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Conservatorship of Person and Estate of Townsend

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Third Division

November 17, 2014

Conservatorship of the Person and Estate of LOUISE E. TOWNSEND.
NATIONSTAR MORTGAGE, Objector and Appellant. BARBARA L. GONZALES, as Conservator, etc., Petitioner and Respondent,

[As modified Dec. 12, 2014.]

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. KP010708 Thomas F. Nuss, Temporary Judge (Pursuant to Cal. Const., art. VI, § 21).

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Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae, Eric P. Early, Bryan M. Sullivan, Allison S. Hyatt and Christopher Ritter for Objector and Appellant.

Law Office of Gary C. Wunderlin and Gary C. Wunderlin for Petitioner and Respondent.

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In this dispute over title to real property, objector and appellant Nationstar Mortgage, successor in interest to Aurora Loan Services, LLC (hereafter, Lender), [1] attempts to appeal from a judgment in favor of petitioner and respondent Barbara L. Gonzales, as conservator of the person and estate of Louise E. Townsend, following a trial before the Hon. Thomas F. Nuss, a retired superior court judge appointed as a temporary judge. Gonzales moved to dismiss the appeal because Lender’s notice of appeal was not filed within 60 days after service of notice of entry of judgment (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.104(a)(1)(B)), [2] and Lender’s motion to set aside and vacate the judgment submitted to the temporary judge did not extend the time within which to appeal because it was not timely filed with the superior court clerk as required under rule 2.400(b)(1), (2)[3] and section 663a, subdivision (a)[4] of the Code of Civil Procedure.[5] In this case, we must determine whether submitting the motion to vacate to the temporary judge rather than filing it with the superior court clerk extends the 60-day time period to appeal under rule 8.108(c).

We conclude the time to extend the period to appeal is conditioned upon filing with the superior court clerk a valid “notice of intention to move—or a valid motion—to vacate the judgment” that satisfies all the statutory requirements. (Rule 8.108(c).) Submitting the motion to vacate to a temporary judge

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is not a valid motion because it does not comply with the Code of Civil Procedure and the rules of Court. Therefore, the time to appeal was not extended. The rules governing posttrial motions involve drawing bright lines marking the point when the trial court’s jurisdiction over a case ends and the jurisdiction of the appellate court begins. We caution the bar that stipulating to a temporary judge does not relieve the parties from complying with statutes that affect our jurisdiction. Because the time to appeal was not extended, this appeal is untimely. Accordingly, we dismiss the appeal.


1. Refinance Loan Giving Rise to Petitions Filed in Probate Court

In 2004, when Louise E. Townsend was 79 years old, she signed loan documents to obtain a $341, 250 home equity refinance loan on real property located at 2434 Bonita Avenue, La Verne, California (the property). Townsend’s son apparently negotiated the refinance loan on his mother’s behalf. The refinance loan was secured by a deed of trust on the property, which required Townsend to first execute a grant deed conveying title to the property from the Louise E. Townsend Trust back to her as an individual (grant deed). Townsend signed a promissory note in favor of Lender. When escrow closed, Townsend’s son accepted the refinance loan proceeds and placed the funds in a joint account held in his and his mother’s name.

In 2005, Barbara Gonzales, Townsend’s daughter, first learned of the refinance loan. Gonzales became successor trustee of Townsend’s trust when Townsend’s son resigned. Gonzales also petitioned and received Letters of Temporary Conservatorship of her mother’s person and estate, and later she received a general appointment as her mother’s conservator.

Gonzales obtained the remaining $170, 000 in refinance loan funds. She used the proceeds to pay off a prior mortgage ($48, 600) on the property, to pay various credit card debts, to make property improvements, and to provide for Townsend’s care.

In total, approximately 24 monthly payments on the refinance loan were made on behalf of Townsend’s estate. When Gonzales stopped making payments, the refinance loan went into default and a foreclosure sale on the property was scheduled for July 25, 2008.

In June 2008, before the scheduled foreclosure sale, Gonzales filed a petition to determine title to the property ...

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