12.4: Cases

Title Insurance

Title and Trust Co. of Florida v. Barrows

381 So.2d 1088 (Fla. App. 1979)

McCORD, ACTING CHIEF JUDGE.

This appeal is from a final judgment awarding money damages to appellees (Barrows) for breach of title insurance policy. We reverse.

Through a realtor, the Barrowses purchased, for $12,500, a lot surrounded on three sides by land owned by others, all of which is a part of a beach subdivision. The fourth side of their lot borders on a platted street called Viejo Street, the right-of-way for which has been dedicated to and accepted by St. Johns County. The right-of-way line opposite their lot abuts a Corps of Engineers’ right-of-way in which there is a stone breakwater. The intracoastal waterway flows on the other side of the breakwater. The realtor who sold the lot to the Barrows represented to them that the county would build a road in the right-of-way along Viejo Street when they began plans for building on their lot. There have been no street improvements in the dedicated right-of-way, and St. Johns County has no present plans for making any improvements. The “road” is merely a continuation of a sandy beach. A year after purchasing the land the Barrowses procured a survey which disclosed that the elevation of their lot is approximately one to three feet above the mean high water mark. They later discovered that their lot, along with the Viejo Street right-of-way abutting it, is covered by high tide water during the spring and fall of each year. At the time appellees purchased their lot, they obtained title insurance coverage from appellant. The title policy covered: Any defect in or lien or encumbrance on the title to the estate or title covered hereby…or a lack of a right of access to and from the land.… Appellees’ complaint of lack of right of access was founded on the impassable condition of the platted street. After trial without a jury, the trial court entered final judgment finding that appellees did not have access to their property and, therefore, were entitled to recover$ 12,500 from appellant the face amount of the policy.

Appellant and Florida Land Title Association, appearing as amicus curiae, argue that appellant cannot be held liable on grounds of “lack of right of access to and from the land” since there is no defect shown by the public record as to their right of access; that the public record shows a dedicated and accepted public right-of-way abutting the lot. They contend that title insurance does not insure against defects in the physical condition of the land or against infirmities in legal right of access not shown by the public record. See Pierson v. Bill, 138 Fla. 104, 189 So. 679 (1939). They argue that defects in the physical condition of the land such as are involved here are not covered by title insurance. We agree. Title insurance only insures against title defects.

The Supreme Court of North Carolina in Marriott Financial Services, Inc. v. Capitol Funds, Inc., 288 N.C. 122, 217 S.E.2d 551 (1975), construed “right of access” to mean the right to go to and from the public right-of-way without unreasonable restrictions. Compare Hocking v. Title Insurance & Trust Company, 37 Cal.2d 644, 234 P.2d 625 (1951), where, in ruling that the plaintiff failed to state a cause of action in a suit brought under her title policy, the court said:

She appears to possess fee simple title to the property for whatever it may be worth; if she has been damaged by false representations in respect to the condition and value of the land her remedy would seem to be against others than the insurers of the title she acquired.

In Mafetone, et al., v. Forest Manor Homes, Inc., et al., 34 A.D.2d 566, 310 N.Y.S.2d 17 (N.Y.1970), the plaintiff brought an action against a title insurance company for damages allegedly flowing from a change in the grade of a street. There the court said:

The title company is not responsible to plaintiffs for the damages incurred by reason of the change in elevating the abutting street to its legal grade, since the provisions of the standard title insurance policy here in question are concerned with matters affecting title to property and do not concern themselves with physical conditions of the abutting property absent a specific request by the person ordering a title report and policy.…

In McDaniel v. Lawyers’ Title Guaranty Fund, 327 So.2d 852 (Fla. 2 D.C.A. 1976), our sister court of the Second District said:

The man on the street buys a title insurance policy to insure against defects in the record title. The title insurance company is in the business of guaranteeing the insured’s title to the extent it is affected by the public records.

In the case here before us, there is no dispute that the public record shows a legal right of access to appellant’s property via the platted Viejo Street. The title insurance policy only insured against record title defects and not against physical infirmities of the platted street.

Reversed.

Case Questions $$\PageIndex{1}$$

1. Do you think that the seller (or the seller’s agent) actually took the Barrowses to see the property when it was underwater? Why or why not?
2. Before buying, should the Barrowses have actually gone to the property to see for themselves “the lay of the land” or made inquiries of neighboring lot owners?
3. Assuming that they did not make inspection of the property or make other inquiries, do you think the seller or the seller’s agent made any misrepresentations about the property that would give the Barrowses any remedies in law or equity?

