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Hart v. Darwish

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Second Division

June 1, 2017

WAYNE HART et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,
BARBARA DARWISH et al., Defendants and Respondents.


         APPEAL from a judgment and order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County No. BC521721. Richard L. Fruin, Jr., Judge. Affirmed.

          Mesisca Riley & Kreitenberg, Dennis P. Riley and Rena E. Kreitenberg for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

          Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, Roy G. Weatherup, Bartley L. Becker and Caroline E. Chan for Defendants and Respondents Barbara Darwish, David Darwish, Gingko Rose Ltd. and Logerm LLC.

          The Law Offices of Rosenthal & Associates, Lisa F. Rosenthal for Defendant and Respondent Lisa F. Rosenthal.

          HOFFSTADT, J.

         Where a plaintiff brings a lawsuit against a defendant, and the trial court denies a motion by the defendant for summary judgment or for nonsuit made after the plaintiff's case-in-chief, or the trier of fact returns a verdict for the plaintiff, that ruling or verdict-if decided on the merits and not procured by fraud-establishes as a matter of law that the plaintiff had probable cause to bring its lawsuit and precludes a subsequent claim against the plaintiff for maliciously prosecuting that lawsuit, even if the trier of fact later rules for the defendant or the verdict is later overturned. (Wilson v. Parker, Covert & Chidester (2002) 28 Cal.4th 811, 823-824 (Wilson).) Does this rule apply-and is a subsequent malicious prosecution claim barred-when the trial court in the prior lawsuit denied the defendant's motion for judgment under Code of Civil Procedure section 631.8[1] but went on to rule in the defendant's favor? We conclude that it does. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's judgment dismissing this malicious prosecution action.


         I. Facts

         In 2010, defendant Gingko Rose Ltd. (Gingko Rose) acquired a house occupied by six tenants, including plaintiffs Wayne Hart (Hart) and Carlos Rodriguez (Rodriguez). Defendants David and Barbara Darwish own part of Gingko Rose, and defendant Logerm LLC is Gingko Rose's general partner. Defendants Lisa Rosenthal and her law firm, Rosenthal & Associates, represented Gingko Rose.

         In May 2012, Gingko Rose filed six unlawful detainer lawsuits, one against each tenant, for not paying rent. The cases against Hart and Rodriguez proceeded to a bench trial first, with the remaining cases trailing behind. After Gingko Rose rested its case-in-chief, Hart and Rodriguez moved for a “directed verdict” on several grounds, including that (1) the house was not properly registered with the rent-control authorities, (2) Gingko Rose was trying to collect rent for periods when the house was not registered, (3) the notices preceding the lawsuits did not spell out the alleged breaches of the rental agreement, and (4) the dilapidated condition of the house vitiated any duty to pay rent. The unlawful detainer court pointed out that the proper procedural vehicle was a motion for judgment under section 631.8. It then denied that motion in two stages: It immediately denied the motion on the third ground and took the remainder of the motion under submission; after Hart and Rodriguez put on their case, the court denied the remainder. After receiving written closing arguments, the unlawful detainer court issued a statement of decision ruling for Hart and Rodriguez. Four months later, Gingko Rose dismissed the unlawful detainer lawsuits still pending against the other four tenants.

         II. Procedural Background

         All six tenants sued Gingko Rose, the Darwishes, Logerm LLC, Rosenthal and her law firm (collectively, defendants) for malicious prosecution of the unlawful detainer lawsuit. They sought compensatory damages, emotional distress damages, and punitive damages.

         Defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings on the ground that the unlawful detainer court's denial of the motion for judgment in Hart and Rodriguez's trial mandated a finding that defendants had probable cause to bring the unlawful detainer lawsuit, thereby dictating dismissal of the malicious prosecution action.

         The trial court granted the motion as to Hart and Rodriguez. The court found that the unlawful detainer court had “weighed the evidence and denied the [section 631.8] motion, ” which in its view dictated a finding that “the evidence for [defendants' unlawful detainer] claim must at least be tenable under the lenient... standard” for evaluating probable cause to bring and maintain a lawsuit. The court rejected the tenants' argument that the unlawful detainer court's ruling was a product of defendants' fraud, finding no “evidence to back up [that] argument.” The court accordingly granted defendants judgment on the pleadings as to Hart and ...

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