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Roberts v. Rhodes

    Brief Fact Summary. Lands were deeded to a school district in 1902 and 1908 to be used for school or (and in the second deed) cemetery purposes. The school district sold the land in 1971 and the heirs of the original grantors sued to claim reversion of the lands since they were no longer being used for school purposes.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The mere statement of the purpose for which deeded lands are to be used does not, without the language of reversion, create by itself a limitation on the extent of the grant.

    Facts. In 1902 a quitclaim deed was made of land to the Montgomery County school district. The deed stated that the grant was made for school or cemetery purposes only. A second deed in 1908 was made to the Montgomery County school district and stated that the land so granted was to be used for school and cemetery purposes only. Both deeds were grants to “their heirs and assigns.” Then, in 1971 the school district sold the lands to Defendant, the lands had been used for school purposes but never for cemetery purposes. That the Plaintiff was an heir of the original grantors and claimed a reversion interest in the lands based on the fact that, upon the sale, the lands were no longer being used for school purposes. The lower court found for Plaintiff and that the lands reverted to the heirs and assigns of the original grantors. The intermediate appellate court reversed the lower court and found that the deeds in 1902 and 1908 deeded a fee simple title to the school district. The Plainti
    ff appealed.

    Issue. Does the language in the quitclaim deeds regarding the description of the purpose for which the land was to be used create a limitation on the title to the school district such that the heirs and assigns of the original grantors have a reversion interest in the lands when they are no longer used for school purposes?

    Held. No. Judgment of the intermediate appellate court affirmed.
    The Court found that the lands were used for school purposes and that a school district is not authorized to operate a cemetery. The Court noted that the difficulty in the case arose from the failure of the original deeds to provide any guidance as to what the parties intended to happen when the lands were no longer used for school purposes. The Court noted that the claim of the Plaintiff was based on a theory that the language of the original deeds created a fee simple determinable, and that the general rule for creation of a fee simple determinable is that there must be language which provides that a fee simple estate is created which automatically expires on the occurrence of a stated event. In this case there was no such language in the deeds.
    The Court stated the general rule that “the mere statement of the purposes of a conveyance will not limit the extent of the grant.” [Am.Jur.2nd, Estates Section:29, P.107]. Thus, the declaration in the deeds that the lands were to be used for school and/or cemetery purposes only was not sufficient to limit the estate granted to the school district. The school district took a fee simple estate in the lands.
    The Court cites a prior case where a similar deed was construed in like fashion. In that case the deed was granted “for the erection of a school house thereon, and for no other purpose.” Curtis v. Board of Education, 23 P. 98 (1890). That court held that the estate passed to the school board was in fee simple with no limitation.

    Dissent. Omitted.

    Discussion. This case again illustrates the need for clarity when drafting deeds.


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