United States District Court, E.D. California
January 6, 2015
BUTA SINGH, Plaintiff,
HARMINDER S. POONI, RAVINDER KAUR, and PAN-AM TRANSPORT, INC., a Kansas Corporation, Defendants
For Buta Singh, Plaintiff: Aldon Louis Bolanos, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Office Of Aldon Bolanos, Sacramento, CA.
For Harminder S. Pooni, Ravinder Kaur, Pan-Am Transport, Inc., Defendants: Daniel J. Hanecak, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Office Of Daniel J. Hanecak, Sacramento, CA.
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO QUASH THE WRIT OF POSSESSION
JOHN A. MENDEZ, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Defendants Harminder Pooni, Ravinder Kaur, and Pan-Am Transport, Inc.'s (" Defendants") move to quash (Doc. #13) the writ of possession issued by this Court on October 8, 2014 (Doc. #8). Plaintiff Buta Singh (" Plaintiff") opposes the motion (Doc. #15). For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is DENIED.
I. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
This matter arises out of the disputed ownership of a 2005 Hummer H2. Compl. ¶ 2. Defendant Pooni claims that he bought the vehicle from Plaintiff for $17, 000. Mot. at 1. Plaintiff claims that he entrusted the vehicle to Defendant Pooni, who promised to broker a sale on Plaintiff's behalf. Compl. ¶ 5. Plaintiff argues that Defendant Pooni reneged on the deal, and is now improperly claiming ownership of the vehicle. Compl. ¶ 7.
Plaintiff filed a complaint with this Court, alleging conversion, theft by false pretenses, breach of contract, and unfair business practices. Along with the complaint, Plaintiff filed an ex parte application for a writ of possession. This Court granted Plaintiff's application, finding that the necessary criteria for an ex parte writ of possession had been satisfied. In response, Defendants filed the motion to quash presently before the Court.
A. Evidentiary Objections
Defendants make a number of evidentiary objections (Doc. #16-3) to the declarations of Plaintiff and Plaintiff's counsel. In a preliminary matter such as this, such objections are premature and are better saved for argument within the briefs. See Burch v. Regents of Univ. of California, 433 F.Supp.2d 1110, 1119 (E.D. Cal. 2006). In addition, in ruling on preliminary matters, the Court engages in self-policing, and does not rely on irrelevant or improper evidence. Moreover, as discussed below, the lion's share of the objected-to testimony does not address issues relevant to the Court's decision.
Defendants argue that the writ of possession should be quashed for a number of reasons. First, Defendants argue that " Plaintiff's counsel overreache[d] in his letter to Mr. Pooni" by threatening criminal sanctions in relation to this lawsuit. Mot. at 4. Next, Defendants argue that the vehicle was " not obtained in the regular course of business or for commercial purposes, " such that the requirements of CCP § 512.020 are not satisfied. Mot. at 4. Finally, Defendants argue that Defendants Ravinder Kaur and Pan Am Transport were deprived of " due process and notice of their rights" because Plaintiff failed to serve them, or their attorney, with a copy of the ex parte application for a writ of possession, or a copy of the Court's order granting the same. Mot. at 5.
Plaintiff responds with two arguments. First, he contends that " the court's determination in issuing the writ must not be disturbed under the exclusionary rule." Opp. at 3 (citing Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154, 98 S.Ct. 2674, 57 L.Ed.2d 667 (1978)). Second, he argues that Defendants " sat on their rights" by failing to oppose Plaintiff's ex parte application for the writ, and should therefore be barred from " relitigating" the issues under the doctrines of laches and collateral estoppel. Opp. at 3, 6. Plaintiff also attacks the credibility of Defendant Pooni and argues that his version of events does not make sense. Opp. at 5, 7.
1. Legal Framework
California Code of Civil Procedure (" CCP") § 512 governs the issuance of a writ of possession. A writ of possession may be issued upon a plaintiff's showing that (1) " the plaintiff is entitled to possession of the property claimed; " and (2) " the property is wrongfully detained by the defendant." Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 512.010(b). Generally, a writ of possession may only be issued after a hearing on a noticed motion. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 512.020(a). However, " a writ of possession may be issued ex parte . . . if probable cause appears that . . . (1) " the defendant acquired possession of the property in the ordinary course of his trade or business for commercial purposes; " (2)" the property is not necessary for the support of the defendant or his family; " (3) there is an " immediate danger" that the property will become unavailable to levy; and (4) " the ex parte issuance of the writ is necessary to protect the property." Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 512.020(b)(3). This Court's October 8, 2014 Order found that Plaintiff had complied with these additional requirements for an ex parte issuance of the writ. These additional requirements do not apply outside the context of an ex parte issuance of the writ, and -- given the statutory scheme -- the additional requirements are moot once the defendant has been given an opportunity to respond. The Court may, therefore, only grant Defendants' motion to quash if " it determines that the plaintiff is not entitled to a writ of possession." Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 512.020.
