On 10/03/2016 SYCAMORE PARK PRIVATE COMMUNITY GROUP filed a Property - Other Real Property lawsuit against MOUNTAIN RECREATION. This case was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Courts, Santa Monica Courthouse located in Los Angeles, California. The Judge overseeing this case is NANCY L. NEWMAN. The case status is Pending - Other Pending.
Pending - Other Pending
Los Angeles County Superior Courts
Santa Monica Courthouse
Los Angeles, California
NANCY L. NEWMAN
SYCAMORE PARK PRIVATE COMMUNITY GROUP
SYCAMORE PARK TENNIS COURTS ASSOCIATION;
VIA ESCONDIDO ROAD MAINTENANCE ASSO
ABA PROTECTION INC.
MOUNTAIN RECREATION AND CONSERVATION AUTH
SANTA MONICA MOUNTAIN CONSERVANCY
JENNIFER W. ROSENFELD
GOLDSTEIN NANCY B.
SLATER JENNIFER R.
GARRETT & TULLY
SHAPIRO MARC STEVEN
ROSENFELD JENNIFER W.
EDMONDS JR ERIC F.
EDMUNDS ERIC F. JR.
SWATT PATRICIA L.
MEAD JESSICA JEANETTE
STELLWAGEN ROBERT HARWOOD JR
PARKER IBRAHIM & BERG LLP
SHAPIRO MARC S.
HOLLINS ANDREW STEWART
6/7/2019: Association of Attorney
2/8/2018: Legacy Document
2/9/2018: Proof of Service (not Summons and Complaint)
9/11/2018: Notice of Motion
10/9/2018: Notice of Ruling
10/12/2018: Case Management Statement
10/18/2018: Case Management Statement
10/26/2018: Stipulation - No Order
11/6/2018: Demurrer - without Motion to Strike
5/9/2019: Demurrer - without Motion to Strike
5/21/2019: Stipulation - No Order
Hearingat 09:00 AM in Department P at 1725 Main Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401; Non-Jury TrialRead MoreRead Less
Hearingat 08:30 AM in Department P at 1725 Main Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401; Hearing on Motion for Summary JudgmentRead MoreRead Less
Hearingat 10:00 AM in Department P at 1725 Main Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401; Informal Discovery Conference (IDC)Read MoreRead Less
DocketNotice (of Unavailability of Counsel); Filed by Santa Monica Mountain Conservancy (Defendant)Read MoreRead Less
DocketRequest for Dismissal; Filed by Santa Monica Mountain Conservancy (Cross-Complainant)Read MoreRead Less
Docketat 09:00 AM in Department P; Case Management Conference - HeldRead MoreRead Less
Docketat 08:30 AM in Department P; Hearing on Demurrer - without Motion to Strike - HeldRead MoreRead Less
DocketOrder Appointing Court Approved Reporter as Official Reporter Pro Tempore (Josiane Goldman CSR#13132); Filed by Craig Gold (Plaintiff); Denise Stansfield (Plaintiff)Read MoreRead Less
DocketMinute Order ( (Cross-Defendants Sycamore Park Private Community Group, Via E...)); Filed by ClerkRead MoreRead Less
DocketCase Management Statement; Filed by Mountain Recreation and Conservation Auth (Cross-Complainant); Mountain Recreation and Conservation Auth (Defendant)Read MoreRead Less
DocketCase Management Statement; Filed by Sycamore Park Private Community Group (Plaintiff)Read MoreRead Less
DocketAnswer; Filed by DefendantRead MoreRead Less
DocketAnswer to Complaint Filed (ON BEHALF OF: SANTA MONICA MOUNTAINS CONSERVANCY AND MOUNTAINS RECREATION AND CONSERVA TION AUTHORITY - RECEIVED ); Filed by Attorney for DefendantRead MoreRead Less
DocketAnswer to Complaint Filed (ON BEHALF OF: SANTA MONICA MOUNTAINS CONSERVANCY AND MOUNTAINS RECREATION AND CONSER VATION AUTHORITY - RECEIVED. ); Filed by Attorney for DefendantRead MoreRead Less
DocketAnswer; Filed by Mountain Recreation and Conservation Auth (Defendant); Santa Monica Mountain Conservancy (Defendant)Read MoreRead Less
DocketCivil Case Cover SheetRead MoreRead Less
DocketComplaint; Filed by Craig Gold (Plaintiff); Kenneth Kearsley (Plaintiff); Nino Posella (Plaintiff) et al.Read MoreRead Less
DocketComplaint FiledRead MoreRead Less
DocketSummons Filed; Filed by Attorney for PlaintiffRead MoreRead Less
DocketSummons; Filed by PlaintiffRead MoreRead Less
Case Number: SC126502 Hearing Date: October 06, 2020 Dept: P
Sycamore Park et. al. v. Mountain Recreation and Conservation et al., Case No. SC126502
Hearing Date October 6, 2020
Plaintiffs’ Motion for an Order Certifying Class
Defendant MRCA’s Motion to Compel Further Answers to Deposition Questions and Produce Videotape Re Elizabeth Stevens
Plaintiffs Sycamore Park homeowners dispute whether easements in their community can be used for access to a public trail system and whether plaintiffs violated the California Coastal Act by blocking public access to the trails. Plaintiffs seek class certification of their quiet title, declaratory relief and injunctive relief claims, with the proposed class consisting of all Sycamore Park property owners. Defendants/cross-complainant MRCA seeks to compel cross-defendant homeowner Elizabeth Stephens to answer deposition questions and produce a cell phone video.
