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Hauck v. Crawford

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Hauck, an owner of a large farm, was induced into thinking he was signing a lease with Crawford and two other men. One of the men prepared the agreement and told Hauck where to sign Hauck. Hauck was unaware that he was signing one-half of his mineral rights on his property to Crawford. Crawford conveyed the mineral rights to White and Duncan. Hauck brought this action to quiet title to the property, and the trial court held in Hauck’s favor. White, Duncan, and Crawford appealed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    If a landowner is negligent in signing a contract, the landowner may not void the rights of the subsequent conveyance to bona fide purchaser, even if the landowner is fraudulently induced to sign a contract that transfers his property rights.

    Facts.

    Hauck, a farmer with an eighth-grade education, was the owner of a large farm. D.W. Crawford and two other men began to speak to Hauck about the lease of Hauck’s farm for oil and gas operations. Subsequently, Hauck agreed to lease his property to the men. One of the men began to prepare the paperwork, told Hauck exactly where to sign on the paper, and told Hauck that he was signing a lease agreement. Despite the fact that the men and Hauck never spoke about a mineral deed, Hauck, at that moment, was unknowingly signing a deed that conveyed one-half of his minerals on his property to Crawford. Thereafter, Crawford gave the mineral rights to White and Duncan. Hauck instigated an action to quiet title, in order to void the mineral deed and other deeds that transferred mineral rights. The trial court voided the deeds on the grounds that Hauck’s signature was obtained in a manner that constituted a forgery. Additionally, the trial court held that White and Duncan were bona fide purchasers for value, without inquiring into their knowledge of Crawford’s fraud. Subsequently, Crawford, White, and Duncan appealed alleging that Hauck should not prevail, as Hauck was an intelligent farmer and was negligent in signing the mineral deed.

    Issue.

    Whether a landowner, who is negligent in signing a contract, is fraudulently induced to sign a contract that transfers his property rights may void the rights of the subsequent conveyance to bona fide purchaser.

    Held.

    No, a landowner, who is negligent in signing a contract, is fraudulently induced to sign a contract that transfers his property rights may not void the rights of the subsequent conveyance to bona fide purchaser.

    Discussion.

    If a landowner is negligent in signing a contract, the landowner may not void the rights of the subsequent conveyance to bona fide purchaser, even if the landowner is fraudulently induced to sign a contract that transfers his property rights.

    In this case, Crawford tricked Hauck into signing a mineral deed by having one of his men tell Hauck that he was signing a lease agreement, not a deed. Nonetheless, Hauck’s negligence does not justify the fraud and the deed is void from the inception. Even though the trial court held that the deed was void based on forgery, the trial court should had voided the deed on the grounds of fraud.In Highrock v. Gavin, 179 N.W.12 (S.D. 1920), even when a deed is void, a plaintiff must bear the burden of his negligence if the negligence created estoppel. Estoppel is present when a person, intentionally or by culpable negligence, induces another individual to believe certain facts, causing the individual to rightly rely on and acts on the belief to his or her detriment. Neither Crawford, White, nor Duncan had the chance to assert estoppel, since Hauck’s action was to quiet title. Thus, Crawford, White, and Duncan’s estoppel defense is not waived, and Hauck’s negligence is a question of fact that the trial court must determine. Overall, the trial court’s judgment is reversed.


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