Wallace v. McCubbin – Case Brief Summary (California)

In Wallace v. McCubbin (2011) 196 Cal.App.4th 1169, plaintiffs Cheryl Wallace and John Owen, who leased an apartment together, filed a complaint against their landlord and two neighbors after they were evicted following the neighbors' repeated complaints Wallace's service dog was aggressive.

The complaint asserted causes of action including wrongful eviction, retaliatory eviction, breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress and housing discrimination. (Wallace, at p. 1178.)

It alleged the defendants had engaged in a "'systematic campaign of harassment and intimidation against disabled tenants with limited means, designed to force Plaintiffs from their home of four years'" because they had a "'prescribed service dog.'" (Ibid.)

The trial court denied the defendants' section 425.16 motion to strike the causes of action for wrongful eviction and retaliatory eviction on the ground they did not arise from protected activity because the gravamen of the complaint was the pattern of disability discrimination designed to drive the plaintiffs from the home, not the filing of the unlawful detainer action. (Among other acts alleged as part of the wrongful scheme, the neighbors had reported to animal control that the dog was vicious and dangerous.) (Wallace, supra, 196 Cal.App.4th at p. 1180.)

The Court of Appeal reversed. With respect to wrongful eviction, the court explained the cause of action was predicated on the defendants' attempts to recover possession of the apartment in violation of San Francisco's rent stabilization ordinance, which proscribes recovery unless "landlord's dominant motive pertains to at least one of the occurrences specified in the ordinance. According to the complaint, the acts by which the defendants attempted to recover possession of the apartment . . . at least included, the landlord's service of his three-day notice to quit and his filing of the unlawful detainer action. Indeed this is the wrongdoing alleged in the complaint that is most obviously related to a wrongful eviction claim." (Id. at p. 1182.)