Grattan v. Estate of Eilender

Decision Date29 July 2021
Docket Number354274
PartiesJOAN GRATTAN, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. ESTATE OF SILVIA EILENDER, by EDITH EILENDER, Personal Representative, ESTATE OF JANET EILENDER, ROBERT E. NELSON, and ESTATE OF ERIC T. NELSON, by DAVID P. NELSON, Personal Representative, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan — District of US

UNPUBLISHED

Lapeer Circuit Court LC No. 19-053366-CH

Before: Gadola, P.J., and Jansen and O'Brien, JJ.

PER CURIAM.

In this quiet title action, plaintiff appeals as of right the trial court's order granting summary disposition to defendants. Plaintiff contends on appeal that the trial court erred in granting defendants summary disposition prior to discovery in the case. We affirm.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff's mother, Erma Hewson, entered into a single land contract with defendants to sell two parcels of land in Lapeer County on August 19, 1969. Despite the contract, on January 12, 1971 Hewson deeded the same parcels to herself and plaintiff as joint tenants with full rights of survivorship. Subsequently defendants paid the purchase price for the first parcel, and Hewson and plaintiff delivered a signed warranty deed to defendants on September 3, 1979. The payment for and conveyance of the second parcel is the subject of this suit. Defendants submitted correspondence between the attorneys responsible for the sale of the parcels indicating that defendants paid the full purchase price for the second parcel on June 8, 1982. Defendants' then-attorney wrote that, with the letter, he enclosed a check made payable to the order of Hewson and plaintiff. Two days later the attorney then representing plaintiff and Hewson mailed to defendants a warranty deed that was signed only by Hewson. The fact that plaintiff did not sign the deed apparently went unnoticed for nearly 40 years until defendants tried to sell the property.

Defendants contacted plaintiff to sign a deed to correct the error. Plaintiff refused and filed this single count action to quiet title and for declaratory relief, alleging that she is the true owner of the second parcel as the only remaining survivor of the joint tenancy she shared with her mother. Plaintiffs complaint alleged that she never received payment for the second parcel and is, therefore, the rightful owner of the property.

Defendants moved for summary disposition. They argued that the parcel was paid for in full in 1982, and it was a mere oversight or mistake that plaintiff did not sign the deed in addition to Hewson. Plaintiff had not stepped foot on the property in decades, nor had she ever paid property taxes or contributed to maintenance and upkeep of the property. Plaintiff argued in response that she owned at least a one-half interest in the parcel because she was never compensated for it, and that she was cut out of the transaction for the second parcel for some unknown reason. The court granted defendants' motion for summary disposition, holding that defendants, as purchasers under the land contract, had superior title to the seller under the land contract as it was never forfeited or foreclosed upon. This appeal followed.

II. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff contends that the trial court erred by granting defendants summary disposition prior to discovery. We affirm.

This Court reviews de novo a trial court's decision to grant or deny summary disposition. Bowden v Gannaway, 310 Mich.App. 499, 503; 871 N.W.2d 893 (2015). Defendants brought their motion for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(7), (C)(8), and (C)(10). The trial court did not specify under which rule it granted defendants' motion, though it held that there was no genuine issue of material fact that defendants have superior title, and its order stated the same. "MCR 2.116(C)(7) permits summary disposition 'because of release, payment, prior judgment, [or] immunity granted by law.'" Clay v Doe, 311 Mich.App. 359, 362; 876 N.W.2d 248 (2015), quoting MCR 2.116(C)(7). Defendants argued summary disposition was appropriate under MCR 2.116(C)(7) because they submitted evidence of payment. However, the trial court did not conclude that a question of fact existed regarding whether payment had been made, so it did not grant summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(7). Summary disposition was also not granted under MCR 2.116(C)(8) because the court's decision relied on evidence outside the pleadings. A court cannot address facts outside the pleadings in a motion under MCR 2.116(C)(8). Maiden v Rozwood, 461 Mich. 109, 120-121; 597 N.W.2d 817 (1999). Therefore, the trial court granted summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(10).

