Archive for May, 2016

26
May

Sometimes a court provides a clear statement of the law.  Greenspan v. LADT LLC (2010) 191 Cal.App.4th 486 is one such opinion, providing a definite and authoritative answer to the issue of whether a trust is an entity – it is not.

From the opinion.

“Courts often speak of the alter ego doctrine as if it applied to a trust as an entity.  But a distinction must be made between a trust and a trustee.  The general rule that a trust is a relationship is universally recognized by U.S. cases and statutes, and is consistent with the prevailing norms of the entire common-law world.  The fundamental nature of this relationship is that one person holds legal title for the benefit of another person.

“Thus, in actuality, a trust is not a legal person which can own property or enter into contracts.  It is the trustee or trustees who hold title to the assets that make up the trust estate … Because a trust is not a legal entity, it cannot sue or be sued, but rather legal proceedings are properly directed at the trustee …

“As recognized in California: Unlike a corporation, a trust is not a legal entity.  Legal title to property owned by a trust is held by the trustee.  A trust is simply a collection of assets and liabilities.  As such, it has no capacity to sue or be sued, or to defend an action …

Fresno real estate lawyer

“Because a trust is not an entity, it’s impossible for a trust to be anybody’s alter ego.  That’s because alter ego theory, which is simply one of the grounds to ‘pierce the corporate veil,’ is inescapably linked to the notion that one person or entity exercises undue control over another person or entity.  However, a trust’s status as a non-entity logically precludes a trust from being an alter ego.

“But while applying alter ego doctrine to trusts is conceptually unsound, applying the doctrine to trustees is a different proposition.  Trustees are real persons, either natural or artificial, and, as a conceptual matter, it’s entirely reasonable to ask whether a trustee is the alter ego of a defendant who made a transfer into the trust.  Alter-ego doctrine can therefore provide a viable legal theory for creditors vis-à-vis trustees.

“Thus, in the present case, Greenspan properly sought to add Moti Shai, the trustee of the Shy Trust, as a judgment debtor.  If Moti Shai is the alter ego of Barry Shy, then Barry may be considered the owner of the Shy Trust’s assets for purposes of satisfying the judgment.  The trial court erred in concluding that the alter ego doctrine could not be used to reach the assets of a trust.”

That’s a breath of fresh air, hopefully forever ending any argument that a trust is an entity.  Greenspan v. LADT LLC (2010) 191 Cal.App.4th 486

Category : Case law | Trusts and estates | Blog
12
May

The decision in Jones v. Wachovia Bank (2014) 230 Cal.App.4th 935 reminds us that all opinion testimony must be supported by reasonable foundation.  The underlying complaint was based on an allegation “the bank breached an agreement to postpone the trustee sale and, by reason of that breach, plaintiffs lost their equity in the property.”

The court “explained that a gratuitous oral promise to postpone a sale of property pursuant to the terms of a trust deed ordinarily would be unenforceable under [Civil Code] section 1698.  This is because the oral promise had not been executed by the parties, as required by section 1698.”

The homeowners did not prevail because they “produced no evidence showing that they refrained from bringing their loan current in reliance on the June 18 sale date because they had no ability to do so … Plaintiffs did nothing to substantially change their position before their home was sold, and they intended to do nothing other than to seek another postponement.”

More significantly, “Wachovia is entitled to summary judgment for the additional reason that plaintiffs failed to present sufficient evidence of injury.”  The court’s analysis is as follows.

Fresno Real Estate attorney

“[Plaintiff] claimed that the $555,000 sale price was substantially below the current market value of the home due to demolition conducted by the seller.  The trial court sustained Wachovia’s objection to that opinion testimony for lack of foundation …

“An owner’s right to testify regarding the value of real property under [Evidence Code] section 813 is not absolute … A property owner is bound by the same rules of admissibility as any other witness regarding the value of real property.  (Evid. Code, § 814 [requiring a foundation for real property value opinion based on information ‘of a type that reasonably may be relied upon by an expert in forming an opinion as to the value of property.’]”

Lacking proper foundation – in other words, a factual basis for his opinion of value – the owner was barred from stating his opinion regarding the value of his property.  “A foundation must be laid indicating the other property sold was sufficiently similar to the property in litigation to indicate the price realized for the other land may fairly be considered as shedding light on the value of the land in question.  It must also appear that the other sale was genuine and sufficiently voluntary to be a reasonable index of value and that the price was actually paid or substantially secured.”

Jones v. Wachovia Bank (2014) 230 Cal.App.4th 935

Category : Case law | Real Property | Blog