Superior Court of California
County of Los Angeles
|YENI ARMIDA AREVALO HERRERA, et. al.
SFV PORTFOLIO 14612-14654 BLYTHE OWNER LP, a Delaware Limited Partnership, et al.
Case No.: 22STCV05276
DEFENDANTS 14626 BLYTHE STREET ASSOCIATES, LLC AND 14630-14636 BLYTH ASSOCIATES, LLC’S MOTION TO STRIKE
On February 10, 2022, Plaintiffs Yeni Armida Arevalo Herrera, et al. (hereinafter “Plaintiffs”) filed a Complaint against several defendants asserting habitability claims.
On June 6, 2022, Defendants 14626 BLYTHE STREET ASSOCIATES, LLC AND 14630-14636 BLYTH ASSOCIATES, LLC (hereinafter “Defendants”) filed this instant motion.
On August 22, 2022, Plaintiffs filed an opposition.
Allegations of the Operative Complaint
Plaintiffs Herrera, Medina-Lopez, Arevalo, Medina Arevalo, et al each allege suffering “. . . uninhabitable, substandard housing conditions in the building and within their rental unit, including structural deficiencies, defective plumbing, weather proofing, and infestations.” (Complaint, ¶3, 5, 6). Plaintiffs further allege that “. . . an officer, director or managing agent of each DOE defendant. . . committed unlawful acts and the entity employed such agent, employee, or representative with a conscious disregard of the rights and/or safety of others, authorized or ratified the wrongful conduct, or was personally guilty of oppression, fraud or malice.” (Id. at ¶16).
Plaintiffs also allege that Defendants “. . .employed such agent(s), employee(s) or representative(s) as by the name of Maria Lopez, Alexis Martinez, Jorge Barbero, Juan Tercero, Jimmy/Jaime Ordaz, Susan Macleod, Rosa (last name unknown), and Karen Miranda with a conscious disregard of the rights and/or safety of others, authorized or ratified the wrongful conduct by among other things, refusing to change course of action or make repairs in spite of written notices to comply and enforcement measures by the City and County of Los Angeles as alleged in the below paragraphs, in spite of actual notice and knowledge of harms suffered by Plaintiffs as alleged in this Complaint and for a period of time exceeding two years.” (Id. at ¶19).
Plaintiff plead similarly allegations in paragraphs 20 and 40 of the Complaint.
Motions to strike are used to reach defects or objections to pleadings that are not challengeable by demurrer (i.e., words, phrases, prayer for damages, etc.). (See CCP §§ 435-437.) A party may file a motion to strike in whole or in part within the time allowed to respond to a pleading. However, if a party serves and files a motion to strike without demurring to the complaint, the time to answer is extended. (CCP §§ 435(b)(1), 435(c).)
A motion to strike lies only where the pleading has irrelevant, false, or improper matter, or has not been drawn or filed in conformity with laws. (CCP § 436.) The grounds for moving to strike must appear on the face of the pleadings or by way of judicial notice. (CCP § 437.)
Defendants move to strike Plaintiffs’ prayer for punitive damages.
California Civil Code section 3294 authorizes the recovery of punitive damages in non-contract cases where “the defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice . . . .” (Civ. Code, § 3294(a).) “‘Malice’ means conduct which is intended by the defendant to cause injury to the plaintiff or despicable conduct which is carried on by the defendant with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.” (Id. at (c)(1).) “‘Oppression’ means despicable conduct that subjects a person to cruel and unjust hardship in conscious disregard of that person’s rights.” (Id. at (c)(2).) “‘Fraud’ means an intentional misrepresentation, deceit, or concealment of a material fact known to the defendant with the intention on the part of the defendant of thereby depriving a person of property or legal rights or otherwise causing injury.” (Id. at (c)(3).) Punitive damages thus require more than the mere commission of a tort. (See Taylor v. Superior Court (1979) 24 Cal.3d 890, 894-95.)