Class Certification Motion
A party seeking class certification must show an ascertainable and sufficiently numerous class, a well-defined community of interest among class members and substantial benefits from certification. Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court (2012) 53 Cal.4th 1004, 1021. A community of interest exists requires (a) predominant questions of law and fact, (b) class representatives with claims or defenses typical of the class and (c) class members who can adequately represent the class. Id at 1021. In determining whether a class should be certified, a court must determine the class action procedure carries superior benefits for both litigants and the court. Reyes v. Board of Supervisors (1987) 196 Cal.App.3d 1263, 1275
The class of homeowners is admittedly ascertainable and numerous. See Slater Decl. at ¶3. Common questions of law and fact affect all class members, specifically the public’s right to use the trailhead easements. Defendants argue plaintiffs have not shown the proposed class shares “claims and defenses” with the proposed class representatives, in that proposed class representatives “do not necessarily share the same view of the possible limitations on the use of those easements.” It is improper for a court to deny certification because of a hypothetical conflict of interest not supported by evidence. See Richmond v. Dart Industries (1981) 29 Cal.3d 462, 524. There is no evidence of actual conflict, and the court may revisit the issue if clear evidence of a conflict arises. Id. at 477 (“[I]t is preferable to defer the decision to deny class certification until after notice has gone out and such future time as the trial court has the most complete information at its disposal.”). The court would entertain discussion regarding the appropriateness of adding additional class representatives, not just the currently named plaintiffs.
Defendants argue plaintiffs have not shown this case would “substantially benefit” from class certification. The court disagrees. Given the numerous individuals and entities with an interest in the easements, serving each property owner individually and conducting separate, duplicative discovery would be expensive, time-consuming and inefficient. Class certification would allow this matter to proceed efficiently. Class certification GRANTED. The court notes the court and parties discussed this issue at multiple prior hearings and informal meetings.
When a court certifies a class, under Cal. Rule of Court 3.766(c) it must determine whether notice is necessary; whether there will be an opt-out procedure; the time, manner and content of the notice; and who is responsible for cost of notice. In cases seeking monetary judgment, proposed class members must be given notice of the proceedings and an opportunity to “opt out.” Phillips Petroleum Co. v. Shutts (1985) 472 US 797, 811-812.
Plaintiffs’ proposed notice contains an opt-out provision. See plaintiffs’ exh. B. Defendants argue a risk of multiple actions if there is an opt-out provision, arguing the court should apply Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b), which does not permit an opt-out where declaratory judgment, rather than money damages, are sought. Defendants provide no authority for the proposition that the federal rule applies here. Potential class members should be afforded the due process right to opt-out.
Defendants argues for personal service of proposed class members. As there is no statutory or other basis for requiring personal service, U.S. Mail service to all property owners is sufficient. However, notice must go both to the property address and the address of the current owner, if such are different. Exh. A to the FAC purports to list all property owners. The sides are to share equally in the cost of ascertaining the owner of each property (if different from the resident at each property) and of providing notice.
The relevant statutes and Rules of Court apply to discovery moving forward; disputes regarding discovery will be resolved via IDC/separate motion. No blanket discovery order will issue, as there is no pending dispute.
Plaintiffs request leave to make “minor amendments” to the FAC to allege necessary elements of a class action claim, without providing opposing party an opportunity to amend the cross-complaint or provide a new answer. Plaintiffs provide no authority that a court may allow “minor amendments” to an existing pleading without stipulation. To conform their pleading with the class allegations set forth above, plaintiffs must file a second amended complaint.
