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McDermott Ranch, LLC v. Connolly Ranch, Inc.

California Court of Appeals, Third District

December 17, 2019

MCDERMOTT RANCH, LLC, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
CONNOLLY RANCH, INC., Defendant and Respondent.

         [CERTIFIED FOR PARTIAL PUBLICATION][*]

         [256 Cal.Rptr.3d 759] APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of San Joaquin County, Roger Ross, Judge. Affirmed. (Super. Ct. Nos. STK-CVURP-2013-0009921 & 39-2013-00302451-CU-ORSTK)

Page 550

         COUNSEL

         Mayol & Barringer, Bart Barringer, Modesto; McCormick, Barstow, Sheppard, Wayte & Curruth LLP and Todd W. Baxter, Fresno, for Plaintiff and Appellant.

         Law Offices of Tony J. Tanke and Tony J. Tanke, for Defendant and Respondent.

         OPINION

         KRAUSE, J.

Page 551

          This case stems from a 1958 real estate transaction between the predecessors in interest to plaintiff McDermott Ranch, LLC (McDermott) and the predecessors in interest to defendant Connolly Ranch, Inc. (Connolly). The parties owned adjoining ranches in an area called Section 10 in rural San Joaquin County.[1] Under the 1958 transaction, McDermott’s predecessors in interest received the entirety of Section 10, except for a carved out parcel in the western portion that went to Connolly’s predecessors in interest (hereinafter referred to as the McDermott parcel and the Connolly parcel, respectively). The parties’ lands were separated on the northern and eastern sides by Carnegie Ridge, with a fence marking the boundary.

          A dispute arose between the parties concerning the location of the southern and western borders of the Connolly parcel. According to Connolly, its parcel is approximately 165 acres with a border that ends at the Section 10 western and southern boundaries. McDermott, in contrast, argues the Connolly parcel is approximately 107 acres and only extends to a fence that runs along the western and southern portion of Section 10, plus a portion (the 24-acre Connolly defect) that connects the [256 Cal.Rptr.3d 760] southeastern portion of the Connolly parcel to other land owned by Connolly in the adjacent Section 15. In September 2013, McDermott sued to quiet title to the disputed portions of Section 10 and to eject Connolly; Connolly cross-complained for the same relief.

          After a bench trial in July 2016, the trial court awarded Connolly the disputed 58 acres under the agreed boundary doctrine, in part based on testimony from Mark Connolly (Mark) regarding statements made by his father Robert Connolly (Robert) about the background and intent of the

Page 552

parties in doing the 1958 transaction. Robert had negotiated the deal on behalf of his mother Ann Connolly (Ann), who was a predecessor in interest to Connolly.

         On appeal, McDermott contends the trial court erred in admitting the testimony regarding Robert’s hearsay statements under Evidence Code section 1323.[2] He further argues that the remaining evidence is insufficient to support the trial court’s judgment because the deed and related documents reflect the parties’ intent to grant Connolly the smaller parcel. Finally, McDermott asserts that the trial court abused its discretion in awarding attorney’s fees after finding that McDermott had unjustifiably failed to admit certain requests for admission. We will affirm.

          FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

          1. The 1958 transaction

          Prior to the 1958 transaction, McDermott’s predecessors in interest owned approximately 75 percent of Section 10 (about 480 acres), while Connolly’s predecessors in interest owned approximately 25 percent (about 160 acres). The parcel owned by Connolly’s predecessors in interest was on Section 10’s southern border, roughly in the middle of the southern half of the section. Connolly’s predecessors in interest also owned Sections 9, 15, and 16, which bordered Section 10 to the west, south, and southwest.

          In 1958, the parties exchanged land within Section 10. Ann granted to Thomas McDermott "[t]he East one-half of the Southwest Quarter and the West one-half of the Southeast Quarter of Section 10," except for "any portion of the 107.27 acre parcel of land lying within the above described premises." The grant deed provided a detailed description of the excepted 107.27 acres as "[b]eginning at a point on the West line of Section 10." The description included portions "along the South line of Section 10 to the Southwest corner of Section 10," and then turned north "along the West line of Section 10 to the point of beginning, containing 107.27 acres, more or less." Thomas executed a corresponding grant deed granting Ann the excluded parcel.

          The civil engineering firm R.W. Siegfried and Associates prepared a property description and a sketch of the Connolly parcel. The sketch (referred to as the Siegfried drawing) included markings for the fence lines on the southern and western borders of the Connolly parcel, noting "Fence on Section Line." In an accompanying letter (referred to as the Siegfried letter),

Page 553

the firm representative described the parcel as the "portion of Section 10 lying southerly and westerly of Carnegie Ridge. The description follows our traverse line along Carnegie Ridge and along the fence lines on the south and west sides of the parcel. The above fence lines are assumed to be the south and west Section lines of Section 10 respectively."

          2. The 1983 litigation, 2009 survey, and instant litigation

          In 1983, the Connollys filed suit against the McDermotts seeking to quiet title to [256 Cal.Rptr.3d 761] an easement that passed through McDermott’s portion of Section 10. The trial court in the 1983 action ultimately denied the Connollys’ claim. Mark, who represented Connolly and Ann’s estate in the 1983 litigation, testified at trial that there was no dispute about the 1958 transaction in 1983. Mark did not recall whether he had an interest in Connolly at the time of the 1983 litigation. There was a drawing prepared for the 1983 litigation stating that the Connolly parcel in Section 10 was 107 acres; Mark testified at trial that the diagram had nothing to do with the issues disputed in the current action.

          In 2009, the fence on the western side of Section 10 was damaged in a fire. McDermott hired Jon Lamb to survey the area so that the fence could be rebuilt on the section line. After Lamb discovered that the fence was not originally built on the section lines, he was hired to establish the boundaries of Section 10. Lamb was not aware of any survey of Section 10 prior to 2009. Lamb testified at trial that before his survey, the only other way to determine the boundaries of Section 10 would have been to refer to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) quad sheets. However, the USGS maps would not show the acreage.

          In 2013, McDermott filed suit to quiet title to the portions of Section 10 that it argued were deeded to it. McDermott also claimed ejectment and damages, declaratory relief, breach of implied contract and unjust enrichment, and trespass. Connolly cross-complained, seeking to quiet title to the disputed portions of Section 10 and for declaratory relief. Connolly also sought attorney’s fees. In July 2015, the trial court granted ...


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