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Hodges v. County of Placer

California Court of Appeals, Third District, Placer

October 29, 2019

PATRICK J. HODGES, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
COUNTY OF PLACER et al., Defendants and Respondents.

          APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Placer County No. SCV0036599, Michael A. Jacques, Court Commissioner. Affirmed.

          Patrick J. Hodges, In pro. per. for Plaintiff and Appellant.

          Gregory S. Warner, Placer County Counsel's Office for Defendants and Respondents.

          HULL, J.

         Defendant County of Placer sold plaintiff Patrick J. Hodges's real property at a tax sale. The County later paid plaintiff the excess proceeds remaining from the sale less payments made to others. Plaintiff contends the County, its board of supervisors, and its treasurer breached a fiduciary duty they owed him, and converted his personal property, when they did not audit a payment made from the proceeds to others and did not pay him interest or earnings on its investment of the proceeds while it held them in trust.

         The trial court sustained the County's demurrer to plaintiff's second amended complaint without leave to amend and entered a judgment of dismissal. We affirm the judgment.

         Facts and Proceedings

         We derive the facts from plaintiff's second amended complaint. We assume them to be true. (Blank v. Kirwan (1985) 39 Cal.3d 311, 318.)

         In 2001, Wesley Holdings Ltd., a partnership in which plaintiff was the general partner, purchased real property in Granite Bay that included a single-family home. Plaintiff lived in the home pursuant to an agreement for equitable servitude between him and the partnership. Plaintiff has subrogation rights to pursue claims held by the partnership.

         On October 3, 2012, the County sold the property at a tax sale for $530, 000. The tax deed was recorded on December 5, 2012. Plaintiff petitioned the County to rescind the tax sale, but the County refused.

         On June 20, 2014, plaintiff received a warrant from the County in the amount of $437, 096.16 as payment for excess proceeds from the tax sale of his property. Of the $92, 903.84 not returned by the County from the sale, approximately $37, 000 went to delinquent property taxes, $45, 300 went to other charges and expenses which the County did not explain, and $10, 603.84 was paid to the purchaser to compensate for plaintiff's occupying the property through July 2013.

         Plaintiff filed a claim against the County for damages. The County denied the claim.

         Plaintiff filed a complaint against the County but did not serve it. He filed and served a first amended complaint, but the trial court sustained the County's demurrer with leave to amend. He filed a second amended complaint, but the County refused to accept service. Without serving the second amended complaint, plaintiff filed a third amended complaint without leave of court that added a defendant and an additional cause of action. On the County's motion, the trial court struck the third amended complaint as unauthorized and ordered plaintiff to serve the second amended complaint.

         In the second amended complaint, plaintiff alleged causes of action for breach of fiduciary duty and conversion. He contended the County committed these torts by not auditing its payment of $45, 300 and by not paying him interest or a return on its investment of the excess proceeds. He also sought punitive damages for malice.

         The County filed a demurrer against the second amended complaint. At the same time, plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file a third amended complaint.

         In 2016, the trial court denied plaintiff's motion for leave, and it sustained the County's demurrer without leave to amend. It denied plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint because leave would highly prejudice the County. Plaintiff's continuous filings and changing theories caused confusion and forced the County to incur additional fees and costs. His proposed complaint did not remedy the prior deficiencies, and it was replete with argument and conclusory statements instead of ultimate facts.

         The court sustained the County's demurrer due to plaintiff's failure to state a claim. Plaintiff could not state a claim for breach of a fiduciary relationship because no such relationship existed between him and the County. Even if a fiduciary relationship existed, plaintiff did not allege any breach or any damages arising from a breach.

         The court also found plaintiff could not state a claim for conversion. He did not allege the County committed a wrongful act in withholding the excess proceeds or that it interfered with his possession of the proceeds.

         As part of ruling on the demurrer, the trial court denied plaintiff leave to amend. Plaintiff had not shown he was able to state a cause of action.

         Discussion

         Plaintiff contends the trial court erred when it (1) struck his third amended complaint; (2) sustained the demurrer to his second amended complaint; and (3) denied leave to file a third amended complaint. We disagree.

         I

         Striking the Third ...


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