San Fernando Partition Lawyers

The San Fernando Valley is part of the City of Los Angeles, as well as the unincorporated cities of Burbank, Calabasas, Glendale, Hidden Hills, and San Fernando. The valley is well known for its iconic film studios including Warner Bros. Studios and Walt Disney Studios. The first Spanish land grant in the San Fernando Valley was called “Rancho Encino” in the northern part of the San Fernando Valley. In April 2023, San Fernando home prices were up 1.4% compared to last year, selling for a median price of $730K. On average, homes in San Fernando sell after 12 days on the market compared to 15 days last year. There were 1 homes sold in April this year, down from 9 last year. Generally, the best Sacramento 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 San Fernando Valley Partition Lawyer will be able to share information on this process with you.

What are the Steps in a Partition Action?

The first step to a partition action is to petition the court for a partition of the property. In order to petition the court, a litigant must file a legally valid complaint for partition. As noted above, the litigant must be a co-owner of the subject property in order to have standing to file a partition complaint. (CCP § 872.210.)

Second, after filing the complaint, a litigant must then obtain an interlocutory judgment of partition in the correct procedural form. An interlocutory judgment is a temporary judgment ordered before the close of trial during the litigation of the case. Under Code of Civil Procedure section 872.720, the court must enter an interlocutory judgment when the court finds that the Plaintiff in a partition action is entitled to a partition. In order to obtain an interlocutory judgment, a litigant must establish their right to partition by proving they have an ownership interest in the subject property.

Third, if the court finds that a litigant has an ownership interest in the subject property and grants an interlocutory judgment of partition, the court will then appoint a partition referee to oversee the partition of the property. A partition referee is a neutral third party appointed by and accountable to the court to assist the court in matters related to partition actions. (CCP § 873.510.)

Fourth, Once the referee has provided the court with their report, the court must determine the proper method for partitioning the subject property. The court determines the proper method of partition by determining which method of partition is more equitable.

Fifth, once the court has determined the proper method of partitioning the subject property, the court will then order a final judgment of partition, and the property will be partitioned according to the proper method determined by the court. If the court orders a partition by sale, there must be an accounting to distribute the proceeds of the sale in strict compliance with the requirements of the evidentiary code. A top San Fernando Valley Partition lawyer will be familiar with the process.

Can You Recover 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 San Fernando Valley Partition Attorney will be able to give you good advice on these issues.

What are Claims for “Contribution”?

An action for partition may include an accounting so that the respective rights of the parties can be adjusted and settled. (Lazzarevich v. Lazzarevich, (1952) 39 Cal. 2d 48, 50–51.) A cotenant who has advanced fund to pay common expenses is entitled to reimbursement from the sale proceeds before the balance is divided and distributed to the cotenants. (Southern Adjustment Bureau, Inc. v. Nelson (1964) 230 Cal. App. 2d 539, 541.) A cotenant out of possession can require the cotenant in possession to account for rents and profits or other compensatory adjustment in the division of sale proceeds. (CCP § 872.430.) An experienced San Fernando Valley Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

A Partition Case Study: Zhang v. Li (2021)

A person can be deemed a “vexatious litigant” when, after a litigation has been determined, they repeatedly relitigate or attempt to relitigate the validity of the determination against the same defendant to whom the litigation was finally determined. A person can also be a vexatious litigant when they repeatedly file unmeritorious motions, pleadings, or other papers that are frivolous. (§ 391, subds. (b)-(d).) Code of Civil Procedure section 391.7 authorizes a court to enter a prefiling order prohibiting a vexatious litigant from filing any new litigation. The following paragraphs illustrate how a litigant who opposes a partition order without merit can be categorized as a vexatious litigant as shown in Zhang v. Li (2021) 2021 WL 5979121.

In Zhang v. Li, attorney James Li represented Michael Chui in a quiet title action and extended to Chui a line of credit to finance the litigation that was secured by giving Li five deeds of trust encumbering the subject property. On October 6, 2010, the trial court entered judgment in the quiet title action and ordered partition of the property by sale, but the proceeds were insufficient to cover Li's attorney fees. Li tried to vacate the judgment, but both the trial court and Second District Court of Appeal affirmed on the grounds that Li had no cognizable interest in being paid for his legal services specifically from the judgment proceeds.

The property could not be sold because Li refused to release his interest in Chui's 50 percent share until his legal fees were paid. In July 2012, the trial court issued reconveyance deeds to transfer Li's five trust deeds back to Chui so the sale could be completed. The property was then sold to David Zhang. Zhang intervened in the action and in August 2016, the trial court declared that Li had no interest in the property per the July 2012 order while Zhang held full title. Li responded with a motion to vacate the August 2016 judgment on the grounds that the July 2012 order was void. The trial court denied the motion, Li appealed, and the Second District Court of Appeal affirmed the August 2016 judgement on April 9, 2019.