Delivery of a Deed

Havens v. Schoen

108 Mich. App. 758; 310 N.W.2d 870 (Mich. App. 1981)

[Norma Anderson Havens, the owner of certain farm property in Marlette, Michigan, in contemplation of her death executed a quit-claim deed to the property to her only daughter, Linda Karen Anderson. The deed was subsequently recorded. Subsequently, Linda Karen Anderson married and became Linda Karen Adams and died. Thereafter, Norma Anderson Havens and Norman William Scholz, a nephew of Havens who has an interest in the property as the beneficiary of a trust, brought a suit in Sanilac Circuit Court against Ernest E. Schoen, Administrator of the estate of Linda Karen Adams, deceased, and other heirs of James W. Anderson, the ex-husband of Norma Anderson Havens, seeking to set aside the deed or to impose a constructive trust on the farm property which was the subject of the deed. Arthur E. Moore, J., found no cause of action and entered judgment for defendants. The plaintiffs appeal alleging error because there never was a delivery of the deed or an intent by Havens to then presently and unconditionally convey an interest in the property.]

PER CURIAM.

In 1962, plaintiff Dr. [Norma Anderson] Havens purchased the Scholz family farm from the estate of her twin brother, Norman Scholz. She gave a deed of trust to her other brother Earl Scholz in 1964, naming her daughter Linda Karen Adams as the principal beneficiary. In 1969, she filed suit against Earl and Inez Scholz and, in settlement of that suit, the property was conveyed to Dr. Havens and her daughter, now deceased. On August 13, 1969, Dr. Havens executed a quit-claim deed to her daughter of her remaining interest in the farm. It is this deed which Dr. Havens wishes to set aside.

The trial court found that plaintiffs failed to meet the burden of proving an invalid conveyance. Plaintiffs claim that there was never a delivery or an intent to presently and unconditionally convey an interest in the property to the daughter. The deed was recorded but defendants presented no other evidence to prove delivery. The recording of a deed raises a presumption of delivery. (Hooker v Tucker, 335 Mich 429, 434; 56 NW2d 246 (1953)) The only effect of this presumption is to cast upon the opposite party the burden of moving forward with the evidence. Hooker v Tucker, supra. The burden of proving delivery by a preponderance of the evidence remains with the party relying on the deed. (Camp v Guaranty Trust Co, 262 Mich 223, 226; 247 NW 162 (1933)). Acknowledging that the deed was recorded, plaintiffs presented substantial evidence showing no delivery and no intent to presently and unconditionally convey an interest in the property. The deed, after recording, was returned to Dr. Havens. She continued to manage the farm and pay all expenses for it. When asked about renting the farm, the daughter told a witness to ask her mother. Plaintiffs presented sufficient evidence to dispel the presumption. We find that the trial court erred when it stated that plaintiffs had the burden of proof on all issues. The defendants had the burden of proving delivery and requisite intent.

In Haasjes v Woldring, 10 Mich App 100; 158 NW2d 777 (1968), leave denied 381 Mich 756 (1968), two grandparents executed a deed to property to two grandchildren. The grandparents continued to live on the property, pay taxes on it and subsequent to the execution of the deed they made statements which this Court found inconsistent with a prior transfer of property. These circumstances combined with the fact that the deed was not placed beyond the grantors’ control led the Haasjes Court to conclude that a valid transfer of title had not been effected. The Haasjes Court, citing Wandel v Wandel, 336 Mich 126; 57 NW2d 468 (1953), and Resh v Fox, 365 Mich 288, 112 NW2d 486 (1961), held that in considering whether there was a present intent to pass title, courts may look to the subsequent acts of the grantor.

This Court reviews de novo the determinations of a trial court sitting in an equity case. Chapman v Chapman, 31 Mich App 576, 579; 188 NW2d 21 (1971). Having reviewed the evidence presented by the defendants to prove delivery, we find that the defendants failed to meet their burden of proof. Under the circumstances, the recording itself and the language of the deed were not persuasive proof of delivery or intent. Defendants presented no evidence of possession of the deed by anyone but the grantor and presented no evidence showing knowledge of the deed by the grantee. No evidence was presented showing that the daughter was ever aware that she owned the property. The showing made by defendants was inadequate to carry their burden of proof. The deed must be set aside.

Plaintiffs alleged none of the grounds which have traditionally been recognized as justifying the imposition of a constructive trust. See Chapman v Chapman, supra. A constructive trust is imposed only when it would be inequitable to do otherwise. Arndt v Vos, 83 Mich App 484; 268 NW2d 693 (1978). Although plaintiffs claim relief for a mutual mistake, plaintiffs have presented no facts suggesting a mistake on the part of the grantee. Creation of a constructive trust is not warranted by the facts as found by the trial court. There has been no claim that those findings are erroneous.