Motion to Compel re Stephens
MRCA and SMMC deposed Elizabeth Stephens on July 31, 2019 and January 17, 2020. She failed to produce documents related to interactions with ABA Protection security guards and a cell phone video of a confrontation between agency head Joseph Edmiston and an ABA guard. Agencies obtained the emails from ABA, but Stephens refused to answer questions about them and refused to produce the video. The agencies move to compel further production and request sanctions, arguing Stephens agreed to produce these materials at the December 6, 2019 IDC.
Under Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. §2025.480, a court may order an answer be given or a document be produced. Courts are required to impose monetary sanctions against a party unsuccessfully opposing a motion under the above section “unless it finds that the one subject to the sanction acted with substantial justification or that other circumstances make the imposition of the sanction unjust.”
The issues in question are plainly discoverable. The emails indicate Stephens instructed security guards regarding turning away non-residents attempting to enter Sycamore Park. Several causes of action turn on the allegation Stephens and others acted wrongfully in setting up the security kiosk and preventing public access to the easements. Stephens is to answer questions regarding the emails, as well as hiring, instructing and interacting with ABA guards. The video is relevant and discoverable for the same reasons. GRANTED. Because of plaintiffs’ attorney-client privilege concerns, plaintiffs may produce an audio-free version of the video (which is not objected to by moving party). The court will reserve judgment regarding sanctions.
DUE TO THE ONGOING COVID-19 PANDEMIC, PARTIES AND COUNSEL ARE ENCOURAGED TO APPEAR REMOTELY VIA LA COURT CONNECT.
Case Number: SC126502 Hearing Date: February 05, 2020 Dept: P
Los Angeles County Superior Court, Dept. P
Sycamore Park v. Mountain Recreation and Conservation Case No. SC126502
Hearing Date: February 5, 2020
Plaintiffs/cross-defendants residents and property owners in Sycamore Park, a private community in Malibu argue various easements providing access to streets, roads and hiking trails in the community are for the benefit and use of residents only. Defendants/cross complainants government agencies (MRCA and SMMC) own property (parcels 900 and 901) within Sycamore Park. Defendants/cross complainants assert their right to invite the public to use the easements for trail access and argue plaintiffs created a nuisance and violated the California Coastal Act by erecting a security kiosk/gate preventing access to the roads.
Plaintiffs’ and Cross-Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment/Summary Adjudication
Plaintiffs move for summary judgment on their quiet title and declaratory relief claims. Cross-defendants move for summary judgment as to the nuisance and Coastal Act claims.
SUSTAINED as to objections 1, 3, 4, 6, 22, 23, OVERRULED as to other objections.
An easement is a “restricted right to specific, limited, definable use or activity upon another’s property. Mesnick v. Caton (1986) 183 Cal.App.3d 1248, 1261. The extent of an easement is determined by the terms of the grant. Cal. Civ. Code §806. The owner of an easement cannot “materially increase the burden of it upon the servient estate or impose thereon a new and additional burden.” Wall v. Rudolph (1961) 198 Cal.App.2d 685, 686. Whether the use of an easement by either the servient or dominant owner interferes with the rights of the other owner is generally a question of fact. Red Mountain, LLC v. Fallbrook Public Utility Dist. (2006) 143 Cal.App.4th 333, 350.
A grant of an unrestricted easement entitles the holder to a use “limited only by the requirement that it be reasonably necessary and consistent with the purposes for which the easement was granted.” Zissler v. Saville (2018) 29 Cal.App.5th 630, 640. Further, a grant of an easement for “road purposes” “creates a general right of way capable of use in connection with the dominant tenement for all reasonable purposes.” Wall, supra, 198 Cal.App.2d at 692. Whether a specific use of an easement is unreasonable is a question of fact. Id. at 696.
Plaintiffs argue public records show the streets in Sycamore Park are intended only for private use by Sycamore Park homeowners. MCRA and SMMC conceded the roads are private. MSJ pg. 16, Separate Statement 35-38. Plaintiffs argue MCRA and SMMC’s use of the easements to create a public trail system is inconsistent with the intent of the easement’s grantor and overburden the estates by exposing the lots abutting the roads to property damage and security threats from the public. MSJ pgs. 17-18, separate statement at 40-49.
Under Wall, MCRA and SMMC do not have the right to over burden the road easement. Additionally, under Zissler, use of the easement by all easement holders – including MRCA and SMMC – is limited by the purposes for which the easement was granted.
