Trial court: Solano County Superior Court Trial judge: Hon. D. Scott Daniels Super. Ct. No. FCS037644)
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Needham, J.
CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION
Petitioners seek writ relief from a trial court order staying their construction defect litigation pursuant to Civil Code section 930.*fn1 The court imposed the order because petitioners have not completed the statutory prelitigation procedure of sections 910 et seq. Petitioners argued that real parties in interest could not obtain the stay because they had failed to respond to petitioners' request for documents (§ 912, subd. (a)), while real parties in interest urged - and the trial court found - that no response to the document request was necessary since petitioners had not served their notice of a claim (§ 910).
We are therefore presented with a question of first impression: must homeowners serve notice of a construction defect claim under section 910, subdivision (a) for a builder to be obligated to respond to their request for documents under section 912, subdivision (a)?
Based on the language of the statute and the statutory scheme, as well as the statutory purpose and relevant legislative history, we conclude that a homeowner must serve notice of a construction defect claim under section 910, subdivision (a) to commence the statutory prelitigation procedure, and until such service the builder has no obligation to respond to a request for documents under section 912, subdivision (a). We will therefore deny the writ petition.
I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Petitioners are the owners of 86 single-family homes in Fairfield, California. All of the homes were first sold after January 1, 2003, and are therefore subject to Title 7 of the Civil Code, section 895 et seq., commonly referred to as "SB 800" or the "Right to Repair Act" (Act).
The Act establishes a non-adversarial inspection and repair procedure that allows builders to attempt to resolve homeowners' construction defect claims in advance of litigation. (§§ 910 et seq.) As discussed at greater length post, section 910 requires a homeowner to serve the builder with notice of a construction defect claim, section 912 requires the builder to produce copies of certain documents to the homeowner, and the builder has the opportunity to repair the purported defect within a given time period. If the homeowner files a lawsuit before the prelitigation procedure is completed, the builder may obtain a stay of the lawsuit. (§ 930, subd. (b).) But if a builder fails to comply with the requirements of the prelitigation procedure, the homeowner may proceed with a lawsuit without completing the prelitigation process. (§ 930, subd. (a); see § 912, subd. (i); § 920.)
On February 24, 2011, petitioners served upon real parties in interest - Western Pacific Housing, Inc. and Schuler Homes of California, Inc. (Western Pacific) - a request for certain documents under section 912, subdivision (a).*fn2
On March 18, 2011, Western Pacific's counsel sent a letter to petitioners' counsel acknowledging "the substantive document requests as proper in scope and specificity in accordance with Civil Code section 912(a), (b), (c), and (d)." However, Western Pacific refused to comply with the document request on the ground it was "premature," contending that no response or production was required "until such time as the homeowner claimants initiate the 'builder' obligations to produce documents under these particular 'SB800 provisions.'" The letter continued: "The obligations and provisions of Chapter 4 of Title 7 of the Civil Code are not effective until such time as the identified claimants or you, as their legal representative, provide written notice to [Western Pacific] via certified mail, overnight mail, or personal delivery in accordance with Civil Code section 910(a)."
Construing this response as Western Pacific's refusal to comply with its prelitigation obligations under section 912, subdivision (a), petitioners filed the instant lawsuit on April 5, 2011, seeking damages arising from the alleged defective construction.
On December 14, 2011, Western Pacific filed a motion under section 930, subdivision (b) to stay the action, on the ground that petitioners had not completed the prelitigation procedure.
Petitioners opposed the motion, contending that Western Pacific had lost its right to seek a stay under section 930 because it failed to comply with its statutory requirement to respond to petitioners' document request under section 912, subdivision (a). Petitioners insisted their document request was not premature, because section 912 does not state that such requests may be served only after a notice of claim has been served, and other subdivisions in section 912 require builders to provide documents to homeowners before a notice of claim - in particular, when the property is originally sold.
The trial court granted Western Pacific's motion to stay the lawsuit until petitioners complete the prelitigation procedure set forth in the Act. The court ruled that the document production provision in section 912, subdivision (a), is part of the statutory prelitigation procedure, and the prelitigation procedure can be initiated only by service of a written notice of claim by the homeowners on the builder. Accordingly, the court decided, Western Pacific's refusal to produce documents did not release petitioners from their obligation to comply with the Act.
Petitioners filed their petition for writ of mandate or prohibition in June 2012. We issued an order to show cause, Western Pacific filed a return, and petitioners filed a reply.*fn3
There is no dispute that petitioners have not effectively served a notice of a claim and have not completed the prelitigation procedure generally required by the Act. Accordingly, the court properly stayed petitioners' lawsuit under section 930, unless petitioners established that Western Pacific could not avail itself of the stay provision due to its failure to respond to petitioners' request for documents under section 912, subdivision (a). (See Standard Pacific Corp. v. Superior Court (2009) 176 Cal.App.4th 828, 831, 834 [homeowner has burden of proof] (Standard Pacific).) That question turns on whether petitioners established that Western Pacific had an obligation to respond to the document request, even though petitioners had not served a notice of claim.
Our analysis begins with an overview ...