Minsky v. City of Los Angeles

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtTOBRINER; WRIGHT
Citation113 Cal.Rptr. 102,11 Cal.3d 113,520 P.2d 726
Parties, 520 P.2d 726 Bernard W. MINSKY, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. CITY OF LOS ANGELES, Defendant and Respondent. L.A. 30085.
Decision Date08 April 1974

Page 102

113 Cal.Rptr. 102
11 Cal.3d 113, 520 P.2d 726
Bernard W. MINSKY, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
CITY OF LOS ANGELES, Defendant and Respondent.
L.A. 30085.
Supreme Court of California,
In Bank.
April 8, 1974.

[11 Cal.3d 116]

Page 105

[520 P.2d 729] Minsky, Garber & Rudof and Justin M. Groshan, Los Angeles, for plaintiff and appellant.

Roger Arenbergh, City Atty., George J. Franscell, Asst. City Atty., and W. T. Maskey, Deputy City Atty., for defendant and respondent.

TOBRINER, Justice.

This case presents the question whether the claims statutes (Gov.Code, § 900 et seq.) requiring the presentation of certain claims against the government within designated time limits 1 apply to an

Page 106

[520 P.2d 730] action[11 Cal.3d 117] by an arrestee for the return of property taken by local police officers at the time of arrest and wrongfully withheld following the disposition of criminal charges. We do not think that the claims statutes were intended to cover a case in which the city takes the property of an arrested person, holds it as a bailee, and retains it for the city's own use. Hence plaintiff's failure to comply with those statutes erects no bar to a cause of action for the return of the property so seized and retained. In reaching this conclusion, we observe that the language of section 905 makes clear that the requirements for presentation of claims apply only to 'claims for money or damages' and not to claims for other forms of relief, such as specific recovery of property taken by the city as a bailee.

The complaint 2 alleges: that 'on or about September 23, 1967, defendants, the City of Los Angeles (through) members of the Los Angeles Police Department arrested one Michael Joseph Marino' and 'took from his person . . . the sum of $7,720'; that 'a receipt or other document was issued to him, evidencing the fact that the Los Angeles Police Department' had taken that sum from him; that 'pending the outcome of said case, said property was held as evidence by the Los Angeles Police Department'; and that 'upon disposition of said case, 3 . . . on or about December 13,[11 Cal.3d 118] 1968, . . . said sum (was) wrongfully detained and converted' by transferring the $7,720 to the Policeman's and Fireman's Pension Fund.

Upon disposition of the criminal charges on December 13, 1968, Marino unsuccessfully made an oral demand for the return of the $7,720 taken from him upon his arrest. On the following day Marino assigned his interest in that sum to his attorney, Robert Steinberg. Thereafter Steinberg in turn assigned his interest to Minsky, the present plaintiff.

Within two years after Marino's demand, Minsky formally sought to recover the money from the local governmental entity. On October 29, 1970, he presented a written claim to the city, but that claim was denied on the ground that it 'was not filed within 100 days as required by Government Code section 911.2.' 4 On

Page 107

[520 P.2d 731] December 8, 1970, Minsky filed the present action in the Los Angeles Superior Court alleging the facts set forth herein, and seeking $7,720 damages or such other relief 'as the Court may deem just and proper.'

The superior court sustained the city's general demurrer and dismissed the complaint without leave to amend under Code of Civil Procedure section 581, subdivision (3), stating that '(n)o allegation in (the) complaint appears that (a) claim under (the) Government Code (was) duly filed.' For the reasons set forth below we hold that this ruling and the dismissal of the complaint without leave to amend constituted error.

It is axiomatic that if there is a reasonable possibility that a defect in the complaint can be cured by amendment or that the pleading liberally construed can state a cause of action, a demurrer should not be sustained without leave to amend. (3 Witkin, Cal.Procedure, Pleading, § 844, p. 2449; accord La Sala v. American Sav. & Loan Assn. (1971) 5 Cal.3d 864, 876, 97 Cal.Rptr. 849, 489 P.2d 1113; Lemoge Electric v. County of[11 Cal.3d 119] San Mateo (1956) 46 Cal.2d 659, 664, 297 P.2d 638; Beckstead v. Superior Court (1971) 21 Cal.App.3d 780, 782, 98 Cal.Rptr. 779.) We believe a cause of action has been stated here.

