Boshell v. Keith

CourtSupreme Court of Alabama
Citation418 So.2d 89
PartiesSankey BOSHELL, et al. v. Gaines W. KEITH, Drummond Coal Company, and United States Steel Corporation. 81-441.
Decision Date30 July 1982

Dennis L. Tomlin, Nashville, Tenn., and Nelson Allen, Jasper, for appellants.

Edward R. Jackson of Tweedy, Jackson & Beech, Jasper, and H. Thomas Wells, Jr., of Cabaniss, Johnston, Gardner, Dumas & O'Neal, Birmingham, for appellees Gaines W. Keith and Drummond Coal Co.

William F. Murray, Jr. and F. A. Flowers, III, of Thomas, Taliaferro, Forman, Burr & Murray, Birmingham, for appellee United States Steel Corp.

JONES, Justice.

Appellants ask this Court to create an exception to the 20-year rule of prescription. Established precedents compel us to uphold the trial court's ruling that the undisputed material facts do not fall within any recognized exception to the common law rule of repose. We affirm.

Appellee Dr. Gaines W. Keith commenced this action, seeking to quiet title to the mineral interests in eight parcels of real property situated in Walker County, Alabama. Dr. Keith claimed title to the mineral rights as grantee under a deed from Mae Boshell dated September 6, 1958. The action was brought in rem against the mineral estate and named as defendants, inter alia, United States Steel Corporation, a claimant with respect to parcels 1, 4, and 8, and the heirs and next of kin of M. J. and Mae Boshell, both deceased, claimants with respect to all eight parcels.

The Boshell heirs answered and counterclaimed, alleging that the 1958 deed from Mae Boshell to Dr. Keith was void, claiming a fee simple interest in the surface and mineral rights of all eight parcels, and requesting a declaration that "all other parties to this action be adjudged as having no estate, right, title, interest in said property or any part thereof and they be forever barred from asserting any estate, right, title or interest of any nature in or to said property adverse to the [Boshell heirs'] rights."

U. S. Steel, in its answer, claimed sole and absolute ownership of the mineral The Boshell heirs moved to join Drummond Coal Company as plaintiff-intervenors, because Drummond was the lessee of certain of the disputed mineral interests from Dr. Keith. The motion for joinder was subsequently granted. The Boshell heirs also included in their answer a cross claim against U. S. Steel, claiming the mineral rights in parcels 1, 4, and 8 based upon the alleged invalidity of the 1902 deed.

rights in parcels 1, 4, and 8, pursuant to a deed dated October 1, 1902, from the Sheffield Coal, Iron & Steel Company. U. S. Steel asserted no interest in the mineral or surface rights of the remaining parcels 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7.

Dr. Keith and Drummond filed motions to dismiss the Boshell heirs' counterclaim challenging the 1958 deed, based upon the statute of limitations and 20-year rule of repose or prescription. U. S. Steel also filed a motion to dismiss the cross-claim of the Boshell heirs, premised upon the statute of limitations, the 20-year rule of repose, and res judicata.

After a hearing on these motions to dismiss, the trial court found the following dates determinative of the prescription issue:

1902--Sheffield Coal, Iron & Steel Company deed to U. S. Steel

1956--The heirs and next of kin of M. J. Boshell deed parcels 1-8 to Mae Boshell in fee simple

1958--Mae Boshell deeds parcels 1-8 to Dr. Gaines W. Keith

1970--(June 22) Mae Boshell dies, willing all property to Mary Hanson, one of the Boshell heirs

1976--(April 10) Keith leases mineral rights to Drummond Coal Company

1980--(February or March) Boshell heirs claim they first discovered that the 1958 deed to Dr. Keith was the result of fraud, forgery, conflict of interest, and incompetency.

1980--(July 11) Dr. Keith files suit to quiet title

1980--(August 14) Boshell heirs counterclaim against Keith (and later Drummond) challenging the 1958 deed to Dr. Keith, and claim all eight parcels to the exclusion of all other parties in the suit, later treated by the court as a cross-claim against U. S. Steel challenging the 1902 deed from Sheffield Coal, Iron & Steel Co.

