Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley, Inc. v. Roman Catholic Bishop of San Diego
Filed 12/3/07 Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley, Inc. v. Roman Catholic Bishop of San Diego CA4/1
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COURT OF APPEAL, FOURTH APPELLATE DISTRICT
STATE OF CALIFORNIA
CENTRO GUADALUPANO DE PAUMA VALLEY, INC., et al.,
Plaintiffs and Appellants,
ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF SAN DIEGO, et al.,
Defendants and Respondents.
(Super. Ct. No. GIN040420)
APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of San Diego County, Jacqueline M. Stern, Judge. Affirmed.
Plaintiffs Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley, Inc., and Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley, an unincorporated association, appeal the granting of a summary judgment in favor of defendants Roman Catholic Bishop of San Diego (Diocese) and S.V.D.P. Management, Inc. This case involves a dispute over the ownership of land where the Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley social hall and chapel were built. We affirm the judgment.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
In 1973, all the chapels and social centers of the Mission Antonio De Pala (Pala Mission), a Catholic church within the Diocese, were located on Indian tribal land. A group of Spanish-speaking members of the parish wanted their own social hall and chapel located on nontribal land.
Antonio Campos, who was designated by the plaintiffs as the person most knowledgeable as to the ownership of the property, stated in his declaration that in 1973 the name of the group that was interested in purchasing land was called "Grupo Guadalupano in the Pauma Valley" (Grupo Guadalupano). Grupo Guadalupano designated Campos to locate the land. Campos, in his declaration, also referred to the group as "Centro Guadalupano," stating he was a member from 1973 to 1998. Campos in his deposition sometimes referred to the group as "the Centro Guadalupano." When specifically asked during the deposition what group he belonged to in 1973, he answered, "Grupo Guadalupano" and stated that it was not then called "Centro Guadalupano." For the sake of convenience, we shall use the phrase "Campos's group" to refer to the plaintiffs' asserted association and to distinguish it from the chapel and social hall called "Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley."
Campos testified that when the group was first formed in 1973 it included about 31 families, although he did not believe there were membership records going back to 1974. There were no bylaws or fixed terms for the board of directors; people served as long as they were willing to help. The group had regular weekly meetings and kept minutes. Campos stated the first officers were elected in 1973, but he also stated Father Gino was in charge of the group. According to Campos, there was a bank account in the name of "Centro Guadalupano." The president or the treasurer had the authority to use the bank account to pay bills.
Felipe Carillo stated in his deposition that he had been a member of Campos's group since 2000. The officers for the board were elected by "[a]ll the community" but not everyone was eligible to vote for the officers; only the approximately 18 people who were active could vote.
In 1973, Campos found a parcel of land in Pauma Valley along Highway 76. The parcel was larger than needed for the social hall and chapel so it was divided into four smaller parcels. One of the parcels was purchased by Frank Hernandez and his wife for about $12,000.
Hernandez was not a member of Campos's group that was raising money to purchase the property. Nor did he attend Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley after it was built. Hernandez testified in his deposition that Father Gino asked him to purchase the land for the church and collected money from community members for the purchase. Hernandez used the money to make the payments on the property. Campos's group did not have a written agreement with Father Gino as to how the money they raised was to be used nor did Father Gino make any promises about how the money would be used. Campos's group did not make any direct payments to the seller or to Hernandez.
According to the Diocese's director of the office for civil affairs, "[g]enerally, when a [Catholic] church or school desires to obtain a new property, the entity must raise the funds to do so. The Diocese may aid the entity with obtaining funding, but decisions regarding whether to buy the land, and the forms of the deal are left to the pastor of the parish. When the land is purchased, title to the land is taken in the name of 'Roman Catholic Bishop of San Diego, a corporation sole.' Under canon law, the Diocese then holds the land for the benefit of the parish."
In 1974, the Hernandezes deeded the property to:
"Roman Catholic Bishop of San Diego
"Centro Guadalupane [sic] De Pauma Valley." (Some capitalization omitted.)
