Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff Stoller sued children of the life tenant claiming that he had been conveyed fee simple title and that the children’s contingent remainders had been destroyed.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The original deed in this case was a conveyance of fee with limitations over and did not create contingent remainders subject to destruction by the act of the grantor in subsequently conveying the reversion to the grantee.
Issue. Did the original deed create in the children of the life tenant a contingent interest in the property which was, by the grantor’s subsequent deed to the life tenant which conveyed the reversion interest, merged into the estate of the life tenant in fee and destroyed?
Held. No. Reversed and remanded.
A remainder cannot be created without a precedent estate, said to support the remainder. Where a supporting estate comes to an end before the happening of the event triggering the remainder, then the remainder is defeated. Where the reversion and the life estate comes together in one person the life estate merges into the reversion and comes to an end and the intervening contingent remainders are destroyed. This is the destructibility of contingent remainders.
The Court held that a statutory deed is deemed to be a conveyance in fee simple, despite not having the traditional language of transfer to the grantee’s heirs without limit. However, the deed may contain language which, by law or construction, places limits on the fee simple. In this case, the grantor conveyed the whole estate except for a contingent reversion depending on the grantee dying without leaving children surviving him.
The future interest of the wife and children would become effective, if at all, at the expiration of the grantee’s estate under the deed. The Court held that such a limitation would not have been valid under the common law, but under the statute of uses, the limitations over are effective.
The deed operated to convey the fee to the grantee, subject to the limitations over, and as such did not create contingent remainders which would be subject to the destructibility doctrine of contingent remainders. Thus, Frank Doyle took the fee (as opposed to a file estate), subject to the limitations, and his children and wife took no interest in contingent remainder insofar as the limitations would have to occur before their interest would vest, if at all. Thus, the children do have an interest such that Stoller may not quiet title in himself in fee.
Discussion. Consider that in this case the Court was construing a deed in a jurisdiction which still enforced the destructibility of contingent remainders. The Court’s reliance on the statute of uses and characterization of the future interests of the children as limitations in a deed rather than a contingent interest is a way to create an outcome the Court finds just, even if the decision is somewhat confusing.