Conservatee is the party in interest in a breach of contract action involving the Conservator, Conservatorship of Buchenau

Conservatee is the party in interest in a breach of contract action involving the Conservator, Conservatorship of Buchenau

June 23, 2011
David Tate, Esq. (San Francisco),,
California Estate, Trust & Elder Litigation,

Conservatorship of Buchenau (California Court of Appeal, Second District, May 31, 2011, Case No. B222941)

Summary: The Los Angeles Public Guardian, Court-appointed Conservator for multiple conservatorship estates, listed for sale real property in two different conservatorship estates.  Appellants Tornel/Silva directly or indirectly through an agent offered to purchase both properties.  When the sale in Buchenau fell through, the Conservator retained buyers’ purchase deposit.  The opinion in Buchenau contains a good discussion about the entitlement of a real property purchaser to return of the purchase deposit when the sales falls through; however, that discussion is not extremely germane to this blog about trust, estate and elder topics.

I did find interesting the Court’s comment relating to Appellants’ argument of collateral estoppel against the Public Guardian arising from its appointment as Conservator in multiple conservatorship estates involving litigation on similar issues—the Court stated:

“Nonetheless, appellants have also failed to establish the third element of collateral estoppel which requires that the party against whom preclusion is now sought was a party or in privity with a party to the prior proceeding. Appellants argue that although the Buchenau estate was not a party in the Lathem proceeding, the fact that respondent [the Public Guardian] was the conservator of both the Buchenau and Lathem estates establishes the requisite privity between the two for purposes of collateral estoppel. We disagree. The concept of “privity” is highly dependent upon the facts and circumstances in each case, but generally “involves a person so identified in interest with another that he represents the same legal right.” (Zaragosa v. Craven (1949) 33 Cal.2d 315, 318.) Moreover, the “circumstances must have been such that the party to be estopped should reasonably have expected to be bound by the prior adjudication.” (Clemmer v. Hartford Ins. Co. (1978) 22 Cal.3d 865, 875.) There is no reason that any conservatee should expect to be bound by a ruling issued against its conservator in its capacity as conservator of a completely different estate; especially when, as in this case, the conservator serves this role for numerous other parties. Further, as respondent is not the real party in interest in this or any case, but merely “stands in the shoes” of its conservatees, any and all contractual rights under the breached purchase agreement must be said to belong to each individual party in interest (the conservatees) and not respondent itself. (Underline added.) Appellants have not cited to any relevant authority to the contrary. As such, appellants have likewise failed to carry their burden of establishing privity between the Buchenau and Lathem estates.”

The Court did not cite authority for the portion of the holding that is underlined above.  Certainly the interests of each individual conservatee should be protected when a conservator represents multiple different conservatees; however, caution should be exercised when emphasizing the legal standing of the conservatee when compared to that of the conservator as more often it is beneficial and correct to argue that the conservatee lacks legal capacity or standing to engage in a particular transaction.

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