Ruiz v. Hernandez, B297062

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtCOLLINS, J.
PartiesCARMELA RUIZ, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. XOCHITL HERNANDEZ et al., Defendants and Respondents.
Docket NumberB297062
Decision Date19 November 2019

CARMELA RUIZ, Plaintiff and Appellant,
XOCHITL HERNANDEZ et al., Defendants and Respondents.



November 19, 2019


California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

(Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BC672701)

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Robert S. Draper, Judge. Affirmed.

Hector C. Perez for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Duran and Cedillo and Manuel Duran for Defendants and Respondents.

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Appellant Carmela Ruiz conveyed her residential property by grant deed to potential buyers Jorge and Iris Linares in 2001 pursuant to a sale agreement. When the sale fell through, the Linareses reconveyed the property to Ruiz, but that deed contained an erroneous legal description of the property. As a result, Ruiz did not regain legal title to the property. Apparently unaware of the title issue, Ruiz continued to possess and rent the property. In 2015 and 2016, she conveyed the property through a series of three quitclaim deeds to respondent Xochitl Hernandez. Hernandez then deeded her interest in the property to the Xochitl Hernandez Family Trust (the trust).

In 2017, Ruiz sued Hernandez, individually and as trustee of the trust, and the Linareses, seeking to quiet title to the property in Ruiz's favor. She claimed that the quitclaim deeds were part of an intended sale of the property to Hernandez, but Hernandez never paid. Ruiz also contended that the quitclaim deeds did not transfer any property interest to Hernandez, because the Linareses continued to hold title at the time. The trial court rejected these arguments, cancelled the Linares grant deeds, and quieted title in favor of Hernandez.

Ruiz argues that the trial court erred in finding Hernandez was the property owner as a result of the quitclaim deeds. We reject this contention and affirm the judgment.


I. Background

The underlying facts are largely undisputed. Ruiz and her late husband purchased the residential property at issue in 1983. Ruiz's husband passed away in 1997.

In 2001, Ruiz agreed to sell the property to the Linareses. As part of the sale agreement, Ruiz signed a grant deed on June 14, 2001 conveying the property to them. However, the Linareses were unable to raise the money for the purchase, and on January 12, 2002, they executed a grant deed intended to reconvey the property to Ruiz. Both deeds were recorded. However, the deed from the Linareses to Ruiz contained an inaccurate legal description of

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the property.1 As a result, it is undisputed that the Linareses continued to hold record title to the property. None of the parties were aware of the title issue at the time, and Ruiz continued to possess the property, pay property taxes, and collect rent from tenants. The Linareses have never claimed an ownership interest in the property.

Sometime in 2015, Ruiz agreed to convey her interest in the property to Hernandez by quitclaim deed. The parties disputed whether this conveyance was intended as a gift or a sale. Ruiz executed three quitclaim deeds in September 2015, November 2015, and February 2016, quitclaiming all of her right, title, and interest in the property to Hernandez. Each deed stated that the property was being transferred as a gift. The quitclaim deeds contained the same inaccurate property description as the 2002 grant deed from the Linareses to Ruiz.2 Hernandez executed a quitclaim deed in November 2015, transferring her interest in the property to her trust. Hernandez never paid any money to Ruiz for the property.

Ruiz also signed a notarized statement on November 4, 2015, a few days prior to signing the second quitclaim deed. In that statement, Ruiz declared that "[i]t is my will and desire" to give the property to Hernandez, as "she is like my sister, in good and bad." Ruiz further acknowledged that the statement was signed under penalty of perjury and "[u]nder my own volition and under not duress [sic] of any kind."

It is unclear from the limited record before us when Ruiz became aware that the 2002 grant deed from the Linareses did not convey record title to the property. However, a title report issued on June 16, 2017 listed the

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Linareses as title holders and noted that the 2002 grant deed did not convey to Ruiz the same title that the Linareses had acquired.

II. Complaint

Ruiz filed her complaint on August 17, 2017 against Hernandez, individually and as trustee of the trust, and the Linareses. She alleged causes of action for cancellation of deeds, quiet title, declaratory relief, fraud, rescission, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Ruiz alleged that she began renting the property shortly after the sale to the Linareses fell through in 2002. In 2015, she decided to sell the property; on September 1, 2015, she offered to sell it to Hernandez, her longtime friend, for $500,000. Hernandez accepted, stating that her godparents would advance the money for the purchase.

