Johnson v. Light, 23926.

CourtSupreme Court of South Dakota
Citation2006 SD 88,723 N.W.2d 125
Docket NumberNo. 23926.,23926.
PartiesGary JOHNSON d/b/a Johnson Electric Company, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. Charles E. LIGHT, Jr., a/k/a Chuck Light, Defendant and Appellant, and Fullerton Lumber Company d/b/a Fullerton Building Center, Defendant and Appellee, and Yankton County, Defendant.
Decision Date04 October 2006

David M. Hosmer, Yankton, SD, for plaintiff and appellee Gary Johnson.

Charles E. Light, Jr., Bartow, FL, Pro Se appellant.

William J. Klimisch of Goetz and Klimisch, Yankton, SD, for defendant and appellee Fullerton Lumber Company.


[¶ 1.] Charles E. Light Jr. (Light) appeals a circuit court judgment in a foreclosure action. Light claimed he had a vendor's lien on the property that had priority over two mechanic's liens. The court determined that Light's vendor's lien on the property was extinguished when Light accepted a quitclaim deed to the property prior to the foreclosure. We affirm.


[¶ 2.] On April 24, 2000, Connie Schenkel (Schenkel) purchased real property from Light by negotiating a contract for deed. According to the contract for deed, Schenkel agreed to purchase the real property for $300,000.1 Light subsequently recorded the contract for deed in the Office of the Register of Deeds on April 25, 2000. The parties have stipulated that under this contract for deed with Schenkel, Light retained a vendor's lien.2

[¶ 3.] Thereafter, Schenkel began construction of a "go-cart race track" on the real property. Schenkel contracted with Johnson Electric Company (Johnson) to bring power to the site and to construct outdoor lighting. Johnson fully performed on this contract on June 30, 2000. Schenkel also contracted with Fullerton Lumber Company (Fullerton) for lumber and various other materials necessary for operation of the track. Fullerton also fully performed on the contract. Although Light did not officially authorize the contracts or personally request any labor or materials, Light was aware of the construction of a "go-cart race track" on the real property.

[¶ 4.] Light received a down payment of $10,000 from Schenkel but received no further principal payments on the contract. Light commenced a foreclosure action against Schenkel on or about October 2, 2000. Schenkel also failed to pay Johnson and Fullerton for the materials and labor they furnished. Johnson and Fullerton each properly recorded mechanic's liens on October 16, 2000 and October 17, 2000, respectively. Both of these mechanic's liens attached to the real property.

[¶ 5.] Ultimately, Schenkel filed a petition for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. Light's foreclosure action was stayed by the bankruptcy court and was never pursued to judgment. On February 20, 2001, the bankruptcy court rejected the contract for deed, and Schenkel was discharged from all personal claims by Johnson, Fullerton and Light. The bankruptcy court concluded that Schenkel's discharge only discharged her personal liability on the debts and that any valid lien attaching to the real property before the petition date was unaffected by the discharge.

[¶ 6.] On September 7, 2001, Light obtained a quitclaim deed from Schenkel for purposes of clearing the chain of title. Schenkel signed the quitclaim deed, transferring her interest in the real property to Light. The quitclaim deed was recorded on October 31, 2001. Light claimed that his intent, by receiving delivery of the deed and recording the same, was to clear any liens from the title to the real property and not to waive his vendor's lien.

[¶ 7.] In May of 2004, Johnson commenced an action against Light to foreclose on his mechanic's lien. Johnson later joined Fullerton as a necessary party. Fullerton then cross-claimed against Light in order to foreclose on its mechanic's lien. As a defense, Light claimed that his vendor's lien had priority over the two mechanic's liens in the foreclosure action.

[¶ 8.] The circuit court ruled against Light. The court concluded that the vendor's lien had priority over the mechanic's liens prior to acceptance of the quitclaim deed. However, the court determined that when Light intentionally drafted, received delivery of, and recorded Schenkel's quitclaim deed, Light's vendor's lien was extinguished. Thus, the mechanic's liens of Johnson and Fullerton gained priority. The circuit court ordered a sheriff's sale of the real property for satisfaction of all liens. After the sale, the court directed distribution of the proceeds first to Johnson in the amount of $23,330.16 and Fullerton in the amount of $7,984.66, with the remainder to Light. The court also awarded Johnson and Fullerton attorney fees.

[¶ 9.] On appeal, Light raises the issue of whether the circuit court erred when it concluded that Light's acceptance of the quitclaim deed terminated his vendor's lien.