In light of the foregoing statutory framework, the parties' focus on the issue of whether Defendant Pooni acquired the vehicle in the ordinary course of business for commercial purposes is misplaced. Mot. at 4; Opp. at 5; Reply at 1. Although that issue was certainly relevant in the ex parte issuance of the writ, it is no longer relevant, as Defendants have now had an opportunity to respond and be heard on the matter, through their motion to quash. Rather, the only issue before the Court on Defendants' motion is whether Plaintiff is " entitled to a writ of possession:" i.e. whether Plaintiff is entitled to possession of the vehicle, and whether the vehicle has been wrongfully detained by Defendants. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 512.020; Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 512.010(b). The Court finds that Defendants' argument that Defendant Pooni had bought the vehicle for personal, non-commercial use is immaterial to the Court's decision on this motion to quash.
The Court also does not find persuasive Defendants' argument that " neither Defendants Ravinder Kaur, Pan Am Transport, Inc. nor counsel were served the application [for the writ of possession] or order granting the application." Mot. at 5. It is true that, when a writ of possession has been issued ex parte, CCP § 512.020 directs that " a copy of the summons and complaint, a copy of the application and any affidavit in support thereof, and a notice . . . inform[ing] the defendant of his rights . . . shall be served on the defendant." In this case, Defendant Pooni was properly served with the summons, complaint, and all ex parte filings. Bolanos Declaration Re: Service of Process (Doc. #7). Defendants claim that Defendant Kaur and Defendant Pan Am Transport were never served with the ex parte filings. Mot. at 5. On October 3, 2014 - 5 days prior to the Court's issuance of the writ of possession - Mr. Hanecak informed Plaintiff's counsel that he represented all three Defendants in this case, and that Defendant Kaur and Defendant Pan Am Transport were willing to waive service of the summons and complaint. Hanecak Declaration ¶ 3. Defendants contend that such waiver did not encompass the service of the ex parte filings, mandatory under CCP § 512.020. Given the circumstances and Defendants' failure to cite any legal authority on the issue, quashing the writ due to Plaintiff's technical failure to comply with the service requirements of CCP § 512.020 elevates form over function. The purpose of the service requirement is to provide all parties with notice and the opportunity to respond to an order granting the writ of possession. Here, all Defendants are represented by Mr. Hanecak, and all Defendants have had the opportunity to respond, through their motion to quash. Moreover, Defendant Kaur and Defendant Pan Am Transport had constructive access to the ex parte filings, through Mr. Hanecak (who had access to the CM/ECF filing system) and Defendant Pooni (who was properly served with the ex parte filings). The Court can discern no prejudice from Plaintiff's technical failure, and declines to grant Defendants' motion to quash on this ground alone.
Finally, Defendants' argument that Plaintiff's counsel ethically " overreached" does not address the issue at bar: whether Plaintiff is " entitled" to the writ of possession. Mot. at 4; Reply at 5. A motion to quash is not the proper procedural vehicle for Defendants' complaints, and Plaintiff's counsel's conduct is not germane to the issue at hand.
The Court notes that it did not find persuasive and did not rely on Plaintiff's arguments concerning Franks and the exclusionary rule, the doctrine of laches, or the doctrine of collateral estoppel. For reasons that should be clear, Franks v. Delaware -- a case concerning constitutional criminal law and the Fourth Amendment -- has no applicability in the present civil matter. Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154, 98 S.Ct. 2674, 57 L.Ed.2d 667 (1978). Moreover, Plaintiff's contention that Defendants " sat on their rights" by failing to oppose the ex parte application for a writ of possession belies a misunderstanding of the nature of an ex parte proceeding. By definition, an ex parte application does not invite a response from the opposing party. Therefore, it cannot be said, whether through the doctrine of laches or collateral estoppel, that Defendants have forfeited their opportunity to respond. Indeed, CCP § 512.020 expressly provides that a motion to quash is the proper response to a writ of possession issued ex parte.
While the parties continue to hotly dispute the issue of the vehicle's proper ownership, Defendants have quite simply failed to make direct and germane arguments which persuade this Court at this early stage of the proceedings that Plaintiff is not entitled to the writ of possession, under CCP § 512.010(b). Accordingly, the Court declines to disturb its previous findings in its October 8, 2014 Order and Defendants' motion to quash is DENIED.
For the reasons set forth above, the Court DENIES Defendants' Motion to Quash:
IT IS SO ORDERED.