Is a jury trial available in a partition action? (Shaw v. Superior Court (2017) 2 Cal.5th 983)

A courtroom full of empty chairs.Generally speaking, no, jury trials are not available in partition actions because partition action lawsuits are generally based on equity and therefore do not need a jury trial to decide each party’s rights.

However, in some specific scenarios, it is within the court’s discretion to allow factual issues or claims to the property to be heard by a jury in an equitable action, as is the plaintiff’s constitutional right. Read on to find out the avenues in which jury trials are available for those seeking or defending partition action lawsuits. 

What is a partition action?

In most simple terms, a partition action is a type of lawsuit that is brought to court to force the sale of ownership of a piece of property in court, force property divisions, or a forced equitable split of the property in question.

A partition action is when two (or more) parties share an interest in the property, and they can not decide what to do with it from a legal standpoint. Only one party’s desire to bring a partition action lawsuit against another co-property owner is necessary to bring a partition action to the court.

A partition action is a legal process under which California state law helps to dictate how to divide the shares of the property in question equally and equitably among all of the owners or other tenants who have a legal claim or interest in the piece of real property.

There is certain evidence that is not admissible during a jury trial that can be heard during a partition action lawsuit between co-owners. This is because, during a partition action, the court is looking to either sell or divide the property in the most equitable way possible and not to prejudice any of the other parties, so evidence that would not normally be allowed to be heard during a jury trial can be heard when deciding a partition action lawsuit.

During some partition cases in California, there may be someone called a “referee” appointed if the court feels as if this is necessary to more judicially and equitably determine matters regarding the property in question. 

What is a jury trial?

A jury trial is a lawful proceeding In which a jury makes a decision or findings of fact. This is different from a judge deciding on the facts of a case because the judge will not be rendering the verdict of the partition action lawsuit, but rather, the jury will decide on the facts leading up to the judgment of a partition action.

A jury trial is available only if there is a dispute in the nature of the question to the court, and it would be most equitable to decide amongst a “jury of your peers.”

How can you decide if a jury trial is available?

Although the right to a jury trial is in the California Constitution, that provision is historically based and does not extend the right beyond its common law scope. (Crouchman v. Superior Court (1988) 45 Cal.3d 1167.) The right to a jury trial is only that which existed in 1850 when the California Constitution was adopted. (Shaw v. Superior Court (2017) 2 Cal.5th 983.) 

The right to a jury trial does not apply to actions involving equitable actions. (In re Coburn (1913) 165 Cal. 202.) In determining whether an action is legal or equitable and whether a jury can be demanded, the court is not bound by the form of the action but by its nature. (Nwosu v. Uba (2004) 122 Cal.App.4th 1229.) 

The court, however, may permit a jury trial in an equitable action to assist in the determination of the issues. (Bettencourt v. Bank of Italy Nat. Trust & Sav. Ass’n (1932) 216 Cal. 174; Cair v. Offner (2005) 126 cal.App.4th 12.) The jury’s verdict in those instances is merely advisory, does not bind the court, and the court must make its own findings. (Radeke v. Gibraltar Sav. & Loan Assn. (1974) 10 Cal.3d 665; Hoopes v. Dolan (2008) 168 Cal.App.4th 146.) 

So when can a jury trial be held for a partition action?

Jury trials are available when there are causes of action for damages included in the partition action lawsuit. This is because the plaintiff retains a constitutional right to a jury trial for non-equitable causes of action. 

In some situations, a court gives the defendant an opportunity to raise objections. If the objections are filed timely and correctly raised, then the defendants may have the right to a trial by jury to decide on the question at hand to resolve any objections. (see Lorenz v. Jacobs (1881) 59 Cal. 262.) 

In a partition action, all of the parties’ interests in the property in question may be at issue. In this sort of partition action, according to the California Code of Civil Procedure 872.610, the Court must then try and determine the title issue. The law states that “no partition can be made until the respective interest of all the parties has been ascertained and settled by a trial.” This is because, under the California Code of Civil Procedure, there can only be one final judgment in a partition action.

As a result, there may be multiple issues involving the property, including ones that have historically provided a right to a jury trial. Thus, a judge may submit a partition action lawsuit to deliberation by a jury if there are multiple issues of fact and law. 

It is important to assert your right to a trial if there are issues of law and fact because if there is an incorrect denial of the right to a jury trial because it could subject the judgment to reversal after trial. 

How can Underwood Law Firm, P.C. assist you?

Partition actions and injunctions can become very difficult to understand, and the other party to your property may become overzealous. It is important to seek out a knowledgeable and experienced attorney to help assist you in a partition action lawsuit to ensure that your rights to your property are asserted properly.

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