Wednesday, August 13, 2014

With a Title Like Bloxham v. Saldinger, this Must Be a Real Property Case

Bloxham v. Saldinger, No. H038040 (D6, as modified, Aug. 27, 2014).

In this case about a property line dispute, most of the opinion deals with land surveying issues dating back to the early settlement of California. The prevailing plaintiffs, however, cross appeal because the trial court declined to award them fees under Code of Civil Procedure § 2033.420 for the cost of proving a fact that had been denied in a request for admission. In affirming, the court explains several key aspects of the law concerning sanctions for denying RFAs that ultimately prove true at trial.

First, a party can’t necessarily deny based on lack of knowledge or that the RFA calls for expert opinion. The party must make a reasonable investigation. If it fails to do so, a denial for lack of knowledge merits cost shifting. Second, sanctions are only available when the RFA concerns a material issue. That sinks the plaintiff’s argument here because the RFA asked about the accuracy of the description in the plaintiff’s deed. The contested issue in the case, however, wasn’t the accuracy of the deed. It was the location of the boundary line based on the deed’s descriptions, which referenced landmarks that were no longer readily ascertainable. The RFA thus did not address an issue of “substantial importance,” so sanctions were not merited under § 2033.420(b)(2).  Finally, although plaintiffs’ demanded their full fees incurred at trial due to the denial of the RFA, § 2033.420(a) entitles them only to the expenses incurred in proving that the denial was not correct. Because the accuracy of the deed’s description was never disputed at trial, plaintiffs failed to show how they incurred any expense in proving that the description was, in fact, correct.


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