Adams v. Adams

Decision Date27 September 2007
Docket NumberDocket No. 274497.
Citation742 N.W.2d 399,276 Mich. App. 704
PartiesJoann J. ADAMS, Plaintiff/Counter-Defendant-Appellant, v. Terrance J. ADAMS, Sandra M. Adams, Robert S. Adams, and Mary Beth Adams, Defendants/Counter-Plaintiffs-Appellees (On Reconsideration).
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan — District of US
742 N.W.2d 399
276 Mich. App. 704
Joann J. ADAMS, Plaintiff/Counter-Defendant-Appellant,
v.
Terrance J. ADAMS, Sandra M. Adams, Robert S. Adams, and Mary Beth Adams, Defendants/Counter-Plaintiffs-Appellees (On Reconsideration).
Docket No. 274497.
Court of Appeals of Michigan.
Submitted June 5, 2007, at Detroit.
Decided September 27, 2007, at 9:00 a.m.
Released for Publication November 27, 2007.

[742 N.W.2d 401]

Kemp Klein Law Firm (by Richard Bisio), Troy, for the plaintiff.

Donald L. Samhat, P.C. (by Donald L. Samhat), Northville, for Terrance J. and Sandra M. Adams.

Michael D. Schloff P.L.L.C. (by Michael D. Schloff), Bloomfield Hills, for Robert S. and Mary Beth Adams.

Thomas A. Kabel, Bloomfield Hills, for amicus curiae the Real Property Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan.

Before: SERVITTO, P.J., and JANSEN and SCHUETTE, JJ.

ON RECONSIDERATION

PER CURIAM.


In this action brought to determine interests in land, plaintiff appeals as of right the trial court's grant of summary disposition in favor of defendants under MCR 2.116(C)(7). On reconsideration, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

I

Plaintiff was the second wife of the late Robert J. Adams. Robert J. Adams had two children from his first marriage: defendants Terrance J. Adams and Robert S. Adams. Terrance J. Adams is married to defendant Sandra M. Adams, and Robert S. Adams is married to defendant Mary Beth Adams. The parties mutually owned the real property at issue in this case. A one-third interest was owned by plaintiff and Robert J. Adams, another one-third interest was owned by Terrance J. Adams and Sandra M. Adams, and the final one-third interest was owned by Robert S. Adams and Mary Beth Adams. The three couples owned the property as tenants in common, and each couple held its respective one third interest in tenancy by the entirety.

In 1988, a deed purportedly signed by plaintiff and Robert J. Adams conveyed their one-third interest in the property to Robert J. Adams, as trustee of the Robert J. Adams Trust. This deed was promptly recorded. Plaintiff asserts that she never signed the 1988 deed, and alternatively contends that if she did sign the deed, her signature was procured through the fraud or undue influence of her late husband. Plaintiff's late husband Robert J. Adams died in January 1997.

A safe-deposit box used by Robert J. Adams was opened in the summer or fall of 1997. The 1988 deed was found inside. While Robert J. Adams had recorded the

742 N.W.2d 402

deed in 1988, neither plaintiff nor defendants apparently knew that the deed existed until the safe-deposit box was opened in 1997.

Although the 1988 deed was found in 1997, it is undisputed that defendants continued paying plaintiff a portion of the rent generated by the property until 1998. A deed was then executed in 1999 that conveyed half of the one-third interest of the Robert J. Adams Trust to Terrance J. Adams and Sandra M. Adams, and the other half of the one-third interest of the Robert J. Adams Trust to Robert S. Adams and Mary Beth Adams. Plaintiff contends that this 1999 deed transferred nothing to defendants because the earlier 1988 deed, as either a fraud or a forgery, had never conveyed the one-third interest to the trust in the first instance. Instead, plaintiff contends that she acquired full ownership of the one-third interest in question upon her late husband's death.