Moreover, a demand for punitive damages for the commission of any tort requires more than the mere conclusory allegations of “oppression, fraud, and malice.” (Civ. Code § 3294; see Perkins v. Superior Court (1981) 117 Cal. App.3d 1, 6-7.)
Thus, in order to allege punitive damages, Plaintiffs’ allegations must demonstrate conduct that demonstrates “malice,” “oppression,” or “fraud” on the part of the Defendant. Here, paragraphs 19, 20, and 40 of the complaint allege that Defendants and/or agents of Defendants acted with “conscious disregard of Plaintiffs’ rights. . . by refusing to change course of action or make repairs in spite of written notices to comply and enforcement measures by the City and County of Los Angeles. . . in spite of actual notice and knowledge of harms suffered by Plaintiffs as alleged in this Complaint and for a period of time exceeding two years; that Defendants acted with a conscious disregard of the rights and/or safety of others by “. . . authoriz[ing] or ratif[ying] the wrongful conduct by among other things, refusing to change course of action or make repairs in spite of written notices to comply and enforcement measures by the City and County of Los Angeles as alleged; and because “Defendants, at all times, [despite having] the power to make changes to their actions, including employment of abatement measures. . . refused to take corrective and/or curative measures in spite of actual knowledge of the substandard conditions.” (Complaint, ¶19, 20, 40). However, these allegations are conclusory and do not include specific factual allegations demonstrating fraud, oppression, or malice.
As pled, Defendant’s alleged inaction and failure to remedy the potentially problematic conditions of habitability within the Plaintiffs’ residences amount to negligence, but the complaint fails to allege specific facts to support a finding of actions that amount to oppressive, fraudulent, or malicious actions as required under Civil Code §3294. “[M]ere negligence, even if gross or reckless, cannot justify punitive damages.” (See Krusi v. Bear, Stearns & Co. (1983) 144 Cal.App.3d 664). Further, Plaintiffs merely quote the language of the statute and restate that Defendants acted in “conscious disregard of Plaintiffs’ rights,” without alleging specific facts to demonstrate such conscious disregard.
In Taylor v. Superior Court, the Court indicated that punitive damages require “. . . something more than mere commission of a tort. . . [t]here must be circumstances of aggravation or outrage, such as spite or malice, or a fraudulent or evil motive on the part of Defendant, or such a conscious and deliberate disregard of the interest of others that its conduct may be called willful or wanton.” (See Taylor vs. Superior Court, 24 Cal.3d 894-895 (1979)). Though Defendants’ alleged failure to remedy and fix the potential issues of habitability in Plaintiffs’ residences may constitute negligence, the Plaintiffs’ allegations do not plead sufficient facts to demonstrate any overt acts of aggravation by Defendants that would amount to willful or wanton behavior, as outlined in the Taylor decision. Absent facts such as this, the complaint cannot support Plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages. For the foregoing reasons, Defendants’ motion to strike page 20, Line 24, Prayer for Relief in Plaintiff’s Complaint is GRANTED.
CONCLUSION AND ORDER
Based on the foregoing, Defendants’ Motion to Strike is GRANTED WITH 15 DAYS LEAVE TO AMEND. The Prayer for Relief on Page 20, Line 24 is stricken from Plaintiffs’ Complaint. The case management conference is continued to October 26, 2022 at 8:30 am.
An OSC re entry of Cross-Defendants 14626 BLYTHE STREET ASSOCIATES, LLC AND 14630-14636 BLYTH ASSOCIATES, LLC’s default as to SFV PORTFOLIO 14612-14654 BLYTHE OWNER LP, SFV Portfolio G.P. LLC, and ENCORE 14612-14654 BLYTHE LLC’s Cross-Complaint is also set for October 26, 2022 at 8:30 am.
Moving party to give notice.
DATED: August 31, 2022 ___________________________
Judge of the Superior Court