Napa Partition Lawyers

Napa is the situated in the northern region of the Bay Area, and part wine country. Napa wines earned their fame in the 1976 Judgment of Paris when a panel of French judges voted two as the top white and red, beating out the French competitors. Shockingly, Napa Valley is one of the smallest wine-growing regions in the United States, with only 3.25 percent of all U.S. wines coming from Napa Valley. Most of the city’s wineries are small, family-owned properties, making fewer than 10,000 cases of wine annually. There are at least four different ways where a Napa partition action may be appropriate:

  • 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.

Historically, the term "partition" comes from the basic word to break into "parts" as in physically dividing real estate in half. For example, if two siblings inherited ten acres of farmland, the property could historically be divided into five acres a piece for each of them. As most people now live in single-family homes, which cannot simply be "split in half," courts will instead order that the property be sold and the proceeds, or equity, be "split in half."

What Are the Steps in a Partition Action?

Broadly, a partition action has only relatively simple steps. First, a party files a lawsuit to establish their rights to the property and desire to sell the property. Second, the court determines that the property should be sold, and appoints an appraiser to appraise the property and offer the other owner the opportunity to buy out the interest. Third, if the other fails to do so, then the Court appoints a “partition referee” (who is frequently a licensed Realtor) to sell the property, and they market and sell the property and deposits the proceeds into a trust account. Fourth, the court determines how much each party should receive from the proceeds, which should include addressing offsets and claims for contribution in an “accounting.” A Napa partition lawyer will be familiar with this process.

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. A Napa partition lawyer will be available to provide advice on these important topics.

Can a Partition Action Be Settled Through Mediation or Negotiation?

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 Napa partition lawyer will be familiar with this process.

A Partition Case Study: Kaut v. Kelsey

Kaut v. Kelsey, Cal.App.Unpub. (2014) WL 495497, is an example of a party not only failing to meet the proper rules and standards of an appeals case, but also failing to argue using suitable evidence or legal authorities. Having a case go through appeals is a timely and costly process, so one must ensure that the appeal is airtight. It is not a good idea to waste a court's time on an appeal that is legally sloppy and questionable.

The property at issue in Kaut included a duplex and a single-family residence. (Id., at 1.) Kelsey and her four other siblings each had a one-fifth interest in the property. (Id.) Kelsey’s daughter, Lorrie Cramer, and Kelsey’s son-in-law, Brian Cramer, later paid $26,000 to the other siblings for their ownership interests and acquired the property. (Id.) Kelsey transferred her one-fifth interest to the Cramers as well, but she was not paid the $26,000. (Id.)

Years later, the Cramers divorced. (Id.) Kelsey brought a quiet title action against the Cramers, which is a lawsuit brought for determining who the rightful owner of the property is. (Id.) Before the Cramers’ divorce was finalized, Brian Cramer transferred his interest in the property to Kelsey in April 2003. (Id.) Later, Lorrie Cramer made a cross-complaint in this lawsuit, seeking a partition against Kelsey. (Id.)

The trial court found that Kelsey should have been paid $26,000 when she transferred her interest to the Cramers, but Brian Cramer’s interest that was transferred to Kelsey was worth much more than that amount, so Kelsey was not awarded anything. (Id.) The court also concluded that Kelsey did not have any ownership interest or life estate in the property from 1998 when she transferred her interest to the Cramers until April 2003 when Brian Cramer transferred his interest to Kelsey. (Id.) The court also held that Lorrie Cramer should be awarded half of the rental income from April 2003 up to the present but concluded that nothing should be awarded to her on the cross-complaint. (Id.)

In September 2004, Lorrie Cramer transferred her interest in the property to her then-boyfriend, William Kaut. (Id.) She also assigned Kaut her interest in the rental income in the property. (Id.) Kelsey had continued to live on the property, renting and managing the units where she was not residing. (Id.) Kaut demanded rental income from Kelsey, but Kelsey never paid Kaut. (Id.)