In 2005, plaintiff sued to determine the parties' interests in the property, asserting that she had not been disseised of the property until 1997 or 1998, and that her complaint was therefore timely under the applicable 15-year period of limitations. Defendants responded that plaintiff's claim sounded in fraud or rescission, and that it was therefore already time-barred by the applicable six-year limitations period. The trial court agreed with defendants, and on July 12, 2006, granted summary disposition in their favor under MCR 2.116(C)(7).

II

We review de novo the trial court's grant or denial of a motion for summary disposition. Maiden v. Rozwood, 461 Mich. 109, 118, 597 N.W.2d 817 (1999). Summary disposition is properly granted pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(7) when the claim is barred by the applicable period of limitations. Bryant v. Oakpointe Villa Nursing Ctr., Inc., 471 Mich. 411, 419, 684 N.W.2d 864 (2004). Whether a claim is barred by the applicable period of limitations is a question of law that we review de novo. Detroit v. 19675 Hasse, 258 Mich.App. 438, 444, 671 N.W.2d 150 (2003). Lastly, a challenge to subject-matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time, and presents a question of law that we review de novo. Bass v. Combs, 238 Mich. App. 16, 23, 604 N.W.2d 727 (1999).

III

As a preliminary matter, defendants assert that this Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction to hear and decide this appeal. We disagree. The question of jurisdiction is always within the scope of this Court's review. Walsh v. Taylor, 263 Mich.App. 618, 622, 689 N.W.2d 506 (2004). This Court "has jurisdiction of an appeal of right filed by an aggrieved party from ... [a] final judgment or final order of the circuit court...." MCR 7.203(A)(1). A "final judgment" or "final order" is "the first judgment or order that disposes of all the claims and adjudicates the rights and liabilities of all the parties...." MCR 7.202(6)(a)(i). Because the trial court's order of July 12, 2006, did not dispose of all the claims and adjudicate the rights and liabilities of all the parties, it was not the final order in this case. Instead, the trial court's order of October 30, 2006, which dismissed the still-pending counterclaims of the defendants, was the final order under MCR 7.202(6)(a)(i). Defendants' jurisdictional challenge is without merit.

IV

Plaintiff argues that the trial court erred in granting defendants' motion for summary disposition pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(7). She asserts that the true gravamen of her complaint was to quiet title under MCL 600.2932, and that the trial

742 N.W.2d 403

court therefore should have applied the 15-year limitations period of MCL 600.5801(4). In response, defendants assert that plaintiff's claim sounded in fraud or undue influence,1 and that the trial court properly applied the residual six-year limitations period of MCL 600.5813. Defendants secondarily assert that even if the claim did not sound in fraud, it was nonetheless a claim for rescission of a written instrument, and the same six-year limitations period therefore applied. We agree with plaintiff that the gravamen of her claim was to quiet title under MCL 600.2932, and conclude that the claim was governed by the 15-year limitations period of MCL 600.5801(4).

A. The Gravamen of Plaintiff's Claim

As plaintiff correctly notes, the period of limitations for actions to quiet title is 15 years. MCL 600.5801(4); see also Gorte v. Dep't of Transportation, 202 Mich.App. 161, 165, 507 N.W.2d 797 (1993). In contrast, claims sounding in fraud are subject to the residual six-year limitations period of MCL 600.5813. Badon v. Gen. Motors Corp., 188 Mich.App. 430, 435, 470 N.W.2d 436 (1991). Claims seeking rescission are generally governed by the same residual six-year period of limitations. MCL 600.5813; see also Wall v. Zynda, 283 Mich. 260, 265-266, 278 N.W. 66 (1938).

