Seeley v. Seymour

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Citation190 Cal.App.3d 844,237 Cal.Rptr. 282
Decision Date26 March 1987
PartiesRichard SEELEY, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Bruce A. SEYMOUR, et al., Defendants and Appellants. Richard SEELEY, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. CITY AND COUNTY OF SAN FRANCISCO, et al., Defendant, Cross-complainant and Respondent; Safeco Title Insurance Company, Cross-complainant and Appellant; Bruce A. Seymour, Cross-defendant and Appellant. A026927.

Daniel J. Custer, San Francisco, Edmund L. Regalia, Miller, Star, Regalia, Oakland, for defendants and appellants.

James W. Poindexter, Cooper, White & Cooper, San Francisco, for plaintiff and respondent.

SMITH, Associate Justice.

In these consolidated actions for slander of title and negligence in connection with the recordation of a purported "Memorandum of Agreement" to lease plaintiff's property, a jury awarded plaintiff and respondent Richard Seeley ("Seeley") $200,000 in compensatory damages jointly and severally against defendants-appellants Bruce A. Seymour ("Seymour"), Safeco Title Insurance Company ("Safeco") and defendants City and County of San Francisco and its recorder Thomas Kearney ("the City"). The jury also awarded Seeley $2,660,000 punitive damages against Seymour. Only Seymour and Safeco appeal from the ensuing judgment.


The facts of this case are largely undisputed. We summarize the essential ones.

In 1972, Richard Seeley acquired an unimproved lot located at Washington and Battery streets in the downtown area of San Francisco. He bought the lot from the City at an auction for $97,000.00. Over the next ten years, Seeley received many inquiries and offers to purchase the property, none of which culminated in a sale.

In early 1978, Seymour, through his broker Bill Graham, submitted a written offer to purchase the property for $250,000. Seeley rejected the offer, but indicated a willingness to enter into a long-term lease of the property. Intensive negotiations between the parties took place over the remainder of the year, during which both sides were represented by attorneys and proposed leases were drawn.

At one point in the negotiations, Seeley wrote a letter to broker Graham dated April 10, 1978, outlining several provisions which he would require before he would enter into a "definite, legally binding agreement." The letter encouraged a "determination that we are or are not in striking distance ... before further effort is expended." Shortly after receiving the letter, Seymour wrote at the bottom "Agreed and accepted. Bruce A. Seymour 4-14-78" and gave the letter to Graham who forwarded it to Seeley. Seeley interpreted the document as a signal from Seymour to proceed with negotiations and had his attorney prepare an outline of a proposed lease. Serious negotiations for a 60-year ground lease ensued.

On August 30, 1978 Seymour unilaterally prepared a document which he titled "Memorandum of Agreement" in which he set forth what he asserted were the essential terms of a ground lease between himself and Seeley. (A copy of the Memorandum of Agreement is reproduced at the end of this opinion as an appendix.) Seymour signed the memorandum himself and had his signature notarized. On September 18, 1978, Seymour took the document to an escrow officer at the Modesto office of Safeco Title Company. Seymour was a regular customer of Safeco's, which had been involved in several of his business dealings in Modesto. As an accommodation to Seymour, Safeco agreed to record the document in San Francisco. At this point, Seeley knew nothing of the memorandum.

On October 17, 1978, Safeco presented the memorandum, in a packet with ten other documents insured by Safeco, to the San Francisco County Recorder. Despite the fact that the memorandum lacked Seeley's signature, the Recorder accepted it and recorded it.

No lease was ever signed. Negotiations between Seymour and Seeley broke down in January 1979. Two years later Seeley became involved in intensive negotiations to sell the property to a group of investors known as the "Eicon Group." During the negotiations, the group ordered a preliminary When Seeley found out about the recordation, he demanded, through his attorneys, that Seymour execute a quitclaim deed to the property to remove the "cloud" on his title. Seymour did not respond.

title report, which disclosed the existence of the recorded Memorandum.

A short time later, Seeley reached an agreement to sell the property to a group of investors known as the "Buchholz Group" (also known as Washington & Battery Associates) for $900,000. An option agreement was executed on March 16, 1981.

