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Horning v. Hardy

    Brief Fact Summary. The Plaintiff, Albert C. Hardy (Plaintiff), brought suit against the Defendants, William B. Martin, Phyllis Martin (the Martins), Joseph P. Horning, Jr. and Lawrence E Horning (the Hornings), claiming that the Defendants had committed trespass on the Plaintiff’s land and seeking ejectment and damages. The Hornings filed a cross claim against the Martins, from whom, they had purchased the land and a counter claim against the Plaintiff for malicious interference with the contracts between them and the Martins.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. In order for there to be a case of slander of title, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant made statements he knew to be false for any reason or made statements he knew might be false for the purpose of harming the plaintiff.

    Facts. The Martins claimed ownership to a tract of land. They made a contract to sell it to the Hornings. During the contract negotiations, the Plaintiff claimed ownership of the land. The Plaintiff’s council sent a letters to the Hornings and the Martins, warning them of the Plaintiffs claim on the land and threatening suit. Negotiations soon broke down.
    * The Hornings filed a counter claim against the Plaintiff for slander of title with their contract with the Martins and a cross claim against the Martins for breach of warranty.

    Issue.
    * Who has title to the land in question?
    * Are the Hornings entitled to a judgment against the Martins?
    * Do the Hornings have a case against the Plaintiff for malicious interference with their contract with the Martins?

    Held. The Martins have rightful title to the land in question.
    * At trial, the Plaintiffs claimed title through a title deed and through adverse possession. The court found that the Plaintiff did not have a claim to title through adverse possession because they had not used the land in a way that would give them title through adverse possession. While the trial court found problems and unanswered questions with the chain of title on the land in question, the Plaintiff failed to prove his case. A person wins a case such as this on the strength of his title, not on the weakness of the opponent’s title.
    * Because title belongs to the Martins, the Hornings are not entitled to a judgment in their favor on the cross claim.
    * The Hornings do not have a case of slander of title against the Plaintiffs. The Plaintiff had the privilege of informing the Hornings and the Martins that they might have title and in pursuing this case to find out one way or another. They did not act, knowing that they did not have title, nor did they act for the purpose of harming the Martins or the Hornings.

    Discussion. The Horning’s claim for slander of title did not succeed because the Plaintiff did, reasonably believe that he had title to the land in question. The court determined that the Plaintiff had enough evidence pointing to that conclusion to bring the suit. (Notice that there is no mention of a motion to dismiss.) The Plaintiff was privileged to bring the suit to protect the claim he believed he had on the property.


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