Will the California Court of Appeals Reconsider Delta Imports and the Delta Motion

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This week, the Appellate Division for the Superior Court in the County of Los Angeles found that Delta Imports as interpreted by Parsons means that an unlawful detainer defendant can challenge personal jurisdiction on the basis that an unlawful detainer complaint fails to state a cause of action for unlawful detainer through the introduction of extrinsic evidence. (If you think that sounds wordy, you should read a Delta motion sometime.)

The ruling in Borsuk v. Superior Court (La Hillcreste Apartments, LLC) is not novel. But the politic concurrence, by Acting Presiding Judge Kumar, is rallying. Acknowledging the deference the Appellate Division must pay to the Courts of Appeal (particularly, decisions by its own Second District, like Delta Imports), he agreed with the majority that a trial court must consider extrinsic evidence about service of the requisite notice to an unlawful detainer action in evaluating the sufficiency of its ability to state a cause of action and its worthiness of the unique unlawful detainer five-day summons.

Even Judge Kumar thought this reasoning wasn’t absurd: “The apparent thought process behind cloaking the notice requirement with jurisdictional ramifications is this: if there is no valid three-day notice, the summons corresponding to the complaint is necessarily invalid because the truncated time for an answer provided therein is conditioned on a valid three-day notice.” He simply asserted that, in allowing a jurisdictional challenge to test the sufficiency of a cause of action, “Delta expanded the traditional scope of a motion to quash”.

Delta stressed that it would moot the point of a jurisdictional challenge if a tenant were required to challenge the cause of action for unlawful detainer on demurrer – a general appearance in the action. The tenant should be able to specially appear and challenge jurisdiction.

However, Judge Kumar reasoned that, “If the defendant was not properly served with the precedent three-day notice, the summons remains facially valid. As the three-day notice is an element of the unlawful detainer action, a challenge to it, like a challenge to any other element of the cause of action, should be directed to the legitimacy of the complaint, not the validity of the service of the summons.”

He closed by issuing an open invitation for “a court higher than the appellate division” to revisit the matter. The Delta motion is one of the more peculiar features of unlawful detainer law, and reform would straighten out what is supposed to be a simplified and summary proceeding for recovery of possession of real property. On the other hand, this doctrine is over three decades old, and higher courts have had no shortage of opportunities to spill ink on this issue.