Hernandez stated Father Gino intended for the Diocese to take title. Hernandez stated he intended to transfer the property only to the Diocese, not to Campos's group. After the Hernandezes sold the property, they sent a letter to the Diocese enclosing "all the papers necessary for transferring title of our property to the [Diocese] . . . and Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley." They also included the assessment of the property by the San Diego County Assessor's Office (assessor's office) showing the property had been appraised at $19,500. They stated they had purchased the land for $12,353.81, its value had increased due to various factors, and they were transferring the property "to the [Diocese] at no increase in price in our part." They also stated they would inform the sellers "of the change and also to expect the remaining payments from the Centro Guadalupano."
On November 14, 1974, Hernandez wrote to the Diocese, forwarding a tax bill for the property that he had "sold to the Archdioces[e]" and that was "in the parish of Mission San Antonio de Pala." Hernandez noted that he had transferred the land "to you" for the original purchase price and sought acknowledgement of the acceptance of the land at the appreciated value of $19,500 because he "planned to submit this acknowledgement to the IRS along with [his] 1974 tax report." In a November 20, 1974 letter, the assistant chancellor of the Diocese acknowledged the purchase of the property "by the Diocese of San Diego for Mission San Antonio De Pala for $12,900.00," noted the property had a value of $19,500 and stated "the increased value" in the property would be regarded as a donation "to the Diocese in the amount of $6,600.00." The Hernandezes took a deduction for the donation on their tax return.
According to Campos, his group met with the bishop in 1974 or 1975 to ask permission for and to obtain help with the construction of the social hall and chapel. They needed the bishop's permission to build "[b]ecause [they] were a Catholic community and [they] wanted to be sure . . . that [they] were doing . . . the right thing."
Campos's group did not sign a contract for construction of the building; Father Gino signed it. The Diocese and another Catholic organization provided the funding, which was given to Father Gino, not to Campos's group. Members of the community assisted in the construction. Campos stated his group paid the Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley's bills for electricity, water, and trash. The Diocese submitted cancelled checks showing they paid the property taxes on the property and sought tax exemptions.
In 1999 or 2000, the bishop attended services at the Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley and believed that the community needed a larger facility for worship and a social hall. When it became clear the parish would be unable to obtain permits to enlarge Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley, the bishop committed diocesan funds and solicited donations for a large social hall and worship space on land contiguous to the Pala Mission parish lands that could be used by all parishioners. After the facility was built, the Diocese believed it was no longer financially or ecclesiastically feasible to continue offering religious services or education at the Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley.
In February 2003, "Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley" incorporated.
In July 2003, the Diocese was informed by the assessor's office that the plaintiffs' former attorney recorded a quitclaim deed signed by Andres Hernandez, Arturo Bejar and Abel Quisepe transferring title of the property to "Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley, a non-profit corporation," and requested the tax bills be sent to a new address. The assessor's office contacted the Diocese because the signers on the deed were not on record as owners and to inquire whether the Diocese had transferred the property. Alexandra Kelly, an attorney employed by the Diocese, informed the assessor's office that the Diocese had not transferred the property, was the sole owner, and that tax bills should be sent to the Diocese. The Diocese recorded a new grant deed in July 2003, which states "name change only" (underscoring omitted) and removed the phrase "Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley" so that title was vested solely in "The Roman Catholic Bishop of San Diego, a corporation sole."
In the fall of 2004, the bishop approached Father Joe Carroll, president of S.V.D.P. Management, Inc., about whether his organization would be able to use the Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley property. Father Carroll indicated he could use the property for affordable housing.
In October 2004, plaintiffs sued the Diocese for breach of fiduciary duty, partition, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and declaratory relief.
In late December 2004, after the completion of a new social hall, the Diocese transferred its interest in the property to S.V.D.P. Management, Inc.
In July 2005, plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint against the Diocese, and added defendant S.V.D.P. Management, Inc., for declaratory relief, reformation of deed, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, fraudulent conveyance, cancellation of deeds, partition, constructive trust, and an accounting.
