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Helen L. Britton and John R. Britton, Or Their Successors, As v. Elise C. Brown

February 12, 2013

HELEN L. BRITTON AND JOHN R. BRITTON, OR THEIR SUCCESSORS, AS TRUSTEES OF THE BRITTON JOINT TRUST, PLAINTIFFS, COUNTER-CLAIM DEFENDANTS AND APPELLEES,
v.
ELISE C. BROWN, DEFENDANT, COUNTER-CLAIMANT AND APPELLANT.



APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Twentieth Judicial District, In and For the County of Lake, Cause No. DV 07-299 Honorable Deborah Kim Christopher, Presiding Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Beth Baker

February 12 2013

Submitted on Briefs: November 21, 2012

Filed:

Clerk

Justice Beth Baker delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶1 Elise C. Brown (Brown) appeals the Final Partition Judgment of the Twentieth Judicial District Court, Lake County, which confirmed almost all of a report that partitioned 10.88 acres of property on and around Flathead Lake that Brown jointly owned with her sister, Helen L. Britton (Britton), as tenants in common. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

¶2 The dispositive issue on appeal is whether the District Court erred by denying Brown's request for an evidentiary hearing after Brown had presented offers of proof challenging the referees' final partition report.

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

¶3 Because there was no trial or evidentiary hearing, we draw the facts from the referees' findings of fact and conclusions of law and the documents in the District Court record.

¶4 Since 1992, Britton and Brown have jointly owned 10.88 acres of real property on Flathead Lake as tenants in common.*fn1 The property-which the parties refer to as "the homestead"-contains approximately 1,270 feet of lakefront property as well as a cabin built in 1910 and other improvements. It has three distinct topographical lakefront features: (1) a rocky point overlooking Flathead Lake at the northern end of the property;

(2) a narrow, 70-foot-wide "neck" of land that connects the rocky point with the southern portion of the property; and (3) a gravel beach to the south of the rocky point that runs along the lake for 287 feet. The cabin and other improvements are located behind the gravel beach. The parties' grandparents purchased the homestead in the 1940s and ever since it has been used by the family.

¶5 Britton filed a partition action in October 2007, seeking equitable partition of the homestead or, if the court determined that partition was not possible, a forced sale of the property and equal division of the net sale proceeds. Brown answered Britton's partition action by acknowledging that she co-owned the property as a joint tenant and by admitting that the homestead could be partitioned equitably by the district court. Brown also filed a counter-claim alleging that Britton had failed to pay her share of the expenses used to maintain the homestead. Britton has denied those allegations and the counter-claim is not at issue in this appeal.*fn2

ΒΆ6 In June 2009, the District Court entered an initial case scheduling order, which set the case up as an ordinary civil matter. It set deadlines for the submission of expert witness names, the names of proposed referees, discovery, and proposed exhibits. It also set a date for a hearing to be held on any motions that might be submitted and ...


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