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Tarlesson v. Broadway Foreclosure Investments

May 17, 2010

LARNISE TARLESSON, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
BROADWAY FORECLOSURE INVESTMENTS, LLC, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



(City & County of San Francisco Super. Ct. Nos. CGC04-436200 & CUD04-610657). Trial Judge: Honorable Bruce Chan.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Siggins, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Judgment creditor Broadway Foreclosure Investments, LLC (Broadway) sought to satisfy a judgment through the sale of judgment debtor Larnise Tarlesson's home. The trial court permitted the sale subject to a $150,000 homestead exemption in Tarlesson's favor. Broadway appeals and argues that: (1) Tarlesson was not eligible for the homestead exemption, (2) Tarlesson was unjustly enriched when the court recognized her right to claim the exemption, and (3) if an exemption was allowable, it should have been limited to $50,000. We conclude that the trial court correctly determined that Tarlesson was eligible to claim the exemption because the home was her principal residence prior to attachment of Broadway's judgment lien and continuously thereafter. We also conclude that the court properly set the amount of Tarlesson's homestead exemption at $150,000. We therefore affirm.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In a prior appeal, we affirmed a judgment that set aside Broadway's purchase of Tarlesson's home at a foreclosure sale and quieted her title. The judgment allowed Tarlesson to remain in her home, but required her to reimburse Broadway over $400,000 for the purchase price it paid at the sale and certain expenses it incurred. (Tarlesson v. Washington Mutual (Mar. 25, 2008, A116588) [nonpub. opn.].) When Tarlesson failed to make payment, Broadway sought to levy upon Tarlesson's home to satisfy the judgment. Tarlesson responded to the notice of levy by claiming the property was exempt from execution under a homestead exemption and could not be sold without a court order.

In December 2008, Broadway filed its application for a court order permitting the sale of Tarlesson's home. Although Broadway did not contest that the home was Tarlesson's principal residence when its judgment lien attached in 2006, it claimed that Tarlesson lost her right to claim a homeowner's exemption when she conveyed the property by grant deed to Peola Lane on June 10, 2008.

In opposition to Broadway's application, Tarlesson said that the property has continuously been her principal residence since 1984, and that it was only conveyed to Peola Lane in order to arrange mortgage financing. Tarlesson was unable to qualify for a mortgage loan, but she thought that Lane, who is her cousin, could. Tarlesson said that she and Lane agreed that, at all times, Tarlesson retained the beneficial interest in her home. In February 2009, Lane reconveyed the property to Tarlesson by a grant deed dated June 10, 2008, the same day Lane originally acquired title to the property.

After a hearing, the trial court found that the property was Tarlesson's homestead because it was her principal dwelling where she resided when the judgment creditor's lien attached to the property and continuously thereafter. The court also determined that Tarlesson should not be barred from claiming a homestead in the property by the doctrines of estoppel and/or unjust enrichment. The court set the amount of Tarlesson's homestead exemption at $150,000, because she was over 55 years of age and had a gross annual income of not more than $15,000. The court granted Broadway's application for an order directing the sheriff to sell the property, subject to Tarlesson's homestead exemption.*fn1 Broadway timely appealed.*fn2

DISCUSSION

A. Homestead Exemption Law

Article XX, section 1.5 of the California Constitution states: "The Legislature shall protect, by law, from forced sale a certain portion of the homestead and other property of all heads of families." The Legislature has provided such protection in the Enforcement of Judgments Law . (Code Civ. Proc., §á680.010 et seq.)*fn3 Sectioná704.740, subdivision (a) provides in relevant part that "the interest of a natural person in a dwelling may not be sold . . . to enforce a money judgment except pursuant to a court order for sale obtained under this article [Homestead Exemption] and the dwelling exemption shall be determined under this article." A dwelling is "a place where a person resides," and a homestead is "the principal dwelling (1) in which the judgment debtor . . . resided on the date the judgment creditor's lien attached to the dwelling, and (2) in which the judgment debtor . . . resided continuously thereafter until the date of the court determination that the dwelling is a homestead." (§á704.710, subds. (a), (c).) Such a homestead exemption does not require that a judgment debtor file or record a homestead declaration, but " 'is available when a party has continuously resided in a dwelling from the time that a creditors' lien attaches until a court's determination in the forced sale process that the exemption does not apply.'á" (Amin v. Khazindar (2003) 112 Cal.App.4th 582, 588.)*fn4

Courts "adopt a liberal construction of the law and facts to promote the beneficial purposes of the homestead legislation to benefit the debtor." (Amin v. Khazindar, supra, 112 Cal.App.4th at p. 588.) "A homestead exemption does not preclude sale of the home but entitles the homesteader to receive the value of the exemption if the property is sold to satisfy a judgment lien." (Wells Fargo Financial Leasing, Inc. v. D & M Cabinets (2009) 177 Cal.App.4th 59, 68.) The amount of the homestead exemption depends on several factors. (§á704.730.) An unmarried person who is 55 years of age or older, with a gross annual income of $15,000 or less, is entitled to claim the maximum exemption, which was $150,000 at the time of the proceedings under review in this appeal.*fn5 (§á704.730, subd. (a)(3)(C); Stats. 2003, ch. 64, § 1.)

B. Application of the Homestead Exemption to Tarlesson's Property

Broadway first contends that Tarlesson could not claim a homestead exemption for the property because she deeded it to Lane in June 2008. Broadway's argument is based upon a legal premise that a judgment debtor must at all relevant times own an interest in the property in order to claim a homestead exemption. Broadway argues that because Tarlesson did not own the home between June 2008 and February 2009, the property became subject to ...


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