At the outset we note that unless the special governmental claims presentation requirements apply (§ 900 et seq.) plaintiff's allegations clearly establish a cause of action based upon the city's breach of its affirmative duty to return private property. Governmental officers who seize an arrestee's property bear the duty to provide a receipt, to safeguard, and to pay and deliver such property as the prisoner directs except 'when otherwise ordered by a court of competent jurisdiction.' (§ 26640.) 5 Furthermore, plaintiff fully complied with the applicable statutes of limitation 6 and other procedural pre

Page 108

requisites 7 [520 P.2d 732] for maintaining the present action. Thus[11 Cal.3d 120] the sole question becomes whether plaintiff's claim should be subjected to the additional requirement of written 8 presentation of claims within the relatively short periods provided in the claims statutes. 9 To resolve this issue we turn to an analysis of the language, the historical setting, and the polices of the claims statutes.

The current requirements for presentation of claims (§ 900 et seq.) derive from the work of the California Law Revision Commission. 'From the earliest days of California legal history, a variety of statutes, municipal charter provisions, and local ordinances have required claims to be presented to public officers as a condition to maintaining an action against public entities.' (Van Alstyne, Cal.Governmental Tort Liability (1964) § 3.5, p. 78; e.g., McCann v. Sierra County (1857) 7 Cal.121.) In 1959 the commission studied this patchwork of enactments; the requirements for presentation of claims differed widely, depending on the type of claim and governmental entity involved. As noted by many commentators, these diverse claims presentation requirements often created unnecessary 'traps for the unwary.' 10 To meet this problem the commission recommended adoption of uniform procedures for claims against local governmental entities. (2 Cal.Law Revision Com.Rep. (1959), pp. A--7--16.) The Legislature accepted the commission's recommendation and enacted the present scheme for presentation of claims. (Stats.1959, chs. 1724--1726, p. 4133 et seq.) 11

The uniform claims presentation procedure of section 905--like most of the enactments which it replaced--applies only to claims for 'money or damages.' Even as to local public entities . . . the coverage of the new general claims statute is not universal. Like nearly all (the supplanted) claims statutes, it applies only to claims for money or damages.' (2 Cal.Law Revision Com.Rep. (1959) p. A--10.) Accordingly we must interpret[11 Cal.3d 121] the phrase 'money or damages' in light of its historic meaning in California law and in the light of cases antedating the present statute.

A claim for the specific recovery of property has never been considered a claim for 'money or damages' as used in section 905 and its predecessors. ' (O) nly claimants seeking money or damages, as distinguished from other types of judicial relief, are required to conform to the claims procedure.' The claims statutes do not 'impose any . . . requirements for non-pecuniary actions, such as those seeking injunctive, 12 specific, or declaratory 13 relief.' (Van Alstyne, supra,

Page 109

[520 P.2d 733] §§ 8.8.--8.9, pp. 363--365.) (Emphasis added.) Where a wrongdoer has converted . . . personal property, the injured owner must elect between his right of ownership and possession (with the remedy of specific recovery) and his right to compensation (with remedies of damages for conversion or quasi-contract recovery of value on theory of waiver of tort).' (2 Witkin, Cal.Procedure (2d ed. 1970) Actions, § 114, p. 983.)

Applying these principles to the instant situation, we find that the government in effect occupies the position of a bailee when it seizes from an arrestee property that is not shown to be contraband. (Cf. Mozzetti v. Superior Court (1971) 4 Cal.3d 699, 708--709, 94 Cal.Rptr. 412, 484 P.2d 84 (declaring that the police are involuntary bailees of vehicles impounded after a traffic accident).) The arrestee retains his right to eventual specific recovery, whether he seeks to regain tangible property like an automobile, ring, wallet or camera, or whether he seeks to recover a specific sum of money which, under general constructive trust principles, is traceable to property within the possession of the defendant....

