382 P.3d 1028 (Okla. 2016), 114957, Calvert v. Wayland Guy Swinford

Docket Nº114957
Citation382 P.3d 1028, 2016 OK 100
Opinion JudgeKAUGER, J.:
Party NameLISA D. CALVERT and TERESA ROPER, Plaintiffs, v. WAYLAND GUY SWINFORD AND DAWN ELYNN SWINFORD; NOCONA L. CARTER, AND BRIAN L. CARTER, ROGER D. WARDEN AND SUSAN WARDEN, BRANDON VAUGHN AND SERRA VAUGHN, FIRST NATIONAL BANK, JEREMY D. WOODS, CHRISTY S. WOODS, BLACK BEAR CREEK ENERGY COMPANY, LLC., ROUTE 66 MINERALS, L.P., SUNDOWN ENERGY, L.P. AND HIGH
AttorneyDavid R. Cordell, Hayley N. Stephens, Tulsa, Oklahoma, for Plaintiffs/Appellants. William J. Baker, Ky. D. Corley, Steven M. Ruby, Stillwater, Oklahoma, for Third Party Defendant/Appellee Powers Abstract Co.
Judge PanelKAUGER, J. KAUGER, WATT, WINCHESTER, EDMONDSON, TAYLOR, COLBERT, GURICH, JJ., concur. REIF, C.J., not voting. COMBS, V.C.J., not participating. KAUGER, WATT, WINCHESTER, EDMONDSON, TAYLOR, COLBERT, GURICH, JJ., concur. REIF, C.J., not voting. COMBS, V.C.J., not participating.
Case DateOctober 04, 2016
CourtSupreme Court of Oklahoma

Page 1028

382 P.3d 1028 (Okla. 2016)

2016 OK 100

LISA D. CALVERT and TERESA ROPER, Plaintiffs,

v.

WAYLAND GUY SWINFORD AND DAWN ELYNN SWINFORD; NOCONA L. CARTER, AND BRIAN L. CARTER, ROGER D. WARDEN AND SUSAN WARDEN, BRANDON VAUGHN AND SERRA VAUGHN, FIRST NATIONAL BANK, JEREMY D. WOODS, CHRISTY S. WOODS, BLACK BEAR CREEK ENERGY COMPANY, LLC., ROUTE 66 MINERALS, L.P., SUNDOWN ENERGY, L.P. AND HIGHMOUNT EXPLORATION & PRODUCTION, LLC., Defendants.

AND

LISA D. CALVERT and TERESA ROPER, Plaintiffs/Appellants,

v.

MKB Royalty Corporation, Randee Koger, and Bremyer & Wise, LLC, Defendants, and POWERS ABSTRACT CO., Inc., Defendant/Appellee

No. 114957

Supreme Court of Oklahoma

October 4, 2016

Page 1029

APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF NOBLE COUNTY. Honorable Phillip A. Ross, Trial Judge.

MOTION TO RETAIN PREVIOUSLY GRANTED; TRIAL COURT AFFIRMED.

SYLLABUS

[¶0] The plaintiffs/appellants, sisters, sold real property in Noble County, but allegedly intended to keep their mineral interests in the property. Some twelve years after the deeds were filed, the sisters realized that mineral interests were not reserved and they filed a lawsuit for professional negligence against the defendant/appellee, the abstract office. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that the lawsuit was untimely, and the trial court agreed and granted summary judgment. We retained the cause to address the dispositive issue of whether the statute of limitations for an action brought by a grantor begins to accrue when a deed is filed with the county clerk. We hold that it does.

David R. Cordell, Hayley N. Stephens, Tulsa, Oklahoma, for Plaintiffs/Appellants.

William J. Baker, Ky. D. Corley, Steven M. Ruby, Stillwater, Oklahoma, for Third Party Defendant/Appellee Powers Abstract Co.

KAUGER, J. KAUGER, WATT, WINCHESTER, EDMONDSON, TAYLOR, COLBERT, GURICH, JJ., concur. REIF, C.J., not voting. COMBS, V.C.J., not participating.

OPINION

Page 1030

KAUGER, J.:

[¶1] We retained this cause to address the dispositive issue of whether the statute of limitations for an action brought by a grantor begins to accrue when a deed is filed with the county clerk. We hold that it does.

FACTS

[¶2] The plaintiffs/appellants, sisters, Lisa D. Calvert, an Illinois resident, and Teresa Roper, a Tennessee resident, (sisters/grantors/sellers) were attorneys in fact for their father, Allen Dwayne Downy, under a durable power of attorney. He owned Oklahoma real property which included mineral interests. The property is located in Noble County, Oklahoma.1 On October 29, 2000, acting as attorneys in fact for their father under a durable power of attorney, the sisters entered into an agreement to sell the property (surface only) with Wayland and Dawn Swinford (Swinfords/grantees).2 The sisters retained Kansas attorney, Randee Koger (attorney) and his law firm, Wise & Reber (then named Bremyer & Wise) (the firm) to represent them as their legal counsel and to prepare legal documents in connection with the real property transaction. The sisters also retained Powers Abstract Co., Inc., (Abstract Co.) a Perry, Oklahoma abstract company, to perform abstracting and closing functions for the sale of the property.

