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Wood v. Onyons

Superior Court of Maine, Waldo

October 13, 2016

CINDY WOOD Plaintiff
v.
DAVID ONYONS Defendant

          DECISION & ORDER REGARDING PETITION FOR PARTITION

         The Plaintiff filed a Complaint for Partition with regard to real estate owned by the parties and more particularly described in a deed recorded in the Waldo County Registry of Deeds at book 3292, page 12 (hereinafter referred to as "the premises"). The Defendant filed a counterclaim asserting his entitlement to relief under three additional theories (breach of contract, recovery of rental payments, and unjust enrichment). The subsequent proceedings of this Court, in particular in the issuance of two pretrial orders on February 27, 2015 and May for 2015, identify the issue for trial as limited to the partition action.

         A trial in this matter was held before the Court on August 31, 2016. Based on the testimony of both parties, and the exhibits which were admitted at trial, the Court makes the following findings.

         The parties had been in a personal relationship with each other for a number of years prior to 2009. In 2009, the parties decided to purchase the premises in Belfast Maine. Specifically, on January 30, 2009, the parties acquired the premises as joint tenants. The premises were purchased for $528, 000. $220, 000 of the purchase price was paid in cash by the Defendant, $33, 000 was paid in cash by the Plaintiff, and the remaining $275, 000 balance was paid from the proceeds of a loan.

         Because the Defendant was a citizen of the United Kingdom, he was unable to be a signatory on the note associated with the loan proceeds. Thus, the note was signed only by the Plaintiff. However, the mortgage on the premises, which was executed to secure the loan obligation, was signed by both parties.

         The premises were initially rented back to the seller of the same premises for the first year after the 2009 purchase. Since that time, the Plaintiff has lived at the premises as her primary residence. The Defendant's actual use of the premises has been limited to approximately three months per year during which time he shares the premises with the Plaintiff. The remaining 75% of the time the Plaintiff has enjoyed exclusive use of the premises.[1]

         The proceeds which have been received from income from the rental units has been applied to outstanding expenses associated with the premises. The expenses associated with the premises which exceeded the rental income has generally been shared equally between the parties, except for the monthly mortgage payment associated with the $275, 000 loan. Early on, some of the monthly mortgage payments were made from rental income proceeds. For a relatively short period of time while the Plaintiff was not working, the Defendant made some monthly mortgage payments. For the last several years, the mortgage payments have been made by the Plaintiff.

         The parties' personal relationship began to sour in March 2011. The parties have received no rental income associated with the premises since June 2014.

         ANALYSIS

         It is not disputed that the premises at issue are not susceptible to a physical division. Thus, an equitable partition of the property becomes necessary. More specifically, the parties are also not in dispute that a sale of the property is the only reasonable method by which these premises may be equitably partitioned.

         The primary issue in dispute in this case centers around the allocation of sale proceeds. Again, more specifically, the Defendant contends that the liability for payment of the outstanding mortgage balance due should be borne entirely by the Plaintiff under a theory that she alone was signatory to the note, and/or that the outstanding loan obligation reflected her share of the original purchase obligation. The Court is not persuaded by the Defendant's argument in this regard.

         As the Law Court has noted in Ackerman v. Hojnowski, 2002 ME 147, ¶ 11, in a case involving an equitable partition claim,

[t]he division of property held in joint tenancy should take into account all equities growing out of that relationship. Contributions of the parties to the property prior to the joint tenancy, however, are not equities growing out of the joint tenancy relationship. To allow the consideration of contributions preceding the joint tenancy would defeat joint ownership. (Citing Boulette v. Boulette, 627 A.2d 1017, and 1018 (Me. 1993)).

         The facts and circumstances of this case do not support the Defendant's theory which would saddle the Plaintiff with the sole responsibility for the entire mortgage loan obligation. The original loan amount represented over 50% of the original purchase price despite the fact that the Plaintiff had also contributed $33, 000 in cash toward the original purchase price. This is inconsistent with the argument by the Defendant that the loan represented the Plaintiffs share of the purchase price. Moreover, the reason why only the Plaintiff was a signer of the note had at least as much to do with the fact that the Defendant was precluded from signing such a document based on his status as a citizen of the United Kingdom.

         The decisions of the parties since the creation of the joint tenancy as well as patterns of payments made toward the outstanding obligations associated with premises do, however, persuade the Court that the mortgage payments which have been made to date equitably reflect the parties' actual usage and benefits derived from those same premises. Thus, the Court is not persuaded that the Plaintiff is entitled to any initial payment from sale proceeds for ...


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