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152 practice notes
  • Lantzy v. Centex Homes, No. S098660.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • August 4, 2003
    ...be cured by amendment ..., a demurrer should not be sustained without leave to amend. [Citations.]" (Minsky v. City of Los Angeles (1974) 11 Cal.3d 113, 118, 113 Cal.Rptr. 102, 520 P.2d 726.) But the particular history of this case persuades us there is no reasonable possibility plaintiffs ......
  • Perdue v. Crocker National Bank, S.F. 24591
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • July 18, 1985
    ...of certainty. Such a defect would not justify the sustaining of a demurrer without leave to amend. (Minsky v. City of Los Angeles (1974) 11 Cal.3d 113, 118, 113 [38 Cal.3d 930] Cal.Rptr. 102, 520 P.2d 726; La Sala v. American Sav. & Loan Assn. (1971) 5 Cal.3d 864, 876, 97 Cal.Rptr. 849, 489......
  • Dicampli–Mintz v. Cnty. of Santa Clara, No. H034160.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • August 10, 2011
    ...v. Los Angeles County (1934) 2 Cal.App.2d 600, 608–609, 38 P.2d 442, disapproved on another point in Minsky v. City of Los Angeles (1974) 11 Cal.3d 113, 123, fn. 15, 113 Cal.Rptr. 102, 520 P.2d 726.) Service on a county clerk qua county clerk may constitute service on the county clerk in an......
  • Foster v. Sexton, F078387
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • March 16, 2021
    ...requirements. (See Holt v. Kelly (1978) 20 Cal.3d 560, 565, 143 Cal.Rptr. 625, 574 P.2d 441 ; Minsky v. City of Los Angeles (1974) 11 Cal.3d 113, 124, 113 Cal.Rptr. 102, 520 P.2d 726 [complaint seeking 276 Cal.Rptr.3d 194 recovery of property seized and wrongfully withheld by local police w......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
152 cases
  • Lantzy v. Centex Homes, No. S098660.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • August 4, 2003
    ...be cured by amendment ..., a demurrer should not be sustained without leave to amend. [Citations.]" (Minsky v. City of Los Angeles (1974) 11 Cal.3d 113, 118, 113 Cal.Rptr. 102, 520 P.2d 726.) But the particular history of this case persuades us there is no reasonable possibility plaintiffs ......
  • Perdue v. Crocker National Bank, S.F. 24591
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • July 18, 1985
    ...of certainty. Such a defect would not justify the sustaining of a demurrer without leave to amend. (Minsky v. City of Los Angeles (1974) 11 Cal.3d 113, 118, 113 [38 Cal.3d 930] Cal.Rptr. 102, 520 P.2d 726; La Sala v. American Sav. & Loan Assn. (1971) 5 Cal.3d 864, 876, 97 Cal.Rptr. 849, 489......
  • Dicampli–Mintz v. Cnty. of Santa Clara, No. H034160.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • August 10, 2011
    ...v. Los Angeles County (1934) 2 Cal.App.2d 600, 608–609, 38 P.2d 442, disapproved on another point in Minsky v. City of Los Angeles (1974) 11 Cal.3d 113, 123, fn. 15, 113 Cal.Rptr. 102, 520 P.2d 726.) Service on a county clerk qua county clerk may constitute service on the county clerk in an......
  • Foster v. Sexton, F078387
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • March 16, 2021
    ...requirements. (See Holt v. Kelly (1978) 20 Cal.3d 560, 565, 143 Cal.Rptr. 625, 574 P.2d 441 ; Minsky v. City of Los Angeles (1974) 11 Cal.3d 113, 124, 113 Cal.Rptr. 102, 520 P.2d 726 [complaint seeking 276 Cal.Rptr.3d 194 recovery of property seized and wrongfully withheld by local police w......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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