It’s not uncommon in most sports for players to feel that a referee has made a bad call, and often the rules allow them to ask for a review of the ref’s ruling. But you don’t have that option if you are simply a disappointed fan sitting in the stands.

In the law, those who are parties to a dispute have what is referred to as “standing” – that is, they have an interest in the outcome of the case that has been recognized by the court.

As a recent ruling by the California Court of Appeal demonstrates, the lack of standing can result in your claims being tossed out before you can even argue your case (Tukes v Richard.)

The decision resolves appeals in three related cases related to the estate of Adeline R. Bennett, M.D. The late Dr. Bennett left some real estate in Santa Fe Springs in a trust for the benefit of Pierre Richard and Louise Clare. The Bennett Trust co-owned the land with another family trust, known as the Pitts Trust.

The land was so polluted that it was designated a federal “Superfund” site.

In 2006, the trustees for the Bennett and Pitts trusts agreed to sell the property. But for more than a decade they made no progress in getting it sold.

In 2017, Denise Tukes, the daughter of Louise Clare, who was then a college student, took it upon herself to find a buyer for the land.

Determined to help her mother benefit from the inheritance Dr. Bennett had left her, Tukes spent more than 2,000 hours in her quest over the next 17 months, eventually dropping out of college to focus on her goal.

Her work paid off. In December of 2018 a buyer Tukes had found paid $13 million for the property. Because there was no broker involved, the trustees did not even pay a real estate commission on the sale.

Tukes then asked for a finder’s fee as compensation for her work in getting the property sold, citing an oral promise made to her by the Bennett trustees.

When her request was declined, she sued in Los Angeles County Superior Court, asking for both the finder’s fee and her costs to litigate her claim.

An heir of the Bennett Trust, Pierre Richard, filed a two-page answer to her complaint. Richard was not named as a defendant by Tukes, and the trial court had not given him permission to intervene; indeed, it identified him on the court docket as a “non-party” to the proceedings.

By September of 2019, Tukes had resolved her claims against the two trusts, receiving a finder’s fee of over $350,000.

In December of 2019, despite never having been sued by Tukes, Richard sued her and her attorney for malicious prosecution.

Tukes and her attorney responded by arguing that Richard had no standing to bring an action for malicious prosecution over a lawsuit to which he was not a party. Richard opposed their motion, but failed to address the issue of his standing to sue.

The trial court ruled in favor of Tukes, ordering Richard to pay Tukes and her attorney nearly $76,000 in fees and costs.

Richard then appealed, but got little sympathy from the Court of Appeal.

The appellate justices said the probate court was correct in its approval of the finder’s fee Tukes had negotiated with the trusts as well as the fees and costs it had awarded to her and her attorney over the malicious prosecution claim filed by Richard.

It also awarded Tukes her costs on appeal.

By Laurie Murphy