Pecoraro v. Barbaccia

During my rather lengthy career as an appellate lawyer, I’ve handled many, many appeals and writs involving real property issues – but never one as strange as this one.

In Pecoraro v. Barbaccia, heirs of a property owner sued to cancel a lease, claiming that the tenant had used undue influence to persuade the owner to agree to a lease that was unduly favorable to the tenant. The heirs of the owner won in the trial court, the Court of Appeal for the Sixth District (in San Jose) affirmed, and last week the California Supreme Court denied review.

No big deal? Well, here’s what makes the case strange:

• About $50 million was at stake.

• The tenant was the owner’s son.

• The lease was for 98 years.

• The lease was signed more than 50 years before the suit was filed!

Going that far back in time to show the circumstances under which the lease was made was not easy – because almost all the players were long deceased. But the trial lawyers (David Lively and Steve Braccini of Hopkins & Carley) persuaded the trial judge to cancel the lease.

On appeal, the defendants were represented by appellate powerhouses Arnold & Porter and Jones Day, but David, Allonn Levy, & I managed to get an affirmance. See Pecoraro v. Barbaccia, No. H040008 (10/18/16), 2016 WL 6085884. The California Supreme Court denied a petition for review on 1/11/17.

by M.A.T. Legal Director Myron Moskovitz