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Dan Clark Family Limited Partnership v. Julieta Ada Miramontes et al

March 3, 2011


(Super. Ct. No. ECU03788) APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Imperial County, Jeffrey B. Jones, Judge. Affirmed.

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




Plaintiff Dan Clark Family Limited Partnership (Dan Clark) appeals from a judgment entered after the trial court sustained the defendants' demurrer to Dan Clark's third amended complaint, without leave to amend. The trial court concluded that Dan Clark's causes of action for conversion and claim and delivery were untimely under the three-year statute of limitations that applies to the claims.

On appeal, Dan Clark contends that the trial court erred in finding that the statute of limitations was not tolled pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure*fn1 section 351, which tolls the statute of limitations for the time period during which a defendant is out of California. The trial court concluded that application of section 351 to toll the limitations period for plaintiff's claims would violate the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution.

We conclude that applying section 351 to toll the statute of limitations in this case would run afoul of the Commerce Clause because it would force a nonresident defendant to choose between remaining in the state for several years, or returning to his or her place of residence, thereby forfeiting the protections of the statute of limitations. Putting nonresident defendants to such a choice would discourage nonresidents from engaging in even a single commercial transaction in California. Because Dan Clark raises no other issues on appeal, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.



A. Factual background*fn2

Dan Clark is a limited partnership domiciled in Texas. The Miramonteses are residents of Mexico.

In early May 2001, Dan Clark purchased three commercial vehicles (the Vehicles) from a company in Stockton, California. Dan Clark financed the purchase of the Vehicles with an $80,000 loan from CIT Group/Equipment Financing, Inc. (CIT). Dan Clark obtained Texas certificates of title for the Vehicles and registered the Vehicles in Texas. Dan Clark has continued to maintain registration of the Vehicles in Texas.

Immediately after purchasing the Vehicles, Dan Clark authorized James Frehner to pick up the Vehicles in California and deliver them to Dan Clark in Texas. The record is unclear as to the precise terms of the arrangement between Dan Clark and Frehner with respect to the pickup and delivery of the Vehicles.*fn3 Frehner never delivered the Vehicles to Dan Clark.

Between 2001 and 2003, Dan Clark's principal attempted to contact Frehner by telephone and made a number of trips to Las Vegas, Nevada, where he believed Frehner maintained a trucking business. At some point, Dan Clark became aware that Frehner had closed his trucking business in Nevada.

Dan Clark sets forth a number of allegations describing its attempts to locate Frehner and the Vehicles between 2001 and 2004. Dan Clark also filed suit against Frehner in Nevada in an attempt to recover the Vehicles, and obtained a judgment against Frehner, as well as a writ of possession. Dan Clark was unable to execute on the writ of possession because it could not locate the Vehicles.

In November or December 2004, an employee of Dan Clark contacted the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and explained that he was attempting to locate certain missing vehicles for which valid title and registration had been issued in Texas. A DMV employee informed Dan Clark's employee that someone had "tried to register" the Vehicles in California. After additional communication with the DMV, Dan Clark became aware that as of 2003, an individual identified as Ada Julieta Miramontes*fn4 had been listed as the registered owner of the Vehicles. DMV representatives indicated to Dan Clark that the DMV would rescind any California title or registration that had been issued with respect to the Vehicles.

The same Dan Clark employee who contacted the DMV also attempted to contact Julieta Miramontes about the Vehicles by telephone. A woman answered the call, but hung up without providing any information. Dan Clark then hired an attorney in California who wrote a letter to Julieta Miramontes and her brother, Alejandro Miramontes, notifying them that Dan Clark was the rightful owner of the Vehicles.*fn5

Dan Clark eventually filed suit against the Miramonteses in July 2007. After conducting additional investigation with the DMV and propounding discovery in the lawsuit, Dan Clark came to believe that on March 27, 2002, Frehner purported to convey ownership of the Vehicles to the Miramonteses. Dan Clark alleges that the Miramonteses knew that Frehner did not own the Vehicles when they took possession of the Vehicles from Frehner, and that the Miramonteses actively concealed the conveyance from Dan Clark.

In its complaint, Dan Clark alleges that the Miramonteses were outside of California for an undetermined period of time between March 27, 2002 and July 20, 2007, and that during this time, the Miramonteses traveled between California and Mexico for personal reasons. Dan Clark further alleged that the Miramonteses did not engage in interstate commerce while they were in California during this time period.

B. Procedural background

Dan Clark filed its initial complaint in this action on July 20, 2007 and filed a first amended complaint on February 19, 2008.

On April 21, 2008, the Miramonteses filed a demurrer to the first amended complaint. After a hearing on May 20, the court entered an order ...

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