California Court of Appeals, Second District, First Division
Order Filed 9/3/13
APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BC459449 Richard L. Fruin, Jr., Judge.
Ivan Rene Moore, in pro. per., for Defendant and Appellant.
Thomasina M. Reed for Plaintiff and Respondent.
Ivan Rene Moore appeals in pro. per. from the superior court’s judgment following trial on the unlawful detainer complaint of Kimberly Martin-Bragg seeking forfeiture of a lease and possession of a property. The judgment, entered January 23, 2012, awarded Martin-Bragg possession of the disputed property, along with rent of $50, 068.34 and rental damages of $57, 220.96 for the period from May 1, 2011 to December 31, 2011, plus daily damages of $238.42 per day from January 1, 2012 until the date of judgment.
Moore appeals from the judgment on a number of grounds, most notably the trial court’s refusal to consolidate the unlawful detainer case against him with another action then pending in the superior court, brought by Moore, seeking quiet title to the property based on allegations that Martin-Bragg’s title to the property was actually held in trust for Moore’s benefit. Upon a fragmentary and disorganized record we conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in refusing Moore’s request to consolidate the unlawful detainer and quiet title actions for trial, and that Moore was prejudiced by being forced to litigate the complex issue of title to the property under the summary procedures that govern actions for unlawful detainer.
Martin-Bragg’s unlawful detainer action
On April 13, 2011, Kimberly Martin-Bragg filed an unlimited unlawful detainer action against Ivan Rene Moore. (See Code Civ. Proc., §§ 86, subd. (a)(4); 1161.) The complaint alleged Martin-Bragg’s ownership of a residential property at 6150 Shenandoah Avenue in the Ladera Heights area of Los Angeles, Moore’s month-to-month tenancy of the house under a written rental agreement, Moore’s non-payment of the $7, 152.62 monthly rent, his receipt of service of a three-day notice to pay rent or quit, and Martin-Bragg’s demand for past-due rent of $50, 068.34.
After an unsuccessful demurrer, Moore answered in pro. per. on June 20, 2011, challenging Martin-Bragg’s ownership of the property and right to receive rent for it. His answer alleged that he and Martin-Bragg had been long-time domestic partners; that the property at 6150 Shenandoah Avenue is rightfully owned by Moore, a few corporations he uses in his music business, and Ronald Hills, the corporations’ secretary; that the property had been in his family long before his relationship with Martin-Bragg; that title to the property had been held by Mr. Hills, and the property had been used by Moore over the years as collateral for business loans of over $5 million; and that in 2004 Mr. Hills had transferred title to Martin-Bragg in trust as a business arrangement for the benefit of Moore and his corporations, not for Martin-Bragg’s personal use or benefit. He alleged that he and his corporations had made all payments for the property’s purchase, maintenance, upkeep, and extensive improvements, and that Martin-Bragg had made no payments, or had been reimbursed for any payments she had made. He also alleged that Martin-Bragg had received large amounts of cash, for which she refused to account, from a nightclub and radio stations owned and operated in other cities by Moore and the corporations.
Moore’s action to quiet title
On June 22, 2011, Moore filed a verified complaint against Martin-Bragg and others (L.A.S.C. No. BC464111), seeking quiet title to the 6150 Shenandoah Avenue property along with other causes of action. The allegations with respect to the quiet title claim were consistent with his answer to the unlawful detainer complaint. The complaint alleged also that Martin-Bragg had provided him with special powers of attorney assuring that she would not interfere with right to the property; that in reliance on his relationship with Martin-Bragg he had caused title to the property to be transferred to her, with the understanding that she would hold it in trust for him; and that he had since made improvements of over $150, 000 to the property.
Denial of motion to relate and consolidate pending cases
On June 23, 2011, Moore filed ex parte applications in the unlawful detainer proceeding to shorten time to file a notice of related cases, and a motion to consolidate the unlawful detainer proceeding with case number BC464111. The trial court in the unlawful detainer case denied the unopposed application on June 27, 2011.
The unlawful detainer trial commenced on June 30, 2011.
Following the opening statement on Martin-Bragg’s behalf, Moore renewed his earlier request to relate the unlawful detainer proceeding with case number BC464111, the quiet title action, citing Asuncion v. Superior Court (1980) 108 Cal.App.3d 141, and expressing concern that “once this court makes a ruling” in the unlawful detainer proceeding, “it could affect the res judicata.” The trial court then acknowledged its right to relate the cases and to consolidate them in the unlawful detainer court. “Now, if the two are related and consolidated, I can set the matter for trial probably in August or maybe July. In that event, you’ll get a judgment in both cases.” “What concerns me here, ” the court pointed out, “is that there is a challenge to the plaintiff’s ownership. I understand that she has a grant deed, but if there were loans subsequent to the grant deed with the property used as security, it might be evidence that her title was not the legal title but was held as a trustee.”
On the trial’s first day the court heard testimony on the plaintiffs’ behalf from Martin-Bragg, from Mr. Rile, an expert document examiner, and from Moore, under Evidence Code section 776. After the plaintiff rested her case, Moore presented testimony from Mr. Hills, Vijay Chandran, and Martin-Bragg (under Evidence Code section 776).