The Court of Appeal reasoned that the trial court had jurisdiction to issue the July 2012 order to effectuate the October 2010 partition judgment. The Court of Appeal relied on section 872.120 which confers continuing jurisdiction that authorizes the court in a partition action to determine all motions and make any orders necessary to effectuate its partition order before the sale of the property commences.

The Appellate Court noted:

“It is fundamental in the nature of partition proceedings that court orders concerning sale of property and distribution of proceeds must be effectuated after judgment is entered, sometimes long after. Such factors as the condition of the property and uncertainties in the real estate market make the timing of sale uncertain, and it is not uncommon for matters to drag on for months or even years. A trial court may expressly reserve jurisdiction to act in the event the parties fail to comply with provisions of the judgment, but it need not do so, as Code of Civil Procedure section 872.120 (section 872.120) confers continuing jurisdiction by authorizing the court in a partition action to ‘hear and determine all motions, reports, and accounts and ... make any decrees and orders necessary or incidental to carrying out the purposes of [section 872.010 et seq.] and to effectuating its decrees and orders.’ The Law Revision Commission noted that ‘while partition actions in California are a creature of statute [citation], they are nonetheless equitable in nature [citation], and the statutory provisions are to be liberally construed in aid of the court's jurisdiction.’ (Cal. Law Revision Com. com., Deering's Ann. Code Civ. Proc. (1996 ed.) foll. § 872.120, p. 193.)

“’Where equity has acquired jurisdiction for one purpose, it will retain that jurisdiction to the final adjustment of all differences between the parties arising from the causes of action alleged.’ [Citation.]

“Here, section 872.120 vested the trial court with jurisdiction to issue orders, including the July 2012 order, necessary to effectuate its October 2010 partition judgment.” (Zhang v. Li (Feb. 5, 2019, B279399) [nonpub. opn.], fn. omitted (Li II).)

Before the April 9, 2019 judgment, Li filed a dozen motions on the grounds that the court lacked jurisdiction to divest his interest in the property including: three motions to vacate the August 2016 quiet title judgment that were later withdrawn or dismissed; three foreclosure proceedings against Zhang that were voluntarily dismissed; and an additional fourth motion filed after the April 9, 2019 ruling to vacate the judgment. Zhang moved to declare Li a vexatious litigant and the trial court agreed and issued a prefiling order against him on the grounds that Li repeatedly filed unmeritorious and frivolous motions and pleadings. Li appealed on the grounds that his motion to vacate the prefiling order was erroneously denied.

The Second District Court of Appeal granted review. Li contended that the trial court had no jurisdiction to consider Zhang's vexatious litigant motion that was filed after the April 9, 2019 order, because the order finalized the action. The Court of Appeal disagreed. The Court of Appeal relied on section 391.7 that authorizes a court to enter a prefiling order prohibiting a vexatious litigant from filing any new litigation and therefore operates beyond any pending case citing Shalant v. Girardi, (2011), 51 Cal.4th at p. 1170. Therefore, the trial court had jurisdiction to declare Li a vexatious litigant outside any pending litigation regardless of the April 9, 2019 order.

Li then argued that the April 9, 2019 order was not a pending litigation in which a prefiling order was permitted. Li claimed that section 391.7 relief is supplemental to section 391.1 relief as in there must be section 391.1 relief before section 391.7 relief can be granted. Section 391.1 states that a court may require a vexatious litigant plaintiff to furnish security in litigation pending in any court of this state. Li argued that because the April 9, 2019 order was finalized, and not pending, section 391.1 relief is not permitted therefore there is no foundation for a section 391.7 filing order. The Court of Appeal rejected that argument because they interpreted section 391.7 relief as “supplemental” to section 391.1 as in section 391.7 is independent of any other relief related to a vexatious litigant as opposed to dependent on section 391.1.

Lastly, Li argued the trial court abused its discretion in finding him to be a vexatious litigant. The Court of Appeal noted that while judges and lawyers can make mistakes, vexatious litigation is about the refusal of correction and, more broadly, a disregard for the legal system. Citing Li’s five unmeritorious actions that repeatedly relitigated the validity of the court's determination regarding Zhang's ownership, the Court of Appeal affirmed the prefiling order. The Court found ample support for the trial court to conclude that Li was a vexatious litigant.

How the Underwood Law Firm Can Help

The consent of all parties who have a property interest are needed before a property can be partitioned. A person with an interest in a property can also appeal a partition order. As a result, it’s not uncommon for there to be months or years in between a partition order from the court and the completion of property sale with a distribution of proceeds. As seen in Zhang v. Li, a vexatious litigant can file a multitude of appeals before a prefiling order is issued to halt additional litigation and begin the partition sale of a property. If you are concerned about the possibility of a vexatious litigant in a partition proceeding or need to defend a partition action, you may benefit from good legal advice on the topic. Please contact Underwood Law Firm, P.C., for an initial consultation.

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