One condition of the proposed sale was that Seeley convey free, clear and marketable title. The Buchholz purchasers threatened not to proceed with the transaction until Seymour's claim of interest was removed. When a second demand letter from Seeley's attorney had no effect on Seymour, Seeley filed Action No. 778-831 against Seymour and Safeco for slander of title and to quiet title. Seymour responded with a cross-complaint for breach of contract. 1 When no quick resolution of the suit appeared likely, Seeley filed Action No. 788-104 against the City and County of San Francisco and Thomas Kearney, Recorder, for negligent recordation of the Seymour memorandum. Eventually, the two actions were consolidated by court order. Safeco and the City filed indemnity cross-complaints against Seymour and against each other.

On June 9, 1981 the Buchholz purchasers notified Seeley of their election to exercise the option to buy. Seeley's early motion for summary judgment against Seymour failed, and the original date for close of escrow of November 16, 1981 had to be postponed. The sale to the Buchholz group was finally consumated in February, 1982. Seeley "was perfectly happy" to delay the closing from late 1981 to early 1982 because of the tax advantages to him.

The Buchholz group successfully intervened in this lawsuit under the name "Washington and Battery Associates". In December, 1982 the intervenors obtained a summary judgment order declaring Seymour's memorandum "of no force or effect," and expunging it from the record.

Seeley's actions against Seymour, Safeco and the City proceeded to jury trial. At the conclusion of the case, Seeley was permitted to amend his complaint to state a cause of action against Safeco for negligence.

The jury returned with a verdict in favor of Seeley for $200,000 compensatory damages against all defendants and $2,660,000 in punitive damages against defendant Seymour only. Before the jurors could resolve the question of comparative indemnity rights among Seymour, Safeco and the City, one of Seymour's former attorneys walked up to one of them and congratulated him for having "recognized a crook." To obviate the possible prejudice from this incident, all defense counsel stipulated to excusing the jury and having the court decide the apportionment and indemnity issues.

The trial judge apportioned liability 92 percent to Seymour, 5 percent to Safeco and 3 percent to the City. Safeco and the City were awarded full indemnity against Seymour and partial indemnity against each other "insofar as any amounts they actually pay to plaintiff Richard Seeley might exceed their proportionate share of responsibility as determined above."

Jurisdictional Issues

Before we reach their merits, we address Seeley's contention that both Seymour's appeal and Safeco's appeal are invalid and should be dismissed.


Seeley initially challenges the efficacy of Seymour's Notice of Appeal because the signature on the notice purporting to be that of "Bruce A. Seymour, In Propria We find that the notice substantially complies with Rule 1(a) of the California Rules of Court. Rule 1(a) 2 provides that a notice of appeal shall be signed "by the appellant or by his attorney...." While the cases relied upon by Seeley (Isom v. Slaugher (1962) 200 Cal.App.2d 700, 705, 19 Cal.Rptr. 541; Edlund v. Los Altos Builders (1951) 106 Cal.App.2d 350, 357, 235 P.2d 28.) hold that a notice of appeal signed by someone not authorized to act on appellant's behalf is ineffectual, it is well recognized that Rule 1(a) purposes are satisfied when any person, attorney or not, who is empowered to act on appellant's behalf, signs the notice. (Ehret v. Ichioka (1967) 247 Cal.App.2d 637, 641, 55 Cal.Rptr. 869; Edlund v. Los Altos Builders, supra, 106 Cal.App.2d at p. 357, 235 P.2d 28; Estate of Hultin (1947) 29 Cal.2d 825, 832, 178 P.2d 756.) There is no competent evidence that the notice was signed by anyone other than Seymour. In a letter attached to his brief, Seeley's counsel avers that the notice was signed by Seymour's son. Even if that is the case, we must conclude he was authorized to so act in the absence of a clear and satisfactory showing that such authority was lacking. (United States of Mexico v. Rask (1930) 109 Cal.App. 497, 500, 293 P. 108.)

Persona" is a forged one. In support of this assertion, Seeley attaches to his brief a declaration from his attorney stating that heis familiar with Seymour's signature and that the one appearing on the notice of appeal isn't genuine.

Rule 1(a) declares that notices of appeal shall be liberally construed in favor of their sufficiency. This state has a "strong public policy in favor of hearing appeals on their merits and of not depriving a party of his right to appeal because of technical noncompliance where he is attempting to perfect his appeal in good faith." (Jarkieh v. Badagliacco (1945) 68 Cal.App.2d 426, 431, 156 P.2d 969.) In the absence of any evidence that the notice of appeal was signed by an unauthorized person, we refuse to dismiss the appeal from this $3 million judgment upon the hypertechnical grounds urged here.


The following chart illustrates the procedural history leading up to Safeco's filing of the...

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