Ramirez v. Tulare Cnty. Dist. Attorney's Office, F071223

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtKANE, J.
Citation9 Cal.App.5th 911,215 Cal.Rptr.3d 512
Parties Trinidad RAMIREZ et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. TULARE COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE et al., Defendants and Respondents. Khamfong Champaheuang et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. Tulare County District Attorney's Office et al., Defendants and Respondents. Richard Sanchez et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. Tulare County District Attorney's Office et al., Defendants and Respondents.
Decision Date15 March 2017
Docket NumberF071324,F071872,F071223

9 Cal.App.5th 911
215 Cal.Rptr.3d 512

Trinidad RAMIREZ et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,
v.
TULARE COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE et al., Defendants and Respondents.


Khamfong Champaheuang et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,
v.
Tulare County District Attorney's Office et al., Defendants and Respondents.


Richard Sanchez et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,
v.
Tulare County District Attorney's Office et al., Defendants and Respondents.

F071223
F071324
F071872

Court of Appeal, Fifth District, California.

Filed March 15, 2017


Mark T. Clausen, Davis, for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

Kathleen Bales Lange, County Counsel, and Kevin A. Stimmel, Deputy County Counsel for Defendants and Respondents County of Tulare et al.

McCormick, Kabot, Jenner & Lew and Nancy A. Jenner for Defendants and Respondents City of Porterville and Porterville Police Department.

Tuttle & McCloskey, Daniel T. McCloskey, Fresno, and James F. McBrearty for Defendants and Respondents City of Dinuba and Dinuba Police Department.

Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Douglas J. Woods, Assistant Attorney General, Marc A. LeForestier and John W. Killeen, Deputy Attorneys General, for Defendant and Respondent State of California.

OPINION

KANE, J.

9 Cal.App.5th 917

Under California law, property connected with certain unlawful drug activity may be subject to forfeiture to the state or local government (Health & Saf. Code, §§ 11469 –11495, the forfeiture statutes).1 The law is intended to be "remedial by removing the tools and profits from those

215 Cal.Rptr.3d 515

engaged in the illicit drug trade." (§ 11469, subd. (j).) Nonetheless, because forfeiture is disfavored, the forfeiture statutes are strictly construed in favor of the person against whom forfeiture is sought, and procedural requirements set forth in the forfeiture statutes must be fully satisfied by the agency pursuing that remedy. (See Cuevas v. Superior Court (2013) 221 Cal.App.4th 1312, 1322–1331, 165 Cal.Rptr.3d 325 (Cuevas ).)

Here, in three related actions2 filed in the trial court, separate plaintiffs sought the return of their seized property (collectively plaintiffs)3 on the ground that government agencies purportedly conducting forfeiture proceedings (collectively defendants)4 failed to comply with the statutory requirements for nonjudicial forfeiture. In each action, the respective plaintiffs filed a petition for writ of mandate in the trial court alleging that the property seized by law enforcement officers must be returned to said plaintiffs because, among other things, no forfeiture proceedings were ever initiated by prosecutors , as specifically required by the forfeiture statutes. (See § 11488.4, subd. (j).) Instead, according to the petitions, local police officers attempted to initiate the nonjudicial forfeiture proceedings on their own , a practice that we recently held would render the forfeiture proceedings "invalid in the first instance." (Cuevas , supra , 221 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1327, 1331, 165 Cal.Rptr.3d 325.) In short, plaintiffs alleged that because no valid forfeiture proceedings were ever initiated, and the time for doing so had expired, plaintiffs' personal property must be returned.

9 Cal.App.5th 918

In response to the petitions for writ of mandate, defendants in each case filed general demurrers challenging the sufficiency of the pleadings on three fundamental grounds: (i) failure to exhaust administrative remedies; (ii) failure to comply with the Government Claims Act (Gov. Code, § 810 et seq. ); and (iii) expiration of the statute of limitations. The trial court agreed with the statute of limitations argument, concluding that a one-year statute of limitations was applicable. The demurrers were sustained on that ground, without leave to amend, and judgments of dismissal were entered in each case. In this consolidated appeal, plaintiffs contend that the trial court should have overruled the demurrers in their entirety. As more fully explained in the discussion portion of this opinion, we believe plaintiffs are correct. Accordingly, we reverse the judgments below, with instructions that the trial court enter new orders overruling defendants' demurrers in each of the consolidated actions.

