jurisdiction (Code Civ. Proc., § 430.10, subd. (a)); and (3) misjoinder of parties (Code Civ. Proc., § 430.10, subd. (d)).

As an initial matter, the Court cannot rule on the special demurrer for misjoinder of parties. (Code Civ. Proc., § 92, subd. (c) [special demurrers are not allowed in a court of limited jurisdiction].) The remaining grounds for demurrer will be addressed in turn.

Allegations in the First Amended Complaint

Plaintiffs allege that this action seeks the recovery of $15,525.75 (the “Surplus Funds”) deposited with the Court in 2013 in LASC Court No. LAM13K16321 (“Trustee’s Action”). (FAC, ¶13.) The Surplus Funds were the result of a foreclosure on the real property of Henry Hook, Sr. and Ella Mae Hook (“Decedents”), both of whom died intestate. (Id. at ¶¶13-19.) Following the foreclosure sale, the trustee on the Deed of Trust of the real property filed the Trustee’s Action to deposit the Surplus Funds with the Court. (Id. at ¶20.) The trustee deposited the Surplus Funds with the Court in or about June 2014. (Id. at ¶¶21-22.)

Although not alleged in the First Amended Complaint, the Court takes judicial notice of the following proceedings in the Trustee’s Action: the court set a hearing on the trustee’s motion to deposit the Surplus Funds and for discharge of liability for June 25, 2014. (LASC Court No. LAM13K16321, Notice of Hearing, filed 12/26/13.) At the hearing on June 25, 2014, the court ordered deposit of the Surplus Funds, discharged the trustee from liability, and set a hearing on distribution of the Surplus Funds for September 8, 2014. (LASC Court No. LAM13K16321, Minute Order entered 6/25/14.) Claims to the funds were to be filed 15 days prior to the hearing. (LASC Court No. LAM13K16321, Minute Order entered 6/25/14.) On September 8, 2014, due to no appearance by any party, the court placed the disbursement hearing off calendar. (LASC Court No. LAM13K16321, Minute Order entered 9/8/14.) On the December 1, 2016 trial date, the court dismissed the Trustee’s Action without prejudice pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 58l, subdivision (b)(3). (LASC Court No. LAM13K16321, Minute Order entered 12/1/16.) On March 14, 2018, the court denied Plaintiff Henry Hook, Jr.’s ex parte application for order releasing the Surplus Funds. (LASC Court No. LAM13K16321, Minute Order entered 3/14/18.) On September 26, 2018, the court heard Plaintiff Henry Hook, Jr.’s noticed motion for order releasing the Surplus Funds and ruled it had no jurisdiction over the request. (LASC Court No. LAM13K16321, Minute Order entered 9/26/18.) The court ordered the Surplus Funds to be escheated. (LASC Court No. LAM13K16321, Minute Order entered 9/26/18.) Finally, the court ruled that a party of interest may file a claim with the Court’s executive officer under Cal. Govt. Code section 68084.1. (LASC Court No. LAM13K16321, Minute Order entered 9/26/18.)

The First Amended Complaint further alleges that in December 2018, Plaintiff Henry Hook, Jr. filed a claim with the Court’s revenue management office pursuant to California Government Code section 68064.1, subdivision (c). (FAC, ¶26 and Exh. 9.) The Court did not respond within the required 30 day, causing Plaintiffs to file the instant action. (Id. at ¶27.)

Demurrer for Failure to Allege Facts Sufficient to State a Cause of Action

Defendant demurs on the grounds that Plaintiffs have not alleged publication of the escheatment order by the Court, as required for a claim under Govt. Code section 68084.1. Govt. Code section 68084.1 states in relevant part:

(a) Except as otherwise provided by law, any money, excluding restitution to victims, that has been deposited with a superior court … that remains unclaimed for three years shall become the property of the superior court if, after published notice pursuant to this section, the money is not claimed or no verified complaint is filed and served. . . .

(b) At any time after the expiration of the three-year period specified in subdivision (a), the executive officer of the superior court may cause a notice to be published once a week for two successive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation published in the county in which the court is located. . . .

