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Jackson v. O’Connell

    Brief Fact Summary. Neil Duffy conveyed land under his will in 1936 to his three sisters Nellie Duffy, Anna Duffy and Katherine O’Connell as joint tenants. Thereafter Nellie conveyed, prior to her death, her interest to Anna. When Anna died in 1957, she conveyed whatever interest she had in the land to her four nieces, Plaintiffs Beatrice Jackson, Eileen O’Barski, Catherine Young and Margaret Miller.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. When one co-tenant in a joint tenancy conveys his part to another co-tenant (and there are more than two co-tenants) the joint tenancy is only severed as to the portion so conveyed and the original grant which created the joint tenancy remains in force and effect as to the remaining portions which were not conveyed.

    Facts. Neil Duffy conveyed land under his will in 1936 to his three sisters Nellie Duffy, Anna Duffy and Katherine O’Connell as joint tenants. Thereafter Nellie conveyed, prior to her death, her interest to Anna. When Anna died in 1957, she conveyed whatever interest she had in the land to her four nieces, Plaintiffs Beatrice Jackson, Eileen O’Barski, Catherine Young and Margaret Miller. When Anna Duffy died the Plaintiffs instituted this suit in order to have the land partitioned. The Plaintiffs contended that Nellie’s quitclaim deed to Anna in 1948 severed the joint tenancy existing between the three sisters in the land and that the result was that Anna became owner of an undivided two-thirds interest in the land and that Defendant Katherine O’Connell had an undivided one-third interest in the land. Further, that Plaintiffs (four nieces of Anna) as successors in interest of Anna Duffy had an undivided one-sixth interest apiece and Defendant an undivided one-third interest as tenants in common. [In a tenancy in common simply take the total number of tenants and divide the land equally. In a joint tenancy there is a right of survivorship as between the original grantees.]

    The Defendant Katherine O’Connell filed a counterclaim against the Plaintiffs and alleged that Nellie’s quitclaim deed to Anna severed the joint tenancy only so far as Nellie’s one-third interest was concerned and that the joint tenancies between Anna Duffy and Katherine O’Connell continued as to their two-thirds of the land. Finally, that upon Anna’s death in 1957, O’Connell succeeded to that two-third interest as surviving tenant and that Plaintiffs are entitled to a one-twelfth interest only which they took as devisees of the one-third interest which passed to Anna Duffy as a result of Nellie’s quitclaim deed. The lower court referred the case to a master who found the conclusions of law as alleged by the Defendant. The partition decree which Plaintiffs appealed from adopted the master’s findings.

    Issue. What effect on the rights of the parties did Nellie’s quitclaim deed have?

    Held. The Court affirmed the decision of the master favoring the view of the Defendant.
    The common law states that four co-existing unities are necessary for the creation of a joint tenancy: 1. Unity of interest. 2. Unity of title. 3. Unity of time. 4. Unity of possession. Whenever there is an act by a joint tenant which destroys any of these unities then there is a severance of the right of survivorship and the joint tenancy is extinguished. However, that joint tenancy, when held by more than two co-tenants, wherein one co-tenant conveys his interest to another, is only destroyed to the extent of the portion so conveyed.

    The modern-day rule on this subject may be stated thusly: “Where one joint tenant conveys to one of his co-tenants, where there are more than two, the co-tenant grantee holds the share conveyed as a tenant in common, taking it at a different time by a different title, while his original share is held with the remaining co-tenants as a joint tenancy, the unity continuing to that extent.” American Law of Property, vol. II, sec. 6.2.

    The effect of this rule on the present case would be that, when Nellie conveyed her one-third interest to Anna, that destroyed the unity of title as to that portion only. Anna’s other one-third was still subject to the right of survivorship of Katherine. When Anna died, Katherine took Anna’s one-third interest (which was unchanged from its original title), and therefore had two thirds. The Plaintiffs were entitled only to the portion which was conveyed by Nellie to Anna and was taken out of the joint tenancy.

    Under the laws of Illinois a joint tenancy may exist as to an undivided interest. The requisite unity of interest is satisfied if it exists with respect to the undivided interest which forms the subject matter of the joint tenancy. Thus, the joint tenancy here was applicable even though the portions were undivided interests.

    Discussion. When partition is prayed for in a complaint, the first object of the court’s inquiry is usually to make a determination of the interests held by each party. This case differs from the ordinary rule on joint tenancies, which is that the property held in joint tenancy is owned as a corporate unity and not as undivided individual parts. See page 312 in the book for a discussion of this concept.


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