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Stoller v. Doyle

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    Bloomberg Law

    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.

    Facts. In an 1882 warranty deed, Lawrence Doyle (original grantor) and wife conveyed land to Frank Doyle subject to the following limitations: “Said Frank Doyle shall not have the power to reconvey this land, unless it be to the grantor. He shall not have the power to mortgage this land, and in case the said Frank Doyle should die before his wife dies, and any children survive him, the surviving children and his wife shall have the use of the land. . . during the lifetime of his wife, when it shall go to his children, if any are living, but, if at the death of the grantee no children survive him, the title shall be in the grantors. Should any children survive the grantee and his wife also survive him, she shall have no [an?] interest in the land only so long as she remains unmarried and is his widow.” In 1897, Lawrence Doyle, then a widower, executed another deed to Frank Doyle which purported to give title in fee simple and remove the restrictions. In 1902, Frank Doyle and his wife
    executed a warranty deed of the land to Plaintiff John Stoller (defendant in error). Then, Plaintiff John Stoller agreed to convey the land to Bauman in fee simple, clear of all incumbrances. Bauman refused to accept the proffered deed and Stoller sued Bauman for specific performance of the contract for sale of land. Bauman prevailed in that lawsuit with the court holding that in the 1882 deed a contingent interest in the real estate was conveyed to the children of Frank Doyle and that the latter deed to him (the 1897 deed) could not affect that interest. Thus, the court held that the proffered title from Stoller to Bauman was not merchantable title. This action was filed in 1909 by Stoller against Doyle’s children alleging that in the first deed Frank Doyle did not take an estate in fee simple, but only a life estate. Also, it was alleged that Doyle’s wife took only a life estate, contingent upon her outliving her husband, and that the children took a contingent remainder in fee; tha
    t in the event no children survived Frank Doyle there was a reversion in fee interest held by the grantor, which was ultimately conveyed by the grantor in the second deed such that the life estate was merged in fee and the intervening contingent remainders were destroyed. Plaintiff Stoller prayed that he be found to be the owner in fee simple of the title free from any claims of the children of Frank Doyle and that his title be quieted. The adult Defendants defaulted, but the minor children of Frank Doyle did answer the complaint by a guardian ad litem. The trial court found for Stoller and found that Stoller was the owner in fee simple of the land free from claims of the children. Stoller’s title was quieted. The adult children refused to proceed with an appeal, but the minor’s did appeal.

    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.


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