The grants describe “easements for community road and public utility purposes to be used in common with others[,]” “easements for community pedestrian and equestrian travel purposes to be used in common with others[,]” “an easement, for road purposes, to be used in common with others[.]” Plaintiffs’ exhibits 5-7. Defendants note the easements are unrestricted; there is no language limiting owners’ use of their easement rights. There is a broad reference to “road purposes,” making this easement nearly identical that in Wall. As explained in Wall, a general easement for “road purposes” can be used “in connection with the dominant tenement for all reasonable purposes.” Whether a specific use is unreasonable is a question of fact. Plaintiffs fail to carry their burden to show that defendants used their easement unreasonably and exceeded their rights under a general right-of-way easement. Plaintiffs provide no legal authority that the general public cannot qualify as “invitees.” DENIED.
To recover for nuisance, plaintiff must prove an unreasonable invasion of his or her interest in the use of enjoyment of the land causing substantial actual damage. San Diego Gas & Electric Co. v. Superior Court (1996) 13 Cal.4th 893, 938.
Cross-defendants argue MCRA has not provided evidence of an “unreasonable invasion” of their property right or of “substantial actual damage,” and MCRA only provided evidence of two instances when its employees were denied access to the property, which does not rise to the level required to prove nuisance. MCRA provides deposition testimony that its employees were blocked from entering Sycamore Park on several occasions by security guards working at cross-defendants’ direction. Opp. separate statement at ¶¶50-51. A reasonable finder of fact could find multiple instances of blocking a property owner’s employees from entering the property constitutes an “unreasonable invasion” of a property right, causing “substantial actual damage.” DENIED.
California Coastal Act
The California Coastal Act requires a development permit for any development that causes “change in the density or intensity of use of land[.]” Cal. Pub. Res. Code §30106. The statutory term “development” must be “broadly construed to encompass all impediments to access, whether direct or indirect, physical or nonphysical. Surfrider Foundation v. Martins Beach 1, LLC (2017) 14 Cal.App.5th 238, 258.
Many arguments regarding these claims are identical to those raised in the August 2, 2019 demurrer. Plaintiffs/cross-defendants argue these causes of action fail because a letter from Bonnie Blue of the City of Malibu indicates the guard shack does not require a development permit under the Act. However, cross-defendants do not establish Ms. Blue’s authority to speak on behalf of the City, the letter’s legal effect or the City’s authority to interpret the Act.
Cross-defendants argue the kiosk and gate do not constitute “development” because they did not change the intensity of use of the land. Motion at pgs. 24-25. They argue Sycamore Park has always been a private community, and installation of the kiosk has not “change[d] . . . the intensity of use of water or access thereto,” so does not constitute a development. Motion at pg. 24.
However, “public access and recreational policies of the Coastal Act should be broadly construed to encompass all impediments to access, whether direct or indirect, physical or nonphysical.” Surfrider, supra, 14 Cal.App. 5th at 252. Additionally, a conversion may constitute a “development” under the Act even if it does not “immediately” alter the use of the land if it creates the possibility that use will increase or decrease. Pacific Palisades Bowl Mobile Estates, LLC v. City of Los Angeles (2012) 55 Cal.4th 783, 797.
Erection of the gate and kiosk create a possibility that future use will be restricted, so they constitute developments under the Act as a matter of law. Finally, cross-defendants argue the 1975 coastal development permit applies to the kiosk and gate. That permit, however, allows only “construction of three tennis courts, lights, 12-foot chain link fence, eight parking spaces, eventual service building and temporary lot.” It does not address construction of the kiosk or gate, so does not establish compliance with the Coastal Act. DENIED.
Cross-Defendants ABA Protection, Inc. and Anton Belov’s Motion for Summary Judgment/Adjudication
Cross-defendants ABA Protection, Inc., which staffed the shack, and security guard Anton Belov move for summary judgment as to cross-complainants’ cause of action for nuisance, as well as causes of action arising out of the California Coastal Act.
ABA and Belov did not erect, purchased or provide the guard shack. They were instructed by Sycamore Park homeowners and argue they did not cause the alleged nuisance and did not act unreasonably. Motion at pgs. 4-5. “[A]n agent is liable for his or her own torts, whether the principal is liable or not, and in spite of the fact that the agent acted in accordance with the principal’s directions. Peredia v. HR Mobile Servs. Inc. (2018) 25 Cal.App.5th 680, 692. That ABA and Belov were acting at the direction of a principal might be evidence that their alleged interference was “reasonable,” but it is not dispositive. Cross-complainants provide evidence ABA was aware MRCA owned property in Sycamore Park, so had a right to access it. MRCA Sep. statement at ¶¶13-15. Reasonability is an issue of fact.
