Super. Ct. No. 30-2009-00122672 Appeal from a judgment of the Superior Court of Orange County, Linda S. Marks, Judge. Reversed.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ikola, J.
CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION
Landlord Alan MacMillan (the defendant in this action) previously sued tenant Concepcion Munoz (the plaintiff in this action) for unlawful detainer of commercial real property. Judgment was entered in favor of MacMillan, a writ of possession issued, and MacMillan evicted Munoz and took possession of the premises. Munoz appealed and won reversal of the judgment; the final judgment in the underlying action was silent with regard to possession of the premises and/or monetary restitution for the loss of Munoz's tenancy. Munoz then instituted the instant action for breach of contract, in which she claims MacMillan breached the lease "by causing law enforcement officials to evict . . . Munoz in violation of the terms of the lease."
We agree with Munoz that she was entitled to seek compensation for losses she allegedly incurred following enforcement of the erroneous initial judgment in the unlawful detainer action. Munoz could have suffered economic loss as a result of her eviction even if the eviction was not "wrongful" as a matter of tort law. Munoz's most straightforward remedy was to seek restitution in the underlying unlawful detainer action, not to bring a subsequent action for breach of contract. But the law does not bar Munoz from seeking contract damages in a separate action. We reverse the judgment.
MacMillan brought a prior action for unlawful detainer against Munoz. On October 26, 2006, the trial court in the prior action entered judgment for MacMillan. The judgment found Munoz "guilty of unlawful detainer of the premises described in the complaint and that [MacMillan] be restored the possession of said premises located [in Garden Grove, California]; that the lease or agreement under which said property is held be hereby forfeited; and that the writ of possession shall issue forthwith."
The clerk of court issued a writ of possession for the premises on November 2, 2006. Munoz filed a notice of appeal in the prior action on December 1, 2006.*fn1 There is no indication in the record that Munoz sought or obtained a stay of enforcement of the judgment or the writ of possession. The sheriff placed MacMillan "in quiet and peaceful possession of the premises" on January 9, 2007.
On January 7, 2008, the Appellate Division of the Orange County Superior Court reversed the judgment. Following remand, the trial court entered judgment in favor of Munoz. The trial court awarded Munoz $20,000 in attorney fees and $4,630 in "costs and disbursements." But the amended judgment was silent as to whether to award Munoz possession of the premises and/or a monetary judgment as compensation for the effects of the enforcement of the initial judgment. There is insufficient information in the record to determine whether Munoz sought such possession and/or compensation in the underlying action.
Pleadings in Instant Action
Munoz filed a complaint for breach of written contract against MacMillan on May 6, 2009. The complaint alleged: (1) a lease existed between Munoz (as lessee) and MacMillan (as lessor), which gave Munoz the right to extend the term of the lease through 2016 (by exercising two five-year options); (2) Munoz performed all obligations other than those excused by MacMillan's breach; (3) "MacMillan has failed to perform his duties under the agreement in that he breached the agreement by causing law enforcement officials to evict . . . Munoz in violation of the terms of the lease"; and (4) Munoz suffered damages of at least $5 million. Thus, the only breach alleged in the complaint was the eviction of Munoz prior to the expiration of her right to possession of the premises under the lease.
MacMillan answered the complaint with a general denial. Of particular note is MacMillan's eighth affirmative defense: "Plaintiff has no valid claim or cause of action as there was no impermissible eviction of Plaintiff and no breach of contract as Plaintiff's tenancy terminated pursuant to a valid court order and as Defendant at all times proceeded lawfully to court judgment."
MacMillan's Motion for Summary Judgment
MacMillan moved for summary judgment, arguing he was entitled to "judgment as a matter of law [under] the affirmative defense afforded under" pertinent case law. MacMillan explained that the only breach alleged in the complaint and in responses to form interrogatories was MacMillan's use of orderly judicial processes to evict Munoz from the premises.
The facts in the parties' respective separate statements were in all relevant respects undisputed. MacMillan leased the premises to a third party in 2000, and such third party assigned the lease to Munoz in December 2003. The trial court in the underlying unlawful detainer action entered judgment for MacMillan in 2006. The sheriff took possession of the premises in January 2007. Munoz alleged additional "disputed facts," but such additional facts merely elaborated on the claim that the breach involved MacMillan taking possession of the premises according to ...