Muller v. Hallenbeck

Decision Date16 February 1962
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
PartiesLelah MULLER, Plaintiff, Cross-Defendant and Respondent, v. E. HALLENBECK, Defendant, Cross-Complainant and Appellant, and William Muller, Defendant. Civ. 19983.

William J. Scammon, Burlingame, for appellant.

Charles Reagh, San Francisco, for respondent.

KAUFMAN, Presiding Justice.

This case is but another chapter in the long and complex history of the relations of the respondent, Lelah Muller, and her former husband, William Muller. 1 The precise question here presented has never been litigated in the prolix and proliferous prior proceedings. A detailed exposition is necessary for an understanding of the issue.

On July 26, 1955, respondent, Lelah Muller, filed this action to quiet title to lots 6 and 7, block 46, of the Granada Subdivision in San Mateo County, alleging that the property had been part of the community property at the time of her marriage to William Muller who was named as defendant with Uda Datlow and several Does. Thereafter, on October 24, 1955, the appellant, E. Hallenbeck, was brought in as a party, and on October 27, 1955, filed his cross-complaint to quiet title to lots 6 and 7 and the northeasterly portion of lot 5, asserting that he was the owner of the parcels of land in question by a grant deed from Uda Datlow.

William Muller admitted his marriage to the respondent, the final decree of divorce entered on December 8, 1954 nunc pro tunc as of September 22, 1953, and disclaimed any interest in the property in favor of Hallenbeck. Thereafter, on the motion of William Muller, the court dismissed respondent's action for failure to prosecute within five years from the commencement thereof, pursuant to section 583 of the Code of Civil Procedure. The matter thereafter went to trial on the issues raised by the cross-complaint, namely, the rights of the various parties to lots 6 and 7 and the northeasterly portion of lot 5. At the trial, respondent, by her attorney, announced in open court that she did not care to press her defense or seek any relief as far as lots 6 and 7 were concerned.

The trial court found: that respondent and William Muller were married on January 22, 1944, and continued to be husband and wife until September 22, 1953; that title to all the lands described derived from the United States by mesne conveyances to one Rebecca Aronov, who acquired title on or about April 5, 1946; that William Muller held a general power of attorney from Rebecca Aronov which was of record in San Mateo County on and prior to August 8, 1949; that on August 8, 1949, Rebecca Aronov, by her attorney in fact, William Muller, deeded to Uda Datlow lots 6 and 7 and the northeasterly portion of lot 5; that this deed was furnished by William Muller and was actually never seen by Uda Datlow; that Uda Datlow paid nothing whatever for this conveyance as he had previously agreed to take and hold the title as an accommodation to William Muller, who had told Datlow that he owned the property but that the respondent wanted to take everything away from him; and that Muller wanted Datlow to take over the title to the property because of the relations between Muller and the respondent.

The trial court also found that Datlow held title to these lands entirely as an accommodation for Muller and never claimed any right whatever; that on Muller's request, Datlow signed two deeds in blank, and delivered them to Muller with the name of the grantee left blank; that on June 29, 1954, these deeds were filled in with the name of appellant Hallenbeck as grantee and an acknowledgment to the signature of Uda Datlow was procured although Datlow did not go before a notary at any time and the deeds were placed of record.

The trial court further found that on April 23, 1952, William Muller, by an unacknowledged deed, which was however signed by him and delivered to Lelah Muller, conveyed to her all of lot 5; that on May 26, 1952, Lelah Muller brought suit to prove the execution and delivery of this deed in action No. 58211. Judgment was entered on May 18, 1954, proving said deed and quieting title to all of lot 5 in Lelah Muller as against William Muller. (This judgment was subsequently affirmed by this court in Muller v. Muller, 141 Cal.App.2d 722, 297 P.2d 789; see also, Muller v. Reagh, 148 Cal.App.2d 157, 306 P.2d 593.)

From the above facts, the trial court concluded that title to lots 6 and 7 should be quieted in the appellant Hallenbeck as against Lelah Muller; and that as to the northeasterly portion of lot 5 conveyed to Hallenbeck by the deed from Uda Datlow, appellant Hallenbeck held only the bare legal title, naked of any right or interest, and that he should be required to deed to the respondent all of his right, title and interest in that portion of lot 5, with a specific covenant against the acts of the grantor.

From the judgment duly entered, Hallenbeck appeals contending that the northeasterly portion of lot 5, as well as the respondent's claim thereto, were never really in issue; that the uncontroverted evidence indicated that he was a bona fide purchaser for value without notice; and that the record does not support the trial court's finding that William Muller deeded lot 5 to the respondent and that therefore, this deed was proved and respondent's title to all of lot 5 quieted as against William Muller. There is no merit in any of these contentions.

