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The Main Street Plaza et al v. Cartwright & Main

April 27, 2011


Appeal from a judgment of the Superior Court of Orange County, Kazuharu Makino, Judge. (Super. Ct. No. 07CC08831)

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



Amended and reversed.


Plaintiffs, owners of a retail center and food court, sought a judicial declaration that they had acquired a prescriptive easement for parking and access by their tenants' customers, employees, suppliers, and other invitees, over an alleyway behind the owners' property. The alleyway is located on plaintiffs' property and two adjoining properties. A railway easement ran along the same land as the alleyway; property taxes were assessed on the railway easement, and the holder of the railway easement paid those taxes.

Defendant owners of the two adjoining properties filed motions for summary judgment and summary adjudication. The trial court granted the motions and entered judgment, concluding that no prescriptive easement in favor of plaintiffs had arisen on defendants' properties because plaintiffs did not pay property taxes on the separately assessed railway easement. Plaintiffs appeal.

We reverse the order granting summary adjudication and hold that because the railway easement was not coextensive in use with plaintiffs' claimed prescriptive easement, payment of taxes by plaintiffs on the separately assessed railway easement was not an element of their claim for a prescriptive easement.

The trial court also granted the summary judgment motion filed by one of the adjoining property owners. Code of Civil Procedure section 437c, subdivision (g) requires that an order granting summary judgment (1) specify the reasons for the court's determination and (2) refer to the evidence showing no triable issue of material fact exists. Neither the court's minute order, nor the formal order prepared by the prevailing party, complies with these requirements. The two issues raised by the summary judgment motion were never addressed by the trial court at the hearing on the motion. The appellate record does not provide sufficient information to permit meaningful appellate review of these issues. Accordingly, we also reverse the order granting summary judgment.


The Parties and Their Properties

The Main Street Plaza, a partnership, the Kenneth J. Bourguignon and Dorothy J. Bourguignon Family Trust dated October 21, 1993, and The Bourguignon Family Limited Partnership (collectively referred to herein as Main Street Plaza) are the owners of a parcel of real property located at 2540 Main Street in Irvine, California (the Main Street parcel). The property has been developed as a retail center and food court. The Main Street parcel is bordered on the north by Main Street, from which the parcel has vehicular access to the parking lot.

Cartwright & Main, LLC, owns a parcel of real property located at 2500 Main Street, adjacent to the Main Street parcel, which is bordered by Main Street on the north, Cartwright Road on the west, and the Main Street parcel on the east (the C&M parcel). The C&M parcel is improved with an industrial building.

Cartwright Real Estate Holdings, LLC (CREH), owns the property located at 17872 Cartwright Road (the CREH parcel), which is bordered on the west by Cartwright Road, and on the north by both the Main Street parcel and the C&M parcel. The CREH parcel is improved with an industrial building and a parking lot.

A 25-foot-wide alleyway runs along the boundary line between the Main Street parcel and the C&M parcel, and the CREH parcel; the alleyway dead-ends at the eastern boundary of the Main Street parcel and the CREH parcel. A conditional easement for railway purposes was originally granted to the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company, predecessor in interest to BNSF Railway Company (BNSF), to run over what is now the alleyway. The railway easement burdened a 12-and-one-half-foot-wide strip of land along the southern border of the Main Street parcel and the C&M parcel, and along the northern border of the CREH parcel. BNSF's railway easement rights were assessed property taxes separate from the taxes assessed against the fee interest for each of the three affected parcels. BNSF paid the taxes assessed against its property interests in California, including taxes assessed against its railway easement; Main Street Plaza never paid any of the taxes assessed against BNSF's railway easement.

Main Street Plaza claimed that, beginning in 1994 and continuing uninterrupted until September 2007, its tenants and their employees and invitees have used the alleyway for parking, making deliveries, and turning their vehicles around. Main Street Plaza therefore claimed a prescriptive easement for such uses over that portion of the alleyway that covers the C&M parcel and the CREH parcel.*fn1

The Complaint

In August 2007, Main Street Plaza sued Cartwright & Main and CREH for a declaration to quiet title to its prescriptive easement in the alleyway (fourth and fifth causes of action), and for declaratory relief (sixth and seventh causes of action). A verified first amended complaint, which is the operative complaint, was filed on September 20, 2007. Klein Investments Family Limited Partnership (Klein), the owner of the CREH parcel, was later added as a DOE defendant. (In this opinion, the term CREH will also include Klein.)

Main Street Plaza's complaint also alleged causes of action against BNSF for breach of contract, rescission, declaratory relief, and to quiet title to a prescriptive easement. After the lawsuit was filed, Cartwright & Main and CREH bought BNSF's railway easement rights encumbering their respective properties. BNSF thereafter disclaimed any interest in the property, and did not participate further in the case.

Cartwright & Main and CREH each filed its own cross-complaint against Main Street Plaza and others, seeking to quiet title, and for ...

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