Court Affirms Decision Finding Granddaughter Engaged in Financial Elder Abuse

Elder Law Answers case summary.A California Court of Appeals affirms a Los Angeles County Superior Court’s judgment finding Lisa Guillen liable for the financial elder abuse of her grandmother, Josephine De Anda. In De Anda v. Guillen (Cal. Ct. App., No. B318392, April 21, 2023).

Ms. Guillen and Ms. De Anda entered into a verbal agreement that they would live together in a home owned by Ms. De Anda. As part of this agreement, Ms. Guillen was to renovate the home at her own expense and take care of Ms. De Anda as she aged. In return, Ms. Guillen could live at the property indefinitely and would inherit it upon Ms. De Anda’s passing.

In the process of starting to renovate the property, Ms. Guillen convinced Ms. Anda to give her an ownership interest in the house, claiming it was needed to obtain a construction loan for the renovation. Guillen obtained the loan and used the house as collateral. Upon receipt of the funds, Guillen used a large portion of them to pay her own personal expenses and debts, make a loan to a family business, and pay other expenses. The renovation of the property lagged and was not completed.

Ms. Guillen also withdrew funds from Ms. De Anda’s bank account without her consent and engaged in other objectionable behavior. When Ms. De Anda’s children discovered what had transpired, the loan funds were gone, much of Ms. De Anda’s savings had disappeared, the loan was in default, and the remodel was incomplete.

After that, Ms. De Anda’s guardian ad litem filed a lawsuit against Ms. Guillen and others. The claims against Ms. Guillen included financial elder abuse, quiet title, fraud through intentional misrepresentation, rescission, conspiracy to commit fraud, fraud through suppression of fact, conversion, breach of contract, accounting, common count, cancellation of instrument, and declaratory and injunctive relief. After trial, the lower court found that Ms. Guillen had committed financial elder abuse and other torts against Ms. Anda. It held that Ms. Guillen was liable for damages of $418,000 plus interest of $218,250. Ms. Guillen appealed.

The Court of Appeals reviews the lower court’s findings using a substantial evidence standard of review, meaning that a lower court’s findings of facts are broadly construed to support judgment, and the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the prevailing party.

It first considers Ms. Guillen’s argument that substantial evidence did not support the trial court finding that she committed financial elder abuse. The Court finds that the evidence cited in the trial court’s decision is sufficient to establish that Ms. Guillen appropriated Ms. De Anda’s property for wrongful use and with intent to defraud, and that she engaged in financial elder abuse. As long as sufficient evidence supports the judgment, the Court of Appeals defers to the trial court’s determinations regarding the strength and credibility of the evidence and disregards evidence contrary to the trial court’s decision.

The Court next considers whether the award of damages was proper and concludes it was. Although Ms. De Anda did not provide an exact accounting to establish damages, where damages are certain, their calculation need not be absolutely certain. The law only requires a reasonable basis for how the damages were determined. The Court finds that it was reasonable for the trial court to approximate the damages using the construction loan amount as a baseline.

For the preceding reasons, the Court affirms the judgment against Ms. Guillen.

Read the full text of this decision.