|INFORMATION||Home About this Site AGEC Home|
Best if printed in landscape.
Schmidt v. Wittinger, 2004 ND 189
Alfred Wittinger appealed from a judgment ordering a partition sale of farmland and awarding compensatory damages to Donald and Kenneth Wittinger. We hold the trial court's finding that a partition in kind could not be made without great prejudice to the co-owners is not clearly erroneous, and we affirm the partition sale of the property. We also hold that the court's award of compensatory damages for loss of federal program payments is not supported by the record evidence, and we therefore reverse that part of the compensatory damages award to Donald and Kenneth Wittinger.
Donald, Kenneth, and Alfred Wittinger are brothers who inherited from their parents undivided equal interests in farmland located in Dunn County. The property was leased by Kevin Schmidt, and Alfred Wittinger was sued by his brothers and Schmidt to specifically enforce a purchase option Schmidt held under the lease or, alternatively, for a partition sale of the property. Donald and Kenneth Wittinger also sued Alfred Wittinger for compensatory damages, asserting that he did not pay his pro rata share of property expenses and taxes and that he refused to sign documents for the parties to receive federal farm program payments. Alfred Wittinger filed an answer objecting to specific performance of the purchase option under the lease. That claim was subsequently withdrawn by the plaintiffs. Alfred Wittinger also filed a counterclaim for damages to compensate him for loss of "value, rental payments, government payments, CRP payments and market value."
At the bench trial, Alfred Wittinger neither appeared nor was represented by counsel. After the hearing, the trial court ordered a partition sale of the property with proceeds to be equally divided among the three cotenants. The court also awarded compensatory damages of $2,821.87 to Donald Wittinger and $2,244.50 to Kenneth Wittinger for Alfred Wittinger's failure to pay his share of the farmland expenses and taxes and for his failure to sign federal farm program documents. The court dismissed Alfred Wittinger's counterclaim.
On appeal, Alfred Wittinger asserts the trial court erred in ordering a partition sale rather than a partition in kind. Partition of property is available under N.D.C.C. § 32-16-01 when there are cotenants with current possessory interests in the property... Section 32-16-01, N.D.C.C., provides:
When several cotenants hold and are in possession of real or personal property as partners, joint tenants, or tenants in common, in which one or more of them have an estate or inheritance, or for life or lives, or for years, an action may be brought by one or more of such persons for a partition thereof according to the respective rights of the persons interested therein and for a sale of such property or a part thereof, if it appears that a partition cannot be made without great prejudice to the owners. Real and personal property may be partitioned in the same action.
Section 32-16-12, N.D.C.C., provides for a partition sale if a partition in kind cannot be made without great prejudice to the owners:
If it is alleged in the complaint and established by evidence, or if it appears by the evidence without such allegation in the complaint, to the satisfaction of the court, that the property, or any part of it, is so situated that partition cannot be made without great prejudice to the owners, the court may order a sale thereof. Otherwise, upon the making of requisite proof, it must order a partition according to the respective rights of the parties as ascertained by the court and appoint three referees therefor, and must designate the portion to remain undivided for the owners whose interests remain unknown or unascertained.
The law favors partition in kind, and there is a presumption that partition in kind should be made unless great prejudice is shown. "The burden of proving that partition in kind cannot be made without great prejudice is on the party demanding a sale." Great prejudice exists when the value of the share of each in case of a partition would be materially less than the share of the money equivalent that each could probably obtain from the whole.
On the request for a partition sale of the property, the trial court made the following relevant findings of fact:
Alfred Wittinger did not appear at the evidentiary hearing to refute evidence introduced by the plaintiffs that a partition in kind could not be made without great prejudice to the owners. The trial court specifically found that great prejudice to the owners would result if an attempt were made to divide the farmland into three separate parcels. The court explained the difficulties in dividing the land with regard to fencing, access, and water availability. The court concluded the value of the share of each co-owner's interest in the property would be materially less than a share of the money equivalent if the property remained as a whole.
The trial court's findings in a partition action will not be reversed on appeal unless they are clearly erroneous. We conclude the trial court's findings are not clearly erroneous. The plaintiffs have met their burden of proving that a partition in kind could not be made without great prejudice to the owners. We therefore affirm the trial court's grant of a partition sale of the property.
Last updated June 30, 2005
This material is intended for educational purposes
only. It is not a substitute for competent legal counsel. Seek appropriate
professional advice for answers to your specific questions.
|NDSU Home Phone Book Campus Map NDSU Search College of Agriculture|