Fusco v. Austin
For a partition action, Connecticut General Statutes §52-500(a), as amended, permits the court to order an equitable distribution of the property if it determines that one or more of the persons owning the property have only a minimal interest in the property and a sale would not promote the interest of the owners. Dean Fusco and Robbin Austin began dating in 1979 and purchased a single family home in Old Saybrook in 1986 as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. Their relationship foundered. Fusco commenced this action seeking a partition of the property and return of certain personal property. The court relevantly found that the parties' contributions to the property were relatively equal, that the property's fair market value was $378,000 and that a partition by sale was the only remedy suiting the interests of the parties. The court ordered the property sold at auction, determined the priority of the sale proceeds and ordered that the remaining proceeds, if any, be divided equally between the parties. The defendant appealed claiming that the court erred in concluding, as a matter of law, that it had no statutory authority, absent a finding of "minimal interest," to allow the defendant the opportunity to buy out the plaintiff's interest in the property. Essentially, the defendant asserted that C.G.S. §52-500 and the Supreme Court's 2000 decision in Fernandes v. Rodriguez did not preclude the court from allowing the defendant to buy out the plaintiff's interest. The Appellate Court disagreed and affirmed the judgment. Based on the clear and unambiguous language of C.G.S. §52-500(a), the court correctly held that such a remedy is available only where the court finds that the party seeking partition holds a minimal interest in the property. The trial court disagreed that the plaintiff's joint tenancy constituted such a minimal interest, particularly because he lived on the property for 23 years and acquired his interest when the defendant acquired her interest. The court specifically found that during their cohabitation, the parties' contributions to the property were relatively equal. This finding was not challenged on appeal. Because the statutory prerequisites necessary to ordering an equitable distribution of the property were not present, the court properly concluded that this matter was controlled by Fernandes v. Rodriguez and ordered a sale.