Semple v. Semple

Decision Date30 July 1921
Citation89 So. 638,82 Fla. 138
PartiesSEMPLE v. SEMPLE.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Rehearing Denied Oct. 20, 1921.

Suit by John S. Semple against Marguerite O. Semple to have a deed executed to defendant canceled. Cancellation was decreed and defendant appeals.

Reversed.

Whitfield and West, JJ., dissenting.

Syllabus by the Court

SYLLABUS

Husband's conveyance to wife void where children's rights are affected. A conveyance of the homestead real estate to the wife by the husband alone is void, where there are children whose homestead rights would be affected by the attempted conveyance.

Character attaches where purchaser openly avows intention and proceeds to prepare land for family home. Where a person purchases property with the openly avowed intention of making it a home and residence for himself and family, and is actually engaged in putting the property in condition to be occupied, and where it is clearly the manifest intention of the owner to occupy the premises immediately as a home, and this intention is evidenced by specific acts and doings that are not compatible with a different intention, and there is nothing done by the claimant showing a different intention, or that is inconsistent with the asserted intention to make the place his homestead, the homestead character will attach.

Facts held not to show intention to make unoccupied land a homestead, so that husband's deed thereof to wife was valid. The head of a family made a deed of conveyance to his wife of real estate upon which he commenced to make improvements, but which was not then in a condition for occupancy as a home or otherwise. Held, that the execution of such deed in connection with other circumstances evidences an intention not compatible with an intention by the grantor to claim the property as a homestead when ready for occupancy and the conveyance by the husband to the wife was a valid conveyance.

Appeal from Circuit Court, De Soto County; George W. Whitehurst, judge.

COUNSEL

Timberlake & Robbins, of Arcadia, for appellant.

Leitner & Leitner, of Arcadia, for appellee.

OPINION

BROWNE C.J.

In November, 1906, John S. Semple owned 108 acres of land including the N.W. 1/4 of S.E. 1/2 of section 24, township 37 south, of range 24 east, in De Soto county, Fla. About this time he, with his wife and one child, moved to De Soto county, from Pennsylvania, and shortly afterwards began clearing and grubbing a portion of the land, and erecting a dwelling house and other improvements to be used as a home for himself and his family.

On December 9, 1906, he executed a deed of conveyance to his wife to the N.W. 1/4 of S.E. 1/2 of section 24, township 37 south, of range 24 east, on which he was making the improvements. The deed was recorded on December 10th, and shortly afterwards, or shortly before Christmas, he delivered it to her. Some time in the month of February following Semple and his family moved into the house and began occupying the premises as their home. Prior to this the family had rooms in the town of Arcadia, and their furniture was stored awaiting the completion of the house. Some years later the wife instituted divorce proceedings, and the husband in this suit seeks to have the deed executed by him to his wife canceled as being void and conveying no title to the homestead real estate. The court decreed a cancellation of the record of the deed, and the defendant appealed.

It seems well settled in this state that a conveyance of the homestead real estate to the wife by the husband alone is void where there are children whose homestead rights would be affected by the attempted conveyance. Byrd v. Byrd, 73 Fla. 322, 74 So. 313, Thomas v. Craft, 55 Fla. 842, 46 So. 594, 15 Ann. Cas. 1118; Rawlins v. Dade Lumber Co., 86 So. 334.

The question in this case is, Was the property in controversy homestead real estate at the time the conveyance was made? Semple had never occupied it as a home or otherwise; the house in process of construction was not in condition for occupancy when the deed was executed, and was not in such condition until some time in February thereafter. It was situated about two miles from Arcadia, where Semple and his wife and child had accupied rooms since they came to Florida in November of that year.

