Scarbrough v. Smith
|445 So.2d 553
|Charles Lewis SCARBROUGH and Sarah J. Scarbrough v. Maureen Raley SMITH. 82-897.
|20 January 1984
|Supreme Court of Alabama
Raymond Uhrig, Huntsville, for appellants.
Ernest L. Potter, Huntsville, for appellee.
Charles and Sarah Scarbrough filed an ejectment action against Maureen Smith in an attempt to recover possession of a 100-by-105-foot parcel in Madison County, Alabama. Mrs. Smith admitted possession of the disputed parcel but claimed title to the property by adverse possession. She also claimed that there were errors in the deed through which the Scarbroughs claimed title to the parcel. She asked the trial court to reform the instrument. The trial court heard the ore tenus evidence and rendered a judgment in favor of Mrs. Smith on all the issues. The court denied a motion for reconsideration and the plaintiffs appealed. We affirm.
Homer and Lucy Sloan were predecessors in title to the plaintiffs and the defendant. Prior to the Scarbrough conveyance the Sloans owned a 12 1/2-acre tract from which four lots had previously been conveyed to persons not involved in this litigation. The Sloans executed a deed on December 16, 1962, purporting to convey the tract to the Scarbroughs except for a one-acre segment in the southeast corner which the grantors retained. See Appendix "A". The retained segment was apparently misdescribed in the deed. The description of the segment purportedly retained by the Sloans included a portion of a public highway, Green Mountain Road, and excluded a dwelling which the Sloans continued to occupy after the conveyance. See Appendix "B".
The Sloans continued to live in or rent out the house until October 7, 1971, when they executed a deed purporting to convey the house, along with the disputed property, to Donald and Nora Wilcox. See Appendix "C". The Wilcoxes mortgaged to the Bank of Huntsville the 1/2 acre described in their deed from the Sloans, and the Bank later foreclosed on the property. On October 7, 1973, the bank gave a deed to the defendant, Mrs. Smith, purporting to convey the 1/2 acre to her. Mrs. Smith continued to occupy the house until the time of trial.
No natural boundary existed between the house and the property in question. The parcel had trees growing on it. It was without underbrush and the ground was clearly visible. Its western boundary was marked by a row of forsythia bushes and an old fence. There was an old, unkept fence along a portion of the northern boundary. The fences were apparently in existence when the 1962 deed was executed.
Mrs. Smith introduced evidence of various uses to which she and her predecessors in title had put the property. The Sloans or their tenants planted a garden on a portion of the disputed parcel each year from 1962 through 1967. While the Wilcoxes owned the house they kept chickens and hogs on the property. Mrs. Smith raised chickens on the property "off and on" from 1974 until 1980. Her son used the property to play on and had a rope swing on it. The septic tank which served the house was also located in the disputed area.
Mr. Scarbrough did not directly contradict the evidence proffered by the defendant. He testified that he had never seen a garden on the disputed tract. Nor had he ever observed hogs or chickens being kept there. He knew that the septic tank was on the parcel and he stated that he "had no objection" to it being there. Mr. Scarbrough could not recall whether he had ever been on the property in dispute prior to September 1981, although he testified that he had walked down Sloan Road and been "beside" the property many times.
There was a dispute in the evidence as to who had assessed the property for taxes. The confusion stemmed from ambiguous descriptions in some of the tax records. The chief clerk of the tax assessor's office concluded that, based on the official plat books kept by the tax assessor's office, Mrs. Smith and her predecessors in title had assessed the disputed property for taxes continuously since 1968.
The trial court found that the 1962 deed contained errors which were the result of a mutual mistake. It concluded that the parties intended for the Sloans to retain ownership of the disputed parcel and that the Sloans never intended to convey any property abutting Sloan Road to the plaintiffs. The court also ruled in favor of the defendant on her adverse possession claim. It found that the parties were coterminous owners of real property; that Mrs. Smith and her predecessors in title had been in actual, open, notorious, hostile, exclusive, and continuous possession of the disputed parcel for more than ten years prior to the action; and that the property had been assessed for ad valorem tax in the names of Mrs. Smith and her predecessors in title for over ten years prior to commencement of the action. It ruled that the defendant was entitled to relief on her counterclaim for adverse possession, § 6-5-200, Code of Alabama (1975), and that the plaintiffs' action was barred by the statute of limitations, Section 6-2-33(2), Code of Alabama (1975).
On appeal, the plaintiffs conceded that the property which the Sloans sought to retain was misdescribed in the 1962 deed. They argued, however, that the trial court failed to reform the instrument in accordance with the parties' intentions at the time of the conveyance. The plaintiffs also argued that Mrs. Smith's evidence was insufficient to establish title to the disputed property by...
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