The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals Addresses Whether the District Court’s Finding That the Parties Owned Certain Property in Equal Shares was Proper.
The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals (hereinafter “COCA”) affirmed the trial court’s order for partition of the lands in dispute. COCA also held that when determining the ownership of real property, the expenditures one owner has made for the benefit of the property will not alter the “interest each party has in the property as a tenant in common.”1 The doctrine of owelty (an equitable doctrine, which includes, but is not limited to, a situation in which one party may be required to reimburse another party for past expenditures to ensure the division is equal) is not applicable in an instance of partition where the funds will be equally divided based on ownership shares.2
The tract of land involved in this case is located in Blaine County. The plaintiff filed the action requesting a partition and appointment of commissioners. During the trial court proceedings, the parties agreed that they owned the lands together as tenants in common. However, the defendant argued that, as a result of his payment of 94% of the taxes and maintenance of the lands, he was entitled to a larger share of the property.3 The trial court found that the parties owned the property in equal shares, ordered a partition, and appointed commissioners to partition the land or make an appraisement of the property if partition was not feasible.4 The commissioners concluded that partition was not feasible without harm to the owners, so they appraised the property.5 Defendant then appealed.
COCA first analyzed the ownership interests. The parties agreed that they owned the tract of land as tenants in common. Based on the record title, particularly the deed granting the property to the parties, COCA held that the parties owned the property in equal shares.6 There was no evidence presented to show that the plain language of the deed, which gave the parties equal interest, should be modified to give either party a disproportionate interest in the tract of land. Additionally, contrary to the defendant’s argument, COCA held that the expenditures one party has made for the benefit of the property will not alter the effect of the deeds whereby the parties took title to their interest.7 “Recovery of these expenditures must be left for another day and another mechanism.”8
COCA went on to opine that owelty is available only when “the property lends itself to a partition in kind and the division by partition requires the payment of money to equalize the shares.”9 So, if the land was to be divided between the owners and one owner received a larger share as a result, then the doctrine of owelty would ensure a payment to make the other party whole. However, in this case, the property was to be sold and not partitioned in kind, therefore owelty was not available. Each party was to receive their equal share of the proceeds from the sale.
The decisions of COCA are not authoritative but can be persuasive. In its decision, COCA relied on holdings in Oklahoma Supreme Court cases and in other COCA cases to reach its decision. Ultimately, it is important to know that if you own property as a tenant in common with at least one other person, in a proceeding to partition you may not be able to recover any expenses you pay (or paid) that exceed the proportionate share of the interest in the land. Nonetheless, there may be other avenues available to help with accounting for expenses.
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1Shreck v. Reed, 2020 OK CIV APP 54, ¶ 15, 477 P.3d 1154, 1158.
2Id. ¶ 16, 477 P.3d at 1159.
3Id. ¶ 6, 477 P.3d at 1157.
4Id. ¶ 7, 477 P.3d at 1157.
6Id. ¶ 14, 477 P.3d at 1158.
9Id. ¶ 17, 477 P.3d at 1159.