[¶ 10.] "A vendor's lien and the right to its enforcement are purely statutory in South Dakota." Weaver v. Blake, 300 N.W.2d 52, 55 (S.D.1980) (citing SDCL 44-6-1). "`Construction of a statute is a question of law and is, therefore, fully reviewable without deference to the interpretation made by the trial court.'" State v. Schroeder, 2004 SD 21, ¶ 5, 674 N.W.2d 827, 829 (quoting Delzer v. Penn, 534 N.W.2d 58, 61 (S.D.1995)). This Court employs the de novo standard of review for issues of statutory construction. State v. Asmussen, 2006 SD 37, ¶ 12, 713 N.W.2d 580, 586. "`Statutory construction is used to discover the true intention of the law which is ascertained primarily from the language expressed in the statute.'" Id. (quoting Martinmaas v. Engelmann, 2000 SD 85, ¶ 49, 612 N.W.2d 600, 611). Whether a waiver has occurred is a mixed question of law and fact. Christensen v. Christensen, 2003 SD 137, ¶ 12, 672 N.W.2d 466, 470. "Mixed questions of law and fact that require the reviewing Court to apply a legal standard are reviewable de novo." State ex rel. Bennett v. Peterson, 2003 SD 16, ¶ 13, 657 N.W.2d 698, 701.


[¶ 11.] "A vendor's lien is the equitable right which the seller impliedly retains to subject the land conveyed as security for payment of the purchase money." Weaver, 300 N.W.2d at 54. "Such a lien exists unless it clearly appears from the circumstances attending the transaction that the vendor intended to waive or not to rely upon his equitable rights." Id. A vendor's lien may be waived by acts or omissions of the vendor. Smith v. Danforth, 54 S.D. 250, 257, 223 N.W. 59, 62 (1929). However, "`in order to constitute a waiver, there must be some act or omission on the part of the vendor inconsistent with his assertion of the lien and evincing his intention to waive it.'" Id. (citation omitted). Furthermore, the act or omission should be such that it "`would render it inequitable [for the vendor] to thereafter attempt to assert it.'" Id.

[¶ 12.] Although South Dakota has not explicitly ruled on the effect of acceptance of a quitclaim deed on a vendor's lien, several cases have addressed the effect of acceptance of a quitclaim deed on a recorded real estate purchase agreement and a contract for deed. According to Preheim v. Ortman, demanding a quitclaim deed is "unequivocal conduct inconsistent with the continuance of the recorded real estate purchase agreement." 331 N.W.2d 62, 64 (S.D.1983). The Preheim Court concluded that the asking for and delivery of the quitclaim deed amounted to a mutual rescission of the purchase agreement and terminated the parties' rights thereunder, including any cause of action for breach of contract. Id. Similarly, the demand and receipt of a quitclaim deed was held to mutually rescind rights under a contract for deed. Morrell Employees Federal Credit Union v. Mehlhaff, 376 N.W.2d 59, 61 (S.D.1985) (the quitclaim transaction expressly extinguished the interest acquired and served to terminate and release the contract for deed).

[¶ 13.] In this case, Light...

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3 cases
  • Northstream v. 1804 Country Store, 24232.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • August 29, 2007
    ...Services, Inc. v. Pesicka, 2006 SD 81, ¶ 5, 721 N.W.2d 474, 476. Mixed questions of law and fact are reviewed de novo. Johnson v. Light, 2006 SD 88, ¶ 10, 723 N.W.2d 125, [¶ 9.] The trial court invalidated the purported assignment between Security and Northstream for three reasons, all of w......
  • Wehrkamp v. Wehrkamp
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • September 16, 2009
    ...the doctrine of waiver. "Whether a waiver has occurred is a mixed question of law and fact[,]" which is reviewed de novo. Johnson v. Light, 2006 SD 88, ¶ 10, 723 N.W.2d 125, 127 (citations omitted). "A waiver exists `where one in possession of any right, whether conferred by law or by contr......
  • Pszanka v. Sutton Living Trust & Forrest C. Allred, 5:16-CV-05106-KES
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. District of South Dakota
    • November 8, 2017
    ...of a quitclaim deed rescinds a purchase agreement and a contract for deed, along with the rights thereunder." Johnson v. Light, 723 N.W.2d 125, 128 (S.D. 2006). So acceptance of the quit claim deed extinguished any claims the Trust may have had against Ripple Gee. The question then becomes ......

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