(c) Before or after publication, a party of interest may file a claim with the court executive officer that shall include the claimant's name, address, amount of claim, the grounds on which the claim is founded, and any other information that may be required by the court executive officer. The claim shall be filed before the designated date on which unclaimed money becomes the property of the court as provided under subdivision (b), and the executive officer shall accept or reject that claim.

(d) If the superior court executive officer rejects the claim, or takes no action on the claim within 30 days after it is filed, the party that submitted the claim may file a verified complaint seeking to recover all, or a specified part, of the money in the court in the county in which the notice is published. The copy of the complaint and summons shall be served on the court executive officer. The court executive officer shall withhold the release of the portion of unclaimed money for which a court action has been filed as provided in this section until the court renders a decision or the claim is settled. Any portion of the unclaimed money not covered by the verified complaint shall become the property of the court if no other claim or verified complaint has been filed regarding it within the time specified in this section. If the party that submitted the claim does not file a verified complaint within 30 days after the date that the court mailed notice that the claim was rejected or within 60 days after the claim was filed, the money shall become the property of the court.

(Cal. Govt. Code, § 68084.1 (emphasis added).) Plaintiff Henry Hook, Jr. filed a claim on December 15, 2018, pursuant to subdivision (c), which can be filed “before or after publication” of the escheatment notice. Subdivision (d) thereafter directs the claimant to file a verified complaint “within 60 days after the claim was filed” or “the money shall become the property of the court.” (Cal. Govt. Code, § 68084.1, subd. (d).) Reading these subdivisions together makes it clear that a claimant need not wait until publication of notice of escheatment by the Court to file a verified complaint making a claim to the deposited funds. However, Plaintiff Henry Hook, Jr. has not alleged that this action was timely filed since it was filed more than 60 days after the December 15, 2018 claim.

Defendant also argues that there is no allegation that the claim was submitted to the Court’s executive order as required by the statute. Govt. Code section 68084.1, subdivision (h), however, expressly allows the court executive officer to “delegate the responsibilities provided in this section to appropriate superior court staff.” As the Court’s own escheatment procedure form states, the court executive officer “delegates the responsibilities of Escheatment to Revenue Management”, including compliance with Govt. Code section 68084.1. (See FAC, Exh. 10, §§ II, III(A)(g).) The Court finds that other than the timeliness issue, Plaintiff Henry Hook, Jr. has sufficiently alleged compliance with Govt. Code section 68084.1 in order to state a cause of action thereunder. However, none of the other Plaintiffs allege they submitted a claim such that they can bring a cause of action under Govt. Code section 68084.1.

Defendant alternatively argues that the Complaint fails to state a cause of action because the Court is immune from liability, either under the doctrine of quasi-judicial immunity or Govt. Code sections 820.2 and 821.6. “[W]hen a quasi-judicial officer, such as a prosecutor, acts within his official capacity he, like a judicial officer, enjoys absolute immunity.” (Fall v. Superior Court (1996) 42 Cal.App.1031, 1043.) Quasi-judicial immunity has been applied to a municipal court commissioner, a building inspector, a probate court investigator, grand jurors, a deputy coroner, social workers, and Department of Social Services employees. (Id. at 1044.) Based on the broad application of quasi-judicial immunity, which has been extended to “[e]xecutive heads of administrative departments,” the Court finds that it also applies to the Court’s executive officer with respect to determinations of surplus funds on deposit with the Court. (See Howard v. Drapkin (1990) 222 Cal.App.3d 843, 854.) The Court, however, has not shown that the doctrine of quasi-judicial immunity applies to it as an entity.

Regarding immunity under Govt. Code sections 820.2 and 821.6, these statutes also only pertain to a public employee’s liability. While they may bar the action against Defendant Carter, the Court has not shown it is immune from liability.

Therefore, the demurrer for failure to allege facts sufficient to state a cause of action is SUSTAINED AS TO PLAINTIFFS’ FIRST CAUSE OF ACTION WITHOUT LEAVE TO AMEND AND SUSTAINED AS TO ALL PLAINTIFFS’ CLAIMS AGAINST DEFENDANT SHERRI R. CARTER WITHOUT LEAVE TO AMEND.

