APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Michael I. Levanas, Judge. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. Nos. BC319770 and BP089151)
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kitching, J.
(received from court 2/14/13)
CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION
Sofia Aguayo appeals a judgment against her and in favor of Michelle Amaro, the special administrator of the Estate of Isabel Infante. Sofia*fn1 and Amaro both sought to quiet title to real property located at 3665 Gillig Avenue in Los Angeles (the property). After a bench trial, the court determined that the property belonged to the estate on the ground that Sofia was barred from asserting adverse possession of the property under the doctrine of unclean hands.
The primary issues on appeal are whether unclean hands can serve as a defense to adverse possession by claim of right and, if so, whether the trial court abused its discretion in applying the defense in this case. We shall conclude that the trial court has discretion to apply the defense of unclean hands when a party claiming adverse possession engages in deceitful interference with the true owner's ability to defeat the claim, and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion here.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
1. The Infante Family Home
Herman Infante and Isabel Infante acquired the property by grant deed in 1946. The property served as the family home for Herman and Isabel and their two children, Alfred Infante and Richard Infante. Richard's biological daughter, Michelle Amaro, was raised on the property until she was adopted by a different family when she nine years old. According to Amaro, she was adopted because her father Richard was a heroin addict who could not take care of her.
Herman passed away in 1969. Isabel died intestate in 1993. After their parents died, Alfred and Richard continued to reside at the property, though probate proceedings regarding the Estate of Isabel Infante did not commence for many years.
2. Jesus and Sofia Aguayo's Efforts to Take the Property Through Adverse Possession
Sofia's husband, Jesus Duran Aguayo, claims he is in the "business" of acquiring properties by adverse possession. He contends he has filed about 10 actions seeking to quiet title on real property through adverse possession. Jesus has acquired an expertise in the practice. Working with Jesus, Sofia is engaged in the same occupation.
In 1995, Sofia sent a letter addressed to Isabel Infante at 3665 Gillig Avenue in Los Angeles, inquiring whether she could purchase the property. Isabel was deceased at the time.
Sofia contends that Alfred responded to the letter and engaged in discussions with Jesus regarding the sale of Alfred's contingent interest in the property. She further contends that Alfred orally agreed he would sell his interest for $25,000. In July 1995, Jesus allegedly gave Alfred $2,000 cash in exchange for Alfred's promise to commence probate proceedings. Alfred, however, did not commence such proceedings. In 2001, Alfred died intestate.
On January 2, 1999, Jesus placed a sign on the property stating, "No Trespassing." The sign also indicated that Sofia was the "owner" of the property. Jesus and Sofia also allegedly changed the locks to the front door of the house, placed a fence around the property, and made electrical, plumbing and drywall repairs.
On April 24, 1999, Jesus allegedly loaned $2,000 cash to Richard. The loan was allegedly memorialized with a hand-written document signed by Richard (loan agreement).
On January 1, 2000, "Jesus Aguayo" and Richard allegedly entered into a written agreement entitled "Part Sale & Rental Agreement" (sale and rental agreement). Under this agreement, drafted by Jesus, Richard rented the property from Jesus for $400 a month.*fn2 The sale and rental agreement further allegedly provided that Richard would "transfer" his rights to the property in exchange for the $2,000 in cash he was given on April 24, 1999, and 54 months of future rent ($21,600), for a total of $23,600.
From 1999 to 2004, Richard resided at the property, except for numerous stints in the county jail. During this time period, Jesus and Sofia maintained their "No Trespassing" ...