[¶3] The contract provided that the sellers would " retain the mineral rights on the property for a period of thirty-five years (35) years or for as long as oil and gas are being produced from the property. At the end of such time the mineral rights shall revert to the then surface owner." 3 The purchase price of the property was $62,000.00. On January 24, 2001, the sisters and their spouses entered into another agreement to sell additional real property to the Swinfords under the same terms and conditions of the as the October, 2000, contract.4 The contract price for this sale was $75,000.00.

[¶4] Apparently, because of some undisclosed title defect issues, the closing was delayed until June of 2002, when the Abstract Co. mailed the sisters a packet of closing documents and deeds to sign. The deeds did not contain a reservation of any mineral interests. The sisters allege that they sent the packet to their attorney to review and he insists he corrected the deeds so that they each included a reservation of mineral interests. The conveyances for both transactions took place on July 20, 2002. Neither the sisters nor the attorney were present at the closing. Only the Abstract Co. and the Swinfords were present at the closing. The deeds were filed July 25, 2002, in the Noble County Clerk's office.5 The sisters never received a

Page 1031

copy of the filed deeds from either the Abstract Co., or the attorney. The filed deeds did not reserve any mineral interests from sale.

[¶5] On November 7, 2014, the sisters filed a lawsuit in Noble County, Oklahoma, against an MKB Royalty Corporation, an Oklahoma royalty corporation, Randee Koger, the Kansas attorney who handled the property transactions, and his McPherson, Kansas, law firm, Bremyer & Wise, and Powers Abstract Company, the Oklahoma abstract company who did the title work on the real property transaction in an attempt to recover their mineral interests which they thought they had retained. On August 14, 2015, the Abstract Co., filed a motion for summary judgement, arguing that the applicable statute of limitations had run because it has been more than twelve years since the deeds were filed. The sisters argued that the limitations period did not begin to run when the deeds were filed, but rather when they knew or should have known that negligence occurred. They contend that they didn't discover the mistake in the deeds until 2013, when they first became aware that the Swinfords were leasing the mineral rights.

[¶6] The statute of limitations applicable to an action for negligence is found in 12 O.S. 2011 § 95(A)(3) and it provides that such a claim must be filed two (2) years after the cause of action shall have accrued.6 The same statute provides a five (5) year limitation for deed reformation.7 On November 18, 2015, the trial court held a summary judgment hearing. At the hearing, the attorney for the Abstract Co. disclosed that the sisters had actual notice of the mistake in the deeds in 2003, because the Swinfords filed a quiet title action to the property in Noble County No. CV-2003-10, which resulted in a default judgment in favor of the Swinfords.[8] The sisters, essentially ignoring the 2003 lawsuit filings, argued that: 1) the only purpose in filing a deed is to put third parties on notice of the deeds, not to put grantors on notice as to whether the deed comports with that they intended to convey; 2) the grantors were not under any duty to check the record to ensure they were correct; and 3) the quiet title action did not involve the Abstract Co. and was, therefore, inapplicable.

[¶7] On April 5, 2016, the court filed an order granting summary judgment to the Abstract Co. It determined that the deeds, which were examined and signed by the grantors, gave the grantors constructive notice of any alleged mistake when they were filed of public record. Consequently, any

Page 1032

claims of reformation and/or negligence were precluded by the long expired statute of limitations for either claim. The trial court also directed the filing of a final journal entry of judgment pursuant to 12 O.S. 2011 § 994(A).9

[¶8] On May 3, 2016, the grantors appealed, arguing that summary judgment was premature because fact questions exist as to whether the statute of limitations had run. On appeal, the Abstract Co. argues that, in addition to the cause being untimely filed, an unpublished decision rendered by the Court of Civil Appeals in cause no. 113,558 in which the sisters sued Route 66 Minerals and Sundown Energy for unjust enrichment and quiet title and in which the Swinfords were also named defendants, precludes the sisters from bringing this lawsuit altogether. In cause no. 113,558, the Court of Civil Appeals held that the sisters' action for quiet title and unjust enrichment was time-barred, and it affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment. We retained this cause on May 25, 2016, to address the statute of limitation issue.

THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS FOR AN ACTION BROUGHT BY A GRANTOR BEGINS TO ACCRUE WHEN THE DEED IS FILED WITH THE COUNTY CLERK.

[¶9] The sisters argue that their lawsuit, brought more than twelve years after the deeds were filed with the county clerk, is timely because they did not discover the deficiency in their deed until 2013, within two years of filing their lawsuit. The Abstract Company disagrees, relying primarily on the Court of Civil Appeals opinion in Pangaea Exploration Corp. v. Ryland, 2010 OK CIV APP 66, 239 P.3d 160 as particularly persuasive as applied to this cause.10 The record also includes various other cases in which the same " timeliness" issue has re-occurred in Oklahoma Courts with differing results.11 Accordingly, we retained this cause to address the discovery/constructive notice issue and we do not address or express any opinion on whether the previous unpublished Case No. 113,558 Calvert v. Route 66 Minerals or whether the 2003 lawsuit filed by the grantees may also be dispositive of this cause.12

[¶10] The enactment of a statute of limitations is a legislative expression of a policy that prohibits litigants from raising claims after the expiration of a given period of time.13 Statutes of limitations are generally

Page 1033

considered procedural defenses14 and are designed to prevent fraud and to protect litigants against stale claims.15 Exceptions to statutes of limitations are strictly construed and are not enlarged on consideration of apparent hardship or inconvenience.16

[¶11] A cause of...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP