August 23, 2019

Filing a Timely Claim

A litigant can having a winning case but still lose. How can this be you ask? 

The law, known as the statute of limitations, requires parties to timely file their claims. This law prevents parties from indefinitely waiting to file their claim. By imposing this requirement on litigants, it ensures finality to matters once the requisite amount of time has elapsed. Otherwise a litigant could resurrect an ancient claim that would frustrate the current climate. This brings us to a recent unpublished appellate opinion. Kern County Superior Court case # S-1501-PB-62540, Estate of Catlin.

Gretchen Brown claimed that her mother, Lynda Catlin, promised Ms. Catlin's residence to her upon Ms. Catlin's death. However, a few days before Ms. Catlin passed away, she executed a grant deed which transferred the home to Mark Chagoya as "husband and wife as joint tenants." Catlin was not legally married to Mr. Chagoya, as her prior marriage had not been formally dissolved.
The unpublished opinion noted irregularities regarding the execution of the deed:

"The notary who notarized Catlin's signature on the grant deed testified that her sequential journal had been lost or stolen after notarizing Catlin's signature. There was no evidence the notary informed the Secretary of State that the journal had been lost or stolen.

Additionally, a doctor testified that the dosage and type of pain medication provided to Catlin was "substantial," and its effect would depend on her "tolerance." Some evidence indicated Catlin's ability to communicate worsened each day beginning with her hospitalization on January 29, 2011.

There was also evidence that on the day after the grant deed was executed, Chagoya said, "I got everything I want anyway," before leaving the hospital."

The trial court invalidated the deed and imposed a constructive trust on the property for Ms. Brown's benefit. Mr. Chayoga appealed this judgment.

The appellate court reversed the trial court's decision, finding that Ms. Brown did not file her constructive trust claim within the statute of limitations. Ms. Brown had 1 year to file her claim because it related to "a claim that arises from a promise or agreement with a decedent to distribution from an estate or trust or under another instrument, whether the promise or agreement was made orally or in writing." Ms. Catlin died on February 4, 2011. Ms. Brown filed her petition on January 28, 2013. 

The opinion concludes with "[w]e only hold that Brown is not entitled to a constructive trust on the property (or the proceeds of its sale) based on her oral agreements with Brothers and Catlin."