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Ford v. Ford

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

September 4, 2014


Submitted June 12, 2014

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (CAR-1374-12). (Hon. Craig Iscoe, Trial Judge).

James M. Loots was on the brief for appellant.

Darryl F. White was on the brief for appellees.

Carrie Frank was on the brief for intervenor.

Before BECKWITH and EASTERLY, Associate Judges, and NEBEKER, Senior Judge.


Page 1009

Nebeker, Senior Judge

Appellant Willa V. Ford challenges the trial court's order of a partition sale for the property located at 1801 Massachusetts Avenue, Southeast, with the proceeds to be distributed evenly among Willa Ford and her four siblings, who include the three appellees.[1] On appeal, Willa Ford argues that the trial court erred in granting partition and in awarding appellees proceeds from the sale because the evidence was insufficient to demonstrate that all of the appellees were owners of the property. We affirm the order of a partition sale, but reverse the order of distribution and remand for a redetermination of who owns the property.

The trial court issued a default judgment against Willa Ford that was docketed on September 21, 2012, because she failed to respond to the complaint in the time specified. She argued for the first time at an ex parte proof hearing held on October 19, 2012, that partition should not be granted. At the hearing, however, Willa Ford also conceded that her brother's name, Frederick Ford, was on the deed to the property in addition to her name. Accordingly, because Willa Ford was not the sole owner of the property, the court did not err in ordering partition.[2]

Page 1010

See Arthur v. District of Columbia, 857 A.2d 473, 487 (D.C. 2004) ( " [A] cotenant enjoys a unilateral right of partition." ).

The trial court's finding that all five siblings owned the property, however, was not supported by sufficient evidence in the record. In determining ownership, the trial judge relied upon two documents: (1) a 2007 " Real Property Recordation and Transfer Tax Form FP 7/C," which listed all siblings except for Robert Ford as " grantees" of the property, and (2) their mother's 1998 will, in which she indicated that she wished to leave a life estate in the property to Willa Ford, Ernest Ford, and Harold Ford, with the remainder to all five children. But the tax form is merely a tax return and, unlike a deed, it does not operate to grant or transfer title to land. Moreover, the 2002 deed to the property, which plaintiffs had attached to their complaint, indicates that the mother added Frederick Ford to the deed to establish a joint ownership before she died. Thus, Willa Ford argues on appeal that upon the mother's death in 2004, Frederick Ford became the surviving joint tenant and sole owner of the property. Therefore, the property was no longer subject to the mother's will and could not be inherited by the other siblings. See Gallimore v. Washington, 666 A.2d 1200, 1203-04 (D.C. 1995) ( " [U]pon the death of one of two joint tenants, there is no transfer of the decedent's future interest to the survivor; rather, the future interest of the deceased ceases to exist, the threat of severance by the other joint tenant is eliminated, and the present interest of the surviving joint tenant in the whole property becomes exclusive." (citation omitted)). Willa Ford also includes in the record on appeal the probate docket for her mother's will, to support the argument that her siblings did not inherit the property because it was not part of the probate proceedings. The record shows that Frederick Ford then added Willa Ford -- but no one else -- to the deed as a joint owner in 2007.

Although Willa Ford did not present this line of argument to the trial court, the 2002 and 2007 deeds were part of the record, and because the mother added Frederick Ford's name to the deed, the tax form and will which the trial judge relied upon are insufficient to establish ownership. Accordingly, we reverse the order of distribution and remand for redetermination of the ownership of the property.[3]

Page 1011

The trial court's order is therefore Affirmed in part and reversed in part.

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