We turn first to the appellant's arguments that the disputed portion of lot 5 was not involved in this litigation and that there was no evidence to support findings 1 and 2, namely, that on April 23, 1952, William Muller delivered an unacknowledged deed to lot 5 to the respondent; that such deed was subsequently proved and respondent's title to lot 5 quieted against William Muller. As described above, respondent's complaint [which was subsequently dismissed], related only to lots 6 and 7; appellant's answer and cross-complaint specifically sought to quiet title to lots 6 and 7 and the portion of lot 5 which he had acquired by his June 29, 1954 deeds from Uda Datlow. Although the pre-trial order was formulated before the dismissal of the respondent's complaint, we see no inconsistencies between the issues raised by the pre-trial order and the cross-complaint. As to the prior quiet title action between respondent and William Muller (No. 58211, affirmed in 141 Cal.App.2d 722, 297 P.2d 789, and 148 Cal.App.2d 157, 306 P.2d 593, etc.), the entire record of this matter was admitted into evidence below. Furthermore, we may take judicial notice of our decision in the prior quiet title suit (Muller v. Reagh, 148 Cal.App.2d 157, 161, 306 P.2d 593). Although the appellant's first two contentions appear to us to be highly frivolous (Tomales Bay etc. Corp. v. Superior Court, 35 Cal.2d 389, 217 P.2d 968), we do not think the appellant should be penalized therefor since he has been involved in an unfortunate mess, not entirely of his own making.

We turn now to the main issue before this court which is, whether the evidence sufficiently supports the findings and conclusions of the trial court that the appellant was not a bona fide purchaser of the northeasterly portion of lot 5 conveyed to him in the deed on June 29, 1954, signed by Uda Datlow.

The record reveals the following: appellant testified that he lived in San Francisco and that in June of 1954, he bought lots 6 and 7 and the disputed portion of lot 5 from Uda Datlow, as an investment. He began negotiating for the property in March, 1954, and closed the deal with a deposit of $200 in cash in April. However, appellant never saw Uda Datlow and did not deal directly with him. All the negotiations and the entire transaction were handled for the appellant by real estate broker William Muller, who never revealed his interest in the property. Appellant had known Muller for 8-10 years, had previous dealings with Muller, but did not know that Muller was married. Appellant trusted Muller's integrity, paid the $1,500 purchase price for all the parcels of property to Muller in cash when Muller informed him that Datlow wanted cash. As the appellant had some difficulty collecting so much cash, he gave Muller $200 in April and the rest in June, all in ten and twenty dollar bills. He had the balance of the purchase price a week or so after he had made the $200 deposit but he could not get hold of Mr. Muller until June 28 to pay the balance. In the interim, the appellant stored the cash in a wooden box in his garage. He explained that he had never had a bank account in his life except a checking account with American Trust; that he had bought bank money orders but did not believe in cashier's checks; that he had acquired most of the $1,500 cash from a Mr. Bob Cockley, now deceased, to whom he had loaned the money.

The judgment in action No. 58211 quieting title to all of lot 5 in the respondent was entered on May 18, 1954. The deeds from Uda Datlow to the appellant were dated June 29, 1954. They were recorded on October 17, 1955. 2 Appellant did not request a title search of the property until October, 1955. Appellant explained the delay in the recording as follows: 'I was in the litigation of an estate with my brother and I didn't do that for the simple reason that they would have tried to claim that the money was the estate money that it was purchased by--with, rather. That's the reason I didn't record the deed until I was through with the litigation with my brother.' In the litigation with his brother, appellant was assisted by William Muller. Appellant further stated that since his purchase of lots 6 and 7 and the portion of lot 5 in 1954, he had paid the taxes thereon. He produced a tax receipt covering lots 6 and 7, indicating that these had been...

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5 cases
  • Muller v. Muller
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • November 19, 1962
    ...to respondent all of his right, title and interest therein. This portion of the judgment was affirmed on appeal. (Muller v. Hallenbeck, 200 A.C.A. 363, 19 Cal.Rptr. 251.) The instant action, being No. 93780, was filed by appellant on March 28, 1961, just eight days after the lower court's r......
  • Leach v. Home Savings & Loan Assn.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • September 30, 1986
    ...constructive notice (see Hansen v. G & G Trucking Co. (1965) 236 Cal.App.2d 481, 498-499, 46 Cal.Rptr. 186; Muller v. Hallenbeck (1962) 200 Cal.App.2d 366, 373, 19 Cal.Rptr. 251; see also Black's Law Dict. (4th ed. 1968) p. 224, col. 1); therefore, she contends that, using her interpretatio......
  • Salt Lake County v. METRO WEST READY MIX
    • United States
    • Utah Court of Appeals
    • August 1, 2002
    ...if the grantor had apparent legal title, even if he or she did not have perfect legal title. See, e.g., Muller v. Hallenbeck, 200 Cal.App.2d 366, 19 Cal.Rptr. 251, 255 (1962) ("A bona fide purchaser is one who can prove possession of his grantor, the purchase of the property, and the paymen......
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    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • February 16, 1962
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