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Tentative Ruling
Judge James F. Rigali
Department 2 SM-Cook
312-C East Cook Street P.O. Box 5369 Santa Maria, CA 93456-5369


Louderback, et al. v. Walking U Ranch, et al.

Case No: 17CV05630
Hearing Date: Tue Feb 13, 2018 8:30

Nature of Proceedings: Demurrers (2)/Motion to Strike (1)

             On December 12, 2017, plaintiffs John and Jacqueline Louderback filed a verified complaint with causes of action for quiet title, declaratory relief, interference with easement, nuisance, slander of title, unfair competition, and intentional interference with contractual relations, against defendants Walking U Ranch, LLC, Kathleen Bright, and Patrick March (as well as all others who hold any interest in an near Miranda Canyon and Cuyama Valley). The lawsuit involves interference with a 2-mile access road to plaintiff’s real property (793 acres) near Miranda Canyon and Cuyama Valley (northern Santa Barbara County), which has been in use allegedly since the 1940s. In September 2010, defendant acquired title to nearby property, and the access road at issue traverses defendants’ property. Commencing in March 2017, defendant blocked the access road by locking “one or more gates,” thereby preventing plaintiffs’ use of the access road. Plaintiffs allegedly have requested but defendants have allegedly denied passage. Plaintiff asks the court to restore and preserve access to and from their property over the access road through defendants’ property. Defendant Walking U Ranch, LLC, currently owns the 989 acres over which the access road traverses. Defendant Kathleen March is the “managing member” of Walking U Ranch, LLC. Defendant Patrick Bright is a “co-owner” of Walking U Ranch, LLC.

             Defendants Walking U Ranch, LLC (Walking U) and Kathleen March (March) filed a joint demurrer, while under separate cover Patrick Bright (Bright) filed his own demurrer. All three defendants have filed a joint motion to strike.   Plaintiff has not filed opposition, which would be untimely as of this writing. Defendants have filed a notice of nonopposition.  

             The court grants defendants’ requests to take judicial notice of Exhibits A to E, as there is no opposition. The court also concludes that all meet and confer efforts have been satisfied by defendants.        

            Defendants Walking U and Bright ask the court to sustain a general demurrer as to all causes of action because the judicially noticed documents reveal that plaintiffs do not have an easement by grant deed, by necessity, or be prescriptive easement (which is not alleged in any event), and plaintiffs fail, to allege damages as to any and all relevant causes of action. March asks the court to sustain his demurrer for the same reasons.   As for the motion to strike, defendants ask the court to strike all requests for punitive damages associated with the third cause of action (intentional interference with easement) as the allegations are conclusory. They also asks the court to strike the request for attorney’s fees associated with the fifth cause of action for slander of title, as there is no contractual or statutory bases for them.                 

            The court sustains both demurrers and grants the motion to strike withleave to amend. The court is not willing at this time to deny plaintiffs leave to amend as to any cause of action, the punitive damages’ request, or the attorney fee attestation, and will therefore allow plaintiff an opportunity to amend in order to remedy the identified deficiencies, if possible. Plaintiff will have 30 days from today’s hearing to file a first amended pleading. Plaintiff’s failure to oppose the detailed, comprehensive and facially persuasive demurrers and motion to strike is clearly self-defeating. Continued inaction will likely produce little benefit to plaintiffs in pursuit of this lawsuit. 

            Pursuant to California Rules of Court, 3.1308 (a)(1) and Santa Barbara County Superior Court Local Rule 1301(b), the court does not require a hearing; oral argument will be permitted only if a party notifies all other parties and the court by 4:00 p.m. (Department 2) the day before the hearing of the party’s intention to appear. This tentative ruling will become the ruling of the court if notice of intent to appear has not been given. If no hearing is held, defendants are directed to provide a proposed order for signature commensurate with this tentative, with appropriate notice to plaintiff, which will then be entered by the court.  

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