(Super. Ct. No. 34200700517074) APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Sacramento County, Louis R. Mauro, Judge. Affirmed.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Duarte , J.
CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION
The "unclean hands" doctrine is often invoked but rarely applicable. We publish this case because it illustrates a proper application of that doctrine--and Civil Code section 3543 (§ 3543), a related maxim of jurisprudence--to preclude a party from attacking an admittedly forged deed.
Augustus Collins and Elijah Flowers were brothers-in-law who jointly owned a house.*fn1 Elijah's son Joseph Flowers (not a party herein) had once been on the title to the house, and after Elijah and Augustus died, he apparently forged their signatures on a deed purporting to transfer the house for no consideration to defendant Brazil McIntyre. Andre Flowers (Elijah's son and Joseph's half brother) tried to obtain control of the house, by filing an improper mechanic's lien, renting the house to a couple (the Bovets, sometimes spelled Bovettes in the record, not parties herein), and filing a quiet title action.
After Andre's quiet title action was dismissed, McIntyre's attorney advised McIntyre that she owned the house, and McIntyre deeded the house for no consideration to defendant Daryl Dancy. Dancy applied to World Savings Bank (succeeded by defendant Wachovia Mortgage), for a "quick qualifying" loan that did not require proof of income. Based on a title report that the trial court found had been negligently prepared by a now-defunct title company, Wachovia made the loan to Dancy.
After the loan was made, Andre became administrator of the estates of Elijah and Augustus. As the administrator of those estates, Andre filed the instant probate action, seeking to quiet title and obtain other relief against defendants McIntyre, Dancy and Wachovia.
There is no dispute the deed to McIntyre was forged, and that neither McIntyre nor Dancy qualify as bona fide purchasers. But the trial court found Andre had "unclean hands" and therefore was precluded from attacking the forged deed, and denied his petition. Andre timely appealed.
As we shall explain, the facts, viewed in the light favorable to the judgment, support the judgment. Based on Andre's efforts to benefit from the forged deed, he is now precluded from attacking that deed. Accordingly, we shall affirm the judgment.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Andre's Testimony and the Chain of Title
Elijah died intestate in 1997 and Augustus died intestate in 2003. The chain of title regarding the house they owned jointly is confusing, at best.
In 1993, Karen Brockmann deeded the house to Vicky Craig and James Powe, and about a month later they deeded the property to "Elijah Flowers, an unmarried man and, [¶] Joseph J. Flowers, an unmarried man as tenant and [¶] Karen Brockmann, an unmarried woman as tenant." The next day, Brockmann gave her interest to Elijah "an unmarried man" and Joseph "an unmarried man as tenant."
In 1995, Joseph and Tamara Flowers (Elijah's wife) signed quitclaim deeds to "Eligah [sic] Flowers, a married man, and Agustus [sic] Collins, an unmarried man" and those deeds were later recorded.
In 1996, a deed of trust was recorded in favor of a federal court, covering the instant property, from "Eligah [sic] Flowers and Agustus [sic] Collins," and two other properties from "Eligah" and Tamara Flowers.
Andre testified that after Elijah died in 1997, no probate was opened because the family assumed the house belonged to Augustus, and that when Augustus died in 2003, "I don't know what his estate did." Before Augustus died, he became unable to care for the house and Andre discussed acquiring it from him. In his deposition, Andre conceded he realized that the failure to probate Elijah's estate earlier complicated matters.
A forged grant deed recorded on May 3, 2004, purported to transfer the house from "Agustus [sic] Collins, unmarried man, and Elijha [sic] Flowers unmarried man" to McIntyre.
Andre testified he had never heard of McIntyre until he received a utility bill or tax statement with her name. On June 23, 2004, not long after McIntyre's deed was recorded, Andre recorded a verified mechanic's lien on the property, for $75,000. The lien was defective because Andre did not have a contractor's license and had not served a preliminary notice of lien, despite his false declaration to the contrary. Further, Andre listed only Augustus as the owner--omitting Elijah--and failed to mention that both owners had already died.
On August 16, 2004, Andre and Hennessy Flowers (Andre's half brother), represented by attorney Robert Enos, filed a complaint to quiet title in them, in part alleging the deed to McIntyre was forged. Andre verified the complaint. On November 17, 2005, the case was dismissed by a minute order stating "Attorney of record/party failed to appear[.]"*fn2 Andre states he failed to appear due to his incarceration but there is no explanation why Hennessy did not appear, although Hennessy had been named as a coplaintiff "just in case anything was to happen to" Andre.
