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Sutter County Partition Lawyers

Sutter County was one of the original counties of California, created in 1850 at the time of statehood. Parts of the county were given to Placer County in 1852. Sutter County is named after John Augustus Sutter, a German native born to Swiss parents. He was one of the first Europeans to recognize the Sacramento Valley for its potential in agriculture. Today Sutter County is home to 99,633 residents. According to Redfin, In June 2023, Sutter County home prices were down 4.7% compared to last year, selling for a median price of $423K. On average, homes in Sutter County sell after 13 days on the market compared to 14 days last year. There were 64 homes sold in June this year, up from 64 last year. As a town with great historical roots, residents of Sutter County often own property with others due to inheritance, which can lead to disputes between co-owners. There are at least four different instances where an Sutter County Partition Lawyer can be helpful:

  • Boyfriend-Girlfriend co-ownership of property;
  • Sibling-Sibling co-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 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." The best Sutter County Partition Lawyer will be able to share information on this process with you.

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. A top Sutter County Partition lawyer will be familiar with the process.

Can You Recover Attorneys’ Fees in a Partition Action?

Code of Civil Procedure, section 874.010 states that “[t]he costs of partition include: (a) [r]easonable attorney’s fees incurred or paid by a party for the common benefit.” 

Interestingly, the costs of partition can also include reasonable expenses necessarily incurred by a party for the common benefit in prosecuting or defending other actions or proceedings for the protection, confirmation, or perfection of title, setting the boundaries, or making a survey of the property. (CCP § 874.020.) 

That attorney’s fees are considered “costs” associated with a partition action is important because Section 874.040 goes on to state the “court shall apportion the costs of partition among the parties in proportion to their interests or make such other apportionment as may be equitable.” A knowledgeable Sutter County 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 Sutter County Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

Partition Case Study: Jamison v. Jamison (2011)

Litigation can be a complex process where it is easy to miss the forest for the trees. So many isolated situations must be managed individually, it can be difficult to keep the big picture in mind. Doing so, however, is necessary in properly preparing one’s case.

Courts will always consider the big picture when examining partition cases. This is a necessary aspect of legal reasoning parties must keep in mind when presenting their arguments. This aspect is more vital to a lawsuit then it may initially seem.

What Led This Case to the Court of Appeal?

The property at issue in Jamison v. Jamison (2011) Cal.App.Unpub. WL 300193 was part of a cattle ranch run by the Jamison family. (Id., at 1.) The family members were brothers William O. Jamison and John O. Jamison, their mother Betty F. Jamison, and John's sons Sean O. Jamison and Bryan O. Jamison. (Id.) The property was referred to as two ranches, the upper ranch and the lower ranch. (Id.)

As the years passed, the lower ranch was partitioned in kind and the upper ranch was partitioned by sale. (Id.) Several parcels of the upper ranch were also condemned by the Minarets School District to build a new high school. (Id.)

The trial court ordered some of the parcels of the upper ranch to be first offered for sale to John and William. (Id.) Eventually, John bought all of William’s interest in the property. (Id.)

John, William, and Betty later entered into a settlement agreement regarding the condemned property. (Id., at 2.) Under the agreement, John came to own Betty’s ownership interest in addition to his own. (Id.) William owned the remaining interest in the property. (Id.)

During the condemnation action, John defended the parties, since he was a licensed attorney. (Id.) Afterwards, Minarets agreed to pay more compensation money for the condemnation action. (Id.) Unfortunately, John did not give Betty her share of the compensation money, and Betty sued John to get her share back. (Id.) The trial court ordered John to pay Betty the amount for her share plus interest, which he dId. (Id.)

Since the trial court ordered the lower ranch to be distributed in kind, the trial court held a hearing to determine how to equalize any imbalances in the distribution. (Id.) The trial court then ordered William to pay John about 1.4 million dollars to equalize the distribution. (Id.)

After the trial court’s ruling, the parties met and attempted to resolve the various issues surrounding their ownership claims. (Id.) Though the parties could not come to an agreement on ownership interest, they exchanged the deeds needed to transfer the land for the upper and lower ranches. (Id.)

The parties then filed briefs asserting claims on several issues in the lawsuit. (Id.) John, William, and Betty each sought amounts of interest for payments they had made to each other. (Id.) John also argued that he should be compensated for his legal work defending the condemnation action which benefitted Betty and William. (Id.)

The trial court concluded that none of the parties were entitled to interest amounts. (Id., at 3.) The trial court also ruled that John was not entitled to compensation for his attorney work. (Id.) John appealed, while Betty and William cross-appealed. (Id.) The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment. (Id.)

Jamison’s Holding: Looking at the Bigger Picture

Jamison is a cautionary tale of failing to look at the big picture. The case in Jamison was a confusing mess of multiple claims, lawsuits, payments, and deals. Oftentimes, the parties in Jamison argued using only their viewpoint, and failed to grasp a broader view of the litigation.

John argued he was entitled to the interest on the award for equalizing the partition in kind distribution. (Id.) The trial court ruled on this issue in an order filed on October 23, 2008. (Id.) Rather than appeal the October order, John appealed from an order filed June 12, 2009. (Id.) Since the June order did not consider the issue of interest owed to John, the Court of Appeal held that it did not have jurisdiction to decide this issue. (Id.)

Next, John argued that he should be compensated for performing legal services in defending the property from Minarets’ condemnation action. (Id.) The trial court ruled John was not entitled to awards for his service because John acted as his own attorney and did not pay money for his own services, and John did not provide sufficient evidence of his attorney work’s quality and quantity. (Id., at 4.) Furthermore, the trial court concluded it would be difficult to figure out if John acted for himself or for the parties’ common benefit. (Id.)

Usually, the costs of partition are distributed among the parties in proportion to their corresponding ownership interests. (Id.) These costs include attorney’s fees. (Id.) John, however, argued that he is not seeking attorney’s fees, but equitable relief because Betty and William were unjustly enriched with John’s services. (Id.)

For equitable relief, the trial court’s orders are assumed correct on appeal unless there is a clear miscarriage of justice. (Id.) The Court of Appeal held that John did not provide enough evidence to support his claim that he was entitled to attorney fees. (Id., at 5.)

Betty argued that she was entitled to interest on her share of the condemnation proceeds that John paid her. (Id.) Betty argued that when a sale between John and William was rescinded, William had to return the purchase price with interest back to John. (Id.) Betty claimed that her situation was similar. (Id., at 5.)

The trial court had ruled that Betty benefitted from John’s effort since she received an award much bigger than the initial offer. (Id., at 6.) The trial court concluded that, due to this, John did not have to pay Betty interest, and the Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court’s reasoning. (Id.)

Similarly, William argued that he was entitled to interest amounts from John’s court-ordered payment to equalize the distribution. (Id.) William also relied on the rescinded sale where he paid interest to John. (Id.)

The trial court ruled that John did not owe interest to William because the interest in that transaction was to restore parties back to their original positions. (Id.) Additionally, the trial court held that the partition by sale was part of a larger partition action and the parties’ obligations were not fully known. (Id.) The Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court and fully affirmed the trial court’s order. (Id., at 7.)

Jamison shows how complicated partitions can be. The court must take into account the partition as a whole and look at the bigger picture. The court’s rulings cannot view situations in isolation but look at the partition lawsuit as a whole. Sometimes, the court must also account for events outside of the partition lawsuit that may affect the property.

How Underwood Law Firm Can Help You

As seen in Jamison, parties must be prepared to look at the big picture in partition litigation. This can be difficult and complex, especially with multiple owners and potentially multiple claims aside from partition. It is, however, necessary in order to reach the best possible result.

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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