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Weingarten Realty Investors v. John Chiang

December 19, 2012

WEINGARTEN REALTY INVESTORS, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
JOHN CHIANG, AS STATE CONTROLLER, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of San Diego County, Gonzalo P. Curiel, Judge. (Super. Ct. No. 37-2010-00104752- CU-MC-CTL)

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

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Affirmed.

In this case, the trial court assigned a judgment debtor's property that had previously escheated to the State under the provisions of the Unclaimed Property Law (Code Civ. Proc., § 1500 et seq.) to a judgment creditor. (Undesignated statutory references are to the Code of Civil Procedure.) The assignee sought to recover the property from the State by filing a claim under section 1540. John Chiang, California's State Controller (the Controller), denied the claim on the ground that an assignee judgment creditor is not an "owner" as defined in section 1540 and thus cannot recover unclaimed property pursuant to that section.

As we shall explain, we conclude that an assignee judgment creditor can utilize section 1540 to recover unclaimed property that escheated to the State prior to the assignment. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The material facts in this case are undisputed. Weingarten Realty Investors (Weingarten) is a judgment creditor of Novadyne Computer Systems, Inc. (Novadyne). In August 2010, the Sacramento Superior Court assigned property held by the State's Unclaimed Funds Division on behalf of Novadyne to Weingarten. The property included cash from various accounts and stock from two companies. The court ordered the Controller to deliver this property to Weingarten.

Weingarten submitted a copy of the court's assignment order along with verified claim forms for each item of property to the Controller pursuant to section 1540. The Controller denied the claims asserting, among other things, that the court did not have jurisdiction over the Controller or the property subject to the assignment and only an "owner" who had a legal right to the property before it escheated to the State could recover under section 1540.

Weingarten filed an action in the San Diego Superior Court alleging that the Controller improperly denied its claims. Thereafter, Weingarten moved for summary judgment. The Controller admitted that there were no material factual disputes, but asserted that Weingarten was not entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law for essentially the same reasons raised in this appeal. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Weingarten, and this appeal followed.

DISCUSSION

I. Trial Court's Jurisdiction

The Controller contends that the Sacramento Superior Court's order assigning Novadyne's unclaimed property to Weingarten is void because the court lacked jurisdiction over the property and the Controller. We reject this argument.

Section 708.510, subdivision (a), provides the following: "[U]pon application of the judgment creditor on noticed motion, the court may order the judgment debtor to assign to the judgment creditor or to a receiver . . . all or part of a right to payment due or to become due, whether or not the right is conditioned on future developments . . . ."

Here, the Sacramento Superior Court's order assigned "funds and stocks held by the State of California, Office of the Controller, Unclaimed Funds Division" to Weingarten. The order further directed the Controller to deliver this property to Weingarten. Weingarten did not seek to enforce the portion of the order directing the Controller to turn over Novadyne's unclaimed property; instead, it proceeded under ...


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