Demurrer for Lack of Jurisdiction

Defendants also demur to the First Amended Complaint on grounds that the proper jurisdiction for resolution of the dispute is a Petition to Reopen the Estate of Henry Hook, Sr. for determination of the proper heirs to the Surplus Funds and order for distribution pursuant to Probate Code section 12252. The second cause of action is brought pursuant to Probate Code section 13105, subdivision (b), which states in relevant part, “If the holder of the decedent’s property refuses to pay, deliver, or transfer any personal property or evidence thereof to the successor of the decedent within a reasonable time, the successor may recover the property or compel its payment, delivery, or transfer in an action brought for that purpose against the holder of the property.” (Cal. Prob. Code, § 13105, subd. (b).)

Defendants have not shown that the Probate Court is the only proper jurisdiction for determination of Plaintiffs’ claims to the Surplus Funds. The Demurrer argues that the Surplus Funds are a residual asset of the Estate of Henry Hook, Sr. and should be handled by reopening the Estate under section 12252 of the Probate Code. In opposition, Plaintiffs argue that where reopening the estate would be too expensive, the procedure under Cal. Probate Code section 13100, et seq. may be utilized by submitting the evidence required thereunder. The Court, however, does find that Plaintiffs have not sufficiently alleged that application of Cal. Probate Code section 13100, et seq. is appropriate because the gross value of decedent’s “real and personal property in this state does not exceed one hundred sixty-six thousand two hundred fifty dollars ($166,250).” The First Amended Complaint makes no allegation regarding the value of Decedent Henty Hook, Sr.’s real and personal property in this state.

Finally, the Court does not find that the relief sought in this action is a writ of mandate under Code of Civil Procedure section 1085 or that it would require the Court to reverse findings and orders by the assigned judicial officers in the Trustee Action. No finding was made regarding the Surplus Funds at the September 8, 2014 disbursement hearing, which simply placed the hearing off calendar. Also, the order escheating the funds to the State on September 26, 2018 was void for lack of jurisdiction, given that the Trustee’s Action had been dismissed on December 1, 2016.

Therefore, the Demurrer to the second cause of action is SUSTAINED WITH LEAVE TO AMEND.

Conclusion

Demurrer of Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles and Sherri R. Carter, Court Executive Officer to the First Amended Complaint is ruled on as follows:

The Demurrer is sustained without leave to amend as to Plaintiff Henry Hook, Jr.’s first cause of action for failing to timely file an action under Cal. Govt. Code section 68084.1, subdivision (d). The Demurrer is sustained without leave to amend as to Plaintiffs Chaundra Mills, Sharon Hooks, Philip Hooks, Tonia Hooks, Karen Shelton, and Felicia Hooks for failing to allege the submission of a claim under Cal. Govt. Code section 68084.1. All Plaintiffs’ claims against Defendant Carter are further sustained without leave to amend.

The Demurrer is sustained with 30 days’ leave to amend as to Plaintiffs’ second cause of action for failing to allege that application of Cal. Probate Code section 13100, et seq. to the Surplus Funds is appropriate based on the value of Decedent Henty Hook, Sr.’s real and personal property in this state.

Moving party to give notice.

Case Number: 18STLC13511    Hearing Date: February 04, 2020    Dept: 26

The Law Man Group v. Mercury, et al.

DEMURRER TO AND MOTION TO STRIKE FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT

(CCP §§ 430.10, 436)

TENTATIVE RULING:

Defendants’ Demurrer to the First Amended Complaint is SUSTAINED WITHOUT LEAVE TO AMEND AS TO DEFENDANTS BETH PENTICOFF AND JACK HAGEMAN AND OVERRULED AS TO DEFENDANT MERCURY INSURANCE COMPANY. DEFENDANT MERCURY INSURANCE COMPANY TO ANSWER WITHIN TEN (10) DAYS.