In deciding which period of limitations controls, we must first determine the true nature of the claim. Simmons v. Apex Drug Stores, Inc., 201 Mich.App. 250, 253, 506 N.W.2d 562 (1993). "The type of interest allegedly harmed is the focal point in determining which limitation period controls." Id. It is well settled that the gravamen of an action is determined by reading the complaint as a whole, and by looking beyond mere procedural labels to determine the exact nature of the claim. David v. Sternberg, 272 Mich.App. 377, 381, 726 N.W.2d 89 (2006); Tipton v. William Beaumont Hosp., 266 Mich.App. 27, 33, 697 N.W.2d 552 (2005).

In the past, there were two distinct actions for clearing title and recovering possession of real property: the action for ejectment and the action to quiet title. Tray v. Whitney, 35 Mich.App. 529, 533, 192 N.W.2d 628 (1971). The common-law action for ejectment was a legal action by which a nonpossessory party sought to recover real property that was in the possession of another. Id. In contrast, the equitable action to quiet title was available to a party in possession of real property who sought to clear the property's title as against the world. Id. The action to quiet title was intended to reach parties out of possession who could not be compelled to defend their rights at law. Featherston v. Pontiac Twp., 310 Mich. 129, 133, 16 N.W.2d 689 (1944).

While the circuit court sitting in chancery had the express jurisdiction to hear and decide actions to quiet title, a bill to quiet title did not lie if the plaintiff had an adequate remedy at law. Hawkins v. Dillman, 268 Mich. 483, 488, 256 N.W. 492 (1934). However, notwithstanding the availability of a suit for ejectment, chancery could take jurisdiction if an independent ground justified equitable relief. Id. Therefore, even when a suit for ejectment was open to the plaintiff, equity could act to quiet title in cases involving fraud and cases in which the plaintiff sought rescission or reformation. See id.

742 N.W.2d 404

The historic distinctions between law and equity have now been generally abolished in this state, and a plaintiff is no longer required to bring separate actions in law and equity. Const. 1963, art. 6, § 5; Stefanac v. Cranbrook Ed. Community (After Remand), 435 Mich. 155, 169-170, 458 N.W.2d 56 (1990). Specifically with respect to real property actions, the Legislature's enactment of MCL 600.2932 has "combined the two actions of ejectment and quiet title, and created a single action to determine interests in land."2 Tray, supra at 534, 192 N.W.2d 628. MCL 600.2932(1) provides:

Any person, whether he is in possession of the land in question or...

To continue reading

Request your trial
91 cases
  • Papazian v. Goldberg (In re Mardigian Estate)
    • United States
    • Michigan Supreme Court
    • June 21, 2018
    ...is a species of fraud," and the rules of fraud therefore apply to questions of undue influence. Adams v. Adams (On Reconsideration) , 276 Mich. App. 704, 710 n. 1, 742 N.W.2d 399 (2007). Courts may apply equitable powers to preserve the integrity of the judiciary as well. Stachnik v. Winkel......
  • AFT Mich. v. State, Docket Nos. 303702
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan — District of US
    • June 7, 2016
    ...alleges only a substantive due-process claim, but the label placed on a claim is not dispositive. Adams v. Adams (On Reconsideration), 276 Mich.App. 704, 710–711, 742 N.W.2d 399 (2007). Instead, "the gravamen of an action is determined by reading the complaint as a whole." Id. Because the u......
  • Tenneco Inc. v. Amerisure Mut. Ins. Co.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan — District of US
    • September 9, 2008
    ...nature of a plaintiff's claim must be examined to determine the applicable statute of limitations. Adams v. Adams (On Reconsideration), 276 Mich. App. 704, 710, 742 N.W.2d 399 (2007). "[T]he gravamen of an action is determined by reading the complaint as a whole, and by looking beyond mere ......
  • Buhalis v. Trinity Continuing Care Servs.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan — District of US
    • May 29, 2012
    ...as a whole, and by looking beyond mere procedural labels to determine the exact nature of the claim.” Adams v. Adams (On Reconsideration), 276 Mich.App. 704, 710–711, 742 N.W.2d 399 (2007). Michigan law distinguishes between claims arising from ordinary negligence and claims premised on a c......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT