Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Be Careful what You Stip to ...

Needelman v. Dewolf Realty Co., Inc., No. A141306 (D1d3 Aug. 18, 2015)

To buy some time in his apartment, Plaintiff settled an unlawful detainer case with his Landlord by entering a stipulated judgment. The judgment let him stay in the apartment, rent free, for several additional months, conditioned on his abiding by the building’s house rules. The judgment further provided that, if the landlord received a verified complaint that Plaintiff broke the rules, the landlord could enforce an unlawful detainer through ex parte application and kick him out, that any property left behind would be deemed abandoned, and that plaintiff waived any action for wrongful eviction arising out of the tenancy. When, two months later, fellow tenants complained that Plaintiff appeared naked, banging on his door, at 4 am, Landlord did just that.

After Landlord enforced the stipulated judgment, Plaintiff filed a separate suit for wrongful eviction and conversion of property that he had left in the unit. Landlord moved to dismiss, which the trial court ultimately granted. Plaintiff appealed. The issue is whether the stipulated judgment in the UD case is res judicata to the later filed civil action. The elements of res judicata are (1) same parties; (2) final judgment; (3) same claims. Only the third element is at issue here. 

Plaintiff raises two issues.

First, Plaintiff argued that some of the actions at issue in his complaint post-dated the stipulated UD judgment. While that might be partially true all of his claims were within the stipulated judgment’s scope. Each claim was premised on various facts bound up with the UD action, including alleged falsifications in the three day notice to quit, the prosecution of the UD action, and the ex parte application that enforced the stipulated judgment. To the extent that post-judgment issues were addressed, they related to the handling of Plaintiffs property after the eviction. Since that issues was specifically addressed by the stipulated judgment, it was clearly within the scope of the issues determined in the UD action.

The second point addresses the nature of UD proceedings. They are limited, fast-moving cases that are entirely directed to the right to possess the property. Generally, that affords them limited preclusive effect on issues other than possession. For instance, an unlawful detainer judgment isn’t preclusive of a later damages action over a landlord’s failure to maintain a property during a tenancy.

Here, however, each issue raised by Plaintiff’s new suit was either within the scope of the UD case itself, or addressed and settled by the stipulated judgment. So even if, in an ordinary UD case, claims regarding a landlord’s handling of an evicted tenant’s property would not be barred, they were nonetheless barred here.


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