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Stone v. French
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Brief Fact Summary.
Luther French (Plaintiff) brought an action for the partition of 200 acres of land against John Stone (Defendant) and others. The land in question was supposed to transfer upon the death of the owner, but the deed was never actually delivered.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
The holding of an executed deed, which is to pass to another only at the death of the grantor, is ineffective for lack of delivery.
Plaintiff brought an action for the partition of 200 acres of land against Defendant and others. The land in question previously belonged to Francis French, who wrote a letter to his brother Dudley French to the effect that, “In case I should drop off, you can take possession of the land, and do with it as you please. When I have paid the land out, if not sold, I will make a deed to it to you, enclose it in envelope, direct it to you, to be mailed in event of death, which would make it sure to you without expense or trouble.” Francis French then signed a warranty deed to Dudley French, which was acknowledged before S. Michael, a justice of the peace, and the deed contained the words, “signed, sealed and delivered in the presence of S. Michaels” but the deed was never actually delivered. Francis French died owning the land in question, and left only several brothers as heirs, including the Plaintiff and Dudley French. The evidence showed that no one except for Michaels and Fran
cis French ever saw the deed to Dudley French until about a half hour prior to Francis’ death. William Welch found the deed in an envelope with a letter in a cigar box. The letter stated on the envelope that the deed was to be recorded. When the deed was found, Francis was unconscious and remained so until his death. Welch informed Dudley French, who came and took the deed and filed the deed with the county clerk’s office. Dudley French then took possession of the land and remained in possession until the land was sold to the Defendant. Dudley French was not well at the time of the sale and the land was worth $3,000.00 and was sold for actual consideration of only $800.00. The court presumed for the purposes of this case that the Defendant was a bona fide purchaser. The heirs at law, including Plaintiff, who commenced this action, were made party to this action for partition. The parties conceded that Defendant was entitled to a one-seventh interest in the land, the amount which would
have passed from Francis to Dudley, and then sold to Stone. However, Stone contended that he owned the entire land.
The court expressed two issues:
Was the deed from Francis French to Dudley French ever delivered so as to make it a valid deed?
If not, then is the Defendant, for any reason, entitled to more than one-seventh of the land?
The deed was not valid for wanting delivery and the deed was void ab initio and could thus pass no title to the Defendant whatsoever, irrespective of his being a bona fide purchaser. Affirmed.
Because the deed was never delivered, there was no evidence of a present intent to convey on the part of Francis French. The letter also showed that Francis contemplated selling the land prior to his death, in which case there would be no interest, which could pass under the deed.
The holding of an executed deed, which is to pass to another only at the death of the grantor is ineffective for lack of delivery. The deed was absolutely void, and not merely voidable.
If the deed was voidable, a bona fide purchaser could obtain good title when he received title from a holder of voidable title without notice of its infirmities.
However, when a deed is void from its inception due to lack of delivery, no subsequent actions can vest good title. Even though Stone was a bona fide purchaser, he could not obtain good title from Dudley French.
Consider the circumstances of the transfer from Dudley French to Stone. The court noted that Dudley French was ill and could not even dress himself at times. Also, the land was sold for far less than market value. These factors, though the Court did not rule so, could be evidence of overreaching on the part of Stone. If Dudley’s faculties were so impaired that he could not make a valid contract, then Stone would take nothing. The court, by basing its ruling on the nature of the deed from Francis to Dudley, avoided the result of dispossessing Stone entirely.