1997 -NMCA- 96, Martinez v. Martinez, 17876

Citation123 N.M. 816,945 P.2d 1034,1997 NMCA 96
Decision Date12 August 1997
Docket NumberNo. 17876,17876
Parties, 1997 -NMCA- 96 Daniel MARTINEZ, Greg Martinez, Paul Martinez, Irene Archuleta, Jerry Martinez, Gilbert Martinez, and Philip Martinez, Plaintiffs-Appellees, and Cross-Appellants, v. Severo MARTINEZ, Ruth Armijo, et al., Defendants-Appellants, and Cross-Appellees.
CourtCourt of Appeals of New Mexico


¶1 Plaintiffs and Defendants have each appealed from the trial court's final judgment in this quiet title action. Defendants' appeal asserts that the trial court erred in quieting title in Plaintiffs and denying Defendants' cross-claim seeking to quiet title to the disputed realty in themselves. Plaintiffs' cross-appeal argues that the trial court erred in denying (1) their motion for an award of sanctions and costs against Defendants, and (2) their request for expert witness fees. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.


¶2 Plaintiffs (consisting of the children or grandchildren of Fernando Martinez, deceased) filed suit to quiet title to a 4.508-acre tract of land near the Village of Marquez in McKinley County, New Mexico. Defendant Severo Martinez is the brother of the decedent, Fernando Martinez. Defendant Ruth Armijo is the daughter of Severo, and Estefanita Martinez, now deceased, and claims an interest in the property. After Defendants were served with the complaint and summons, they filed an answer and cross-claim seeking to quiet title to the disputed property in themselves.

¶3 At trial, Defendant Severo Martinez (Severo) testified that he had bought the land in question from his brother Fernando Martinez (Fernando) in 1974 for the sum of $2500. Severo also testified that he had paid his brother in cash and, although he did not obtain a deed to the property, Fernando gave him a written and signed receipt confirming the purchase. The receipt, written in Spanish, stated that on September 20, 1974, Fernando sold the land to his brother, Severo. James Martinez (James), the son of Severo, also testified that he was present when his father tendered the money to Fernando and that he saw Fernando give the receipt to Severo. Defendants also sought to introduce into evidence at trial an assignment of a mineral lease from Fernando to Severo, assigning all right, title, and interest in a mineral lease to the disputed property, dated June 6, 1974. The trial court, however, denied the tender of the exhibit into evidence.

¶4 Plaintiffs challenged the validity of the receipt and presented the testimony of several witnesses who stated they were familiar with the signature of Fernando, and that the signature on the receipt was not that of the decedent. Additionally, Plaintiffs called Judith Housley, a handwriting expert, as a witness. Ms. Housley testified that she had examined the receipt and compared it with known handwriting samples of the decedent, Fernando, and that, in her opinion, the receipt was a forgery and the date on the document had been altered.

¶5 The trial court adopted findings of fact and conclusions of law and entered a judgment declaring Plaintiffs to be the owners of the property in question. The trial court's findings, among other things, found that the receipt "relied on by the Defendants was a forgery and the forgery was caused by Severo Martinez, [the] brother of Fernando Martinez" and that "Defendants' claim of title fails as to their fee simple and adverse possession claims."


¶6 Defendants assert that the trial court erred in denying their claim to quiet title to the property in them. Specifically, Defendants argue that the trial court erred in finding that Severo forged the receipt evidencing the purported sale of the realty. They rely upon testimony of Severo and his son, James, who stated that they were personally present when Fernando sold the property to Severo, and that Fernando gave Severo the receipt confirming the sale of the property to Severo. Defendants also argue that both the conveyance of the mineral interest executed by Fernando, together with the receipt, constitute color of title to the property, and that because Defendants occupied the property openly, notoriously, and conspicuously, and paid taxes thereon for ten years or more, the trial court erred in failing to find that they established ownership in the tract by adverse possession.

¶7 In response to these arguments, Plaintiffs argue that the document purporting to convey the mineral rights to the subject property was never received into evidence. Additionally, Plaintiffs point out that the receipt relied upon by Defendants was determined by the trial court to have been a forgery, and the trial court specifically found that "the forgery was caused by Severo Martinez, [the] brother of Fernando Martinez." Defendants have not specifically challenged this finding in their briefs. See Maloof v. San Juan County Valuation Protests Bd., 114 N.M. 755, 759, 845 P.2d 849, 853 (Ct.App.1992) (absent proper attack on trial court's findings of fact or failure to set forth substance of all the evidence supportive of such findings, appellant is bound by such findings).

