Monterey Partition Lawyers

Monterey is renowned for its abundance of marine wildlife and fresh seafood. Monterey also has Fisherman’s Wharf, California Roots Music and Arts Festival, and the annual Monterey Jazz Festival. As the state’s highest producer of Chardonnay grapes, Monterey has 71 wineries and 31 tasting rooms, all within the famous Cannery Row. Monterey got its name from Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino, who anchored in what is now known as Monterey Harbor in 1602. He named the harbor Puerto de Monterrey, or Port of Monterrey, to honor the Fifth Count of Monterrey, the viceroy of New Spain. The city was later founded in 1770 and functioned as the capital of Alta California under both Spain and Mexico. Like many places in California, many Monterey residents find themselves entangled in co-ownership of property with other individuals. There are at least four different scenarios when speaking to a Monterey Partition Lawyer should be considered:

  • Boyfriend-Girlfriend co-ownership of property;
  • Sibling-Sibling co-ownership of property;
  • Parent-Child co-ownership of property;
  • Investor-Investor co-ownership of property;
What Is a Partition Action in California?

A partition lawsuit requires real estate to be sold regardless of the requests of the other title owners. The purpose of a partition action is to permanently end all disputes and remove all obstacles to the free enjoyment of land by one person. (McGillivray v. Evans (1864) 27 Cal.92.) These types of actions can be brought for all types of real estate from houses to farms to office buildings to apartment buildings. Similarly, partition actions are available all types of ownership situations from joint tenants to tenants-in-common to partnership property to property jointly owned by former spouses.

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 Monterey Partition Lawyer will be able to share information on this process with you.

What Are the Steps in a Partition Action?

Under the Partition of Real Property Act, the court instead appoints an appraiser to do the heavy lifting. The new statute states that the court “shall determine the fair market value of the property by ordering an appraisal.” (CCP § 874.316.) The court doesn’t have to be the one to order the appraisal, but this is only if all the co-owners agree to a different method of valuation.

If, however, an appraisal occurs, it shall be conducted by a disinterested third-party real estate appraiser licensed to determine the fair market value of properties. After the appraisal is conducted, parties may file objections to the value and can even offer additional evidence of value to the court.

After the valuation is complete, parties will be introduced to the key feature of the new statute: the buy-out option. If a co-owner requests a partition by sale, then the court will notify the other co-owners that they may buy all the interests of the cotenant that requested the partition. (CCP § 874.317.)

This is, essentially, a right of first refusal. The co-owners who don’t want the property sold now have the option to simply buy out the requesting party. Additionally, the buy-out price will be based on the property’s valuation, determined earlier in the litigation. And if one or more parties exercise the buy-out, then the court will reapportion ownership percentages based on the price paid. A top Monterey Partition lawyer will be familiar with the process.

Can You Recover Your Attorneys’ Fees in a Partition Action?

Section 874.040 gives courts only two options in apportioning the costs and fees of partition: by ownership interest or by some other equitable apportionment. (see Finney v. Gomez (2003) 111 Cal.App.4th 527, 545 (Finney).)

Notably, appellate courts have found the statutory language of Section 874.040 to give courts broad and equitable discretion. (Lin v. Jeng (2012) 203 Cal.App.4th 1008.)

This sentiment that the record must support the allocation of attorney’s fees in an amount greater than disclosed by title is echoed in Stutz, where the appellate court held the trial court erred in apportioning 100% of the attorney’s fees and costs of a partition to the respondent. The appellate court recognized that trial courts are free to apportion fees and costs in an equitable manner yet held that the record must support such an arrangement in “any manner other than according to the respective interests of the parties in the property.” (Stutz, 122 Cal.App.3d 1, 5.)

For example, where a party refuses to simply resolve the issue where the other party was willing to sell, then a court has the authority to order a different amount of fees than disclosed by title. (Forrest v. Elam (1979) 88 Cal.App.3d 164, 174.) In other words, the resistance to selling the property may be a factor that a court considers in awarding attorneys’ fees in a partition action. A knowledgeable Monterey Partition Attorney will be able to give you good advice on these issues.

What Are Claims for “Contribution”?

Following the sale of the property, the referee will divide the proceeds of the sale among the parties in according to amounts expended for the "common benefit."

