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Torjesen v. Mansdorf

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Fourth Division

July 5, 2016

JOHN C. TORJESEN, Plaintiff and Respondent,
HARRY MANSDORF, Individually and as Trustee, etc., et al., Defendants JAIME DEJESUS GONZALEZ, Third Party Claimant and Appellant.

         APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court for Los Angeles County, No. BC425880 Elizabeth White, Judge.

          Long Beach Legal, John C. Feely; Jaime DeJesus Gonzalez, in pro. per., for Third Party Claimant and Appellant.

          John C. Torjesen, in pro. per., for Plaintiff and Respondent.

          WILLHITE, J.

         The Enforcement of Judgments Law (Code Civ. Proc., §§ 680.010 et seq.) (the EJL) provides that "[a]fter the death of the judgment debtor, enforcement of a judgment against property in the judgment debtor's estate is governed by the Probate Code, and not by this title." (Code Civ. Proc., § 686.020.) The Probate Code provides that money judgments against a decedent, or claims against a deceased settlor or trustee of a trust, are payable in the course of administration, and are not enforceable under the EJL against property in the estate of the decedent or the trust estate unless the property had been levied upon before the decedent died. (Prob. Code, §§ 9300, 9303, 19300, 19303.)

         In the case before us, a judgment creditor obtained a judgment against a judgment debtor (individually and as trustee of the debtor's trust), but did not levy on the debtor's property until after the debtor died. A third party claimant to the property filed a third party claim, and the judgment creditor filed a petition under the EJL to invalidate the third party claim. The trial court granted the judgment creditor's petition. The third party claimant did not appeal from that ruling. Two years later, the third party claimant filed a motion to vacate the order granting the petition, on the ground that it is void because the trial court did not have jurisdiction to proceed under the EJL. The trial court denied the motion, and the third party claimant appealed.

         We conclude that the underlying order invalidating the third party claim was voidable, not void, and became final once the time to appeal that order ran. Therefore, we hold the trial court properly denied the third party claimant's belated motion to vacate that order.


         Plaintiff John C. Torjesen obtained a $2 million judgment against defendants Harry Mansdorf, individually and as trustee of the Mansdorf Family Revocable Trust (the Trust) on January 31, 2012. On September 17, 2012, he obtained a writ of execution[1] and on October 11, 2012, the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, at the direction of Torjesen, levied on property (the Malibu property) owned by Mansdorf as trustee of the Trust. Mansdorf, however, had died on August 27, 2012.

         On March 6, 2013, the Ventura County Sheriff's Department mailed to the Trust a notice that the Malibu property was scheduled to be sold at a Sheriff's auction on April 18, 2013. Eight days later, third party claimant Jaime DeJesus Gonzalez filed a third party claim to ownership and possession of the Malibu property pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 720.130 (part of the EJL). Gonzalez asserted that in 2008, Mansdorf, in his capacity as trustee of the Trust, had transferred the Malibu property to himself (in his individual capacity) and Gonzalez as joint tenants. Gonzalez contended that at the time Torjesen levied on the property, neither Mansdorf nor the Trust owned it because it had passed to Gonzalez by right of survivorship, free and clear of Torjesen's liens, at the time of Mansdorf's death.

         In response, on March 25, 2013, Torjesen sought and obtained a temporary restraining order to enjoin the Ventura County Sheriff's Department from releasing the Malibu property from the execution levy until the trial court could hear and determine a petition on the validity of the third party claim. Two days later, Torjesen filed a petition under the ELJ to invalidate Gonzalez's third party claim. The petition alleged that (1) Gonzalez was not a valid third party claimant under Code of Civil Procedure section 720.110; (2) the grant deed under which Gonzalez claimed ownership was recorded after Torjesen's judgment, and therefore did not supersede Torjesen's interest; (3) the grant deed was inconsistent with the terms of the joint venture agreement pursuant to which the transfer allegedly occurred; (4) the grant deed Gonzalez filed was altered, which rendered it void; (5) there was no effective delivery of the grant deed from Mansdorf to Gonzalez; and (6) Gonzalez's claim of ownership under joint tenancy was contrary to representations he made in federal court that the Malibu property passed to Mansdorf's estate upon his death.

         Gonzalez's opposition to the petition was due a week later, on April 3, 2013. The day before the opposition was due, Gonzalez's attorney sought an extension of time to file the opposition, citing a medical issue, but the trial court denied the request. The next day, Gonzalez filed a declaration by Mansdorf's widow in support of his third party claim; he filed no points and authorities in opposition to Torjesen's petition.

         On April 8, 2013, the day before the scheduled hearing, Gonzalez's attorney substituted out of the case, and Gonzalez, in propria persona, filed a request for dismissal without prejudice of his claim. The court entered the dismissal that same day. A week later, Torjesen filed an ex parte application asking the trial court to reconsider its ruling dismissing Gonzalez's claim, arguing that under the EJL, proceedings to determine the validity of a third party claim cannot be dismissed without the consent of the judgment creditor. On April 15, 2013, the trial court granted Torjesen's request for reconsideration, retracted its order dismissing the third party claim, and granted Torjesen's petition to invalidate Gonzalez's third party claim. Gonzalez did not appeal the trial court's order.

         Two years later, Gonzalez, represented by new counsel, filed an ex parte application to vacate the trial court's order invalidating his third party claim. Gonzalez argued that the third party claim process used in the case was unlawful because the judgment debtor had died before the execution lien was perfected (citing Code Civ. Proc., § 686.020 and Prob. Code, §§ 19300, 19303), and therefore the order was void. The trial court denied the application on March 18, 2015, stating that the matter was resolved when the court granted ...

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