UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
December 21, 2010
CITIZENS AUTOMOBILE FINANCE, INC., A CORPORATION; JPMORGAN CHASE BANK, A CORPORATION; WESTERN SURETY COMPANY, A CORPORATION; AND DOES ONE THROUGH TWENTY; DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morrison C. England, Jr. United States District Judge
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Presently before the Court is a Motion by Defendant JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. ("Chase") for Judgment on the Pleadings. Defendant's Motion is made on the grounds that the claim for declaratory relief asserted by Plaintiff Robert Barabino ("Plaintiff") against Chase in this proceeding is barred by the applicable statute of limitations. For the reasons set forth below, Chase's Motion will be granted.
On January 14, 2002, Plaintiff executed a "Retail Installment Sales Contract" ("Contract") for the purchase of a 2001 Bounder Diesel ("Vehicle") from Dan Gamel's Rocklin RV Center ("Seller"). The Contract stated that "ANY HOLDER OF THIS CONSUMER CREDIT CONTRACT IS SUBJECT TO ALL CLAIMS AND DEFENSES WHICH THE DEBTOR COULD ASSERT AGAINST THE SELLER OF THE GOODS OR SERVICES OBTAINED PURSUANT HERETO" ("Holder Clause"). Subsequent to Plaintiff's purchase, Seller assigned its rights under the Contract to Bank One, NA. Chase acquired rights under the Contract as successor in interest to Bank One, N.A. by way of merger. Plaintiff made payments to Chase in excess of $25,000 until Chase assigned its rights to Citizens Automobile Finance, Inc. ("Citizens") on or about January 11, 2005. Citizens continues to hold the contract and Plaintiff has continued to make payments to Citizens. Pl.'s Compl., ¶¶ 5-8.
On November 3, 2004, Plaintiff filed suit in Eastern District of California, Case No. 2:04-cv-2359-MCE-EFB, (hereinafter "Barabino I") against Seller and the manufacturer of the Vehicle alleging violations of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Federal Trade Commission Improvement Act, the Consumers Legal Remedies Act, and fraud. In 2009, Plaintiff obtained judgment on all causes of action against Seller and was awarded damages in the amount of $270,590.20.
On November 26, 2008, Plaintiff filed a second action in state court ("Barabino II") That suit was removed to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, Case No. 2:09-cv-86-GEB-KJM. Both Chase and Citizens were named as Defendants. In Barabino II, Plaintiff alleged that pursuant to the "Holder Clause" both Defendants were subject to the same claims brought against Seller in Barabino I. Ultimately, the court in Barabino II dismissed Plaintiff's claims as barred by the statute of limitations.
Plaintiff's Complaint in the present action ("Barabino III") contains one cause of action requesting declaratory relief. The cause of action, however, requests resolution of two issues:
1) whether the Contract held by Citizens is enforceable, and
2) whether Defendants have any liability for claims which Plaintiff has or could have asserted against Seller.
Prior to the filing of the present motion, both Defendants filed motions to dismiss. Those motions were granted in part and denied in part. In its Memorandum and Order filed March 29, 2010, this Court held that Plaintiff was collaterally estopped from relitigating the issue of whether Defendants are subject to liability for claims that could have been asserted against Seller. In partially denying Defendants' motions, however, the Court explained that enforceability of the Contract had not been directly addressed in either Barabino I or Barabino II.
The motion now before the Court for adjudication seeks judgment on the pleadings on Chase's behalf. Chase argues that the face of the complaint in Barabino III makes it clear 1) that Chase has no interest in the Contract since before January 11, 2005, when the Contract was assigned to Citizens; and 2) that no payments have been made to Chase since that time; and 3) that no payments will be made to Chase in the future given the assignment.
Although Citizens filed its own motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, and while that Motion was denied by Memorandum and Order dated October 5, 2010, the Court's denial of Citizens' motion was predicated on the fact that the issue of whether the Contract, as held by Citizens, continues to be enforceable, and whether Plaintiff still owes monies pursuant to that Contract, remain an unresolved question properly subject to adjudication. See October 5, 2010 Order, 8:22-27.