Defendants’ Motion to Strike Portions of the Complaint is DEEMED MOOT AS TO DEFENDANTS BETH PENTICOFF AND JACK HAGEMAN AND GRANTED WITHOUT LEAVE TO AMEND AS TO DEFENDANT MERCURY INSURANCE COMPANY.

ANALYSIS:

On October 26, 2018, Plaintiffs The Law Man Group, APC and Shawn Gozarkah filed this action for damages resulting from an attorney’s lien against Defendants Mercury Insurance Co. (“Mercury”), Beth Penticoff (erroneously sued and served as “Beth Penticoff”) (“Penticoff”), and Jack Hageman (“Hageman”) (collectively, “Defendants”). On October 31, 2019, the Court sustained and granted Defendants’ Demurrer to and Motion to Strike the Complaint with leave to amend. On November 19, 2019, Plaintiffs filed the First Amended Complaint.

Defendants filed the instant Demurrer to, and Motion to Strike Portions of, the First Amended Complaint on December 23, 2019. Plaintiffs untimely filed and served oppositions on January 24, 2020. Defendants filed replies on January 28, 2020.

The Court finds the Demurer and Motion to Strike are accompanied by a proper meet and confer declaration as required by Code of Civil Procedure sections 430.41 and 435.5. (Van Vo Decl., ¶¶4-6.)

Demurrer to First Amended Complaint

Allegations in the First Amended Complaint

As with the Complaint, the First Amended Complaint alleges causes of action for (1) breach of attorney’s lien; (2) intentional interference with contractual relations; (3) intentional interference with prospective economic relations; and (4) negligent interference with prospective economic relations. Plaintiffs allege that on December 29, 2016, they were retained by Julia Derrick (“Derrick”) to represent her in a motor vehicle negligence action against Penticoff and Hageman. (FAC, ¶7.) Penticoff and Hageman were insured by Mercury on the date of the subject accident. (Ibid.) Derrick signed a lien directing Plaintiffs to pay the medical provider from proceeds she received from the case against Penticoff and Hageman, thereby making Plaintiffs responsible to the medical provider for payment. (Id. at ¶8.)

On January 2, 2017, Plaintiff sent a letter informing Mercury of the lien it had on any proceeds in payment of Derrick’s claim and that Plaintiffs’ name must appear on any checks issued. (Id. at ¶9 and Exh. A.) Per Plaintiff, in accordance with Mercury’s reputation for lowballing, it offered Derrick only $1,000.00 despite damage to her vehicle, $13,000.00 in medical bills, and Penticoff and Hageman being 100 percent at fault. (Id. at ¶11.) Knowing that Mercury would respond to any attempt to litigate Derrick’s claims by dragging out the case to run up Plaintiffs’ fees and make the case uneconomical, Plaintiffs advised Derrick to file an action in Small Claims Court. (Id. at ¶12.) In fact, it was Mercury’s intention that Plaintiffs would spend extensive time and money filing a lawsuit. (Ibid.) Plaintiffs assisted, prepared, and coached Derrick in the work up and presentation of her Small Claims case per the fee agreement. (Ibid.) At no time did Plaintiff cease their representation of Derrick or indicate to Mercury that their representation was withdrawn. (Ibid.)

Derrick prevailed in her Small Claims action against Penticoff and Hageman in the principal amount of $10,000.00. (Id. at ¶13.) Mercury was fully aware of Plaintiffs’ continuing representation of Derrick. (Id. at ¶14.) Hageman and Penticoff also harassed Derrick and were incensed she made a claim against the. (Ibid.) They closely monitored the Small Claims action, illegally obtained Derrick’s Social Security Number and other private records, and conspired with Mercury to void Plaintiffs’ attorney lien by issuing the settlement check to the Court instead of to Derrick. (Id. at ¶15.) Despite being aware of Plaintiffs’ lien, Mercury paid the judgment directly to the Court, which then paid Derrick. (Id. at ¶16.) Plaintiffs allege that by paying the Small Claims judgment to the Court, Mercury knowingly breached the lien and interfered with Plaintiff’s contractual and economic relations. (Id. at ¶17.) In fact, Plaintiffs allege that Mercury’s check generating system does not allow a check to be issued without the lienholder’s name unless an affirmative step is taken to remove the lienholder’s name. (Ibid.)

