Modesto Partition Lawyers

Modesto, the 19th largest city in the state of California, is well known for its rich agricultural history. Its county, Stanislaus, ranks sixth in the state in farm production. Modesto’s main contribution to that ranking comes from its almonds, milk, walnuts, chickens, and corn silage production. In honor of Modesto’s key crops, almonds and walnuts, the local minor league baseball team is named the Modesto Nuts, or simply called the “Nuts.” As a farming community, many residents in Modesto may find themselves inheriting the family farm with their siblings. Like any relationship, the ownership of real estate with family is complicated. Often, after inheriting real estate with their family, individuals find themselves wishing that they could just sell their interest and move on to other parts of their lives. When the other family owners refuse to sell, or are unable to buy the interest at a fair value, then a Modesto Partition Lawyer be extremely helpful.

  • Brother-Sister joint ownership of property;
  • Non-Married Partners joint ownership of property;
  • Parent-Child co-ownership of property; and
  • Investor-Investor co-ownership of property
What Is a Partition Action in California?

A partition action is a judicially-supervised forced sale of real estate. In California, each co-owner has an “absolute” right to partition the property. “Ordinarily, if the party seeking partition is shown to be a tenant in common, and as such entitled to the possession of the land sought to be partitioned, the right to partition is absolute, and cannot be denied, ‘either because of any supposed difficulty, nor on the suggestion that the interest of the co-tenants will be promoted by refusing the application nor temporarily postponing the action.” (Priddel v. Shankie (1945) 69 Cal.App.2d 319, 325 (emphasis added).) Thus, any owner of real estate (whether 5%, 50%, or 95%) has the right to bring a partition action in California.

Generally, a partition action cannot be stopped absent a valid waiver. Virtually universally, the instances in which a court has found a valid waiver have 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.

What Are the Steps in a Partition Action?

Generally, the first step in the partition lawsuit process is not a lawsuit, but an earnest attempt to resolve the matter informally, such as through a partition agreement. Only when it is clear that litigation is the only option, is it clear that a partition lawsuit is appropriate.

When it is clear that a partition lawsuit is necessary, then the process begins with the filing of a complaint in the county where the property is located. There are several technical requirements for the partition complaint, and many important steps that must be taken during the lawsuit to ensure that the process is managed effectively.

In a partition lawsuit, there are generally four different steps. First, the court determines each party's ownership interests. Second, the court will decide on the manner of sale. Third, the court will order the property be sold. Fourth, the proceeds from the sale will be divided between the parties based on their relative contributions to the property.

While some may believe that inherited property cannot be partitioned, this is incorrect. Instead, when the property is owned as the result of an inheritance, there may be an additional step for an appraisal, and a right of first refusal, as provided by the Uniform Partition of Heirs Act. Under this act, where a co-tenant requests partition by sale, the law gives the non-partition owner the option to buy all of the interests of the co-tenants who requested the sale.

What Are Claims for “Contribution”?

Before the sales proceeds are distributed among the parties, a court-ordered accounting will determine the charges and credits upon each co-owner’s interest. These credits are taken out of the net proceeds before the balance is divided equally. (Southern Adjustment Bureau, Inc. v. Nelson (1964) 230 Cal.App.2d 539 (“Nelson”).) 

“When a cotenant makes advances from his own pocket to preserve the common estate, his investment in the property increases by the entire amount advanced. Upon sale of the estate, he is entitled to his reimbursement before the balance is equally divided.” (Nelson, 230 Cal.App.2d, at p. 541, citing William v. Koyer (1914) 168 Cal.369.)

As such, a party to a partition action must produce and gather their evidence and make sure that it is presented to the court so they can receive full credit for the value that they have added to the property. While a party may have a right to these credits under the law, ultimately, they will not be counted unless they can be presented in the proper form. 

Can a Partition Action be Settled Through Mediation or Negotiation?

A partition action can always be resolved informally at any time prior to the first day of trial. In fact, in numerous instances, just filing the partition itself leads the other party to seek a resolution between them. We always encourage the parties to talk throughout every phase of the process, as that can lead to the best outcomes for everyone.

From our perspective, every piece of litigation is just part of a larger “negotiation.” In any negotiation, the party who has the best leverage is usually able to achieve a more favorable outcome. The lawsuit provides the client with more leverage because they have more options available to them than without the prospect of a resolution from a judge. As such, all that a lawsuit does is provide one party with more leverage in the negotiation about how to resolve the dispute. For this reason, the best way to informally resolve a dispute is to combine discussions with active litigation, so that the matter can be quickly resolved without unnecessary expense. Throughout the process, our attorneys are in touch with our clients about their options and the prospects for informal resolution through mediation or negotiation.

A Partition Case Study: Five Points Temescal, LLC v. Hathway

Deadlines in litigation are often inflexible. When courts set a deadline, they expect the deadline to be met or for the tardy party to accept the consequences of missing a deadline. Courts are usually not sympathetic to a party that misses a deadline and can sometimes dismiss a case altogether if there is any tardiness.

This is especially important when it comes to appeals. Since an appeal can happen much later after the trial, it is vital that a party knows and follows the deadline for an appeal. If there are multiple ongoing complaints, it is also critical for a party to know exactly which trial judgments they are appealing, to ensure that the party is appealing the appropriate judgments in a timely manner.