In Solary v. Hewlett, 18 Fla. 756, the party claiming the homestead owned a lot on which were three dwelling houses which had been leased to and occupied by tenants since he purchased the property. Hewlett lived upon other premises, the property of his wife. He claimed to have purchased the property in question with the openly avowed intention of making it a home and residence for himself and family; that it was not in a condition of repair suitable for a residence, but that he intended to make the necessary repairs, and to occupy the premises as a homestead as soon as his means would admit. In that case the court cited from Elston & Green v. Robinson, 23 Iowa, 211, to this effect:

'Under our statute, there is an unbroken series of decisions that occupancy, the use of the house by the family as a homestead, are essential requirements to impress the property with the character of a homestead. A mere intention to occupy it, though subsequently carried out, is not sufficient.'

In the Solary v. Hewlett Case, supra, the facts showed at best a mere intention, at some indefinite time in the future, to occupy the premises as a homestead. The court laid down this rule:

'The actual use and occupation by the owner and his family of premises designed as a homestead is essential to impress the property with that character. The mere intention, at some future day, to repair and occupy them as such, where such intention is not manifested by acts as well as words, is not sufficient.'

In Drucker v. Rosenstein, 19 Fla. 191, the court considered certain facts, which it was claimed established that Rosenstein 'manifestly intended the property to be used as part of the home of the family.' The facts were these: The claimant purchased a lot in February, 1882, and in the following March he filed and recorded in the records of the probate office of the county judge his statement in writing, containing a description of the property and claiming the same as a homestead. The property was levied on by the sheriff under an execution, but prior to that time the claimant had made a contract with a builder, and the specifications were drawn and agreed to, for the building of a dwelling house upon the lot, which the defendant said he intended to be the homestead of himself and family. The sills for the building had been deposited on the lot, and the house would have been in process of construction had it not been for the institution of proceedings to subject the lot to the claims of creditors. Even these facts were held not to be sufficient evidence of a 'manifest intention to immediately occupy the premises as a homestead.'

In Oliver v. Snowden, 18 Fla. 823, 43 Am. Rep. 338, this court laid down the rule that the homestead 'is the place of actual residence of the party and his family,' and that 'a party residing in an incorporated town or city with his family, and owning land several miles from the town, cannot claim the latter as exempt from forced sale as a homestead, it having never been occupied by him as a residence.' Second headnote. After holding that 'actual occupancy as a residence' is essential to establish a homestead, the court added:

'Or, perhaps [the italics are mine], where it is 'manifestly intended' to be used as the home of the family, as was said by the Chief Justice in 21 Wall. 486, the manifest intention being shown by proof of preparations made to occupy it immediately as a home.'

By the use of the expression 'or, perhaps, where it is 'manifestly intended," etc., this court did not unequivocally adopt the rule laid down in Grosholz v. Newman, 21 Wall. 481, 22 L.Ed. 471, nor did it do so in Drucker v. Rosenstein, supra, although in both cases it seems to have been approved, but we think the rule so well grounded in principle that we have no hesitancy in adopting it. Where it is clearly the manifest intention of the owner to occupy the premises immediately as a home, and this intention is evidenced by specific acts and doings that are not compatible with a different intention, and there is nothing done by the claimant showing a different intention, or that is inconsistent with the asserted intention to make the place his homestead, the homestead character will attach.

The intention of a person is a difficult matter to establish, and can only reliably be shown by circumstances and acts in support of expressions of intention.

There is some conflict in the testimony of Mr. and Mrs. Semple, as to when the intention to permanently locate in Florida was formed, and if that were all on the subject of Mr. Semple's intention to hold this 40 acres as his homestead, we would have to accept the finding of the chancellor on the facts, and affirm the decree. But there is uncontradicted evidence of an intention on the part of Semple that the property was not to be his homestead, that entirely destroys any inferences drawn from his acts in improving the property, or any statements by him of his intention to make the place his homestead. Two months before actual occupancy and before the property was capable of being occupied, he executed the deed of conveyance of the real estate to his wife. Semple could not have a homestead in the property unless the title to it was in him. The fact that he sought to divest himself of the title by executing a deed of conveyance of the property to his wife disproves any intention at variance with that act, and is conclusive of the fact that it was not his intention to claim the...

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