In bringing the present motion, Chase argues that those concerns simply are inapplicable to Chase since Chase long ago ceased to have any interest in the Contract. As Chase points out, even Plaintiff appears to concede in his opposition to this motion that the only arguably viable allegation against Chase at this juncture turns on whether Chase "will be required to return the payments [already] made under the fraudulent and void [Contract]." Pl.'s Reply, 3:13-17.
A motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) challenges the legal sufficiency of the opposing party's pleadings. See, e.g., Westlands Water Dist. v. Bureau of Reclamation, 805 F. Supp. 1503, 1506 (E.D. Cal. 1992). Any party may move for judgment on the pleadings after the pleadings are closed but within such time as to not delay trial. Fed. R. Civ.P. 12(c).
The standard for evaluating a motion for judgment on the pleadings is essentially the same as the standard applied to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Dworkin v. Hustler Magazine, Inc., 867 F.2d 1188, 1192 (9th Cir. 1989). A motion for judgment on the pleadings should only be granted if, accepting as true all material allegations contained in the nonmoving party's pleadings, the moving party "'clearly establishes that no material issue of fact remains to be resolved and that he [or she] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Doleman v. Meiji Mut. Life Ins. Co., 727 F.2d 1480, 1482 (9th Cir. 1984) (quoting Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1368 (1969)); Hal Roach Studios, Inc. v. Richard Feiner & Co., Inc., 896 F.2d 1542, 1550 (9th Cir. 1989).
The Court's previous October 5, 2010 Memorandum and Order made it clear that Plaintiff's sole remaining claim is whether the Contract is indeed enforceable.
With respect to Chase, Plaintiff's complaint in Barabino III makes it clear that Chase has not had any interest in the Contract since prior to the time it was assigned to Citizens on or about January 11, 2005. There is no allegation that any payments have been made by Plaintiff to Chase since that time. Nor is there any contention that payments will be made to Chase in the future. Although the Barabino III complaint is silent on this issue, as indicated above, the only claim even arguably made is that Chase may be required to return payments previously made under the Contract.
Since federal jurisdiction in this matter is predicated on diversity of citizenship pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), the Court must look to the applicable state statute of limitations in determining the timeliness of Plaintiff's claims in this matter. California law makes it clear that any action based on a written contract, including attempted rescission of a contract, must be made within four years. Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. § 337.
Here, Plaintiff's complaint in Barabino III states that the Contract was entered into on January 14, 2002. Pl.'s Compl., ¶ 5. Plaintiff first asserted his claims with respect to the Contract when he filed Barabino I on November 3, 2004. In Barabino II, the Court found that the applicable limitations period began running, at the latest, as of the November 3, 2004 filing date of Barabino I. See Barabino II, Order filed August 12, 2009, 5:14-21.
Even if continuing payments under the Contract after November 3, 2004 trigger a later-accruing limitations date, as stated above, Chase, unlike Citizens, has obtained no such payments after January 11, 2005 and has had no interest whatsoever in the Contract since that time. Consequently, irrespective of whether the statute started running on November 3, 2004 or January 11, 2005, the fact remains that Barabino III was not filed until November 16, 2009, which under either scenario exceeded the four-year limitations period. Therefore, any claim against Chase in the present litigation is necessarily time-barred.
The fact that Plaintiff's current complaint is styled as a request for declaratory relief does not change this result. Ninth Circuit authority holds that an equitable claim for declaratory relief is subject to the same statute of limitations that would apply to the underlying legal claims, which here consist of claims on a written contract subject to a four-year limitation period. See, e.g., Levald, Inc. v. City of Palm Desert, 998 F.2d 680, 688 (9th Cir. 1993).
For the reasons stated above, Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (ECF No. 62) is GRANTED.*fn2 Plaintiff's request that Defendant be sanctioned in connection with this motion is denied.
IT IS SO ORDERED.