Kaut sued Kelsey for partition in December 2008. (Id., at 2.) Kelsey filed a cross-complaint against Kaut, arguing that she had a life estate in the property. (Id.) She later also contended that she acquired title to the property through adverse possession. (Id.)

The trial court concluded that Kelsey and Kaut each owned half of the property and Kelsey owed Kaut $7,000 for half of the property’s net income that Kelsey did not pay him. (Id.) The trial court also held that Kaut should receive half of the property’s net income going forward. (Id.) The trial court entered an interlocutory judgment ordering a partition by sale. (Id.) Kelsey appealed, and the Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s judgment. (Id.)

Kaut is a cautionary tale about what happens when a party is not properly prepared for an appeal. Appeals courts are generally hesitant to overturn a trial court’s judgment, and so the onus is on the appealing party to prove the trial court erred. Since the appealing party has the burden of proof, that party must be well-equipped with convincing legal arguments backed by strong support to stand a chance on appeal. However, parties not prepared to meet their burden will quickly see their cases fall apart.

Kaut argued that Kelsey’s appeal should be dismissed because her opening brief to the Court of Appeal was deficient. (Id., at 3.) One deficiency was the California Rules of the Court required Kelsey to explain why the order she is appealing is appealable, which she failed to do. (Id.) However, the Court of Appeal stated that the order was appealable because it was an interlocutory judgment ordering a partition, and so decided to disregard Kelsey’s ignoring of this rule. (Id.)

For Kelsey’s arguments of her appeal, she first argued that Kaut’s partition should have been barred by res judicata, also known as claim preclusion. (Id.) Kelsey contended that in her earlier quiet title action against the Cramers, the trial court held that no award should be given for Lorrie Cramer’s cross-complaint for partition, which would bar Kaut’s partition claim. (Id.) Unfortunately, Kelsey’s briefing confused claim preclusion with issue preclusion, which is an entirely different legal doctrine. (Id., at 4.) The Court of Appeal rejected Kelsey’s claim preclusion argument. (Id.)

Kelsey next argued that she had a life estate in the property through a resulting trust when she transferred her one-fifth interest to the Cramers, and that her life estate barred a partition by sale. (Id., at 5.) A resulting trust is when one person pays for the property while another person takes the title. (Id.) In this case though, the Cramers used their own money to purchase the siblings’ interests in the property, so the Court of Appeal held that there was no resulting trust for Kelsey through which she could get a life estate. (Id., at 6.) The Court of Appeal dismissed Kelsey’s life estate argument. (Id.)

Kelsey then argued that she acquired either full title or a life estate to the property through adverse possession, which would prevent Kaut’s partition. (Id.) However, Kelsey cited nothing to support her claim that a life estate can even be acquired through adverse possession. (Id.) She also cited no evidence that she satisfied all the required elements for adverse possession. (Id., at 7.) Kelsey’s adverse possession argument failed before the Court of Appeal. (Id.)

Finally, Kelsey argued that the trial court should not have ordered her to pay half of the receiver’s fees and costs. (Id.) Though the trial court’s judgment itself did not mention a receiver, its statement of decision directed the parties to split the fees and costs. (Id.) The Court of Appeal held that since the split of receiver’s fees and costs was in the statement of decision and not given effect in the final judgment, Kelsey cannot appeal this issue. (Id.)

Kaut is instructive in how to completely waste time and money on an appeal. Kelsey not only failed to comply with the basic standards and rules of courts in California, but she neglected to support her arguments with any legal authorities or evidence from the record. Due to her opening brief being deficient, the Court of Appeal did not even have to hear her arguments if they did not want to.

How Underwood Law Firm Can Help

As seen in Kaut, it is important to present a legal argument that meets the basic requirements of being supported by legal authorities and evidence. This does not apply just to partition law, but to all lawsuits. Courts will not appreciate it if a party fails to meet the standards and rules required to stand at the starting line. It is important for parties to understand what their burden is and how to make arguments that will pass that basic checkpoint.

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.

Learn more here.

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