James Safechuck Jr & Equitable Estoppel

For some, it’s difficult to understand how James Safechuck Jr. can proceed with his claim against the Estate of Michael Jackson considering the time constraints placed on creditors.

Probate law in California is quite clear – creditors must claim within a certain period the decedent’s passing.

9100. (a) A creditor shall file a claim before expiration of the later of the following times:
(1) Four months after the date letters are first issued to a general personal representative.
(2) Sixty days after the date notice of administration is mailed or personally delivered to the creditor. Nothing in this paragraph
extends the time provided in Section 366.2 of the Code of Civil Procedure.
(b) A reference in another statute to the time for filing a claim means the time provided in paragraph (1) of subdivision (a).
(c) Nothing in this section shall be interpreted to extend or toll any other statute of limitations or to revive a claim that is barred by any statute of limitations. The reference in this subdivision to a “statute of limitations” includes Section 366.2 of the Code of Civil Procedure.

There are of course exceptions to this rule. For instance in Californian Probate Code 9103(a), there is the following provision:

9103. (a) Upon petition by a creditor or the personal representative, the court may allow a claim to be filed after expiration of the time for filing a claim provided in Section 9100 if either of the following conditions is satisfied:
(1) The personal representative failed to send proper and timely notice of administration of the estate to the creditor, and that petition is filed within 60 days after the creditor has actual knowledge of the administration of the estate.
(2) The creditor had no knowledge of the facts reasonably giving rise to the existence of the claim more than 30 days prior to the time for filing a claim as provided in Section 9100, and the petition is filed within 60 days after the creditor has actual knowledge of both of the following:
(A) The existence of the facts reasonably giving rise to the existence of the claim.
(B) The administration of the estate.

So, we can see that James had 60 days to file, or between 30 and 60 days from the time he realized what Jackson did was abuse and not “love”, from the date he found out about the administration of the Estate (and given that it was such big news, he would have a difficult job of convincing the court he had no knowledge of the administration for so long). This puts a complete stop to his claim. Or does it? Section 9103 goes on to say:

(f) Nothing in this section authorizes allowance or approval of a claim barred by, or extends the time provided in, Section 366.2 of
the Code of Civil Procedure.

What is in Section 366.2 of the Code of Civil Procedure?

366.2. (a) If a person against whom an action may be brought on a liability of the person, whether arising in contract, tort, or otherwise, and whether accrued or not accrued, dies before the expiration of the applicable limitations period, and the cause of action survives, an action may be commenced within one year after the date of death, and the limitations period that would have been applicable does not apply.

Once again, James is stymied by the “one year after the date of death” rule. However, James is saying that he could have brought a claim against Jackson for abuse under Section 340.1 of the Code of Civil Procedure:

340.1. (a) In an action for recovery of damages suffered as a result of childhood sexual abuse, the time for commencement of the action shall be within eight years of the date the plaintiff attains the age of majority or within three years of the date the plaintiff discovers or reasonably should have discovered that psychological injury or illness occurring after the age of majority was caused by the sexual abuse, whichever period expires later.

Unfortunately, 340.1 puts another stop on the administration of justice for James.

340.1. (b) (1) No action described in paragraph (2) or (3) of subdivision (a) may be commenced on or after the plaintiff’s 26th birthday.

So that seems to be the end of the road for James, and according to lawyers for the Estate it’s all over. However the there is an element of law designed to ensure that justice is fair. It is called the Doctrine of Equitable Estoppel.

Estoppel by inducement may preclude a defendant (Estate of Michael Jackson) from raising the statute of limitations defense only if the defendant’s promises, threats or representations actually induced the plaintiff to forbear filing a lawsuit. Four elements must ordinarily be proved to establish an equitable estoppel:

(1) The party to be estopped (Jackson’s Estate, standing in the shoes of Jackson himself) must know the facts;

(2) he must intend that his conduct shall be acted upon, or must so act that the party asserting the estoppel had the right to believe that it was so intended;

(3) the party asserting the estoppel (James) must be ignorant of the true state of facts; and,

(4) he must rely upon the conduct to his injury.

The doctrine of estoppel is codified in Evid. Code § 623.

623. Whenever a party has, by his own statement or conduct,
intentionally and deliberately led another to believe a particular
thing true and to act upon such belief, he is not, in any litigation
arising out of such statement or conduct, permitted to contradict it.

[Leasequip, Inc. v. Dapeer (2002) 103 Cal. App. 4th 394, 403-404, 126 Cal. Rptr. 2d 782]

“A defendant may be estopped from raising the bar of the statute of limitations if his or her conduct or statements induced the plaintiff to refrain from bringing a timely action. It is not a punitive notion, but rather a remedial judicial doctrine employed to insure fairness, prevent injustice, and do equity. It stems from the venerable judicial prerogative to redress unfairness in the application of otherwise inflexible legal dogma, based on sound public policy and equity.” [ Leasequip, Inc. v. Dapeer (2002) 103 Cal. App. 4th 394, 403-404, 126 Cal. Rptr. 2d 782] .

“The doctrine of equitable estoppel is based on the theory that a party who by his declarations or conduct misleads another to his prejudice should be estopped from obtaining the benefits of his misconduct…. Under appropriate circumstances equitable estoppel will preclude a defendant from pleading the bar of the statute of limitations where the plaintiff was induced to refrain from bringing a timely action by the fraud, misrepresentation or deceptions of defendant.” (Kleinecke, at p. 245.)

So we see that Equitable Estoppel is not “a way to get around Statutes of Limitations”, but a way to ensure fairness in the legal system.

James , through his Supplemental Declaration of Claimant/Creditor James Safechuck in Support of Amended Petition for Order to Allow Filing of Late Claim Against Estate (filed March 18, 2015) is asserting that the intimidation and threats from Jackson prevented him from filing a claim earlier than he did. Jackson’s threats and lies were so intimidating that even in death he continued to have a hold over James. It didn’t help that Jackson encouraged his followers to follow him in verbally attacking his accusers, calling them “liars”, “extortionists” and “grifters”, thereby making it hard for accusers to come forward. Jackson fans have harassed anybody who dares speak the truth about Jackson, adding to the stress that James felt and further preventing him from coming forward.

In the interests of natural justice, Judge Beckloff (who is handling this case) has allowed James the opportunity to explain his tardiness in bringing this action. Whether or not James and his lawyers have convinced the judge that this case is a candidate for Equitable Estoppel remains to be seen.

Let’s hope he does. It is not morally right that Jackson’s heirs benefit from the lies and threats that Jackson made.