595 S.E.2d 846 (S.C.App. 2004), 3767, Hunt v. Forestry Com'm

Docket Nº:3767.
Citation:595 S.E.2d 846, 358 S.C. 564
Party Name:358 S.C. 564 J.W. HUNT, Jr., and William R. Hunt, Respondents, v. South Carolina FORESTRY COMMISSION, Appellant.
Case Date:March 29, 2004
Court:Court of Appeals of South Carolina
 
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Page 846

595 S.E.2d 846 (S.C.App. 2004)

358 S.C. 564

J.W. HUNT, Jr., and William R. Hunt, Respondents,

v.

South Carolina FORESTRY COMMISSION, Appellant.

No. 3767.

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

March 29, 2004.

Submitted March 8, 2004.

Rehearing Denied May 21, 2004.

Page 847

Robert E. Horner, of Columbia, for Appellant.

C. Kenneth Powell, J. Lewis Cromer and J. Philip Murphy, all of Columbia, for Respondents.

ANDERSON, J.:

The South Carolina Forestry Commission ("SCFC") appeals an order of the trial court, which held that a deed granted to the SCFC in 1937 conveying a ten-acre tract of land merely conveyed a fee simple determinable with a possibility of reverter and not a fee simple absolute. We reverse. 1

FACTS/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On January 11, 1937, The First Carolinas Joint Stock Land Bank of Columbia issued a deed to the SCFC granting the commission ten acres of land for the consideration of one dollar.

The granting clause of this deed reads:

The First Carolinas Joint Stock Land Bank of Columbia ... [has] granted, bargained, sold and released, and by these presents [does] grant, bargain, sell and release unto the said [SCFC] and their successors in office all that certain piece....

(emphasis added).

The habendum clause provides:

To Have and to Hold all and singular the premises before mentioned unto the said [SCFC] and their successors in office, and assigns forever.

(emphasis added).

Following a description of the property conveyed to the SCFC, the deed states:

[T]his deed is upon the express condition that the grantee shall with reasonable dispatch erect and maintain on said lands a suitable fire tower or towers and suitable buildings for the keeper thereof, and use said lands in furthering the cause of reforestation and forest protection, and should the grantee at any time for a period of two years cease to use the property aforesaid for said purposes the title thereto shall revert to the grantor, its successors and assigns, provided, however, that in such case the grantee shall have the right to remove any fire tower or towers or other buildings, if any which the grantee may place on the said lands.

Page 848

In 1941, The First Carolinas Joint Stock Land Bank of Columbia sold a piece of property adjacent to the ten-acre tract to Thomas Thain. This deed to Thain intended to convey the reversionary rights to the SCFC's ten-acre parcel.

By deed granted in 1943, Thain conveyed various parcels of land to J.W. Hunt, Sr., including most of the tract granted to Thain by the bank. This deed purported to convey to J.W. Hunt, Sr., the reversionary rights in the parcel at issue in this case.

Via an instrument entitled "Deed of Reversionary Rights" dated March 30, 1984, J.W. Hunt, Sr., conveyed to J.W. Hunt, Jr., and William R. Hunt ("Respondents") any interest he had received from Thain by the 1943 deed in the ten-acre parcel at issue.

In 1984, Respondents asked the SCFC for a wider easement across the ten-acre tract for the purpose of allowing trucks greater accessibility in harvesting the tract's lumber. Prior to granting Respondents an easement, however, the SCFC requested they execute an estoppel agreement whereby Respondents agreed they would not use the easement extension as a basis for arguing that the property had reverted to them. This document was drafted by Respondents' attorney and was signed by Respondents. The agreement did not profess to bind the SCFC and was not signed by any agent of the State of South Carolina or the SCFC.

With the advent of airplane surveillance, the use of fire towers for forest protection became obsolete. In 1993 and 1994, the fire tower and accompanying buildings located on the ten-acre parcel were removed. The SCFC and Respondents undertook preparations to transfer the land to Respondents. After about a year and half of working with the SCFC on obtaining the ten-acre tract, 2 the SCFC informed Respondents that their attorneys believed that Respondents had no valid interest in the property. Based on the SCFC's refusal to transfer the land, Respondents initiated an action seeking a grant...

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