The trial court granted defendants' objections to portions of the plaintiffs' declarations and exhibits and plaintiffs' objection to a paragraph in one of the defendants' declarations. Among the objections the court sustained were the defendants' objections of lack of foundation and authentication to a translation of purported minutes of "Centro Guadalupe de Pauma Valley" including minutes allegedly taken in 1974.
The court granted summary adjudication on all of the plaintiffs' causes of action except for the portion of the declaratory relief action about the right, title and ownership of the name "Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley." The court determined there was no triable issue of fact as to whether the plaintiffs had a legal interest in the property. The court found the admissible evidence established that the plaintiffs' association "did not exist at the time of the purchase of the property, and the Diocese used the Centro [Guadalupe de Pauma Valley] name to refer to the building which was to be built on the property dating back to the 1970's . . . ." The court found "there is no triable issue of fact whether there was an agreement at the time of the purchase of the property in 1974 between Plaintiffs and the Bishop that title to the property would be vested in the names of Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley and the Roman Catholic Bishop of San Diego, that the property was purchased for the Plaintiffs' benefit . . . ."
After plaintiffs dismissed with prejudice the remaining portion of their declaratory relief action about the right to use the name "Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley," the trial court entered judgment in favor of the defendants.
Summary Judgment Standard
A defendant seeking summary judgment must show that the plaintiff cannot prevail on a cause of action. (Code Civ. Proc., 437c, subd. (o).) The burden then shifts to the plaintiff to show there is a triable issue of material fact existing as to the cause of action or the defense. (Ibid.; Green v. Ralee Engineering Co. (1998) 19 Cal.4th 66, 72.) The plaintiff "must make an independent showing by a proper declaration or by reference to a deposition or another discovery product that there is sufficient proof of the matters alleged to raise a triable question of fact if the moving party's evidence, standing alone, is sufficient to entitle the party to judgment." (Wiz Technology, Inc. v. Coopers & Lybrand LLP (2003) 106 Cal.App.4th 1, 10-11; see also McGonnell v. Kaiser Gypsum Co. (2002) 98 Cal.App.4th 1098, 1105.) A party's affidavits and declarations must be based on personal knowledge and set forth admissible evidence. (Code Civ. Proc., 437c, subd. (d).) A bare conclusion of law is insufficient to create a triable issue of fact even when the conclusion is not uncontradicted. (Hoover Community Hotel Development Corp. v.Thomson (1985) 167 Cal.App.3d 1130, 1137.) "A party cannot avoid summary judgment based on mere speculation and conjecture [citation], but instead must produce admissible evidence raising a triable issue of fact." (Crouse v. Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison (1998) 67 Cal.App.4th 1509, 1524; Pacific Gas & Electric Co. v. City of Oakland (2002) 103 Cal.App.4th 364, 371.)
"On appeal after a motion for summary judgment has been granted, we review the record de novo, considering all the evidence set forth in the moving and opposition papers except that to which objections have been made and sustained." (Guz v. Bechtel National, Inc. (2000) 24 Cal.4th 317, 334; Galanty v. Paul Revere Life Ins. Co. (2000) 23 Cal.4th 368, 374.)
Exclusion of Evidence
Plaintiffs contend the court erred in sustaining the objections for lack of foundation and authentication to their exhibit D, a purported translation of the minutes of Campos's group dating back to 1974. Plaintiffs explain "the minutes show that as an unincorporated association, Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley could hold title to property in that name."
Exhibit D purports to be a translation of "Records Book Centro Guadalupano Pauma Valley." It contains a certification by the translator as to the accuracy of the translation but no authentication by the person who created the minutes. Nothing in the record indicates that the original record book was offered into evidence. The exhibit contains purported minutes only from scattered dates and they are not in chronological order: there are two entries in March 1974, the first of which summarizes what had happened since March 1973 as to acquiring land for an assembly hall; three entries in April 1974; one entry in October 1974; one entry in January 1975 that consists only of the date; and one entry in March 1980, followed by single entries for May 1975, March 1978, and April 1978.
