Contra Costa County Partition Lawyers

Contra Costa County is home to more than one million residents, and was one of the original 27 counties created when California became a state in 1850. Contra Costa County contains more than 19 cities, and is the 9th most populous county in the State. One of the most notable landmarks in Contra Costa County is Mount Diablo. Contra Costa County incudes Antioch, Concord, Lafayette, Martinez, Pittsburg, Pleasant Hill, Richmond, San Ramon, and Walnut Creek. Generally, the best Contra Costa County Partition Lawyers usually find partition action to be the best remedy for disputing co-owners in four broad categories:

  • Family owned real estate where only one party wants to sell;
  • Former romantic partners who jointly own real estate where only one party wants to sell;
  • Jointly owned real estate where only one party wants to sell;
  • Partnership real estate where only one party wants to sell;
What is a Partition Action in California?

Partitions are lawsuits that split up the property between multiple co-owners so that each can take their equity out of the home. The prototypical partition are between siblings, former romantic partners, or business partners. Both own parts of the property, but only one wants to end the relationship and take their money out. Partitions enable this to happen, usually ending with a court-ordered sale of the subject property. 

Basically, any person who is an owner of real estate can bring a partition action in California. Code of Civil Procedure section 872.710, subdivision (a), states "A partition action may be commenced and maintained by any…owner of…such property." California Civil Code section 872.210 provides a property owner with the "absolute right to partition" absent a valid waiver. Thus, a partition action can be brought by anyone who no longer wants to own jointly owned real estate, other than spousal property.

Generally, a partition action cannot be stopped absent a valid waiver. The instances in which a court has found a valid waiver have generally involved some sort of written contract or adverse possession of property. As such, many parties try to stop a partition action through mediation, or a buy-out agreement. In most instances, the parties to a partition action can benefit from creative lawyering by those who are familiar with the different options for resolving real estate disputes. The best Contra Costa County Partition Lawyer will be able to share information on this process with you.

What are the steps in a Partition Action?

First, a partition action is filed. A partition action can be filed if one co-owner of real property or a piece of real estate wishes to sell the property or piece of real estate in question but the other co-owners or co-tenants do not wish to sell their ownership rights. 

Second, the court may appoint a court referee to oversee the sale of the property in question. The sales procedure includes that all parties agree to the terms and conditions of the sale in writing. If the parties can not agree, as partition actions are usually very contested issues, then the referee that the court appointed may recommend terms and conditions to the court. Then the court will hold a hearing to decide whether or not to accept those terms and conditions. 

Third, in California, the property’s value will be appraised via a third party or another property appraisal with no ties to any of the parties. While this is not required in all states, it is recommended to make sure that all parties are on the same metaphorical page as to the potential sale proceeds of the property in question. 

Fourth, the referee will conduct the sale in the method most agreeable to all of the party’s goals. This can be via a public auction or a private sale. Regardless of the specific method of partition by sale, the court will determine if the sale was “fair.” If it is decided that the property’s sale proceeds had a lack of proper notice, the sale amount is not within reasonable the value of the property, or if the proceeds were unfair- the court would rule that the property will be up for sale again. 

Lastly, the court will order that the proceeds of the sale, minus any court litigated or approved offsets or costs, will be distributed equitably amongst all of the co-owners or people with interest in the property. A top Contra Costa County Partition lawyer will be familiar with the process.

Can you mediate a partition action?

Generally, anyone considering filing a lawsuit should consider all of their alternatives, including an informal resolution of the problem. This can take the form of a discussion with the other owner or owners about agreeing to sell the property, negotiating with the co-owner to create a formula to divide the proceeds from the sale, or retaining a lawyer to engage in a mediation with the other owners.

Throughout the partition process, and even on the day of trial, any of the owners can make an agreement about the sale of the property. This can happen through a phone call, through negotiations between the parties' lawyers, or through a mediation session with a retired judge or trained mediator. There are many benefits from a mediation session, including confidentiality provisions contained in the law in Evidence Code sections 1115 through 1129.

Specifically, Evidence Code section 1119, subdivision (a), provides "no evidence of anything said or any admission made for the purpose of, in the course of, or pursuant to, a mediation or a mediation consultation is admissible or subject to discovery, and disclosure of the evidence shall not be compelled in any arbitration, administrative adjudication, civil action, or other noncriminal proceeding in which, pursuant to law, testimony can be compelled to be given." A knowledgeable Contra Costa County Partition Attorney will be able to give you good advice on these issues.

What are claims for “contribution”?

Code of Civil Procedure section 874.140 states that the “court may, in all cases, order allowance, accounting, contribution, or other compensatory adjustments among the parties according to the principles of equity.” 

The court in Hunter v. Schultz (1966) 240 Cal.App.2d 24 stated that the payments for interest, taxes, and insurance made by any co-tenant could be subject to reimbursement. These claims for reimbursement are commonly known as “offsets” in a partition action. 

Further, the court under Milian v. De Leon (1986) 181 Cal.App.3d 1185, announced that a co-tenant who expends money for the preservation of the property, or with the [acceptance] of their co-tenant(s), is entitled to reimbursement for those expenditures before the division of the proceeds among the property owners. 

That is, the general rule is that compensatory adjustments are appropriate for improvements that enhance the value of the property for all owners’ benefit. (see Wallace v. Daley (1990) 220 Cal.App.3d 1028, 1035-1036.) An experienced Contra Costa County Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

Polk v. County of Contra Costa: A Lesson in Going Bankrupt

The United States is an interesting country, in that we have both state law and federal law. Much of the time, state law and federal law are kept away from each other with their respective separate court systems. There are times, however, where state and federal law can interact.