Cross-defendants argue they did not cause the alleged nuisance because excluding the general public was a “preexisting condition,” enforced by others before ABA and Belov were hired. The basis of this cause of action, however, is not that cross-defendants excluded the general public from Sycamore Park, but that they excluded MRCA and its employees from accessing their own property. Additionally, whether prior actors may have engaged in similar behavior does not necessarily immunize ABA and Belov from potential liability for their own actions in blocking access.
The argument that moving defendants were not a substantial factor because Sycamore Park would have hired another company to perform the same work fails. Whether another company might have been hired to provide similar services is irrelevant; the undisputed evidence shows ABA/Belov were hired for that purpose and did prevent access. This is sufficient to establish a question of fact as to causation. DENIED.
California Coastal Act
ABA and Belov argue they did not own property, did not provide the shack or signage, so did not undertake any “development” that might require obtaining a permit under the Act. Motion at pgs. 6-7. The court agrees. Every case cited interpreting the Coastal Act involved liability of property owners; the court has not been provided any legal precedent that an owner’s agent, acting at the owner’s direction, has an independent obligation to obtain a development permit. The court declines to expand the permit requirement in this circumstance. GRANTED as to the Coastal Act claims (causes of action six, seven, and eight) against ABA and Belov.
Case Number: SC126502 Hearing Date: January 15, 2020 Dept: P
Sycamore Park et al. v. Mountains Recreation & Conservation et al., Case No. SC126502
Defendants’ Motion to Compel Joinder of Necessary Parties
Hearing Date: January 15, 2020
Plaintiff/Cross-Defendant property owners in the Sycamore Park Community seek to establish their exclusive rights to easements on private roads and trails in the community and to quiet title to any claimed rights by the opposing parties or the general public. Defendants move for an order requiring plaintiffs to join approximately 95 other Sycamore Park property owners on the grounds that all homeowners have an interest in the easements at issue.
Under Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. §389, a person “shall be joined” as a party in an action if “(1) in his absence complete relief cannot be accorded among those already parties,” or “(2) he claims an interest relating to the subject of the action and is so situated that the disposition of the action in his absence may (i) as a practical matter impair or impede his ability to protect that interest or (ii) leave any of the persons already parties subject to a substantial risk of incurring double, multiple, or otherwise inconsistent obligations[.]” A person meeting these requirements is known as a “necessary party.” Simonelli v. City of Carmel-by-the-Sea (2015) 240 Cal.App.4th 480, 484. A quiet title judgment cannot be entered in the absence of all parties with an interest in the property at issue. Ranch at the Falls LLC v. O’Neal (2019) 38 Cal.App.5th 155, 173.
Defendants argue that, absent the unnamed homeowners, there is a risk of multiple or inconsistent obligations. Absent homeowners could file later suits asserting identical claims, resulting in new, redundant actions, even if defendants prevail herein; res judicata or collateral estoppel would not bar this from occurring. Plaintiffs argue the other property owners need not be named because they do not claim an interest adverse to plaintiffs. However, plaintiffs present no authority supporting their implied proposition that only parties adverse to the plaintiff can be considered “necessary parties.”
The absent homeowners have a clear interest in the subject matter of this case. This case will either confirm or extinguish the rights of the homeowners, making the absent owners necessary parties. Additionally, as the obligations and rights at issue would run with the land, defendants have an interest in establishing the rights and obligations as to future homeowners as well.
Plaintiffs do not refute defendants’ argument that proceeding absent the other homeowners creates a strong possibility of multiple or inconsistent liability. Plaintiffs have not explained why, if this case concludes with a finding that the easement is not exclusive to the homeowners, the absent owners would not be able to file identical lawsuits seeking to relitigate these issues. The named plaintiffs would in no way be prejudiced by adding the non-party homeowners. This issue was discussed at length at the IDC held 12/6/19. The concerns of the court and defendants discussed therein are valid and require that this motion be GRANTED.
All property owners within Sycamore Park Community must be joined as plaintiffs, per CCP 389. If there are owners who cannot feasibly be joined, plaintiffs must identify them and explain why joinder is impracticable. The court will also consider argument from the parties about whether this matter is more properly brought as a class action.