Peixoto v. Dudash
|29 December 2022
|LEAH PEIXOTO et al., Plaintiffs, Cross-defendants and Respondents, v. GEORGE DUDASH et al., Defendants, Cross-complainants and Appellants.
|California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
NOT TO BE PUBLISHED
APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of San Diego County No. 37-2019-00061944-CU-OR-NC Robert P. Dahlquist, Judge. Affirmed.
George Dudash and Lu Dudash, in pro. per., for Defendants, Crosscomplainants and Appellants.
No appearance for Plaintiffs, Cross-defendants and Respondents.
Two couples who owned neighboring parcels of real property could not agree whether one of them had the right to install an address marker and decorative landscaping on the side of a private easement road used to access
their properties. This underlying dispute led to more conflicts and culminated in the filing of a complaint followed by a cross-complaint.
The couples are no longer neighbors. The couple that installed the address marker and landscaping removed them, dismissed their complaint, and moved away to extricate themselves from the ongoing contention. The other couple took their cross-claims to a bench trial. They lost, and now appeal, arguing the trial court's decision was not supported by substantial evidence. We affirm the judgment.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
In 2019, 73-year-old Leah Peixoto and her 77-year-old husband, Eduardo Peixoto, owned and lived on a parcel of real property in a rural area of unincorporated San Diego County near Escondido. George Dudash and his wife, Lu Dudash, owned and lived on the parcel of real property immediately north of the Peixotos' property.
The Peixoto and Dudash properties were accessed from the west by a long private easement road that ran east-west along the boundary of two other properties. The easement area was 40 feet wide and was the combination of two adjoining 20-foot-wide easements granted to the Peixotos and Dudashes "for road and public utility purposes[.]" The northern 20-footwide easement ran along the southernmost portion of a parcel owned by Bob Stanley. The southern 20-foot-wide easement ran along the northernmost portion of a parcel owned by Robert Curry. Although the total easement area was 40 feet wide, the paved road was less than 40 feet wide.
A person driving east on the road toward the Dudash and Peixoto properties would encounter the Dudash property first, on the left. As the road approached the Dudash property, it forked to the left and right. A person who drove to the left would immediately pass through the entrance to the Dudash property, which had a circular private driveway leading to the Dudash residence. A person who drove to the right would descend down a slope leading to the Peixoto property, which was farther down the road and to the right. The road ended at the Peixoto property.
The Dudashes and Peixotos had a number of conflicts that appeared to originate with disagreements over their use of the easement burdening the Curry property (easement). The Peixotos installed a small stone address marker surrounded by a cluster of three or four decorative palm trees. They placed these items just west of the fork in the road, south of the paved road and north of the southern boundary of the easement (from the perspective of a person driving east toward the Dudash and Peixoto properties, on the right side of the road, just before the fork in the road). George Dudash, who apparently wanted to construct a turn-around area through the patch of land occupied by the address marker and trees, threatened to bulldoze the items away. He also took steps to relocate the Dudash mailbox to a position south
of the road, just west of the Peixotos' address marker (such that a person driving east would encounter the Dudash mailbox first, on the right). The Peixotos objected to the plan to move the Dudash mailbox to this location.
Out of these and other disputes, the present lawsuit arose.
The Parties' Pleadings
A. The Peixotos' Complaint
In November 2019, the Peixotos, who were then represented by counsel, filed a complaint against the Dudashes in superior court. They asserted causes of action for declaratory relief, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
In their cause of action for declaratory relief, the Peixotos sought a judicial declaration that they had the right to place a small stone base (the address marker) and landscaping (the palm trees) in the easement to the side of the paved road, and that the Dudashes did not have the right to place or maintain their mailbox in the easement. They alleged an actual controversy existed with respect to these issues, including because the Dudashes had threatened to "bulldoze or otherwise destroy/remove" the landscaping and place the Dudash mailbox in the easement.