A writing must be authenticated before it may be received as evidence. (Evid. Code, 1400; Penny v. Wilson (2004) 123 Cal.App.4th 596, 602.) "Authentication of a writing means (a) the introduction of evidence sufficient to sustain a finding that it is the writing that the proponent of the evidence claims it is or (b) the establishment of such facts by any other means provided by law." (Evid. Code, 1400; Jacobson v. Gourley (2000) 83 Cal.App.4th 1331, 1334.) "A writing may be authenticated by anyone who saw the writing made or executed, including a subscribing witness." (Evid. Code, 1413.) "A subscribing witness is one who sees a writing executed or hears it acknowledged, and at the request of the party thereupon signs his [or her] name as a witness." (Code Civ. Proc., 1935.)
Plaintiffs contend the genuineness of the minutes can be established through Campos's declaration, arguing he was a percipient witness. Campos's declaration states he was present at meetings where there were discussions about raising money to purchase land and about "the expenses for the Centro Guadalupano," however, his statement does not address whether the minutes were taken at the meeting. Thus, he does not authenticate that the plaintiffs' exhibit D is actually minutes taken at the meetings of an association called Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley.
In his deposition, Campos testified minutes were taken at the meetings, but he was never asked if he had taken the minutes or had ever read the minutes. Thus, while Campos may have been a "percipient witness" to the meetings and the taking of minutes at the meetings, no evidence was presented that he was a percipient or subscribing witness to the minutes that were contained in exhibit D. Neither Campos nor anyone else was ever asked to authenticate that the minutes contained in exhibit D accurately reflected the minutes actually taken at the meetings in 1974.
In sum, the court properly sustained the lack of foundation and lack of authentication objections to exhibit D; the plaintiffs failed to establish exhibit D contained minutes taken at meetings of an association called Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley.
Interpretation of Deed
All of plaintiffs' causes of action rest on the premise that they raised a triable issue of fact as to whether the 1974 deed transferred title, at least in part, to Campos's group rather than solely to the Diocese on behalf of the Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley community.
"With deeds as [with] any other contracts, '[t]he primary object of all interpretation is to ascertain and carry out the intention of the parties. [Citations.] All the rules of interpretation must be considered and each given its proper weight, where necessary, in order to arrive at the true effect of the instrument. [Citation.]' [Citations.] 'Extrinsic evidence is "admissible to interpret the instrument, but not to give it a meaning to which it is not susceptible" [citations], and it is the instrument itself that must be given effect.' " (City of Manhattan Beach v. Superior Court (1996) 13 Cal.4th 232, 238.) If the extrinsic evidence is not in conflict or is susceptible to only one reasonable conclusion, then interpretation of the deed is a matter of law that does not require the fact-finding process of a trial. (Ibid.) In other words, if extrinsic evidence raises no triable issue of material fact as to the meaning of the 1974 deed, then summary judgment is proper.
The undisputed evidence shows that before the 1974 deed, title to the property was held by the Hernandezes. "Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley, Inc." did not exist in 1974; it was not incorporated until 2003. Campos's group whether called Grupo Guadalupano or Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley was not an owner of record and had no contract with the original seller to purchase the property. Rather, the undisputed evidence showed only that Spanish-speaking members of the Pala Mission made contributions to their parish priest who gave the money to Hernandez who used the money to make payments on the property. Hernandez did not make payments as a member of Campos's group; he was never a member of Campos's group or of Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley. When Hernandez donated money to the purchase, he gave the money to the church, not to Campos's group. In sum, prior to 1974, there is no evidence that would support a finding Campos's group owned the property.
In 1974, the Hernandezes conveyed the property at the suggestion of Father Gino, not Campos's group. The Hernandezes transferred the property to:
"Roman Catholic Bishop of San Diego
"Centro Guadalupane [sic] De Pauma Valley." (Some capitalization omitted.)
