A partition action occurs when there are two or more title holders to a piece of property, and these title holders are unable to reach an agreement on splitting the subject property. Typically, a litigant brings a partition action to have the court force the sale of or split the subject property.
Generally, an action for partition can be brought forth by a co-owner of real property and a co-owner of personal property. Notably, a court can partition not only real property or real estate but also personal property of any kind. (CCP § 872.230(a).)
Indeed, courts in California have partitioned all types of personal property, including ownership of crops, shares of stock, and businesses. At the Underwood Law Firm, our attorneys are more than familiar with partition actions.
History of Partitioning Personal Property in California
California has had a long history of partition actions, dating all the way back to the 1700s. Many of these old partition actions were centered around the ownership of personal property.
In 1888, the Supreme Court of California ordered the partition of grain crops in Baughman v. Reed (1888) 75 Cal. 319. There the court found that the Complaint stated facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action for the partition of personal property. (Id.) The Plaintiff and Defendant both owned a crop as tenants in common. The Defendant, however, intended to sell the crop and appropriate the proceeds for his own use. (Id.) The Supreme Court found that based on the facts, a partition of the crop and appointment of a receiver was a proper remedy.
How to Partition Personal Property?
Under California Code of Civil procedure section 872.210, a partition action may be brought by a co-owner of personal property. (CCP § 872.210.) An action for the partition of both real property and personal property can be brought in one action. (CCP § 872.240.) Therefore, one would assume that the co-owner of a bank account is entitled to bring an action for the partition of that bank account.
While California has yet to have a controlling case partitioning a bank account, there have been many cases partitioning tangible personal property similar to that of a bank account, like shares of stock and cash.
In Randell v. Randell (1935) 4 Cal.2d 575, a father filed a lawsuit against his son for the partition of an orange ranch, 114 shares of stock in the John T. Carpenter Water Company, and $3,400 in cash. (Randell, 4 Cal.2d at 577.) There, the parties were operating the property under a contract with respect to their interests. (Id.) The Plaintiffs were declared to be owners of an undivided 55/100 part, and the defendants an undivided 45/100 part. (Id.) There, the court ordered the partition of both the shares of stock and the $3,400 in cash. The court awarded 70 shares of stock to the Plaintiffs and 44 shares of stock to the Defendants. (Randell, 4 Cal.2d at 579.) Also, the court awarded the $3,400 in cash according to the interest of the parties, with 55% going to the Plaintiffs and 45% to the defendants. (Id.)
Similarly, in Rutledge v. Rutledge (1953) 119 Cal.App.2d 114, the court partitioned an automobile business between a former husband and wife. There, the court found that a physical partition of a business could not occur without detriment to at least one of the parties and ordered a sale of the business. The court noted, “[w]hen several persons are co-owners of real or personal property, any one or more of the co-owners may file an action for partition.” (Id.)
Again, in Swarthout v. Gentry (1943) 62 Cal.App.2d 68, the court found that a partition was proper where the court dissolved a partnership. That was also the result in Chalter v. Biller, where the court ordered the partition of personal property used in a restaurant business where the property at issue belonged to a partnership that was closing. (Chaltea v. Biller (1931) 212 Cal. 745.)
Has a Court ever partitioned a bank account?
Yes. In Parker v. Owen (195) 96 Cal.App.2d 78, 78, a woman sued her sister to partition nine pieces of real property and two bank accounts, all previously owned by their mother before her death. (Id.) At the trial, the court found that the parties each owned an undivided one-half interest in the two bank accounts and the remaining parcels. After making findings, the court granted an interlocutory judgment of partition, appointed referees, and ordered them to sell the four parcels and divide the balance between the two sisters. (Id. at 79.) Later, the court of appeal approved the partitioning of the bank accounts and the entry of an interlocutory judgment for their sale.
Similar to shares of stock, or a business, a joint bank account owned by two or more people is personal property subject to partition. For example, “Shawn” and “Julie” are romantic partners living together. In order to take the next step in their relationship, Shawn and Julie decided to open a joint bank account at Bank of America to share in their living expenses. Shawn and Julie each contributed an equal amount of money to the bank account, and each used the account for their daily living expenses. After a few years, Shawn and Julie decided they were better as friends and decided to end their relationship. Shawn moved out, and now Julie wants to figure out a way to split the bank account. Julie gets advice from her attorney, “Mark,” who tells her that Julie can sue for partition to have the court order for the division of the bank account.
How the Attorneys at the Underwood Law Firm Can Help
Partition actions apply to both real property and personal property. Therefore, when a piece of personal property is concurrently owned by several people, one of the owners may bring a partition action to have the court divide the subject property. In the past, California courts have partitioned crops, shares of stock, cash, and businesses.
As each case is unique, litigants would be well-served to seek experienced counsel familiar with the ins and outs of partition actions and the law surrounding them. At the Underwood Law Firm, our knowledgeable attorneys are here to help. If you are seeking to partition the personal property, are worried about your ability to partition the personal property, or if you just have questions, please do not hesitate to contact our office.
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