¶8 Our review of the record indicates that the testimony and evidence relating to the alleged conveyance of mineral rights to the property in question and the receipt purporting to evidence the sale of the land was vigorously contested by the Parties, despite Defendants' assertion that Plaintiffs "introduced no testimony whatsoever or affidavits or any evidence to the contrary." The document purporting to assign the mineral rights in the disputed property, as previously mentioned, was not received into evidence, and, although Defendants challenge the sufficiency of the evidence to support the trial court's decision that the receipt purporting to evidence a sale of the property was a forgery and point to evidence in their briefs supporting their claim that Fernando gave the receipt for the sale of the property to Severo in exchange for $2500, the record clearly contains substantial evidence supporting the claim of ownership by Plaintiffs to the property.

¶9 The record discloses that Plaintiffs presented the testimony of Phillip Martinez (decedent's son), Carolta Moya (decedent's daughter-in-law), and Paul Martinez (decedent's grandson). Each of these witnesses testified that they were familiar with the decedent's signature and the signature on the receipt was not the signature of the decedent. Additionally, Plaintiffs called Ms. Housley, a forensic document examiner with twenty-nine years of experience. Defendants stipulated to her qualifications as an expert. She testified that the signature on the alleged receipt was a forgery and that Severo was the person who signed the receipt.

¶10 In reviewing a party's claim of insufficiency of the evidence to uphold a trial court's decision quieting title against an appellant, a reviewing court reviews only evidence favorable to the findings of the court below. See Lopez v. Adams, 116 N.M. 757, 758, 867 P.2d 427, 428 (Ct.App.1993). On appeal, we review the evidence in the record in a light most favorable to the party that prevailed below, indulge in all reasonable inferences in support of the trial court's decision, and disregard all evidence or testimony to the contrary. See Camino Sin Pasada Neighborhood Ass'n v. Rockstroh, 119 N.M. 212, 216, 889 P.2d 247, 251 (Ct.App.1994). Thus, the real issue to be resolved on appeal here is whether there is evidence to support the trial court's decision, not whether there is evidence which may have supported a different result. See Abbinett v. Fox, 103 N.M. 80, 86, 703 P.2d 177, 183 (Ct.App.1985). Because the instrument purporting to assign mineral rights to the subject property was not received into evidence and the receipt was found to be a forgery, the trial court could properly conclude that Defendants failed to meet their burden of proof to show either fee simple title in the property, adverse possession, or other ownership in the property.

¶11 Defendants also argue that the trial court erred in quieting title in Plaintiffs and refusing to find that Plaintiffs' claim, that the receipt evidencing the purchase of the property was a fraud, was barred by the statute of limitations. We disagree. In arguing this issue, Defendants have not pointed to any evidence indicating that the receipt was ever recorded. Moreover, Plaintiffs presented testimony that they first became aware of the existence of the receipt in 1994. Thus, the trial court could reasonably determine that the statute of limitations relied upon by Defendants did not begin to run until 1994. See NMSA 1978, § 37-1-7 (Repl.Pamp.1990) (cause of action for fraud or mistake is not "deemed to have accrued until the fraud [or] mistake ... complained of, shall have been discovered by the party aggrieved"); see also NMSA 1978, § 37-1-4 (Repl.Pamp.1990) (specifying four-year statute of limitations for fraud).

¶12 Defendants had the burden of proof to establish the validity of their claim of ownership in the disputed property. A party seeking to quiet title to realty must recover upon the strength of his or her own title and not on the claimed weakness of his adversary. Board of County Comm'rs, Luna County v. Ogden, 117 N.M. 181, 186, 870 P.2d 143, 148 (Ct.App.1994). Here, Defendants failed to meet the required burden of proof. On the other hand, the record shows that Plaintiffs are the surviving children or grandchildren of Fernando, deceased, and that title vested in them by intestate succession. See NMSA 1978, § 45-2-103 (Repl.Pamp.1995) (share of heirs other than surviving spouse.). Our review of the record reveals the existence of proper evidence to support the trial court's...

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