Plaintiffs argue the deed is ambiguous since it includes both the Diocese and Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley. Defendants point out the deed does not state it is transferring title to the Diocese and Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley. Looking only at the words of the deed, it appears the phrase "Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley," when viewed in context, was intended to be merely a descriptive phrase like the phrase "Corporation Sole." In context, the deed reflects title being transferred to the Diocese for the benefit of the Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley parishioners.
Assuming arguendo that the deed is ambiguous, the extrinsic evidence presented was subject to only one reasonable interpretation, that is, that title was transferred to the Diocese and not to Campos's group.
Extrinsic evidence was presented as to Hernandez's intent when he transferred the property. Hernandez testified in his deposition that his intent was to transfer the property to the Diocese. When specifically asked if he intended to transfer the property to "Centro Guadalupano," he answered, "No." When specifically asked if he intended to transfer the property only to the Diocese, he answered, "Yes." His deposition testimony was consistent with his declaration. In the declaration, Hernandez corrected a sentence stating, "We never intended for the Roman Catholic Bishop of San Diego to take title to the property" to read "F[ather] Gino intended for the Roman Catholic Bishop of San Diego to take title to the property." (Italics added.) Further, in this declaration Hernandez states his intent in donating his time, money and resources "was to have and to hold that parcel of real estate upon which the Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley was organized and built, solely and exclusively for the benefit of the Mexican and Mexican-American Spanish speaking community." (Italics added.) Thus, Hernandez's intent was that the community should be benefited, not that Campos's group would be specifically and exclusively benefited by the transfer of the property.
Further undisputed evidence showing the Hernandezes' intent was to transfer the property to the Diocese includes evidence the Hernandezes sent a subsequent property tax bill to the Diocese, not to Campos's group, and sought acknowledgement of the sale and their donation of the increased property value only from the Diocese and not from Campos's group.
Extrinsic evidence was presented as to the Diocese's intent in the transfer. The Diocese, not Campos's group, provided documentation of the donation of the appreciated value of the property to the Hernandezes so they could take a tax deduction. The Diocese paid the tax bills on the property and sought property tax exemptions, owned the water rights for the property and granted a right-of-way easement to San Diego Gas & Electric Company.
While there was evidence that Campos's group paid utility and waste collection bills, these bills were not associated with the ownership of the underlying property but with services provided to the structures on the property, that is, to the social hall and chapel. Similarly, the donation of labor and materials to the building or improvement of the property involved structures or landscaping and not ownership of the underlying property.
Nonetheless, plaintiffs argue they raised a triable issue of fact as to whether the 1974 deed was also intended to transfer title to Campos's group. To support this argument, plaintiffs improperly rely, in part, on the purported minutes contained in exhibit D. As we have explained above, this exhibit was not admitted and, therefore, plaintiffs may not rely on it to raise a triable issue of fact.
Plaintiffs also rely, in part, on a declaration by Rafael Guerrero, but the trial court struck this declaration in its entirety for lack of foundation and personal knowledge and plaintiffs, by not addressing any argument to the propriety of the court's ruling, have waived this issue and conceded the court's ruling was correct. (See Neighbours v. Buzz Oates Enterprises (1990) 217 Cal.App.3d 325, 335, fn. 8.) Thus, plaintiffs may not rely on this declaration to support their claim they raised triable issues of material fact.
Plaintiffs assert other evidence in the record supports their position. Initially, we note plaintiffs in their opening brief consistently cite not to evidence in the appellate record but to their separate statement of disputed facts filed in opposition to the summary judgment motion. While their separate statement contains citations to supporting evidence, these citations are not to the record as it is on appeal, that is, to specific pages in the clerk's transcript or in the augmented record. Plaintiffs apparently expect this court to independently sift through the clerk's transcript to find the corresponding documents and pinpoint citations.
