Olsen v. Olsen, S-01-1271.

Citation265 Neb. 299,657 N.W.2d 1
Decision Date14 February 2003
Docket NumberNo. S-01-1271.,S-01-1271.
PartiesGrace L. OLSEN, Appellant and Cross-Appellee, v. Cherie OLSEN, Personal Representative of the Estate of Harold C. Olsen, Deceased, Appellee and Cross-Appellant.
CourtSupreme Court of Nebraska

Paul E. Hofmeister, of Chaloupka, Holyoke, Hofmeister, Snyder & Chaloupka, P.C., L.L.O., Scottsbluff, for appellant.

James M. Mathis, of Holtorf, Kovarik, Ellison & Mathis, P.C., Gering, for appellee.




Grace L. Olsen appeals the order of the district court for Banner County granting some but not all of the relief she sought in an action she filed against Harold C. Olsen, her subsequently deceased former husband. In the instant case, the district court quieted title to certain mineral interests which Harold was required to transfer to Grace pursuant to their divorce decree; but because the court found Grace guilty of laches, it quieted title as of February 6, 1990, the date she filed the petition in this case, rather than as of a date in 1979, when the mineral interests were purportedly transferred. Under the court's ruling, Grace did not share in proceeds attributable to the mineral interests which accrued prior to February 6, 1990.

Grace argues on appeal that the district court erred in finding her guilty of laches and therefore failing to quiet title as of 1979. Cherie Olsen, the personal representative of Harold's estate, cross-appeals on his estate's behalf and argues that Grace's action to quiet title was barred by the statute of limitations or, in the alternative, that the court's finding of laches should have completely barred relief.

We conclude that Harold, by and through Cherie, was equitably estopped from asserting the statute of limitations and, due to his unclean hands, was prevented from asserting laches. In view of our conclusions, the court correctly quieted title in Grace. However, the court erred in quieting title as of February 6, 1990, rather than August 15, 1979. We further conclude that the court erred in finding Grace guilty of laches. We therefore affirm the district court's decision in part, reverse it in part, and remand the cause for further proceedings.


Grace and Harold were divorced pursuant to a decree of dissolution filed February 13, 1979, in the district court for Kimball County. At the time of the dissolution, Grace and Harold reached a property settlement agreement which was approved by the district court. In the decree of dissolution, the court ordered that the property of the parties be distributed in accordance with the agreement. The agreement provided, inter alia, that each of the parties "shall have an undivided ½ interest in all of the oil, gas and other minerals which are now presently owned by the parties." The agreement did not specify legal descriptions for the mineral interests owned by the parties. Although the decree directed the parties to execute the necessary documents, it did not provide that a transfer would be deemed to have occurred in the absence of such execution.

On August 15, 1979, Grace and Harold signed a mineral deed prepared by Grace's attorney. The mineral deed was designed to carry out the property settlement agreement by purportedly transferring equal undivided mineral interests to Grace and Harold. Grace testified that the mineral deed was prepared using legal descriptions provided by Harold's sister.

Sometime in 1984, Grace learned that the 1979 mineral deed contained inaccurate legal descriptions of certain mineral interests and omitted other mineral interests owned by Harold at the time of the dissolution. Grace researched real estate records to obtain correct and complete legal descriptions. In 1985, Grace's attorney prepared a correction mineral deed to reform and supplement the 1979 mineral deed and sent the correction mineral deed to Harold with a letter requesting that he execute the correction mineral deed. Because Harold had remarried, the letter also requested that Cherie, his wife, execute the correction mineral deed. Harold met with Grace's attorney shortly thereafter and indicated that he would not sign the correction mineral deed. However, Harold did not tell Grace that he would not sign the deed.

Grace testified that over the next several years, prior to her filing the petition in the present case, she had numerous conversations with Harold about signing the correction mineral deed. He generally put her off by saying that his attorney was reviewing the deed and that he would get to it later. Grace testified that during this time, Harold never told her that he would not execute the correction mineral deed and instead indicated that he would sign it after it had been reviewed. In 1988, Harold requested Grace's assistance with his participation in a federal farm program. Grace told Harold she would cooperate if he would sign the correction mineral deed. Harold promised he would sign the deed, and Grace assisted Harold by loaning him $60,000. Harold did not subsequently sign the deed.