We remand to the trial court to enter an order setting aside the August 13, 1969, deed from Norma Anderson Havens to Linda Karen Anderson Adams purporting to convey the interest of Dr. Havens in the farm. The decision of the trial court finding no justification for imposing a trust upon the property is affirmed.

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

DISSENT BY:

MacKenzie, J. (dissenting).

I respectfully dissent. The deed was recorded with the knowledge and assent of the grantor, which creates a presumption of delivery. See Schmidt v Jennings, 359 Mich 376, 383; 102 NW2d 589 (1960), Reed v Mack, 344 Mich 391, 397; 73 NW2d 917 (1955). Crucial evidence was conflicting and I would disagree that the trial court’s findings were clearly erroneous.

In Reed v Mack, the Court affirmed the trial court’s finding that there had been delivery where the grantor defendant, who had owned the property with her husband, recorded a deed conveying a property jointly to herself and the two other grantees, stating:

“We are in agreement with the trial court. The defendant-appellant, a grantor in the deed, caused the recording of the deed, the delivery of which she attacks. The recording of a warranty deed may, under some circumstances, be effectual to show delivery. A delivery to one of several joint grantees, in absence of proof to the contrary, is delivery to all. Mayhew v Wilhelm, 249 Mich 640 [229 NW 459 (1930)]. While placing a deed on record does not in itself necessarily establish delivery, the recording of a deed raises a presumption of delivery, and the whole object of delivery is to indicate an intent by the grantor to give effect to the instrument.” [Citations]

In McMahon v Dorsey, 353 Mich 623, 626; 91 NW2d 893 (1958), the significance of delivery was characterized as the manifestation of the grantor’s intent that the instrument be a completed act.

* * *

The evidence herein indicates that plaintiff Norma Anderson Havens, after she had been told she was dying from cancer, executed a quit-claim deed on August 16, 1969, to her daughter, Linda Karen Anderson. Plaintiff Havens testified that the reason she executed the deed was that she felt “if something should happen to me, at least Karen would be protected”. The deed was recorded the same day by plaintiff Havens’s attorney. Plaintiff Havens either knew that the deed was recorded then or learned of the recording shortly thereafter. Although plaintiff Havens testified that she intended only a testamentary disposition, she apparently realized that the deed was effective to convey the property immediately because her testimony indicated an intention to execute a trust agreement. Linda Karen lived on the farm for five years after the deed was recorded until her death in 1974, yet plaintiff Havens did not attempt to have Linda Karen deed the farm back to her so she could replace the deed with a trust agreement or a will. Plaintiff Havens testified that she approached her attorneys regarding a trust agreement, but both attorneys denied this. The trial judge specifically found the testimony of the attorneys was convincing and he, of course, had the benefit of observing the witnesses.

Haasjes v Woldring, 10 Mich App 100; 158 NW2d 777 (1968), relied upon by the majority, involved unrecorded deeds which remained in a strongbox under control of the grantors until after their deaths. The grantors continued to live alone on the property and pay taxes thereon. Based on the lack of recording, I find Haasjes distinguishable from the present case.

In Hooker v Tucker, 335 Mich 429; 56 NW2d 246 (1953), delivery was held not to have occurred where the grantor handed her attorney a copy of a deed containing a legal description of property she wished included in a will to be drawn by him and he subsequently mailed the deed to the grantee without the grantor’s knowledge or permission. The purported delivery by mailing being unauthorized distinguishes Hooker from this case where there was no indication the recording was done without the grantor’s authorization.

The majority relies on the grantee’s purported lack of knowledge of the conveyance but the record is not at all clear in this regard. Further, if a deed is beneficial to the grantee, its acceptance is presumed. Tackaberry v Monteith, 295 Mich 487, 493; 295 NW 236 (1940), see also Holmes v McDonald, 119 Mich 563; 78 NW 647 (1899). While the burden of proving delivery is on the person relying upon the instrument, the burden shifts upon its recordation so that the grantor must go forward with the evidence of showing nondelivery, once recordation and beneficial interest have been shown. Hooker v Tucker, supra, and Tackaberry, supra. The trial court properly found that plaintiffs failed to go forward with the evidence and found that the deed conveyed title to the farm.

Factually, this is a difficult case because plaintiff Havens executed a deed which she intended to be a valid conveyance at the time it was executed and recorded. Subsequently, when her daughter unexpectedly predeceased her, the deed created a result she had not foreseen. She seeks to eradicate the unintended result by this litigation.

I am reluctant to set aside an unambiguous conveyance which was on record and unchallenged for five years on the basis of the self-serving testimony of the grantor as to her intent at the time she executed the deed and authorized its recordation.

I would affirm.

Case question $$\PageIndex{2}$$

1. Which opinion, the majority or the dissenting opinion, do you agree with, and why?