One such instance is in bankruptcy law. Bankruptcy courts are federal courts, but they have the authority to change state court judgments. While bankruptcy courts can affect state court judgments, there is a limit to their powers, and they cannot rule over everything in a state case.

The property at issue in Polk v. County of Contra Costa (2014) Cal.App.Unpub. WL 3940206, was a house owned by Susan Mae Polk and the estate of her deceased husband, each owning a one-half interest. (Id., at 1.) Polk was charged in 2002 of her husband’s murder. (Id.) In August 2005, the Estate sued for partition to divide the property. (Id.) In September 2005, The County of Contra Costa had a lien secured with a deed of trust against the property, so that the County could be reimbursed for legal services defending Polk. (Id.)

In March 2006, the state civil court granted summary judgment in favor of the Estate and appointed a referee to determine the manner of partition. (Id.) In February 2007, Polk was found guilty of murder and sentenced. (Id., at 2.) In August 2007, the County asked for an order requiring Polk to reimburse them for her legal expenses. (Id.) The order was granted, and Polk appealed both her murder conviction and the reimbursement order, though she did not appeal the reimbursement amount. (Id.)

Eventually, the sale of the property was ordered. (Id., at 2.) Polk also appealed the sale order. (Id.) In January 2008, the state civil court approved the County’s lien with a Distribution Order, which Polk also appealed. (Id.) In February 2008, Polk’s share of the sale proceeds were found to be subject to two liens, one of which was the County’s. (Id.) The state civil court ordered the distribution of Polk’s share to the County and to the other lienholder, which left Polk with nothing. (Id.)

In May 2009, Polk filed for bankruptcy, and the County did not file a proof of claim. (Id.) Polk was discharged in August 13, 2009, and the bankruptcy case was closed on September 4, 2009. (Id.) Additionally, the Appellate Court upheld the state civil court’s judgment. (Id.) Polk’s murder conviction was also affirmed on appeal. (Id.) The Appellate Court, however, remanded the reimbursement order back to the trial court because it was unclear whether Polk could pay the reimbursement amount. (Id.) On remand, the trial court found that Polk could pay the County and ordered the County to keep its share from the partition sale. (Id.)

In July 2011, Polk moved to reopen her bankruptcy case and sought to take the County’s share of the partition sale. (Id., at 3.) The bankruptcy court denied Polk’s motion. (Id.) Polk appealed to the District Court of California, and the District Court affirmed the bankruptcy court’s order. (Id.)

Polk is a cautionary tale about the intersection of state and federal law. Bankruptcy courts are governed by federal law, but they have the unusual power to affect the judgment of state courts. Unfortunately for Polk, this does not mean that they have authority over every state claim brought before them.

Originally, the bankruptcy court held that the County could not retain the sale proceeds based on either one of the reimbursement orders. (Id., at 4.) The first reimbursement order was void because it was vacated when Appellant filed for bankruptcy. (Id.) The second reimbursement order was void because the County was not allowed to continue reimbursement of the criminal case after Polk was discharged. (Id.) The bankruptcy court instead held that the County could retain the sale proceeds because the County had an interest in the proceedings, which was the deed of trust against the property. (Id.) The District Court agreed with the bankruptcy court’s reasoning. (Id.)

Polk argued that the bankruptcy court erred in refusing to consider some of her other claims. (Id., at 5.) The bankruptcy court concluded that it was unable to consider some of Polk’s claims because it lacked jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine. (Id.)

The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine is a legal doctrine stating that parties who lose in state courts cannot seek what would essentially be appellate review of the state court’s judgment in a lower federal court, or district court. (Id.) Though the extent of the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine is limited, bankruptcy cases are an exception for so-called “core proceedings,” since bankruptcy courts can modify state judgments even though bankruptcy courts are federal courts. (Id.)

The District Court found that the bankruptcy court properly exercised judgment on the “core proceedings” of the case, and that the bankruptcy court also properly refused to exercise judgment over Polk’s claims that were not considered “core proceedings.” (Id., at 6.) Specifically, the District Court held that Polk sought to challenge the state court’s distribution order on non-bankruptcy grounds, which would fall under the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine and was a claim the bankruptcy court would not have jurisdiction over. (Id., at 7.)

The bankruptcy court also found that the lien the County had against the property was consensual, and so was a valid lien where the County had the higher distribution priority (Id.) Polk argued that the lien was instead a judicial lien. (Id.) The District Court found that the lien was consensual rather than judicial, since the County never recorded the first reimbursement order so the County’s reimbursement could not have been based on a judicial lien as it would have no legal effect if it was unrecorded. (Id., at 8.)

Polk illustrates what happens when a party misunderstands the difference between state and federal law. These are two different courts, with two different jurisdictions. At some points, however, state and federal law may intersect. One area of intersection is bankruptcy law, though there are still limits to this even in bankruptcy court.

Polk demonstrates a misunderstanding of the different courts’ jurisdictions. Bankruptcy courts may be able to affect state court judgments, but only in limited ways. One can’t simply bring their state court woes to a bankruptcy court and expect a full appeal. Similarly, one can’t bring those same state court woes to a federal court and expect to be heard. State courts and federal courts are limited to their respective jurisdictions.

How Underwood Law Firm Can Help

As seen in Polk, the law can be full of rules and requirements that may be confusing to a layperson. This includes the difference between state and federal courts, jurisdiction, and where bankruptcy courts place in all of this confusion. Jurisdiction is an important matter for courts to consider in every lawsuit, and it is essential that parties get the jurisdiction right before they even bring an action forward.

Here at Underwood Law Firm, our knowledgeable attorneys are here to help navigate the complex web of case law and statutes surrounding partitions. If you are trying to plan a partition order, or just have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to our office.

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