Simi Valley Partition Lawyers

Simi Valley is a City in Los Angeles County, California roughly 40 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Simi Valley is surrounded by the Santa Susana Mountains and the Simi Hills, west of the San Fernando Valley, and northeast of the Conejo Valley. Simi Valley is home to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, where the former President was buried. According to Redfin, in April 2023, Simi Valley home prices were down 6.5% compared to last year, selling for a median price of $789K. On average, homes in Simi Valley sell after 35 days on the market compared to 30 days last year. There were 90 homes sold in April this year, down from 114 last year. Often, Simi Valley Partition Lawyers find that joint ownership problems fall into four broad categories:

  • Father/Mother-Son/Daughter tenants in common in real estate;
  • Brother-Sister shared tenants in common in real estate;
  • Investor-Investor shared tenants in common in real estate; and
  • Non-Married Partners shared tenants in common in real estate;
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 Simi Valley 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 Simi 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 Simi Valley 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 Simi Valley Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

A Partition Case Study: Ryckman v. Drexler

In a lawsuit, the court is the ultimate legal authority on your case. That does not mean, however, that the courts have free reign to do whatever they wish. Courts have very strict rules and procedures that must be followed in order for a judgment to be considered valid.

The rules are not just for the courts, but for the parties as well. It is important for parties to be knowledgeable about such procedures so that the parties can follow the rules themselves. Otherwise, there are severe consequences. One common punishment for a party not following procedure is waiving certain rights in litigation.

The property at issue in Ryckman v. Drexler (2023) Cal.App.Unpub. WL 3141255, was an office building owned by David Drexler, Laura Drexler, Gerald Owen Ryckman, and Judith Lorraine Ryckman. (Id., at 1.) In November 2015, the Drexlers sued the Ryckmans for partition. (Id.) In March 2016, the Ryckmans filed a cross-complaint. (Id., at 2.)

In 2017, during the partition lawsuit, the Ryckmans failed to provide satisfactory court-ordered responses to some of the Drexlers’ interrogatories. (Id.) As a result, the trial court imposed evidentiary sanctions on the Ryckmans. (Id.) The sanctions ordered that the Ryckmans were prohibited from bringing evidence at trial beyond what was stated in their interrogatory responses. (Id.) This included a provision prohibiting evidence that the Ryckmans were owed any rent or profits from the property. (Id.)

In March 2019, the Ryckmans motioned to strike the rent or profits provision of the sanctions order. (Id.) The Ryckmans claimed that none of the interrogatories related to entitlement to rents and profits. (Id.) In April 2019, the trial court denied the Ryckmans’ motion to strike. (Id., at 3.)

In September 2019, the Ryckmans motioned to vacate the sanctions order, arguing that the sanctions order was fraudulent. (Id.) The Ryckmans contended that the previous judge forged the rent and profits provision into the sanctions order, so the order was void. (Id.) In October 2019, the trial court found that the sanctions order was not void. (Id.)

In August 2019, the Drexlers motioned to exclude evidence in accordance with the sanctions order, which the trial court granted in June 2021. (Id.) Also in June 2021, the Ryckmans began another lawsuit against both the Drexlers and their attorney, seeking for the trial court to not enforce the sanctions order. (Id.)

In July 2021, the Drexlers and their attorney motioned to declare the Ryckmans as vexatious litigants. (Id., at 4.) They also filed an anti-SLAPP motion, or a special motion to strike, the Ryckmans’ complaint. (Id.)

In August 2021, the Ryckmans filed an ex parte application, asking the court to strike the Drexlers’ and their attorney’s anti-SLAPP motion. (Id.) The Ryckmans continued to argue that the sanctions order was forged and void. (Id.) The trial court denied the Ryckmans’ ex parte application. (Id.) Later, the Ryckmans requested dismissal, which the trial court granted for the entire secondary action. (Id.)

In September 2021, the trial court entered judgment for partition in the Drexlers’ favor. (Id., at 3.) For the Ryckmans’ cross-complaint, the trial court entered judgment against the Ryckmans. (Id.)

In October 2021, the Drexlers and their attorney motioned for entry of judgment and award of attorney fees for their anti-SLAPP motion. (Id., at 4.) In January 2022, the trial court granted the motion for attorney fees. (Id., at 5.)

In February 2022, the Drexlers and their attorney requested the trial court grant their proposed judgment. (Id.) The proposed judgment stated that the Drexlers and their attorney’s anti-SLAPP motion had merit, and that they were entitled to attorney fees paid by the Ryckmans. (Id.) The trial court entered the proposed judgment. (Id.) The Ryckmans appealed, and the Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s judgment (Id.)

The Ryckmans first argued that the trial court did not have jurisdiction to award attorney fees to the Drexlers and their attorney because the Ryckmans voluntarily dismissed the secondary action prior to the hearing on the anti-SLAPP and attorney fees motions. (Id.)

The case law in California states that, after a court files a request to voluntarily dismiss a matter, the court still retains jurisdiction to award attorney fees. (Id.) Several court cases in California ruled that a determination on an anti-SLAPP motion is necessary for attorney fees to be awarded, even after a voluntary dismissal. (Id.) The Court of Appeal concluded that the trial court had jurisdiction to award attorney fees after the Ryckmans’ voluntary dismissal. (Id.)

The Ryckmans next argued that the trial court should have ruled on the merits of the anti-SLAPP motion before awarding attorney fees. (Id., at 6.) At the time the Drexlers made the anti-SLAPP motion and requested attorney fees, the Ryckmans did not file an opposition or appear at the hearings for the motions. (Id.) The Court of Appeal ruled that the Ryckmans waived this argument because they failed to timely object to the motions. (Id.)

The Court of Appeal also concluded that the Ryckmans failed to demonstrate prejudicial error. (Id.) The Ryckmans claimed that the trial court never even considered the merits of the anti-SLAPP motion because the trial court did not have hearings on that motion after the Ryckmans were dismissed. (Id.) The trial court, however, did write in its judgment that the anti-SLAPP motion was meritorious. (Id.) The Court of Appeal ruled that the trial court applied the correct standard in ruling on the anti-SLAPP motion. (Id.)

The Court of Appeal also held that, even if the trial court did not rule on the merits of the anti-SLAPP motion, the error was harmless. (Id., at 7.) The Drexlers and their attorney made the statements that were the subject of the anti-SLAPP motion in a judicial proceeding, which would fall under statements protected by the law. (Id.)

The Ryckmans argued that the sanctions order was void. (Id.) The Ryckmans, however, provided no evidence for this contention. (Id., at 8.) The Court of Appeal rejected this argument and affirmed the trial court’s judgment. (Id.)

Ryckman demonstrates the importance of following court procedures and using legal authorities. The Ryckmans repeatedly argued that the sanctions order was void but had no legal basis for this argument. On top of that, they failed to properly oppose the anti-SLAPP motion which led them to forfeit arguments on appeal. This is an illustration of how certain actions at trial can come around to bite you on appeal.

How Underwood Law Firm Can Help

As seen in Ryckman, judgment in a lawsuit can often turn on the most minute of procedural details. Courts necessarily adhere strictly to judicial rules, and they expect parties to do the same. Failing to follow procedure or making frivolous arguments will never bode well for one’s 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.

Learn more here.

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