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Sweeney, Administratrix v. Sweeney

    Brief Fact Summary. The Plaintiff, Mrs. Sweeney (Plaintiff), is the estranged wife of decedent and is suing to quiet title to land that the Defendant, John Sweeney (Defendant), alleged he acquired by deed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Physical possession of a duly executed deed is not conclusive proof that it was legally delivered. Delivery must be made with the intent to pass title for it to be effective.

    Facts. The Plaintiff is also the Administratix in this suit. Mr. Sweeney, the Plaintiff’s husband deeded his farm to his brother the Defendant. The deed was recorded. At the same time, the Defendant deeded the property back to Mr. Sweeney, which Mr. Sweeney planned to record if the Defendant predeceased Mr. Sweeney. Until his death, the decedent managed and exercised full control over the land. The deed that conveyed the land back to the decedent was held by the Defendant, was unrecorded and later was accidentally burned. Plaintiff filed suit to quiet title to the land. The trial court concluded that the second deed was only meant to operate upon the Defendant’s death and found for the Defendant. Plaintiff appealed.

    Issue. Whether the second deed was delivered and the condition attached to the deed is valid.

    Held. Reversed. There was no intent on behalf of the grantor (decedent) to pass title to the Defendant. A new trial is ordered under the principles below.
    Physical possession of a duly executed deed is not conclusive proof that it was legally delivered. Delivery must be made with the intent to pass title if it is to be effective.
    A conditional delivery is and can only be made by placing the deed in the hands of a third person to be kept by him until the happening of the event upon which the deed is to be delivered by the third person to the grantee.

    Discussion. The court found that there was no intent demonstrated to actually pass title to the Defendant because the decedent continued to live and managed the land like it was his own. The second argument advanced by the Defendant was that the second deed conveying the land back to the decedent was invalid because there was a condition attached to it that was now impossible to fulfill. The court struck down this argument with a rule that the court stated applied whether or not it defeated the purpose of the grantor because it protects real estate titles against fraud.


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