Andre denied that he rented the house to the Bovets and testified a rental agreement dated August 1, 2006, bore his forged signature. The agreement called for a $1,400 deposit and monthly rent of $1,200. However, the trial court found Andre did sign that agreement.
A deed from McIntyre to defendant Dancy was recorded on September 21, 2006. Andre testified he had never heard of Dancy until Dancy requested access to the house for a loan appraisal. Dancy gained entry with the aid of the police, and then tried to evict Andre.*fn3 The house was later damaged by fire.
Andre did not seek appointment as administrator until after Wachovia loaned Dancy over $175,000 in January 2007. Andre claims he first learned the loan went through when he saw a June 25, 2007 filing in Dancy's eviction action, and "took swift action" by filing the instant probate petition on July 13, 2007.*fn4
Dancy testified he met McIntyre in 2006, they became friends, and she gave him the property--"as is"--a couple of months later because she was stressed out about it and there was a tax liability "in excess of $9-, $10,000 dollars." Before the transfer, McIntyre's attorney, Deborah Barron, told Dancy that McIntyre owned the property. Dancy did not have a title report prepared because the house was a gift. On December 15, 2006, while Dancy was on the telephone with Andre and Joseph, Andre threatened that "bullets were going to fly." Andre made many threats, requiring Dancy to "call the sheriffs out" every time he went to the house. Andre claimed he was owed $75,000 on the house, but Dancy discovered the mechanic's lien was defective. Andre also told Dancy that he would leave Dancy alone if Dancy gave him $80,000.
Dancy sued to evict the Bovets on January 17, 2007. On February 13, 2007, Andre filed a document claiming to live at the property. That is when Dancy learned that Andre claimed that the McIntyre deed had been forged. When the Bovets moved out, Dancy dismissed the eviction action against them, and filed a new one against Andre. Then, "all of a sudden, the property went up in smoke somehow."*fn5
To obtain the loan on the property from Wachovia, Dancy had to pay the tax liability and fix some windows. Dancy represented to the court that he had "Well over $15,000" into the house for "taxes and repairs" and cleaning up the property after the fire.
Dorothy Collins's Testimony
Dorothy Collins (Dorothy), Augustus's widow and Elijah's sister, testified the 1995 transaction by which her nephew Joseph quitclaimed his interest arose because Joseph needed money and wanted Augustus's name on the deed to qualify for a loan. After Elijah died, Dorothy repaid that loan. She and Augustus had not wanted to "probate the property" until her husband's son (Tavio Bell) was older because Augustus "was paying a lot of child support, and he didn't want the mother to get her hands on the money. [¶] So he wanted to wait until the son was 18 before the property was probated[.]" Dorothy admitted she called McIntyre and told her to give the property to the estate.
McIntyre testified she first learned the property had been deeded to her when she was served with the earlier quiet title action. She knew Joseph created that deed, but did not know why he did it. She had known him about 12 years, they had had a sporadic relationship, and he owed her a lot of money, and during the quiet title action "Joseph and his family" threatened her. When that case was dismissed, she was advised by her attorney, Deborah Barron, and by a detective "at the real estate fraud department," that she was the legal owner. She did not tell Dancy about the prior action because "I didn't want to have anything else to do with it" and did not want to be bothered about it further.
Attorney Robert Enos testified he had represented Andre and Hennessy in the quiet title action, but not at the time of the dismissal. Dancy called him on January 4, 2007, to ask about the lis pendens from the August 2004 quiet title action. Enos testified he told Dancy he no longer represented Andre, but "I also told him that you probably don't want to mess with this property" because title was based on "an impossible act, a conveyance by two dead guys."*fn6
Enos testified he also received a call from either an escrow officer or a title officer that day, "And I told her that the case involved a transfer of title to a Brazil McIntyre from two dead guys."*fn7 "[S]he seemed rather aghast and said there is no way that she was going to allow this escrow to close." When he spoke with her on January 8, 2007, and she asked for help in removing the lis pendens, Enos told her he no longer represented Andre. On January 18, 2007, the day after escrow closed, an ...