Are Cross-Complaints for Declaratory Relief Proper in a Partition Action?

While cross-complaints for declaratory relief in partition actions can be appropriate for clarifying the rights and duties of parties concerning the property in dispute, their utility may be limited as to ownership disputes since they are already at issue in every partition.

Cross-Complaints in a Partition Action

In California, Code of Civil Procedure § 428.10 as the authority for filing cross-complaints provides as follows:

A party against whom a cause of action has been asserted in a complaint or cross-complaint may file a cross-complaint setting forth either or both of the following:

(a) Any cause of action he has against any of the parties who filed the complaint or cross-complaint against him. Nothing in this subdivision authorizes the filing of a cross-complaint against the plaintiff in an action commenced under Title 7 (commencing with Section 1230.010) of Part 3;

(b) Any cause of action he has against a person alleged to be liable thereon, whether or not such person is already a party to the action, if the cause of action asserted in his cross-complaint (1) arises out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences as the cause brought against him or (2) asserts a claim, right, or interest in the property or controversy which is the subject of the cause brought against him.

Code of Civil Procedure § 428.10

Seeking Declaratory Relief in a Partition Action

When seeking declaratory relief, California Code of Civil Procedure § 1060 delineates that:

Any person interested under a written instrument, excluding a will or a trust, or under a contract, or who desires a declaration of his or her rights or duties with respect to another, or in respect to, in, over or upon property, or with respect to the location of the natural channel of a watercourse, may, in cases of actual controversy relating to the legal rights and duties of the respective parties, bring an original action or cross-complaint in the superior court for a declaration of his or her rights and duties in the premises, including a determination of any question of construction or validity arising under the instrument or contract. He or she may ask for a declaration of rights or duties, either alone or with other relief; and the court may make a binding declaration of these rights or duties, whether or not further relief is or could be claimed at the time. The declaration may be either affirmative or negative in form and effect, and the declaration shall have the force of a final judgment. The declaration may be had before there has been any breach of the obligation in respect to which said declaration is sought.

California Code of Civil Procedure § 1060

A California court has advised that, “[t]he declaratory relief statute should not be used for the purpose of anticipating and determining an issue which can be determined in the main action. The object of the statute is to afford a new form of relief where needed and not to furnish a litigant with a second cause of action for the determination of identical issues.”[1]Hood v. Superior Ct. (1995) 33 Cal.App.4th 319, 324.

Indeed, the court’s ability to entertain declaratory relief actions is discretionary, and can be denied to “avoid duplicative litigation.”[2]“The Supreme Court has provided guidance for the exercise of the district court’s discretionary decision whether to entertain declaratory relief.” Pineda v. Sun Valley Packing, … Continue reading

Ownership is Already in Dispute in Every Partition Action

Notably, partition actions already include a finding as to ownership as follows: “To the extent necessary to grant the relief sought or other appropriate relief, the court shall upon adequate proof ascertain the state of the title to the property.” [3]California Code of Civil Procedure 872.620

Specifically, in a partition action, “[t]he interests of the parties, plaintiff as well as defendant, may be put in issue, tried, and determined in the action.”[4]California Code of Civil Procedure 872.610 “The section makes clear that the court may resolve any title disputes in the course of the proceeding where placed in issue by answer of a defendant or cross-defendant.”[5]California Code of Civil Procedure 872.610, Law Revision Comment

Indeed, in a partition, the court “may enter a judgment that one of the parties is the owner in fee of the land described in the complaint.” 48 Cal. Jur. 3d Partition § 14 (citing Livermore v. Webb (1880) 56 Cal. 489).

Stated simply, the relative titles and interests of the parties to an action for partition may be litigated and determined in the partition action.[6]Morenhout v. Higuera (1867) 32 Cal. 289 Effectively, a partition lawsuit can incorporate the same conclusions found in a quiet title action.

Talkov Law’s Partition Attorneys Can Help

With Talkov Law, you gain access to California’s foremost experts in partition actions, equipped to guide you through the procedural hurdles of a partition action. Whether you are initiating a partition action or defending against one, our dedicated team is prepared to handle your case with the expertise and diligence it deserves. With seven, full time partition lawyers, Talkov Law is the #1 partition law firm in California and has handled over 300 partition actions throughout California. For a free consultation, call (844) 4-TALKOV (825568) or reach out online today.

References

References
1 Hood v. Superior Ct. (1995) 33 Cal.App.4th 319, 324.
2 “The Supreme Court has provided guidance for the exercise of the district court’s discretionary decision whether to entertain declaratory relief.” Pineda v. Sun Valley Packing, L.P., No. 120CV00169DADEPG, 2022 WL 1308141, at *6. In Pineda, the Supreme Court case dictated that “the court should: ‘avoid duplicative litigation’; ‘discourage litigants from filing declaratory actions as a means of forum shopping’; and [consider]. . . whether the declaratory action will settle all aspects of the controversy; whether the declaratory action will serve a useful purpose in clarifying the legal relations at issue; whether the declaratory action is being sought merely for the purposes of procedural fencing or to obtain a ‘res judicata’ advantage; or whether the use of a declaratory action will result in entanglement between the federal and state court systems.” Pineda v. Sun Valley Packing, L.P., No. 120CV00169DADEPG, 2022 WL 1308141, at *6.
3 California Code of Civil Procedure 872.620
4 California Code of Civil Procedure 872.610
5 California Code of Civil Procedure 872.610, Law Revision Comment
6 Morenhout v. Higuera (1867) 32 Cal. 289
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