Five Points Temescal, LLC v. Hathaway, Cal.App.Unpub WL 6292444 (2017), is a cautionary tale of what can happen when a party misses an appeal deadline. Sometimes, such as in Five Points Temescal, there may be multiple partition complaints that are filed with the court. It is vital that parties keep track of the deadlines for each partition complaint separately.

Hathaway owned a five percent interest in two parcels of property that were put on the same deed and referred to as one ranch. (Id., at 1.) Five Points Temescal, who was a co-owner of the property, sued Hathaway and sought to partition one parcel of the property by sale. (Id.) Eventually, all the owners signed an agreement to partition that parcel by sale, and the trial court appointed a referee to ensure that the parcel was sold. (Id.)

Later, the referee discovered the second parcel of the property. (Id.) The second parcel was excluded from the partition sale, which the referee believed to be an error. (Id.) The referee filed a motion requesting the trial court to modify its judgment and include the second parcel in the partition sale. (Id.)

Hathaway opposed the referee’s motion, arguing that she should not be forced to correct errors made by the plaintiffs. (Id.) She also claimed that Five Points Temescal was ignoring her concerns. (Id.) Specifically, Hathaway wanted a particular area of the first parcel to be partitioned to her in kind. (Id.)

The trial court denied the referee’s motion, holding that Five Points Temescal would have to seek a leave to amend if they wanted to partition both parcels. (Id., at 2.) However, Five Points Temescal filed a new partition action for the second parcel instead of seeking a leave to amend. (Id.) This led Hathaway to filing a motion asking the trial court to combine the two partition actions or to vacate the judgment regarding the first parcel. (Id.) The trial court denied Hathaway’s motion because it would be impossible to do a joint trial involving both parcels and Hathaway made no valid legal arguments as to why the trial court’s judgment should be vacated. (Id.)

A nonprofit corporation agreed to buy the first parcel of the property in several installments. (Id.) Hathaway once again opposed the sale and requested a partition in kind, arguing that the property was being sold below its market value. (Id.) In response, the referee stated that Hathaway had previously agreed to a partition by sale, a partition in kind of the first parcel in the manner Hathaway wanted would violate a statute, and Hathaway had no evidence that the property was being sold below market value. (Id.) The trial court agreed with the referee and authorized the referee to follow through on the sale. (Id., at 3.) Hathaway appealed, and the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment because Hathaway filed her appeal too late. (Id.

The issues surrounding the property in Five Points Temescal seem complicated, but the central holding of the Court of Appeal really boiled down to timing. Five Points Temescal was a lengthy lawsuit that eventually spawned another lawsuit. Hathaway failed to make a timely appeal on the trial court’s judgment, which led to her appeal being dismissed.

In her appeal, Hathaway argued that the trial court erred by allowing Five Points Temescal’s first partition action proceed without including the second parcel, letting Five Points Temescal file a separate partition action about the second parcel, and not letting Hathaway receive a part of her partitioned property in kind. (Id.)

The trial court had filed an order confirming the sale of the first parcel in May 2016. (Id.) However, Hathaway had agreed to the partition of the first parcel by sale and had notice that the first parcel would be partitioned by sale in September 2013. (Id.) Hathaway’s notice of appeal was in June 2016 (Id.) After a party is given notice of judgment, they have 60 days to file a notice of appeal. (Id.) Therefore, Hathaway’s appeal was too late for the first lawsuit. (Id.) The Court of Appeal wrote:

The argument, so understood, necessarily attacks the underlying complaint, or the judgment entered by stipulation based on that complaint, and it likewise fails because the time to raise these arguments in a proper appeal has long ago elapsed . . . (Id.)

Hathaway’s appeal regarding the sale of the first parcel was dismissed, and the Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s judgment (Id.) Hathaway appeal also sought review of the trial court’s judgment for the second lawsuit which involved the sale of the second parcel, but she fared no better. (Id.) In that lawsuit, Hathaway had motioned for the trial court to combine the actions or to vacate its judgment, which the trial court denied in July 2015. (Id.) Once again, Hathaway’s June 2016 appeal was far past the 60 days deadline. (Id.) The Court of Appeal dismissed Hathaway’s appeal and affirmed the trial court’s judgment. (Id.)

Lastly, the Court of Appeal concluded that even if Hathaway’s appeal seeking review for the second lawsuit was timely, her argument was meritless. (Id.) The trial court rejected Hathaway’s motion for the court to vacate its judgment because she had no valid theory for why the judgment should be void. (Id.) Even before the Court of Appeal, Hathaway presented the same argument with no valid theory to back her claim, so the Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s judgment. (Id.)

Five Points Temescal teaches that deadlines in litigation are hard and fast. A party must always be organized and prepared to meet deadlines set by the courts. Knowledge of deadlines is key towards a successful case, so a party should never be caught by surprise and lag behind a deadline.

Additionally, Five Points Temescal is instructive in how to approach appeals. If a trial court tells a party that they don’t have a valid argument, it may be time to re-think the party’s approach. It is certainly ill-advised to go to the appellate court while still lacking a valid argument. While deadlines are important, it is also important to consider one’s legal strategy when shifting from the trial court to the appellate court.

How Underwood Law Firm Can Help

As seen in Howerton partitions law is full of intricacies that can catch an unwary party off guard. Courts and statutes may have multiple deadlines for any number of different motions or pleadings. It is important for parties to understand the timelines of their cases as litigation progresses so that they are not dismissed from the court for missing a deadline.

Here at Underwood Law, 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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