NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN OFFICIAL REPORTS
McKINSTER, Acting P. J.
Plaintiff and appellant Frank Y. Morales appeals an adverse judgment, following a court trial, in his suit for partition by sale of real property held in joint tenancy with defendant and respondent Eva Novoa, for partition by sale of four items of personal property allegedly owned jointly by the parties, and for the return of or compensation for a number of items of personal property he asserted were solely his property. The trial court concluded that plaintiff failed to present evidence sufficient to establish that he has "any recognized legal interest" in either the real property or in the personal property.
On appeal, plaintiff challenges the judgment only with respect to the real property and a 1966 Chevrolet. He contends that the trial court relied on principles applicable to family law or to the dissolution of partnerships, rather than partition of a joint tenancy and the return of wrongfully withheld property. He does not, however, acknowledge the effect of the absence of a statement of decision in a court trial and the doctrine of implied findings. (Shaw v. County of Santa Cruz (2008) 170 Cal.App.4th 229, 267-268.) We conclude that the trial court's implied findings are supported by substantial evidence and that the judgment is based on valid legal principles. Accordingly, we will affirm the judgment.
Plaintiff and defendant lived together in a nonmarital relationship for over 30 years. In 1994, they bought a house located on Souder Street in Perris. They took title to the property as "Frank Y. Morales, Jr., a single man, and Eva Nova [sic], a single woman, as joint tenants." They used a gift from defendant's parents as the down payment. Plaintiff testified that it was a gift to both of them. Plaintiff testified that they did not keep account of how much each contributed to mortgage payments. Plaintiff testified that he purchased the 1966 Chevrolet with a loan from defendant's parents, which he repaid. The car was registered solely in plaintiff's name.
Defendant, who represented herself at trial, testified that plaintiff was physically and emotionally abusive throughout the relationship and that he was extremely controlling and demanding. She testified that plaintiff worked only sporadically while she constantly worked long hours to support the family, but that he controlled the money. She testified that most of the payments for household expenses came from her earnings. She testified that the money for the house was a gift to her alone from her parents, and that the understanding was that it would be for her and her children, to give her security because of the abusive nature of her relationship with plaintiff. She testified that "it was never intended for [plaintiff], but [plaintiff] always puts everything in his name." She testified that the money for the 1966 Chevrolet was also a gift to her alone. She was afraid to challenge plaintiff on anything because he had repeatedly threatened her and abused her physically.
Plaintiff contends that the trial court "transformed an action for partition of real property and the delivery of personal property" into an action for dissolution of a marriage or partnership. He contends that this was a violation of his due process rights because he had no "fair warning that the trial court would require evidence beyond proof that he and [defendant] bought the subject real property together, held title as joint tenants and that for some 20 years while they lived in the real property they paid the mortgage jointly without keeping accounts." Plaintiff contends that this was an abuse of discretion.
In support of his contention that the trial court applied incorrect legal principles, plaintiff quotes a portion of the trial court's comments at the close of evidence. The single paragraph he quotes does appear, perhaps, to support his contention. The full text of the court's comments provides a different picture, however:
From these comments, we do not discern that the court contemplated applying family law or partnership principles. Even if it did so intend at that point, moreover, we could not rely on the court's comments to conclude that the judgment was in fact based on the application of those principles.
Following a court trial, we can determine the court's factual findings and conclusions of law only from either a statement of decision or express statements contained in the judgment. (Shaw v. County of Santa Cruz, supra, 170 Cal.App.4th at p. 268.) We cannot rely on a tentative decision or on the court's oral statements prior to issuance of the statement of decision or the judgment, such as the comments plaintiff relies upon in this case, except to help us interpret the trial court's findings or conclusions. (Ibid.) Such statements cannot be used to impeach the judgment. (Ibid.) The reason for that rule is that "a trial court retains inherent authority to change its decision, its findings of fact, or its conclusions of law at any time before entry of judgment and then the judgment supersedes any memorandum or tentative decision or any oral comments from the bench. [Citations.] Thus, a trial judge's prejudgment oral expressions do not bind the court or restrict its power to later declare final findings of fact and conclusions of law in the judgment. [Citation.] In the absence of a statement of decision, a reviewing court looks only to the judgment to determine error. [Citation.] Absent contrary indication in the final judgment or statement of decision, the appellate court will assume that, during the period before rendition of judgment, the trial court realized any error and corrected it." (Ibid.)