When the sale is confirmed by the court, the court may enter an order about the proceeds of sale. Under the law, the sale proceeds must be applied in a defined order. Specifically, Code of Civil Procedure section 873.820 states that the sale proceeds go towards (a) payment of expenses of the sale, (b) payment of the other costs of partition, (c) payment of any liens on the property in priority, (d) and distribution of the remainder to the parties in proportion to their shares as determined by the court.

Generally, the last part of the priority list includes what is commonly known as an "accounting" or a determination of whether one party has contributed more than their fair share to the property in the form of taxes, improvements, or other benefits for the property. For example, if one party is a 50% owner of the property, but has paid all of the property taxes for the property, then that property owner will have a claim for the remaining 50% above their interest in the property. An experienced partition lawyer will be able to help a co-owner determine their claims to the proceeds and make these arguments to the court in an effective way. An experienced Monterey Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

A Partition Case Study: Cloninger v. Moran

Partitions cases can be difficult when property that has been passed down for generations in the family is involved. It can be hard to even consider splitting up a home that has gone through generations of different family members. It is important to remember though, that courts may disregard this sentiment, especially if there are looming present day issues that may be more vital to resolve in the court’s view.

Even though courts may prioritize certain aspects of a property over others, they still will take into account any sentimental value. Parties must know how sentimental value can factor into their legal argument, if it does at all. This includes identifying what issues the court is considering. Otherwise, courts may not be convinced that sentiment should be prioritized.

The property at issue in Cloninger v. Moran, Cal.App.Unpub. WL 380024 (2012) were two ranches jointly owned by the descendants of the Pedrazzi brothers. (Id., at 1.) The descendants of Paul Pedrazzi owned one third of the ranch, which includes Ella Moran, Milton Pedrazzi, and Robert Pedrazzi. (Id.) While the descendants of Alfred and Enos Pedrazzi owned two-thirds of the ranch, which includes Loren Cloninger, Debra Short, James Pedrazzi, David Pedrazzi, and Sandra Zuck. (Id.) The two properties were called the Pedrazzi Home Ranch (Home Ranch), and the Corey Ranch. (Id ., at 2.)

The Corey Ranch was historically used for grazing cattle. (Id.) The Home Ranch consisted of four different areas, called the Home Farmland, the Lower Hills, the Upper Hills, and the Paul Pedrazzi Home and Bull Field. (Id.)

David Pedrazzi and his family have been farming on the Home Farmland since the 1980’s pursuant to an agreement with some of the other owners. (Id., at 3.) David also paid rent to some of the other families, the value of which eventually came into contention. (Id.)

The Paul Pedrazzi Home and the Bull Field contained a house that the descendants of Paul Pedrazzi claimed as their ancestral home, called Paul’s House. (Id.) That part of the family had lived in Paul's House from 1938 until 1996. (Id.) In 2000, Ella Moran’s son, Michael Moran, moved into Paul’s House and lived there until 2010. (Id.)

The rest of the land in the Home Ranch contained several houses where various members of the family lived. (Id.) It also contained houses that were rented and buildings that were used as barns or sheds, among other uses. (Id.) The two parts of the family historically occupied separate parts of the land of the two ranches for grazing on a rent free basis. (Id., at 4.)

In 2007, the descendants of Alfred and Enos Pedrazzi sued the descendants of Paul Pedrazzi for partition. (Id.) The plaintiffs wished for the property to be partitioned in kind. (Id.) The defendants stated that they were the sole owner of Paul’s House and requested a partition by sale. (Id.) After attempts to solve the issues between the parties failed, in 2009 the court appointed a referee to be in charge of the parition. (Id.)

The referee conducted a four-day trial to decide on the manner of partition, during which he heard multiple evidence and testimony from both parties. (Id.) In his initial report, the referee stated that the appraisers for Paul’s House and the Bull Field needed to come to a consensus on the properties’ values. (Id ., at 5.) The referee recommended that parts of the Corey Ranch be given to the defendants based on their one-third interest. (Id.) Eventually, the referee decided to award Paul’s House and the Bull Field to the plaintiffs. (Id.)

The referee had another hearing in 2010. (Id.) After this hearing, he addressed some of the parties’ contentions, revaluing and redistributing the property according to his judgment, using the defendants’ proposal for one parcel and the plaintiffs’ proposal for another. (Id.) The referee also decided that there was not enough evidence for him to make a judgment on the property taxes that the plaintiffs wanted to be reimbursed for from the defendants. (Id.)

