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Ballard v. Dornic

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

June 28, 2016

GLENN BALLARD, Appellant,
v.
MATTHEW DORNIC, Appellee.

          Submitted April 22, 2016

         Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia Civil Division(CAR-2856-15) (Hon. John M. Campbell, Trial Judge)

          Ryan S. Spiegel for appellant.

          James N. Markels for appellee.

          BEFORE: Thompson and Easterly, Associate Judges; and Reid, Senior Judge.

         JUDGMENT

         This case was submitted to the court on the transcript of record and the briefs filed, and without presentation of oral argument. On consideration whereof, and for the reasons set forth in the opinion filed this date, it is now hereby

         ORDERED and ADJUDGED that the judgment of the Superior Court is affirmed.

          OPINION

          Phyllis D. Thompson Associate Judge

         This litigation commenced when appellee Matthew Dornic filed a complaint for partition-by-sale of two properties that are owned by Mr. Dornic and appellant Glenn Ballard as joint tenants: a single family home located at 3134 Dumbarton Street, N.W. ("the Dumbarton Property"), where Mr. Ballard resides, and a condominium unit located at 1767 U Street N.W., Unit 1 ("the U Street Property"). Mr. Ballard seeks review of the trial court's ruling granting Mr. Dornic's motion for partial summary judgment on his claim for partition-by-sale and ordering the parties to confer about who might be appointed as trustee to sell the properties.[1] We affirm.

         I.

         In granting Mr. Dornic's prayer for partition-by-sale, Superior Court Judge John Campbell relied on the well-established, general rule that "[a] cotenant enjoys a unilateral right of partition."[2] Rejecting Mr. Ballard's argument that Mr. Dornic had voluntarily limited his right to partition, Judge Campbell concluded that the only question before the court was whether the partition would be in kind or by sale.

         In his first argument on appeal, Mr. Ballard asserts that Judge Campbell erred (1) in assuming that an individual owning property as a cotenant will lack the right to demand partition only if the cotenants hold the property as tenants by the entireties and (2) in rejecting Mr. Ballard's claim that Mr. Dornic limited his right to partition by failing to pay his fair share of the mortgages and other expenses associated with each of the properties. Our review of the trial court's legal conclusions is de novo, and we review factual findings under a clearly erroneous standard. See Arthur, 857 A.2d at 490.

         Our case law recognizes that a cotenant's unilateral "right to partition, while normally an integral part of the cotenancy form of ownership, is like most property rights subject to possible limitation by voluntary act of the parties[, ]" Carter, 516 A.2d at 921, such as through the cotenants' agreement that one of the cotenants is to have exclusive use and possession of the property for some limited time period. Id. at 921 n.10; see also Robinson v. Evans, 554 A.2d 332, 338 (D.C. 1989) ("Carter establishes that the parties had the power to restrict their own right to seek partition[.]"). We therefore agree with Mr. Ballard that the fact that an estate is not a tenancy by the entireties does not negate the possibility that one of the cotenants has, by a voluntarily act, restricted his right to seek partition. But our agreement on this point does not help Mr. Ballard's cause, because he cites no authority, and we know of none, for his novel argument that a joint tenant voluntarily restricts his right to partition by virtue of the fact - as Mr. Ballard avers is the case with Mr. Dornic - that he has paid a less-than-equal or relatively small share of the expenses related to the property. Nor does the summary ...


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