Becker v. MacDonald, No. 4-585A149

Docket NºNo. 4-585A149
Citation488 N.E.2d 729
Case DateFebruary 11, 1986
CourtCourt of Appeals of Indiana

Page 729

488 N.E.2d 729
Florence BECKER, Appellant (Plaintiff Below),
v.
Robert M. MacDONALD and Lois E. MacDonald, Appellees
(Defendants Below),
No. 4-585A149.
Court of Appeals of Indiana,
Fourth District.
Feb. 11, 1986.

Thomas M. Barr, Nashville, for appellant.

John J. Thomas, Thomas & Thomas, Kristi Buechler, Brazil, for appellees.

CONOVER, Judge.

Plaintiff-Appellant, Florence E. Becker (Florence), appeals a judgment determining ownership of and partitioning certain parcels

Page 730

of real estate, requiring specific performance of an oral contract for the sale of real property, and denying her claim for breach of an implied warranty of habitability due to negligent construction of a home.

We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

ISSUES

The issues, restated, are:

I. whether the trial court

(a) properly determined the ownership interests and proportionate shares of the parties in real estate held as joint tenants with right of survivorship, and

(b) followed statutory guidelines concerning partitioning of the real estate;

II. whether a trial court when ordering specific performance of a contract may add terms thereto; and

III. whether claims for damages due to alleged structural defects were properly denied.

FACTS

Florence Becker and Robert MacDonald (Robert) are siblings. Lois MacDonald (Lois) is Robert's spouse. Florence and the MacDonalds have been involved in several transactions concerning the sale and purchase of real estate. Generally, the issues here involved transactions concerning (a) the purchase of three parcels of land, and (b) a separate transaction concerning the purchase of a home on 1.2 acres of land.

(a) The Three Parcels

At different times three parcels of real estate were purchased. Together, these parcels contained 32.63 acres. Florence paid all of the consideration for these purchases. The deed for the first parcel granted it to "Robert M. MacDonald and Lois E. MacDonald, husband and wife; Florence MacDonald Becker, tenants in common." This parcel was later conveyed to a trustee and reconveyed to the same parties "as joint tenants with right of survivorship, and not as tenants in common." The other two parcels were granted to these parties "as joint tenants with rights of survivorship and not as tenants in common."

Florence also paid the legal and survey fees, and all real estate taxes and insurance on the three parcels. For a time Robert managed the properties and collected and retained rents and profits from the properties. Later, Florence collected and retained rents and profits.

(b) The Home

In 1972, Robert and Lois began building a new home on a 1.2 acre tract they owned. Before the home was completed Florence moved into it. Florence completed the construction of the home. She paid $6,500 as rent to Robert. Later, the parties orally agreed Florence would purchase the home and 1.2 acres for $35,000. Florence paid $10,000 to the MacDonalds. The parties later agreed $3,500 of the $6,500 earlier paid as rent would be applied to the purchase price. Still later Florence paid an additional $5,000.

Robert and Lois paid the real estate taxes and insurance premiums on the home. No writing ever memorialized any part of the purchase agreement.

In 1979, following a heavy rain, part of the front basement wall collapsed. Florence had the damage repaired.

Additional facts necessary to resolution of the issues presented are discussed below.

DISCUSSION AND DECISION

I. Ownership, Partition, and Distribution of the Three

Parcels

Florence contends the trial court's determination of "separate and several" ownership of the 32.63 acres is not supported by the evidence and is contrary to law. She asserts she should have been declared sole "equitable" owner of these parcels.

MacDonalds assert there was no error because the deeds were prepared according to the intentions of Florence, pursuant to her instructions.

(a) Ownership

She asserts in Counts I and II of her complaint she was the owner of an undivided one-half interest in these three parcels,

Page 731

the property was not susceptible of division, should be sold, and the proceeds distributed. She prayed for partition, sale, distribution of the proceeds, accounting for rents and profits, and reimbursement for a proportionate share of taxes paid. To the contrary, Florence asserts equitable ownership of all three parcels in Count III of her complaint, seeks to quiet title in her name alone, and reformation of the deeds to reflect her sole ownership.

The trial court found Florence and the MacDonalds were each "separate and several owners" of an equal undivided one-half interest in the described real estate. It found the property not susceptible of division or partitioning in kind, appointed a commissioner to collect the income therefrom, make sale, and distribute the proceeds.

Florence argues when she had the deeds prepared she did not intend Robert and Lois should have a present interest in the parcels. Florence testified she intended only the property should devolve to Robert and Lois upon Florence's death.

Robert and Lois argue (1) mere payment of the consideration by Florence is not sufficient to show she intended she would be the sole owner, (2) Florence made no showing of any wrongful act, e.g. fraud or undue influence, on their part sufficient to warrant setting aside the deed, and (3) Florence's mistake as to the legal effect of the deeds is not sufficient to cancel them.

