Sims v. Camp Creek School Dist. No. 15 of Lancaster County

Decision Date10 October 1921
Docket Number10728.
Citation109 S.E. 148,117 S.C. 461
CourtSouth Carolina Supreme Court

Appeal from Common Pleas Circuit Court of Lancaster County; Edward McIver, Judge.

Action by S. Agnes Sims and others against Camp Creek School District No. 15 of Lancaster County. Decree for plaintiffs and defendant appeals. Affirmed.

The decree of the court below was as follows:

The plaintiffs, as the only heirs at law of J. Bart Sims deceased, bring this action to reform a deed executed by him to two of the trustees of the defendant on July 29, 1907. The material allegations of the complaint are: That this deed for 1 1/4 acres of land was made by Sims to the school district for the purpose of erecting thereon the schoolhouse for the benefit of the white children of that district, which condition was sufficiently expressed in the deed in the following language: "This land is conveyed for the purpose of erecting thereon a public schoolhouse for white children for the benefit of this school district situate in Gills Creek township." But that it was also agreed between the grantor and grantees that if said district ceased to use said land for the purpose of maintaining thereon a school for white children the land and any buildings thereon should revert to the grantor or his estate, and that this condition was left out of the deed by the scrivener, he and the contracting parties being mutually mistaken in thinking that the language used was sufficient, inasmuch as it specified the use for which the property was conveyed, and that it could not be used for any other purpose than that specifically mentioned. In other words, that the grantor grantee, and scrivener were all laymen, and did not know that a forfeiting clause was necessary to revert the property to Sims in the event it should be abandoned for school purposes. Another clause of the deed is "But if said schoolhouse is not erected within the next three years from date then this deed shall be null and void and title to said land shall remain in said Sims and his heirs." The complaint said further that a schoolhouse was erected on said land in 1911, a public school taught therein until the autumn of 1915, when the defendant abandoned said school and threatened to sell the land and schoolhouse in violation of the rights of plaintiffs. This action was brought in March, 1916, following a consent demurrer to a complaint in a case between the same parties asking that the property be declared forfeited on the terms of the deed as it then stood, unless the defendant should continue the school. This action was brought within a few days after the demurrer was consented to in the first case. That demurrer was that the complaint did not state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action, in that the deed sued on did not contain a forfeiting clause in the event the property was abandoned for school purposes, but on its face showed the defendant to be the owner in fee.

The defendant admits the execution of the deed, admits its abandonment for school purposes, admits its intention to sell the entire property and use the proceeds thereof elsewhere, contends that it is the owner in fee of the property, and denies that there were any stipulations or agreements between the grantor and grantees than those mentioned in the deed. It also sets up various special defenses, viz. ultra vires, in that the trustees were without authority to accept a deed with the limitations set out in the complaint; former judgment, in that the demurrer to the first complaint was an adjudication against the plaintiffs of the issues here; statute of limitation, in that the cause of action did not accrue within six years before the commencement of the action; the statute of frauds, in that no writing other than the deed was signed by either party, stipulating any agreement other than those in the deed; that the complaint does not state mutual mistake as to the facts of the transaction or as to the terms of the deed, and therefore states no equity; and, last, that in the year 1915 the school trustees decided to abandon this schoolhouse and erect a larger one elsewhere in the district as a consolidated school. The plaintiff moved to amend the complaint by more specifically alleging mutual mistake, conforming to the facts proved in certain minor particulars, and striking out a certain clause, to wit, "And especially agreeing to maintain a school thereon," from paragraph 6 and also moved to strike out from the answer the entire seventh defense on the ground that it is redundant and constitutes no defense. A separate order defines the amendment to the complaint. The motion to strike the seventh defense from the answer is allowed. What the trustees did in 1915 could have no bearing on the agreement between the grantor and grantee in 1907, when the deed was made.

The special defenses herein enumerated are overruled. I do not think any of them go to the real issues in the case, or in any event can affect their decision. What are the issues? What is the law governing their decision? The issues are: Did J. Bart Sims, on July 29, 1907, before and when he signed the deed, say that he was conveying the land for the purpose of the school authorities erecting a schoolhouse thereon for white children, but that if said authorities should cease to use said land for the purpose of maintaining thereon a school for white children the lands and any buildings thereon should revert to him, or in the event of his death to his estate? Did he say that to the scrivener that drew the deed; did he say it to the representative of the defendant there, and did they all believe that the language of the deed expressed the terms of his grant? Without reciting the testimony I hold that it overwhelmingly proves that Sims made these statements, that the scrivener heard them, that the party de jure and de facto, representing a school district, heard them, and subsequently told the grantor's wife, when she renounced her dower, that the deed fully covered the condition, and that it was the intention to put into the deed the terms necessary to state legally these conditions, and that it was a mistake of Sims, of the scrivener he was not a lawyer and of the person Long, there publicly recognized as representing the district, that they were not put there.

Sims represented himself, who represented the school district? Having accepted the benefit of what he did, can the district repudiate any of his acts, even if detrimental, and retain the benefit secured by him. The plaintiff alleges that M. J. Long, was a trustee of the school district, every witness for the plaintiff swears that he was, and that he was everywhere recognized to be such, and Hallman says that, he (Long) asked him to see Sims about getting the land for a school; that Sims told him how he would grant the land; that he told Long, and Long agreed to all conditions prescribed by Sims. Long was present when the land was surveyed; he was present when the deed was drawn; he took charge of the deed for the district; if he did not, who did?

The defendant went into possession of the land, the...

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