215 Cal.Rptr.3d 516

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The Pleadings in the Trial Court

We begin by summarizing the relevant pleadings5 filed in the trial court in the three separate cases from which appeals have been taken (i.e., cases Nos. F071223 [lead case], F071324, and F071872), and which have been consolidated for purposes of this opinion.

The Ramirez case (case No. F071223)

Ramirez et al. v. Tulare County District Attorney's Office et al . was originally filed in Tulare County Superior Court on April 28, 2014 (Super. Ct. Tulare County, 2014, No. 256099), by plaintiffs Trinidad Ramirez and Elgio Perez. A first amended complaint/petition for writ of mandate (petition) was filed by said plaintiffs on July 23, 2014, which was the operative pleading at the time of the demurrer. Defendants named therein included Tulare County District Attorney's Office, Tulare County Sheriff's Office, County of Tulare and State of California.

According to the petition, in January 2011, Tulare County Sheriff's deputies lawfully seized $1,420 in cash from plaintiff Ramirez based on an alleged violation of section 11378 (possession of controlled substance for purpose of sale). Immediately following the seizure, Tulare County Sheriff's Deputy G.

9 Cal.App.5th 919

Bonilla issued Ramirez a receipt6 for the seized property and "contemporaneously issued ‘Notice of Nonjudicial Forfeiture Proceedings' (Notice) under the ostensible authority of section 11488.4, subdivision (j)." Bonilla signed the receipt and notice, copies of which were attached to the petition. Allegedly, "No one employed by the [Tulare County District Attorney's Office] signed the notice or reviewed the facts and evidence related to the seizure of the property prior to Officer Bonilla's execution of the Notice, as required by section 11488.4." It was conceded in the petition that Ramirez did not file a claim opposing forfeiture within 30 days of service of the notice. Months later, on July 26, 2011, the Tulare County District Attorney issued a final declaration of "administrative" (or nonjudicial)7 forfeiture of the subject property, declaring that the $1,420 in cash was forfeited to the state for distribution in accordance with section 11489.8

Similarly, on November 1, 2012, Tulare County Sheriff's deputies allegedly lawfully seized $1,698 in cash from plaintiff Perez

215 Cal.Rptr.3d 517

based on an alleged violation of section 11359 (possession of marijuana for purpose of sale). Immediately following the seizure, Tulare County Sheriff's Deputy Van Curen issued Perez a receipt for the property "and contemporaneously issued Notice of non-judicial forfeiture proceedings under the ostensible authority of subdivision (j) of section 11488.4." Van Curen signed the receipt and notice, copies of which were attached to the petition. As with Ramirez, in Perez's case "[n]o one employed by the [Tulare County District Attorney's Office] signed the Notice or reviewed the facts and evidence prior to Van Curen's execution of the Notice" of nonjudicial forfeiture proceedings. (Italics added.) The petition admitted that Perez did not file a claim opposing forfeiture within 30 days after service of the notice. Several months later, on May 1, 2013, the Tulare County District Attorney issued a declaration of administrative (i.e., nonjudicial) forfeiture of the subject property, formally declaring that the $1,698 in cash was forfeited to the state for distribution in accordance with section 11489.

9 Cal.App.5th 920

According to the petition, the administrative forfeiture proceedings were allegedly invalid from their inception, based on our decision in Cuevas , supra , 221 Cal.App.4th 1312, 165 Cal.Rptr.3d 325, since the forfeiture proceedings were initiated by police officers or sheriff's deputies, rather than by the district attorney or Attorney General, as the forfeiture statutes plainly require.9 As a result, a duty allegedly existed to return the property to plaintiffs. Among other things, the prayer for relief requested that the trial court issue a "writ of mandate ... which declares invalid and void the notices and declarations of administrative forfeiture issued by [defendants] for the property of [plaintiffs] ... and which ... [¶] [c]ompels [defendants] to return the property, or, if [defendants] are not able to do so, to pay equitable compensation of equal value in accordance with Minsky [v. City of Los Angeles (1974) 11 Cal.3d 113, 113 Cal.Rptr. 102, 520 P.2d 726 (Minsky ) ] ...."