Demurrer to First Amended Complaint

There are two bases for the demurrer. First, all Defendants demur to each cause of action in the First Amended Complaint on the grounds that there is no allegation of wrongful or unjustified conduct, a required to state a cause of action for tortious interference with contractual relations. (Korea Supply Co. v. Lockheed Martin Corp. (2003) 29 Cal.4th 1134, 1154.) Specifically, they argue that they were within their rights to pay the Small Claims judgment to the Court instead of making payment to Plaintiffs as required by the terms of the lien agreement. Defendants’ reliance on the statute that allows payment of the Small Claims judgment directly to the Court, however, does not absolve them of their responsibility to honor the lien agreement when they had notice of the same, as explained below. 

In Levin v. Gulf Ins. Group (1999) 69 Cal.App.4th 1282, 1287-1288, the Court of Appeal held:

[A]n insurer and the attorneys retained to defend the insureds are liable for intentional interference with the prospective economic advantage of a discharged attorney when, after receiving a notice of lien for attorney fees and costs filed in the case by the discharged attorney, they pay his former client and the latter's new attorney in settlement or in satisfaction of a judgment with knowledge of the lien.

(Levin v. Gulf Ins. Group (1999) 69 Cal.App.4th 1282.) This case is on point with the facts of this case, where Defendants allegedly paid the Court in satisfaction of the Small Claims judgment despite having knowledge of the lien held by Plaintiffs. In Levine, the plaintiff hired an attorney who spent time working on the case and was thereafter discharged. (Id. at 1284.) Upon the plaintiff’s retention of a new attorney and obtaining a favorable judgment, the defendant’s insurer and its attorneys paid the judgment to the plaintiff and his new counsel. (Id. at 1284-1285.) As in Levine, the wrongful conduct was not the payment of the judgment to the prevailing party, which in a vacuum is proper. Rather, the wrongful conduct was the payment in derogation of a noticed lien. (Id. at 1286-1287.)

Second, Defendant Penticoff and Hageman demur on the grounds that there are insufficient allegations of their involvement in paying the judgment to the Court to be liable for breach of the lien. The Court of Appeal in Levine makes clear that “it is the act of payment in derogation of the lienholder's rights that creates liability.” (Id. at 1287.) Regardless of allegations that Penticoff and Hageman’s monitored the Small Claims action and agreed that the Small Claims judgment should be paid to the Court to void the attorney lien, that is insufficient to assert a basis for liability. The case on which Plaintiffs heavily rely, Siciliano v. Fireman's Fund Ins. Co. (1976) 62 Cal.App.3d 745, 750, only brought claims against the attorney’s client and the defendant’s insurer. There is no authority that the insureds (Penticoff and Hageman here) can be liable for breach of the lien when they did not make the payment for the Small Claims judgment.

Based on the foregoing, the Demurrer to the First Amended Complaint is SUSTAINED WITHOUT LEAVE TO AMEND AS TO DEFENDANTS BETH PENTICOFF AND JACK HAGEMAN AND OVERRULED AS TO DEFENDANT MERCURY INSURANCE COMPANY. DEFENDANT MERCURY INSURANCE COMPANY TO ANSWER WITHIN TEN (10) DAYS.

Motion to Strike

Irrelevant or Inflammatory Allegations

Defendants move to strike certain allegations they contend are irrelevant or inflammatory, and allegations in support of the request for punitive damages on the grounds that the factual allegations are insufficient. To the extent the demurrer is sustained without leave to amend as to Defendants Penticoff and Hageman, the Motion to Strike is moot as to them. The Motion to Strike remains only as to Defendant Mercury.

A motion to strike allegations Defendant Mercury contends are irrelevant or inflammatory is improper in a court of limited jurisdiction. “Motions to strike are allowed only on the ground that the damages or relief sought are not supported by the allegations of the complaint.”

