December 3, 2009

Le Plastrier v. Phillips: No Punitive Damages Against Lawyer Who Improperly Recorded Lis Pendens and Wrote Poem About It

The California Court of Appeal (Fourth District, Division Three) issued this unpublished opinion last week, reversing a $255,000 punitive damages award against an attorney who was found liable for slander of title based on his improper filing of a lis pendens.

The plaintiff cited 13 different items of evidence which, he contended, supported punitive damages. One of the items was a note written by the attorney, which the Court of Appeal descibes as reading "almost like a haiku." Here's the note/haiku as it appears in the opinion:

Straight note
2nd Trust deed-we have
rights to do Lis Pendens
Bank accounts? what can we
tie up?
No payments against note.
Sold by-
on sale of prop or term of lease
Geoff will pay $100,000
She's entitled to fees
[verified it

The court found nothing in this "poem" (as the court described it) or any of the other items of evidence cited by the plaintiff, to support a finding of malice, oppression, or fraud within the meaning of Civil Code section 3294.