The trial testimony on behalf of Martin-Bragg
Martin-Bragg, a Los Angeles police officer, testified that Moore had lived in the home at 6150 Shenandoah Avenue since about 2000, before she purchased the property. Martin-Bragg purchased the property for $687, 000 in April 2004, from Ronald Hills, a colleague of Moore. She paid a down payment of about $16, 000 from her credit union account. Sometime earlier she had purchased the house next door, at 6160 Shenandoah Avenue, and she had lived in both houses, “in between the two properties.”
Moore and Martin-Bragg were living together in the 6150 Shenandoah Avenue home until September 15, 2010, when Martin-Bragg moved out. At that time Moore signed a rental agreement agreeing to pay monthly rental of $7, 152.62 (consisting of the monthly mortgage payment plus a late fee, “just in case”).
Martin-Bragg denied having agreed that the property could be encumbered as part of a trust for Moore’s benefit, and no such trust document has been recorded on the property. Moore paid—or was supposed to pay—the mortgage and all expenses on the property, since he was using it for his business and recording equipment.
Martin-Bragg admitted that she had signed documentation for a $5 million loan from Wachovia Bank to Moore and herself, as well as Moore’s corporations, which she said was intended to be used to pay her what Moore then owed her. The loan encumbered the 6150 Shenandoah Avenue property, in which she and Moore were then living, but not the next door property she owned at 6160 Shenandoah Avenue. Martin-Bragg said that she had signed a power of attorney authorizing a pledge of the 6150 Shenandoah Avenue property to Wachovia Bank, but providing also that Moore was given no equity in the property. Moore’s corporations made the payments on the Wachovia Bank loan, and Martin-Bragg was not responsible to the bank for payments.
Mr. Rile, a document examiner, testified on Martin-Bragg’s behalf that the signature on the lease agreement, Exhibit 3, appeared to be Moore’s.
Called as an adverse witness, Moore testified that neither the purported signature on the lease agreement (Exh. 5), nor a number of the comparison signatures used by the document examiner, were his. He believed that some of the signatures Mr. Rile had used for comparison, on checks and other documents, had been done by others—including Martin-Bragg—without and sometimes with his authorization. Moore confirmed that a lien on the 6150 Shenandoah Avenue property secured a $5 million bank loan.
The court admitted into evidence the five exhibits proffered by Martin-Bragg:
The grant deed for the 6150 Shenandoah Avenue property (Exh. 1), a buyer’s closing statement (Exh. 2), the rental agreement for the property (Exh. 3), a notice to pay rent or quit (Exh. 4), and a forensic report (Exh. 5) including the grant deed of the 6150 Shenandoah Avenue property to Martin-Bragg.
The plaintiff then rested her case.
Defendant Moore’s case in chief
Mr. Hills testified to his 37-year association with Moore in the music business, and his status as secretary of Moore’s corporations since 1992. His services for the corporations had included writing songs, producing music, and handling the recording business at the 6150 Shenandoah Avenue house. Title to the 6150 Shenandoah Avenue property had been in his name since 1999 or 2000, when Moore’s mother (now deceased) had transferred it to him, without payment, in connection with promotional transactions in which they were then involved. Title was placed in his name because his own home was being used as collateral for the project’s financing.
Mr. Hills testified also about the resolution of the Bobby Watson case (which was the subject of Moore’s request for judicial notice in the trial court), in which he, Martin-Bragg, Moore, and others, had been sued to recover upon Moore’s interest in the 6150 Shenandoah Avenue property upon a claim of fraudulent transfer. The thrust of that testimony was that the lawsuit had alleged that title to the 6150 Shenandoah Avenue property had been transferred to Martin-Bragg without consideration in order to frustrate Moore’s creditors, and that Moore had been forced to pay a $280, 000 settlement in order to clear the title.
Mr. Hills testified that he received no payment for his transfer of the property to Martin-Bragg in April 2004. Title to both of the Shenandoah Avenue properties had been placed in his name in trust for the benefit of Moore’s music, and he had transferred them to Martin-Bragg with that same understanding. He would not have transferred them to her without that understanding. He testified that he did not receive and had never seen the $48, 000 check that Martin-Bragg had produced, purporting to be the proceeds from Martin-Bragg’s purchase of the 6150 Shenandoah Avenue property.
Mr. Hills identified an Affidavit and Declaration (Exh. 6) representing that Martin-Bragg holds the 6150 Shenandoah Avenue property in trust for Moore, and that Moore has the right to encumber the property, consistent with Moore’s representations to the bank. Both Martin-Bragg and Moore had signed the Affidavit and Declaration in Mr. Hills’ presence, apparently in March 2009.
Mr. Vijay Chandran, a banker and financial adviser, testified that he had been the banker at Wachovia Securities and Wachovia Wealth Management who had structured the $5 million loan to Moore and his corporations. He testified that Martin-Bragg is “not responsible for any of that loan.”
According to Mr. Chandran, the $5 million credit facility had originally been provided in about 2003, and had been modified and amended a number of times over the years, most recently between 2008 and 2009 as Moore’s business interests changed. In connection with the loan the bank had required both Mr. Hills and Martin-Bragg to execute documentation to convey to the bank their security interests in the 6150 Shenandoah property, or to obtain Moore’s guaranty of those interests. He understood from his conversations with Martin-Bragg at the time that she claimed no interest in the 6150 Shenandoah Avenue property, but she wanted her ...