(Code Civ. Proc., § 92, subd. (d).) The Motion to Strike the allegations at pages 4:9-25 and 6:14-7:17 of the First Amended Complaint is DENIED.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are authorized by Civil Code section 3294 in non-contract cases “where the defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice, express or implied . . . .”  (Civil Code, § 3294, subd. (a).) The facts alleged in the First Amended Complaint do not support a request for punitive damages based on oppression or fraud. There are no still no allegations of fraud, nor are there allegations that Plaintiffs were subject to cruel and unjust hardship as a result of not being paid under the lien as required to show oppression. (Civil Code, § 3294, subd. (c)(2)-(3).)

Malice means conduct “which is intended by the defendant to cause injury to the plaintiff or despicable conduct which is carried on by the defendant with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.” (Civil Code, § 3294, subd. (c)(1).) As there are no allegations that Defendants intended to injure Plaintiffs, facts must be alleged to show Defendants’ disregard of Plaintiffs’ right to recover under the lien was willful and despicable.

While the allegations show that Mercury acted willfully in making the check out to the Court, they do not show that its conduct was despicable. Despicable conduct is conduct that is “so vile, base, contemptible, miserable, wretched or loathsome that it would be looked down upon and despised by most ordinary decent people.” (Mock v. Michigan Millers Mutual Ins. Co. (1992) 4 Cal.App.4th 306, 330.) Such conduct has been described as having the character of outrage frequently associated with crime. (Tomaselli v. Transamerica Ins. Co. (1994) 25 Cal.App.4th 1269, 1287.) The Court does not find that Defendant Mercury’s allegedly intentional circumvention of an attorney’s lien rises to the level of criminal conduct or conduct that is “vile.” The allegations in support of the request for punitive damages, therefore, are insufficient. The Motion to Strike the punitive damages allegations at pages 11:3-4, 14:5-7, 15:21-23, and 17:15 of the First Amended Complaint is GRANTED WITHOUT LEAVE TO AMEND.

Attorney’s Fees

As pointed out in the Motion to Strike and undisputed by the opposition, attorney’s fees are only recoverable when authorized by contract, statute or law. (Code Civ. Proc., §§ 10221, 1033.5, subd. (a)(10).) The First Amended Complaint does not allege a basis for the attorney’s fees in contract, statute or law. (FAC, Prayer, ¶¶4-5.) Therefore, the First Amended Complaint lacks sufficient allegations to make a claim for attorney’s fees.

The Motion to Strike the request for attorney’s fees at page 17:17-18 of the First Amended Complaint is GRANTED WITHOUT LEAVE TO AMEND.

Conclusion

Defendants’ Demurrer to the First Amended Complaint is SUSTAINED WITHOUT LEAVE TO AMEND AS TO DEFENDANTS BETH PENTICOFF AND JACK HAGEMAN AND OVERRULED AS TO DEFENDANT MERCURY INSURANCE COMPANY. DEFENDANT MERCURY INSURANCE COMPANY TO ANSWER WITHIN TEN (10) DAYS.

Defendants’ Motion to Strike Portions of the Complaint is DEEMED MOOT AS TO DEFENDANTS BETH PENTICOFF AND JACK HAGEMAN AND DENIED IN PART AND GRANTED IN PART AS TO DEFENDANT MERCURY INSURANCE COMPANY. SPECIFICALLY, THE MOTION TO STRIKE IS DENIED AS TO PAGES 4:9-25 and 6:14-7:17, AND GRANTED WITHOUT LEAVE TO AMEND AS TO PAGES 11:3-4, 14:5-7, 15:21-23, 17:15 AND 17:17-18.

Moving party to give notice.

Case Number: 18STLC13511    Hearing Date: October 31, 2019    Dept: 94

DEMURRER TO AND MOTION TO STRIKE COMPLAINT

(CCP §§ 430.10, 436)

TENTATIVE RULING:

Defendants Beth Penticoff’s and Jack Hageman’s Demurrer to the Complaint is SUSTAINED WITH 20 DAYS’ LEAVE TO AMEND.

Defendants Mercury Insurance Co., Beth Penticoff, and Jack Hageman’s Motion to Strike Portions of the Complaint is GRANTED WITH 20 DAYS’ LEAVE TO AMEND.