In 1989, Harold and his attorney began a series of communications with Union Oil Company of California (Unocal) regarding royalties from mineral interests on one of the properties which had been misidentified in the 1979 mineral deed. Unocal had been holding royalties in suspense since 1984 when Grace communicated her claim to a share of the royalties. In a letter to Unocal dated August 18, 1989, Harold's attorney stated that the statute of limitations had run on any action Grace might have brought to correct the legal descriptions in the 1979 mineral deed. In March 1990, Harold received a check from Unocal for royalties of $28,795.77.

Grace filed her first petition in the present action on February 6, 1990. In the petition, Grace requested that the district court order Harold to account to her for her share of the income from the mineral interests which were omitted or misidentified in the 1979 mineral deed. Grace filed various amended petitions. The fourth amended petition was filed January 21, 1991, and is the operative petition. Grace fashioned the petition to contain what she identified as four "causes of action." In the first "cause of action," Grace sought a declaration of the mineral interest rights of each party pursuant to the property settlement agreement. In the second "cause of action," Grace requested that the court quiet title in her name to her share of the mineral interests which were omitted or misidentified in the 1979 mineral deed. In the third "cause of action," Grace sought reformation of the 1979 mineral deed to correct the omissions and errors in the legal descriptions of the mineral interests transferred. Finally, in the fourth "cause of action," Grace sought an accounting for all proceeds received by Harold which were attributable to her shares of the mineral interests omitted or misidentified in the 1979 mineral deed.

In his answer to the fourth amended petition, Harold asserted, inter alia, that Grace's petition was barred by the statute of limitations and that Grace was guilty of laches such that it would be inequitable to permit her to recover on the petition. We note that in her petition, Grace had alleged facts regarding Harold's representations and promises that he would sign the correction mineral deed, Harold's intent that Grace rely on such representations, and her actual reliance on such representations. We note that such facts, if proven, could support a conclusion that Harold was equitably estopped from succeeding on his defenses.

The district court held a trial on the first three "causes of action" but stayed trial on the accounting "cause of action" pending its decision on the first three issues. Following trial, the court issued a decree filed June 7, 1993. In the decree, the court summarily found for Harold and against Grace on the first "cause of action," for a declaration of rights, and on the third "cause of action," for reformation of the mineral deed. With regard to the second "cause of action," to quiet title, the court found generally for Grace and against Harold. The court specifically found that Grace's quiet title action accrued in 1984 when she discovered the errors. The court further determined that even if Grace's cause of action had accrued on August 15, 1979, Harold's representations over the years that he would sign a correction mineral deed effectively tolled the statute of limitations with respect to the quiet title action. The court also determined that Grace's "inexplicable failure" to press her claim in light of Harold's inaction "constitute[d] laches on her part such as to make it manifestly unjust to quiet title in her as of the date of the decree of dissolution." The court, however, made no finding regarding prejudice to Harold as a result of Grace's delay in filing her action. Based on its findings, the court issued an order quieting title in Grace's name to an undivided one-half interest in the mineral interests omitted or misidentified in the 1979 mineral deed. The court quieted title as of February 6, 1990, the date Grace filed her original petition.

Grace and Harold both filed motions for new trial which were denied by the district court. Grace appealed and Harold cross-appealed the decision. This court dismissed the appeal and cross-appeal after concluding that the decree filed June 7, 1993, was not a final order because the accounting portion of the action was still pending before the district court. Olsen v. Olsen, 248 Neb. 393, 534 N.W.2d 762 (1995).

Harold died in December 1995, and Cherie, his widow, as personal representative of his estate, was substituted as the defendant in the proceedings in the district court. However, for convenience, we will henceforward refer to Cherie, in her capacity as defendant, appellee, and cross-appellant in the instant case, as "Harold...

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