Swartzbaugh v. Sampson Case Brief

Summary of Swartzbaugh v. Sampson, Court of Appeal of CA (1936)

Parties: PL is the lessor and DF is the lessee of adjoining parcels of land in Orange Cty., CA. They are also husband and wife.

Cause of action/remedy sought: The following is a cause (injunction) to cancel two leases executed by John Josiah Swartzbaugh, as lessor, to Sam A. Sampson, lessee, of 2 adjoining parcels of land in Orange County.

Procedural History: Motion for nonsuit granted at close of PL’s case and this appeal followed. A petition by appellant to have the cause heard in the Supreme Court, after a judgment of the District Court of Appeal, was denied by the Supreme Court. Judgment affirmed.

Facts: DF and PL owned as joined tenants with the right of survivorship, 60 acres of land for walnut farming. 12/33: DF began negotiations w/PL and her husband for the leasing of a small fraction of this land fronting on hwy. 101 to build a boxing pavilion. PL at all times objected to making the lease and it is thoroughly established that Sampson knew she would not join in any lease to him.

Negotiation resulted in execution of an option for a lease, dated 1/5/34, signed by PL and DF. Lease dated 2/2/34 executed by the same parties. Second lease for property adjoining the site of the boxing pavilion signed by both parties, also dated 2/2/34. PL’s name not on any of the three documents and Sampson was advised that she would not sign any of them. Up to time of trial, PL had received no part of the rental of the leased property. Sampson was in possession of all of it under the leases to the exclusion of PL.

Issue(s): Under CA property law, can one joint tenant who has not joined in the leases executed by her cotenant and another maintain an action to cancel the leases where the lessee is in exclusive possession of the leased property?

Holding: No. The leases from Swartzbaugh to Sampson are not null and void but valid and existing contracts giving to Sampson the same right to the possession of the leased property that Swartzbaugh had. It follows they cannot be canceled by PL in this action.

Court’s Rationale/Reasoning: This would be the first time CA had decided something like this. An estate in joint tenancy can be severed by destroying one or more of the necessary unities, either by operation of law, by death, by voluntary or certain involuntary acts of the joint tenants, or by certain acts or omissions of one joint tenant w/o consent of the other.

Ordinarily one joint tenant cannot maintain an action against their cotenant for rent for occupancy of the property or for profits derived from their own labor. But, one joint tenant may compel the tenant in possession to account for rents collected from third parties. The general rule of law coming from these cases is that neither a joint tenant nor a tenant in common can do any act to the prejudice of his cotenants in their estate.

A joint tenant has the right, during the existence of their estate, to convey mortgage of subject to a mechanic’s lien an equal share of the joint property, so long as the interest they are conveying is their own, and no more.

Rule: The act of one joint tenant without express or implied authority from or the consent of his cotenant cannot bind or prejudicially affect the rights of the latter.

A lessee in possession of real property under a lease cannot dispute his landlord’s title nor can he hold adversely to him while holding under the lease.

An adverse possessor must claim the property in fee and a lessee holding under a lease cannot avail himself of the claim of adverse possession.

Did court avoid issues?: Monies owed to Mrs. Swartzbaugh? How about jumping in and trying to ouster after trying to enter the property? The Mrs. could also sue her husband for accounting of the rents received by him.

Dicta: Rule in England is that a lease by one joint tenant for a term years will effect a severance, at least during the term of the lease.

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