On September 12, 2015, Hernandez told Ruiz "that the purchase monies would be deposited into Ruiz's bank account as soon as the deed was executed." The parties met at a notary's office on September 14, 2015 to review and sign the quitclaim deed. According to the complaint, Ruiz noticed that on the deed, the property transfer was listed as a "gift." She objected, but Hernandez "eased [her] concerns by stating that the basis for the transfer's characterization as a 'Gift' was to avoid tax consequences and liabilities, but that [Hernandez] would nevertheless pay" the promised $500,000 for the property. Based on these assurances, Ruiz executed the quitclaim deed, which Hernandez recorded. Several weeks passed and Hernandez had not yet paid, but she continued to assure Ruiz that she would do so "at any moment."

Ruiz further alleged that on November 9, 2015, Hernandez stated that there was "something wrong" with the prior deed and a "new deed would need to be executed." Ruiz executed the second quitclaim deed on November 10, 2015. Hernandez continued to reassure Ruiz that payment would be forthcoming.

In December 2015, Hernandez stated that her godfather, a police detective, had been receiving threats "from the Mafia due to . . . his investigation into the Mafia Underworld." In February 2016, Hernandez told Ruiz that the deed "needed correcting" a second time. When Ruiz asked about the payment, Hernandez stated that the Mafia had "threatened to kill

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all those close" to her godfather, including Hernandez and Ruiz, "if the Property was not deeded to [Hernandez] immediately because the mafia wanted the Property . . . in exchange for their lives." Accordingly, "[b]ased on the threats to her life and under duress," Ruiz executed the third quitclaim deed for the property on February 27, 2016. Hernandez never paid Ruiz for the property, nor did she return the property to Ruiz.

Ruiz alleged that she never intended to gift the property to Hernandez, but rather agreed to sell it for $500,000. Ruiz prayed for an order quieting title to the property in her favor, cancellation of the deeds (presumably both the grant deeds to and from the Linareses and the quitclaim deeds to Hernandez), a declaration that she was the owner in fee of the property, rescission of the contract with Hernandez, and compensatory and punitive damages.

III. Trial

The court held a two-day bench trial in late 2018. Ruiz and Hernandez each testified, as did Iris Linares and Ruiz's two daughters. There is no transcript from the trial in the record on appeal. Thus, we have only the information regarding the trial contained in the appendix, which includes the court's statement of decision.

The court admitted into evidence the grant deeds from 1983, 2001, and 2002, as well as the quitclaim deeds from 2015 and 2016. As summarized by the court, Ruiz and her daughters testified that Ruiz did not intend to gift the property to Hernandez, but rather signed the quitclaim deeds as part of a planned sale for $500,000. Hernandez, on the other hand, testified that she had never agreed to buy the property and that Ruiz consistently told her that the house was a gift.3

The court also admitted several documents filed in prior legal proceedings by Ruiz against Hernandez. In September 2016, Ruiz filed a request for a civil harassment restraining order against Hernandez. In her request, Ruiz alleged that she had lived with Hernandez since January 2016, Hernandez "told me we were going to sign a rent agreement," but instead

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Hernandez "tricked me" and tried to steal the property "by me signing it over to her," and when confronted, Hernandez threatened to "cut me in to [sic] pieces."

Ruiz and her daughter also filed an unlawful detainer complaint against Hernandez in March 2017. The complaint alleged that Hernandez moved into the property as a tenant in December 2015, after she was unable to purchase the property as agreed. Ruiz further alleged that Hernandez orally agreed to pay monthly rent of $1,400 until she could pay the purchase price for the property. However, as of March 2017, Hernandez had failed to pay any rent or the purchase price.

IV. Statement of Decision

The court issued a statement of decision on January 22, 2019. The court found that Ruiz's testimony regarding her intentions when signing the quitclaim deeds was not credible. The court noted inconsistencies between Ruiz's testimony and her prior written statements, as well as the lack of any evidence supporting her claim of fraud by Hernandez. Accordingly, the court found that Ruiz "intended to transfer all of her rights, title and interest" in the property to Hernandez when...

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