The plaintiffs filed a motion to confirm the referee’s report and to ask the court for a hearing on the unpaid taxes they believed were owed to them from the defendants. (Id., at 6.) The defendants opposed the motion, believing that the land distribution was unfair to them, and the referee’s recommendation essentially amounted to a forced sale of their ownership interest in the Home Ranch. (Id.) The defendants wanted the court to conduct its own investigation. (Id.)

After hearing arguments from the parties, the trial court confirmed the referee’s reports, stating that the referee’s recommendation was backed by substantial evidence. (Id., at 7.) The trial court also denied the plaintiffs’ claim for reimbursement of property taxes. (Id.) The defendants appealed, and the plaintiffs also filed a cross appeal concerning the issue of property taxes. (Id.) The Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s judgment on both counts. (Id.)

The defendants first argued that the trial court and referee “gave no regard for the defendants’ historical use of the parcels.” (Id., at 8.) Specifically, the defendants argued that the referee and the court ignored their historical use of Paul’s House, which was awarded to the plaintiffs. (Id., at 9.)

The Court of Appeal pointed to the referee’s finding that none of the defendants currently reside in Paul’s House and none of them planned to live there. (Id.) Paul’s House was in fact occupied by Michael Moran, son of one of the defendants, and this occupancy apparently led to potentially violent disputes. (Id.)

According to several witnesses, Michael and several others fired shots while workers in the field were in the line of fire. (Id.) Several workers threatened to quit. (Id.) Michael also apparently was involved in firearm vandalism of equipment and a building on the property. (Id.) There were several other incidents in which Michael threatened vendors, customers, and employees off the property which resulted in lost business. (Id.) The Court of Appeal held that the trial court properly confirmed the referee’s recommendation of giving Paul’s House to the plaintiffs. (Id., at 12.)

The defendants also tried to argue that a recreational easement the referee gave them for access to Upper Hills is illusory because they have no such access. (Id.) The Court of Appeal first held that the defendants forfeited this argument since they failed to raise it in trial court. (Id.) The Court of Appeal then concluded that even if defendants forfeited this argument, they could still access Upper Hills through a road in the Lower Hills. (Id ., at 13.)

The defendants then argued that the referee’s report on distributing Corey Farmland was unclear on what land was given to who, because there were no maps or legal descriptions. (Id ., at 14.) The Court of Appeal rejected this argument because a block map was attached to several of the Plaintiffs’ proposals and was even attached to one of the Defendants’ exhibits. (Id., at 16.) The Court of Appeal held the block map properly served as a map for showing how the land would be awarded. (Id.)

The defendants also contended that the referee and trial court improperly valued the Corey Farmland. (Id.) However, the defendants failed to provide the Court of Appeal with evidence in the record about how the trial court erred. (Id.) The defendants’ argument here failed. (Id.)

On the plaintiffs’ cross-appeal, the plaintiffs argued that they should be reimbursed for property taxes they paid that benefitted all of the co-tenants. (Id., at 17.) The Court of Appeal held that the evidence supported the trial court’s judgment. (Id.)

Milton Pedrazzi testified that there was an “unspoken” agreement among the families that the defendants would not have to pay taxes in exchange usage of the property. (Id.) Additionally, Milton stated that he proposed a property tax payment chart for the families, but nobody took action. (Id., at 18.) Based on all the evidence, the Court of Appeal upheld the trial judgment’s ruling on the plaintiffs’ taxes claim. (Id.)

Cloninger teaches how a partitions case can have many moving parts that can all come together in a strong case or cause the whole structure to come crashing down. Especially when a partition involves families, strong feelings can get in the way of rational thinking. Though it can be difficult, it is important to keep a level head and analyze the best way to support your legal case. Otherwise, you can make costly mistakes at trial that can compound into even costlier mistakes on appeal.

How Underwood Law Firm Can Help

As seen in Cloninger, partition law is full of intricacies that can catch an unwary party off guard. Courts may take into consideration certain aspects of the parties that most people normally wouldn’t regard while planning for a partition, such as their relationships with their families and other involved parties. It is important for parties to understand how events leading up to the lawsuit can affect their legal case.

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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