Here, in the judgment, the court stated only that plaintiff "failed to present evidence sufficient to establish that he has any recognized legal interest in the real property" or in the items of personal property. As we discuss below, there is no indication in the record that the court relied on family law principles to determine ownership of the property. And, since the court did not divide the property, there is no basis for plaintiff's contention that the court applied principles applicable to the dissolution of a marriage or a partnership in order to effect the division of property.
Plaintiff also fails to address the effect of the absence of a statement of decision. In the absence of a statement of decision, we must apply the doctrine of implied findings. "This doctrine requires that in the absence of a statement of decision, an appellate court will presume that the trial court made all factual findings necessary to support the judgment for which substantial evidence exists in the record. In other words, the necessary findings of ultimate facts will be implied and the only issue on appeal is whether the implied findings are supported by substantial evidence. [Citations.]" (Shaw v. County of Santa Cruz, supra, 170 Cal.App.4th at pp. 267-268.) Furthermore, in the absence of a statement of decision, we must infer as well that the trial court made correct legal conclusions. (Id. at p. 269.) We must affirm a judgment that is correct on any legal basis, even if that basis was not invoked by the trial court. (Ibid.)
In this case, we infer that as to the real property, the trial court found that despite title being taken as joint tenants, defendant did not actually agree to create a joint tenancy. Joint tenancy is a joint interest, owned by two or more persons in equal shares, by a title created by a single will or transfer. (Civ. Code, § 683.) Although a joint tenancy deed is not conclusive as to the nature of the ownership, it creates a rebuttable presumption that the property is held in joint tenancy.
Here, defendant did put plaintiff's interest in the property in issue by her answer to the complaint, which stated that she purchased the home with a $12,000 "inheritance" from her parents and that "plaintiff did not purchase said property." She testified that (1) the money used for the down payment was a gift to her, not a gift to both of them; (2) plaintiff "always" claimed ownership of items purchased with her money; and (3) plaintiff bullied and threatened her and physically abused her, so that she did not dare object when he claimed ownership.
The testimony of a single witness whom the trier of fact finds credible is substantial evidence, unless the facts testified to are physically impossible or inherently improbable. (People v. Young (2005) 34 Cal.4th 1149, 1181.) The court could rationally have found defendant's testimony credible and found plaintiff's testimony not credible as to the true ownership of the property, and we must infer that it did so. Accordingly, defendant's testimony is substantial evidence that the property was purchased with funds belonging solely to her and that she did not intend to give plaintiff an interest in the property, or did so only under the threat of physical harm. A deed that is given under the threat of physical harm is void. (Wickland v. Wickland (1912) 19 Cal.App. 559, 560-561; Civ. Code, § 1570 [defining menace].) For these reasons, defendant's testimony is sufficient to rebut the presumption created by the deed.
As to the 1966 Chevrolet, a similar analysis applies. Plaintiff relies on Evidence Code section 662, which provides that the owner of the legal title to property is presumed to be the owner of the beneficial title. However, this presumption applies only "when there is no dispute as to where legal title resides but there is a question as to where all or part of the beneficial title should rest." (Murray v. Murray (1994) 26 Cal.App.4th 1062, 1067.) When the legal title is disputed, the presumption does not apply. (Id. at p. 1068.) Here, defendant did dispute plaintiff's claim that he had a valid legal title to the vehicle. And again, defendant's testimony that the car was purchased with funds given to her alone by her parents and that she did not agree to plaintiff taking title to it is substantial evidence that supports the trial court's implied finding that plaintiff failed to establish that he had a legal interest in the vehicle.
The judgment is affirmed. Defendant is awarded costs on appeal.