It is not the role of the appellate court to comb through the record on behalf of the parties; the appellate court is entitled to the assistance of counsel. (9 Witkin, Cal. Procedure (4th ed. 1997) Appeal, 594, p. 627.) It is appellants who bear the burden of showing error on appeal and this burden includes supporting their arguments with precise citations to the appellate record. (Ibid.; McComber v. Wells (1999) 72 Cal.App.4th 512, 522-523.) In the absence of such citations, an appellant may be regarded as having waived a claim the evidence below supports their argument on appeal. (See State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. v. Jioras (1994) 24 Cal.App.4th 1619, 1625, fn. 4.) To the extent plaintiffs refer only to their undisputed statement of facts and that document specifies only exhibit numbers, we decline to search through the record to determine what exhibits the plaintiffs might be referring to. Otherwise, we do examine their arguments and claimed evidentiary support.
Plaintiffs contend a letter from the Hernandezes to Father Bart supports their position Campos's group has an ownership interest in the property because the Hernandezes stated they had enclosed "all the papers necessary for transferring title of our property to the Bishop of San Diego and Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley." This statement, at best, is ambiguous. The letter itself, however, clarifies this ambiguity when it states: "The property will be transferred to the Bishop at no increase in price in our part."
Plaintiffs point to evidence showing Campos's group believed the property was being purchased by the Hernandezes for his group. Plaintiffs cite to Campos's declaration. In the cited paragraphs, Campos states in 1973 he was "a member of a civic association known as Grupo Guadalupano" and the "purpose of this organization was to purchase a parcel of land for the benefit of the Mexican American community of Pauma Valley." Thus, if anything, this is evidence showing a different group Grupo Guadalupano not Centro Guadalupano existed in 1973 and was interested in purchasing land. It does not raise a material issue of fact as to the 1974 deed.
Plaintiffs also cite Campos's deposition testimony that he and his group did not buy the property from the Hernandezes but from "[s]omebody else," that . . . Hernandez was "representing the Centro Guadalupano" and that "we gave the money to" Hernandez to make payments on the property. This testimony, at best, establishes that Campos believed his group had an ownership interest in the property prior to 1974 but on appeal plaintiffs do not pursue a theory they were record holders of the property prior to 1974.
Plaintiffs argue that at the time of the 1974 deed the designation of Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley "could only refer to the group because the . . . [structures] had not yet been constructed." The structures were built in 1976. Plaintiffs, however, do not support this argument with any evidence showing the name was, in fact, used exclusively by Campos's group prior to 1974.
Plaintiffs also argue, based on the premise the phrase "Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley" could only have referred to their organization, that there is a dispute whether the Diocese was intending only to clarify title when it recorded the grant deed in 2003 deleting the phrase "Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley." Appellants assert the deed was not a "name change only" because in the pre-printed text there is the phrase "For A VALUABLE CONSIDERATION, receipt of which is hereby acknowledged . . . ." Plaintiffs, however, presented no evidence to dispute Kelly's declaration that it was only as a name change, or the face of the deed saying it was a name change only and that the amount of the "documentary transfer tax" was zero.
We conclude plaintiffs failed to raise a triable issue of fact showing they had an interest in the property.
The judgment is affirmed. Defendants are awarded costs on appeal.
McCONNELL, P. J.
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 Exhibit D is listed in the notice of lodgment of exhibits to plaintiffs' opposition to defendants' motion for summary judgment and alternative motions for summary adjudication of claims but it was not lodged with this court. We granted appellants' unopposed request to augment the record that included exhibit No. 4, a "Translation of Centro Guadalupano de Pauma Valley Record Book." Respondents' brief refers to both exhibits as the same, and it appears the two exhibits are the same.
 Plaintiffs argue the minutes were admissible against a hearsay objection as business logs (see Franco Western Oil Co. v. Fariss (1968) 259 Cal.App.2d 325, 333) or as ancient writings (Evid. Code, 1331). These arguments are irrelevant in the face of plaintiffs' failure to authenticate and lay a foundation to establish exhibit D contained the actual minutes.