It is undisputed Florence paid the full consideration for these properties, paid the taxes and insurance upon them, and collected insurance proceeds when a house on one of the parcels burned. It is equally undisputed Robert managed the properties, collected and retained rents, and expended money in maintaining them. Florence also paid the surveyor and retained counsel to prepare the deeds conveying the property from the sellers to her, Robert, and Lois. Florence testified she explained her purposes to the attorney and he drafted the deeds.

Florence now asserts because she did not intend joint ownership and so testified the trial court should have determined she was the sole equitable owner of this real estate. We disagree.

In similar circumstances our courts have ruled misinterpretation of the legal effect of expressions used to describe an ownership interest is a mistake of law for which no relief can be granted. In this regard, this Court has said:

It is apparent from the averments of the complaint and from the instrument itself that the mistake did not consist in inserting in the deed a form of words not intended, or in omitting therefrom a form of words intended to be inserted, but that it did consist in the misinterpretation of the legal effect of the expression used--in other words, it was not a mistake of fact, but a mistake of law.

As stated in Prior v. Quackenbush, 29 Ind. 475: "The deed does not bear evidence that it was written by one 'learned in law.' " It has been repeatedly held in this state that such mistakes, being of law, cannot be corrected. Nelson v. Davis, 40 Ind. 366; (citing cases). In Nelson v. Davis, supra, the court portrays a situation that aptly described the one here involved, as we understand it, as follows:

"It may, perhaps, be supposed that a scrivener was employed to prepare the deed, to whom the parties explained their purposes in the matter, and that he prepared such an instrument as he supposed would be available in carrying them out, and that the grantors executed it; all parties supposing that the terms employed would be sufficient to effectuate such purposes. If so, and if in this they were mistaken, it was a mere mistake of law, from which, except in cases of peculiar character, no relief can be granted."

Under the foregoing authorities, it is clear that, the mistake which appellants seek to correct...

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6 practice notes
  • Estate of Hann v. Hann, No. 61A01-9208-CV-284
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • June 7, 1993
    ...grounds. One maxim of equity provides that equity regards that as done which ought to be done. Becker v. MacDonald (1986), Ind.App., 488 N.E.2d 729, 733. This maxim has been applied to afford relief under those circumstances where one party omitted to perform an act he was required to do to......
  • Gabriel v. Windsor, Inc., No. 02A03-0504-CV-148.
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • February 28, 2006
    ...and of such nature the court can decree its complete performance against both parties without adding to its terms." Becker v. MacDonald, 488 N.E.2d 729, 733-734 (Ind.Ct.App.1986) (citing Risk v. Thompson, 237 Ind. 642, 652, 147 N.E.2d 540, 545 (1958)), reh'g granted on other grounds, 491 N.......
  • Ramer v. Smith, No. 57A04-0804-CV-202.
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • November 17, 2008
    ...will take an undivided one-half interest as a joint tenant. Hulett, 57 Ind. at 414, 1877 WL 6862, at *2; see also Becker v. MacDonald, 488 N.E.2d 729, 732 (Ind. Ct.App.1986). By logical extension, when land is conveyed jointly to two married couples, each couple takes an undivided one-half ......
  • Channell v. Moffatt, No. 59A04–1112–PL–664.
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • August 31, 2012
    ...“a party cannot appeal from a judgment which he has expressly or impliedly requested the court to enter.” Becker v. MacDonald, 488 N.E.2d 729, 732 (Ind.Ct.App.1986). In this case, the Trust sought the remedy of damages for inverse condemnation. The Trust also sought a default judgment concl......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 cases
  • Estate of Hann v. Hann, No. 61A01-9208-CV-284
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • June 7, 1993
    ...grounds. One maxim of equity provides that equity regards that as done which ought to be done. Becker v. MacDonald (1986), Ind.App., 488 N.E.2d 729, 733. This maxim has been applied to afford relief under those circumstances where one party omitted to perform an act he was required to do to......
  • Gabriel v. Windsor, Inc., No. 02A03-0504-CV-148.
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • February 28, 2006
    ...and of such nature the court can decree its complete performance against both parties without adding to its terms." Becker v. MacDonald, 488 N.E.2d 729, 733-734 (Ind.Ct.App.1986) (citing Risk v. Thompson, 237 Ind. 642, 652, 147 N.E.2d 540, 545 (1958)), reh'g granted on other grounds, 491 N.......
  • Ramer v. Smith, No. 57A04-0804-CV-202.
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • November 17, 2008
    ...will take an undivided one-half interest as a joint tenant. Hulett, 57 Ind. at 414, 1877 WL 6862, at *2; see also Becker v. MacDonald, 488 N.E.2d 729, 732 (Ind. Ct.App.1986). By logical extension, when land is conveyed jointly to two married couples, each couple takes an undivided one-half ......
  • Cunningham v. Hastings, No. 15A01-8911-CV-478
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • June 28, 1990
    ...the joint tenancy is created. 48A C.J.S. Joint Tenancy Sec. 21 (1981). This court's decision in Becker v. MacDonald (1986), Ind.App., 488 N.E.2d 729, on reh'g 491 N.E.2d 210, trans. denied, is instructive on the extent of Cunningham's interest in the property. Becker involved a joint tenanc......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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