Homestead exemption shared by domestic partners as co-owners

Two co-owners owned an undivided interest in a home. The co-owners were registered in California’s Domestic Partnership registry. Both co-owners filed for bankruptcy. Each co-owner claimed a full homestead exemption in the amount of $75,000 as is allowed to any one individual under California law. The bankruptcy trustee objected to granting each co-owner the full exemption, claiming each co-owner was entitled to only $37,500 since domestic partners are subject to the same obligations as married couples and married couples are entitled to only half of the full homestead exemption. The co-owners claimed they were each entitled to the full homestead exemption since domestic partners, under federal law, are required to file separate bankruptcy petitions. A federal bankruptcy appeals court held the co-owners were only entitled to half of the maximum exemption set by state homestead statutes since the state homestead exemption, not the federal bankruptcy exemption, applies to California residents, and California law assigns the same economic rights and responsibilities to domestic partners as to married couples. [Rabin v. Schoenmann (9th Cir. BAP 2007) __BR___]

City is not liable for injury on recreational trails

While using a pathway with no handrail in a public park owned by the city, a pedestrian tripped on debris and was injured attempting to keep himself from falling down a hill next to the pathway. The pedestrian claimed the city, as the owner of the pathway, was liable for his injuries since it created a dangerous condition by letting debris accumulate on the pathway and failing to install a handrail when placing the pathway in a dangerous position on a hill. The city claimed the pedestrian was barred by immunity statutes from recovery for his injuries caused by dangerous conditions on or around the pathway since the pathway was a trail used for recreation in a public park. A California appeals court held that, as the owner of the property, the city was immune from liability for the pedestrian’s injuries since the pathway was being used recreationally as a trail, and the lack of maintenance and dangerous location on a hillside were integral parts of the trail.  [Amberger-Warren v. City of Piedmont (2006) 143 CA4th 1074] 

Mobile home sale not to close while dispute exists

A buyer opened escrow for the purchase of a mobile home. The escrow company was instructed to close escrow as soon as all conditions were met unless written demand was made to hold funds which would be deemed to indicate a dispute. Before escrow closed, the buyer sent a letter to the seller with a copy to escrow, pointing out deficiencies and demanding that the deficiencies be corrected. Later, when conditions for escrow to close under the instructions were satisfied, escrow closed and disbursed the buyer’s funds. The buyer claimed the escrow company improperly closed escrow since escrow had notification of a dispute between the buyer and the seller and the escrow company was obligated by mobile home sales law to hold funds upon notice of a dispute until a release was signed by the disputing party. The escrow company claimed it was duty bound to close escrow since all conditions for closing had been met and escrow was not instructed to hold up the close of escrow due to the dispute. A California appeals court held that the escrow company improperly closed escrow based on statutes controlling the close of escrow in mobile home sales since escrow had written notice from the mobile home buyer that a dispute existed with the seller.  [Castillo v. Express Escrow Co. (January 18, 2007) __CA4th___] 

Nonuse of public roadway is not abandonment

A roadway was offered to a city for public use by way of a map filing. More than 25 years later, the city formally accepted the roadway as a public street.  The roadway has never been used for any public or private purpose. The owner of a parcel of land next to the roadway sought to quiet title to the portion of the roadway abutting his property, claiming the city’s failure to formally accept and use the street within the 25-year statutory limitation governing map-filed dedications constituted non-acceptance of the dedication and abandonment of the roadway. The city claimed the dedication statute was not applicable since it was enacted after the city’s acceptance of the roadway and the mere nonuse of the roadway did not constitute abandonment. A California appeals court held that the city had formally accepted the roadway and did not later abandon it to cause the roadway to revert to the parcel owner since the later enacted statute limiting the time during which a city could accept a dedication of a street by a map filing was not retroactively applicable and mere nonuse does not constitute abandonment. [Wright v. City of MorroBay (2006) 144 CA4th 767] 

City has discretion to deny final maps

A subdivider’s “vesting tentative map” was approved by the county. The area which included the parcel was then incorporated as a city, adopting all of the county’s subdivision ordinances in the process. The subdivider submitted a final map to the city. The city surveyor approved the final maps as in compliance with all laws, however, the city council denied the subdivider’s final map. The subdivider sought to force the city to approve the final map since the county ordinances adopted by the city stated that once the city surveyor approved the final map, the city was ministerially duty bound to approve the map. The city claimed that it had no duty to approve the final map since the county, and not the city, approved the vesting tentative map giving the city the discretionary authority to deny any final map. The Supreme Court of California held the city had the discretion to deny the final map since it had not approved the vesting tentative map.  [City of Goletav. SuperiorCourtofSanta BarbaraCounty (2006) 40 C4th 270] 

Editor’s note ­­– The Safe Harbor protection of a vesting tentative map allows the subdivider to proceed to comply with Codes, Regulations and Ordinances affecting completion of the mapping and provides the subdivider with the assurance the final map will be approved by the mere ministerial action of the Board of Supervisors or City Council when the subdivider has met all subdivision law. Incorporation of the subdividable parcel into a city prior to approval of the final map for a vesting tentative map subverts the SafeHarbor rules protecting the subdivider’s investment.