The second cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress was asserted by Eduardo Peixoto, described as "an elderly man who suffers from dementia," against George Dudash. It was supported by allegations that George Dudash had shouted at Eduardo Peixoto "in a rude, violent, and insolent manner and made verbal threats, including, but not limited to, threatening to sue him with the knowledge of [his] special susceptibility to being frightened, confused, and otherwise emotionally upset," purposely causing Eduardo Peixoto to suffer mental anguish,
emotional and physical distress. The third cause of action for negligent infliction of emotional distress was also asserted by Eduardo Peixoto against George Dudash, and was supported by an allegation that George Dudash knew, or should have known, his conduct "as alleged herein" would cause Eduardo Peixoto severe emotional distress.
In September or October 2020, the Dudashes, appearing as selfrepresented litigants, filed a demurrer to the complaint, which was denied. In November, they filed an answer to the complaint. In February 2021, the Peixotos voluntarily dismissed their complaint without prejudice.
B. The Dudashes' Cross-Complaint
In April 2021, the Dudashes filed an amended cross-complaint (crosscomplaint) that asserted five causes of action: (1) "property obstruction"; (2) "vandalism"; (3) nuisance behavior; (4) malicious prosecution; and (5) intentional infliction of emotional distress.
In the first cause of action for "property obstruction," the Dudashes alleged the Peixotos' address marker and palm trees obstructed their use of the easement, "blocking others from using that portion of the property, including [the Dudashes'] efforts to develop and utilize the area for road purposes."
The second cause of action for vandalism was based on an alleged incident involving the Dudashes' mailbox post. The Dudashes alleged they sought to relocate their mailbox to the easement "to a position at a turn around area . . . closer to [the Dudash] property." Leah Peixoto allegedly parked her minivan "against a freshly installed mail box post, bending the structure."
In support of their third cause of action for "nuisance behavior," the Dudashes alleged the Peixotos had harmed them by committing the following
acts: they installed exterior lights aimed at the Dudash home; they installed a" 'spite mailbox'" (capitalization omitted) on the opposite side of the road from the address marker; they left Eduardo Peixoto's vehicle parked in the easement area for 21 days; and Leah Peixoto stood in front of a backhoe driven by George Dudash, allegedly interrupting him as he was moving the Dudash mailbox and placing boulders next to it.
In support of their fourth cause of action for malicious prosecution, the Dudashes alleged the Peixotos' complaint was baseless and brought wrongfully, and they became the prevailing parties when the Peixotos voluntarily dismissed it. The fifth cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress was based on allegations the Peixotos' "wrongful conduct" had caused the Dudashes to suffer "severe emotional and financial distress."
In their prayer for relief, the Dudashes requested special and general damages in specified amounts totaling over $150,000, as well as punitive damages.
The Bench Trial
The causes of action in the cross-complaint were tried in a bench trial that lasted less than one day. Both sides were self-represented at trial.
A. The Dudashes' Evidence
Curry, George Dudash, and Charles Rivers (a friend of George Dudash) testified on behalf of the Dudashes.
1. Robert Curry
Curry had owned his property since 1974 and it was vacant. He resided elsewhere and rarely visited it. His last visit was sometime before the Peixotos' address marker and landscaping were installed. Curry had paid an attorney $3,600 to compel the Peixotos to remove the "obstacles." George Dudash asked Curry if he believed the Peixotos' "obstructing [of] the easement" was a private nuisance. Curry responded that it "cost him time and money to get the problem corrected, so it was not a pleasant experience."
2. George Dudash
George Dudash gave an oral "case presentation" (capitalization and emphasis omitted) that relied to a large extent on exhibits. Several of these exhibits were aimed at establishing that the Peixotos' address marker and
trees had been located within the boundaries of the easement before they were removed. The exhibits included diagrams and aerial photos on which lines were drawn to represent the boundaries of the easement and surrounding properties, although it was not apparent who added the lines to the aerial photos, who prepared the diagrams, or how they were prepared.
At least two of these diagrams depicted the Peixotos' address marker and trees (the "[o]bstructed [a]rea") as an oval south of the paved road, just north of the southern boundary of the easement. In one diagram, a...
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