Applying the rule of repose to these findings, the trial court dismissed the Boshell heirs' counterclaim against Dr. Keith and Drummond and their cross-claim against U. S. Steel. From this interlocutory order, an ARAP 5 appeal was perfected.

We affirm.


We note at the outset that the determination as to which party holds superior title to the mineral rights in parcels 1, 4, and 8, as between Dr. Keith, Drummond, and U. S. Steel, and to the other five parcels, as between Dr. Keith, Drummond, and the other originally named defendants, remains pending in the circuit court and is not an issue on this appeal. The only portion of the judgment certified as final for purposes of interlocutory appeal is the order of October 7, 1981, foreclosing the challenge of the Boshell heirs to the 1958 Keith deed and the 1902 U. S. Steel deed.


M. J. Boshell died intestate on September 21, 1956. The next year, on February 20, 1957, the heirs at law of M. J. Boshell deeded in fee simple all the putative interest of their father to their mother, Mae Boshell. On September 6, 1958, Mae Boshell deeded her right, title, and interest in the mineral estate to parcels 1 through 8 to Dr. Gaines W. Keith. This conveyance was witnessed and acknowledged by John D. Petree, Esq., now deceased. Subsequent to the transaction between Mae Boshell and Dr. Keith, Dr. Keith or his wife paid the yearly tax assessments on the mineral rights to the eight parcels. Mae Boshell and the Boshell heirs paid no taxes on the subject property (except for 20 acres not subject to these proceedings) after the 1958 conveyance.

Not until February of 1980 did any of the Boshell heirs (through their counterclaim) seek to assert a claim to the property in question. This was some 21 years and 6 months after the 1958 deed from Mae Boshell to Dr. Keith.


In essence, the counterclaim of the Boshell heirs seeks to have the court set aside the deed from Mae Boshell to Dr. Gaines Keith (executed and recorded in 1958) or to set aside or reform the 1957 fee simple deed from the heirs of M. J. Boshell to Mae Boshell, their mother.

The Boshell heirs assert that, despite the lapse of more than 20 years from the deeds under attack, the Alabama rule of repose nevertheless does not bar their claim to the mineral interest in parcels 1 through 8. This supposition is premised upon four assertions: 1) that the rule of repose does not operate against a void deed (and that an allegedly forged deed is void); 2) that Dr. Keith must be in actual possession of the minerals before the 20-year period runs; 3) that Mae Boshell was "treacherously betrayed" by attorney John D. Petree in her conveyance to Dr. Keith; and 4) that the Boshell heirs were "justifiably ignorant" of their claim or cause of action until 1980, thereby tolling the 20-year period of repose until such actual discovery.


Since McArthur v. Carrie's Admr., 32 Ala. 75 (1858), this State has followed a rule of repose, or rule of prescription, of 20 years. This principle of repose or prescription is similar to a statute of limitations, but not dependent upon one, and broader in scope. Scott v. Scott, 202 Ala. 244, 80 So. 82 (1918); Patterson v. Weaver, 216 Ala. 686, 114 So. 301 (1927). It is a doctrine that operates in addition to laches. Unlike laches, however, the only element of the rule of repose is time. It is not affected by the circumstances of the situation, by personal disabilities, or by whether prejudice has resulted or evidence obscured. Wilkerson v. Wilkerson, 230 Ala. 567, 161 So. 820 (1935); 30A C.J.S., Equity § 113 (1965), at p. 33. It operates as an absolute bar to claims that are unasserted for 20 years. Roach v. Cox, 160 Ala. 425, 49 So. 578 (1909). The rationale for this absolute bar to such actions was set forth in Snodgrass v. Snodgrass, 176 Ala. 276, 58 So. 201 (1912), as follows:

"As a matter of public policy, and for the repose of society, it has long been the settled policy of this state, as of others, that antiquated demands will not be considered by the courts, and that, without regard to any statute of limitations, there must be a time beyond which human transactions will not be inquired into. It is settled that, after a period of 20 years, without any payment, settlement, or other recognition of liability, mortgages and liens will be presumed to have been paid, settlements will be presumed to have been made by administrators, trustees, agents, and other...

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