"A motion made under MCR 2.116(C)(10) tests the factual sufficiency of a claim, and when the proffered evidence fails to establish a genuine issue of material fact, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Hoffner v Lanctoe, 492 Mich. 450, 459; 821 N.W.2d 88 (2012). "In considering a motion pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(10), a court considers affidavits, pleadings, depositions, admissions, and other documentary evidence submitted by the parties in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Watts v Mich. Multi-King, Inc, 291 Mich.App. 98, 102; 804 N.W.2d 569 (2010). "A genuine issue of material fact exists when the record, giving the benefit of reasonable doubt to the opposing party, leaves open an issue upon which reasonable minds might differ." Zaher v Miotke, 300 Mich.App. 132, 139-140; 832 N.W.2d 266 (2013) (quotation marks and citation omitted). This Court also reviews de novo actions to quiet title and the application of the doctrine of laches, which are equitable in nature. Beach v Lima, 489 Mich. 99, 106; 802 N.W.2d 1 (2011) (actions to quiet title are reviewed de novo); Knight v Northpointe Bank, 300 Mich.App. 109, 113; 832 N.W.2d 439 (2013) (application of the doctrine of laches is reviewed de novo).

However, it should be noted that plaintiff did not specifically raise in the trial court the issue whether summary disposition was premature because discovery had not been completed, nor did the trial court decide the issue. Therefore, that aspect of the issue is unpreserved. "[T]his Court may overlook preservation requirements if the failure to consider the issue would result in manifest injustice, if consideration is necessary for a proper determination of the case, or if the issue involves a question of law and the facts necessary for its resolution have been presented[.]" Smith v Foerster-Bolser Constr, Inc, 269 Mich.App. 424, 427; 711 N.W.2d 421 (2006). This Court "review[s] unpreserved challenges for plain error." Total Armored Car Serv, Inc v Dep 't of Treasury, 325 Mich.App. 403, 412; 926 N.W.2d 276 (2018). To establish plain error, a party "must show (1) that an error occurred, (2) that the error was plain, and (3) that the plain error affected [the party's] substantial rights." Id. (quotation marks and citation omitted). "[A]n error affects substantial rights if it caused prejudice, i.e., it affected the outcome of the proceedings." In re Beers, 325 Mich.App. 653, 677; 926 N.W.2d 832 (2018) (quotation marks and citation omitted; alteration in original).

Actions to quiet title are governed by MCL 600.2932, which provides in relevant part:

Any person, whether he is in possession of the land in question or not, who claims any right in, title to, equitable title to, interest in, or right to possession of land, may bring an action in the circuit courts against any other person who claims or might claim any interest inconsistent with the interest claimed by the plaintiff, whether the defendant is in possession of the land or not. [MCL 600.2932(1).]

Actions to quiet title are equitable in nature. Beulah Hoagland Appleton Qualified Personal Residence Trust v Emmet Co Rd Comm, 236 Mich.App. 546, 550; 600 N.W.2d 698 (1999). "In an action to quiet title, the plaintiffs have the burden of proof and must make out a prima facie case of title." Id. Plaintiff has made out a prima facie case for title through her 1971 warranty deed in which Hewson deeded the property to herself and plaintiff as joint tenants with full rights of survivorship. Once plaintiff has made a prima facie case, "the defendants then have the burden of proving superior right or title in themselves." Id. Defendants' evidence of title consists of the 1969 land contract which provided for the sale of the second parcel, the 1982 letters evidencing payment and delivery of the deed, and the 1982 deed to the disputed parcel that was signed only by Hewson. The question is whether plaintiffs or defendants' claim to title is superior.

When a sale of land is made under a land contract, the vendee purchases the property for all intents and purposes upon signing the contract. Graves v American Acceptance Mtg Corp, 469 Mich. 608, 616; 677 N.W.2d 829 (2004). The vendor retains legal title to the property as a security under the terms of the contract. Id. The vendee takes equitable title, which is a present interest that includes seisen, meaning the vendee has the right to sell devise, or encumber the property. Id. Whether a vendee ultimately defaults on the contract has no bearing on the fact that he or she has, "in a real sense, purchased the property." Id. "That legal title remains in the vendor until full performance of all contractual obligations likewise does not negate the fact that the vendee has already purchased the property." The vendor merely holds the legal title in trust for the vendee, and as security to the debt, until the contract's terms have been performed. Batton-Jajuga v Farm Bureau Gen Ins Co of Mich, 322 Mich.App. 422, 432; 913 N.W.2d 351 (2017). When a purchaser defaults on the contract, equitable title does not automatically revert to the seller; the seller must use a judicial remedy to retake full title to the property...

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