SERVICE:

[X] Proof of Service Timely Filed (CRC, rule 3.1300) OK

[X] Correct Address (CCP §§ 1013, 1013a) OK

[X] 16/21 Court Days Lapsed (CCP §§ 12c, 1005(b)) OK

SUMMARY OF COMPLAINT: Action for breach of attorney’s lien, interference with contractual relations, and interference with prospective economic relations.

REQUEST FOR RELIEF: Sustain demurrer to each cause of action and strike request for punitive damages failure to allege sufficient facts.

OPPOSITION: Plaintiff had an attorney lien on its client’s judgment in the small claims action that Defendant admitted to intentionally violating. Defendants Penticoff and Hageman are equally liable for Mercury’s violation of the lien.

REPLY: None filed as of October 28, 2019. CONFIDENTIAL, COURT PRIVILEGED DOCUMENT

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ANALYSIS:

On October 26, 2018, Plaintiffs The Law Man Group, APC and Shawn Gozarkah (collectively, "Plaintiffs") filed this action for damages resulting from an attorney’s lien against Defendants Mercury Insurance Co. ("Mercury"), Beth Penticoff (erroneously sued and served as "Beth Peticoff") ("Penticoff"), and Jack Hageman ("Hageman") (collectively, "Defendants"). On February 21, 2019, Defendants filed their Demurrer to and Motion to Strike the Complaint. Plaintiff prematurely filed an Opposition on February 13 and another Opposition on February 26, 2019.

Follwing multiple continuances to ensure a proper meet and confer effort as required by Code of Civil Procedure sections 430.41 and 435.5, the parties have filed a joint statement demonstrating compliance with the statutes.

Demurrer to Complaint

The Complaint alleges causes of action for (1) breach of attorney’s lien; (2) intentional interference with contractual relations; (3) intentional interference with prospective economic relations; and (4) negligent interference with prospective economic relations. Plaintiffs allege that on December 29, 2016, they were retained by Julia Derrick ("Derrick") to represent her in a motor vehicle negligence against Penticoff and Hageman. (Compl., ¶7.) Penticoff and Hageman were insured by Mercury on the date of the subject accident. Derrick signed a lien directing Plaintiffs to pay the medical provider from proceeds she received from the case against Penticoff and Hageman, thereby making Plaintiffs responsible to the medical provider for payment. (Id. at ¶8.)

On January 2, 2017, Plaintiff sent a letter informing Mercury of the lien it had on any proceeds in payment of Derrick’s claim and that Plaintiffs’ name must appear on any checks issued. (Id. at ¶9 and Exh. A.) In accordance with Mercury’s reputation for lowballing, it offered Derrick only $1,000.00 despite damage to her vehicle, $13,000.00 in medical bills, and Penticoff and Hageman being 100 percent at fault. (Id. at ¶11.) Knowing that Mercury would respond to any attempt to litigate Derrick’s claims by dragging out the case to run up Plaintiffs’ fees and make the case uneconomical, Plaintiffs advised Derrick to file an action in small claims court. (Id. at ¶12.) Plaintiffs continued to advise Derrick through the small claims action and at no time ceased their representation or indicated to Mercury that their representation was withdrawn. (Ibid.)

Derrick prevailed in her small claims action against Penticoff and Hageman in the principal amount of $10,000.00. (Id. at ¶13.) Despite being aware of Plaintiffs’ lien, Mercury paid the judgment directly to the Court, which then paid Derrick. (Id. at ¶16.) Plaintiffs allege that by paying the small claims judgment to the Court, Mercury knowingly breached the lien and interfered with Plaintiff’s contractual and economic relations. (Id. at ¶17.) In fact, Plaintiffs allege that Mercury’s check generating system does not allow a check to be issued without the lienholder’s name unless an affirmative step is taken to remove the lienholder’s name. (Ibid.)

