Partition suit involving jointly-owned land is exception to the rule that a lawsuit can only result in one final and appealable judgment (barring severance of claims).
SUIT FOR PARTITION OF LAND HAS SOME QUIRKS
Partition serves to divide property owned by co-tenants and concerns possession, not title. See Barham v. McGraw, 342 S.W.3d 716, 719 (Tex. App.—Amarillo 2011, pet. filed); Dierschke v. Central Nat’l Branch of First Nat’l Bank of Lubbock, 876 S.W.2d 377, 380 (Tex. App.—Austin 1994, no writ) (stating that an owner of a non-possessory interest cannot compel partition). Thus, to prevail in a suit for partition, “a plaintiff need only establish that he owns an interest in the property and has a right to possession of a portion thereof.” Trevino v. Trevino, 64 S.W.3d 166, 171 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 2001, no pet.). In order to have a partitionable, “possessory interest” in a given piece of property, one must have an equal “right to possession” with the other joint owners. Savell v. Savell, 837 S.W.2d 836, 838-40 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 1992, writ denied) (must have right to present possessory interest); Brelsford v. Scheltz, 564 S.W.2d 404, 406 (Tex. Civ. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 1978, writ ref'd n.r.e.); Lichtenstein v. Lichtenstein Bldg. Corp., 442 S.W.2d 765, 767-68 (Tex. Civ. 5 App.—Corpus Christi 1969, no writ) (party seeking the partition must have an equal right to possession with the other joint owners). The trial court shall order partition if it “determines that the whole, or any part of such property is susceptible of partition.” TEX. R. CIV. P. 761.
TWO FINAL JUDGMENTS
A partition case, unlike other proceedings, has two final judgments, and the first one is appealable as a final judgment. Griffin v. Wolfe, 610 S.W.2d 466, 466 (Tex. 1980). The first decree determines the interest of each of the joint owners or claimants, all questions of law affecting the title, and appoints commissioners and gives them appropriate directions. Ellis v. First City Nat'l Bank, 864 S.W.2d 555, 557 (Tex. App.—Tyler 1993, writ denied); see also TEX. R. CIV. P. 760, 761.
The second decree approves the report of the commissioners and sets aside to the parties their separate shares. Ellis, 864 S.W.2d at 557. In addition to determining the basic issues of partitionability in kind and the fractional interest of the parties, the trial court also has the power during the initial stage of the partition proceeding to adjust all equities between the parties. Yturria v. Kimbro, 921 S.W.2d 338, 342 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi 1996, no writ); see also Snow v. Donelson, 242 S.W.3d 570, 572 (Tex. App.—Waco 2007, no pet.) (“The trial court applies the rules of equity in determining the broad question of how property is to be partitioned”).
Proof is made to the fact finder at trial of the existence and value of improvements to the property at the time of partition and of other equitable considerations that may warrant awarding a particular portion of the property to one of the parties. Price v. Price, 394 S.W.2d 855, 858 (Tex. Civ. App.—Tyler 1965, writ ref’d n.r.e.). The general rule is that where improvements have been made upon the property sought to be partitioned, the improved portion will be allotted to the part owner who has made the improvements if this can be done without prejudice to the other owners. Id.
It is well-established that the trial court has the power during the initial stage of the partition proceeding to adjust all equities between the parties. Yturria, 921 S.W.2d at 342; see also Snow, 242 S.W.3d at 572 (“The trial court applies the rules of equity in determining the broad question of how property is to be partitioned.”).
SOURCE: CORPUS CHRISTI COURT OF APPEALS - 13-10-00490-CV – 12/1/11