The Champaheuang case (case No. F071324)

Champaheuang v. Porterville Police Department, et al . was originally filed in the trial...

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16 practice notes
  • Collins v. Thurmond, F075781
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • August 27, 2019
    ...and will affirm the judgment if any ground for the demurrer is well taken. ( Ramirez v. Tulare County Dist. Attorney's Office (2017) 9 Cal.App.5th 911, 924, 215 Cal.Rptr.3d 512.)252 Cal.Rptr.3d 201 Appellants' Second Amended 4 Complaint—Equal Protection Claims (Claims 1 & 4) 5 Appellants' c......
  • Collins v. Thurmond, F075781
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • November 5, 2019
    ...and will affirm the judgment if any ground for the demurrer is well taken. ( Ramirez v. Tulare County Dist. Attorney’s Office (2017) 9 Cal.App.5th 911, 924, 215 Cal.Rptr.3d 512.)Appellants’ Second Amended4 Complaint—Equal Protection Claims (Claims 1 & 4)5 Appellants’ complaint contained equ......
  • Collins v. Thurmond, F075781
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • August 27, 2019
    ...and will affirm the judgment if any ground for the demurrer is well taken. (Ramirez v. Tulare County Dist. Attorney's Office (2017) 9 Cal.App.5th 911, 924 [215 Cal.Rptr.3d 512].) 39 Cal.App.5th 338 Appellants' Second Amended4 Complaint—Equal Protection Claims (Claims 1 & 4)5 Appellants' com......
  • Comcast of Sacramento I, LLC v. Sacramento Metro. Cable Television Comm'n, CIV. NO. 2:16-cv-1264 WBS EFB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • April 5, 2017
    ...repudiation of the owner’s title is unequivocally brought to her or his attention." Ramirez v. Tulare Cnty. District Attorney’s Office, 9 Cal.App.5th 911, 215 Cal.Rptr.3d 512, 532 (5th Dist. 2017) (quoting Coy v. Cnty. of Los Angeles, 235 Cal.App.3d 1077, 1088, 1 Cal.Rptr.2d 215 (2d Dist. 1......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
16 cases
  • Collins v. Thurmond, F075781
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • August 27, 2019
    ...and will affirm the judgment if any ground for the demurrer is well taken. ( Ramirez v. Tulare County Dist. Attorney's Office (2017) 9 Cal.App.5th 911, 924, 215 Cal.Rptr.3d 512.)252 Cal.Rptr.3d 201 Appellants' Second Amended 4 Complaint—Equal Protection Claims (Claims 1 & 4) 5 Appellants' c......
  • Collins v. Thurmond, F075781
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • November 5, 2019
    ...and will affirm the judgment if any ground for the demurrer is well taken. ( Ramirez v. Tulare County Dist. Attorney’s Office (2017) 9 Cal.App.5th 911, 924, 215 Cal.Rptr.3d 512.)Appellants’ Second Amended4 Complaint—Equal Protection Claims (Claims 1 & 4)5 Appellants’ complaint contained equ......
  • Collins v. Thurmond, F075781
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • August 27, 2019
    ...and will affirm the judgment if any ground for the demurrer is well taken. (Ramirez v. Tulare County Dist. Attorney's Office (2017) 9 Cal.App.5th 911, 924 [215 Cal.Rptr.3d 512].) 39 Cal.App.5th 338 Appellants' Second Amended4 Complaint—Equal Protection Claims (Claims 1 & 4)5 Appellants' com......
  • Comcast of Sacramento I, LLC v. Sacramento Metro. Cable Television Comm'n, CIV. NO. 2:16-cv-1264 WBS EFB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • April 5, 2017
    ...repudiation of the owner’s title is unequivocally brought to her or his attention." Ramirez v. Tulare Cnty. District Attorney’s Office, 9 Cal.App.5th 911, 215 Cal.Rptr.3d 512, 532 (5th Dist. 2017) (quoting Coy v. Cnty. of Los Angeles, 235 Cal.App.3d 1077, 1088, 1 Cal.Rptr.2d 215 (2d Dist. 1......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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