Civil Code section 2872 states that "A lien is a charge imposed in some mode other than by a transfer in trust upon specific property by which it is made security for the performance of an CONFIDENTIAL, COURT PRIVILEGED DOCUMENT

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act." (Cal. Civ. Code, § 2872.) A lien in favor of an attorney for proceeds of a prospective judgment may be created by express contract or implied from a retainer agreement that indicates the attorney is to be paid from the judgment. (Waltrip v. Kimberlin (2008) 164 Cal.App.4th 517, 525.) Attorney’s liens are also subject to equitable considerations, namely that "[i]t is a principle of equity that "those whose labor, skills and materials resulted in the creation of a fund should be entitled to priority in the payment of their claims from such source." (Id. at 525-526.)

Penticoff and Hageman demur to each cause of action on the grounds that there are no facts alleged to make them liable for breach of the lien, or interference with Plaintiffs’ contractual or economic relations. While Plaintiffs provide authority for the contention that a debtor or party with notice of the lien may not violate the it, there are no allegations that Penticoff and Hageman themselves were on notice of the lien as required under the law. Plaintiffs provide no authority for their contention that because Mercury was on notice of the attorney lien, Penticoff and Hageman had notice or knowledge of the lien as required under the law. (Opp., p. 6:8-11.) Nor do Plaintiffs offer any authority regarding the remaining causes of action and how Penticoff and Hageman can be liable thereunder. The factual allegations make it clear that Mercury took the affirmative step to remove Plaintiffs’ name from the check issued to satisfy the small claims judgment. No facts are alleged as to any involvement by Penticoff and Hageman.

Based on the foregoing, Penticoff and Hageman’s Demurrer to the Complaint is sustained with leave to amend.

Motion to Strike Punitive Damages Allegations

Defendants move to strike the allegations that their conduct was due to spite and the request for punitive damages on the grounds that the factual allegations are insufficient.

Punitive damages are authorized by Civil Code section 3294 in non-contract cases "where the defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice, express or implied . . . ." (Civil Code, § 3294, subd. (a).) Malice means conduct which is intended by the defendant to cause injury to the plaintiff or despicable conduct which is carried on by the defendant with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others. (Civil Code, § 3294, subd. (c)(1).) Oppression means despicable conduct that subjects a person to cruel and unjust hardship in conscious disregard of that person’s rights. (Civil Code, § 3294, subd. (c)(2).) Finally, fraud means an intentional misrepresentation, deceit, or concealment of a material fact known to the defendant with the intention on the party of the defendant of thereby depriving a person of property or legal rights or otherwise causing injury. (Civil Code, § 3294, subd. (c)(3).)

The facts alleged in the Complaint do not support a request for punitive damages based on oppression or fraud. There are no allegations of fraud, nor are there allegations that Plaintiffs were subject to cruel and unjust hardship as a result of not being paid under the lien. As for malicious conduct, facts must be alleged to show that Defendants’ disregard of Plaintiffs’ right to recover under the lien was both willful and despicable. While the allegations show that Mercury acted willfully in making the check out to the Court, they do not show that its conduct was despicable. Despicable conduct is conduct that is "so vile, base, contemptible, miserable, wretched or loathsome that it would be looked down upon and despised by most ordinary decent CONFIDENTIAL, COURT PRIVILEGED DOCUMENT

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people." (Mock v. Michigan Millers Mutual Ins. Co. (1992) 4 Cal.App.4th 306, 330.) Such conduct has been described as having the character of outrage frequently associated with crime. (Tomaselli v. Transamerica Ins. Co. (1994) 25 Cal.App.4th 1269, 1287.) Intentionally circumventing an attorney’s lien on a judgment by directing the money to the attorney’s client does not rise to the level of criminal conduct, or conduct that is "vile."

The allegations in support of the request for punitive damages, therefore, are insufficient. Defendants’ Motion to Strike is granted with leave to amend.

Conclusion

Defendants Beth Penticoff and Jack Hageman’s Demurrer to the Complaint is SUSTAINED WITH 20 DAYS’ LEAVE TO AMEND.

Defendants’ Motion to Strike Portions of the Complaint is GRANTED WITH 20 DAYS’ LEAVE TO AMEND.

Moving party to give notice.

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