Summary of Marenholz v. County Board of School Trustees, Appellate Court of IL (1981)
Parties: Marenholz is a the party who was conveyed 38.5 acres of land from Harry Hutton, son of W.E. Hutton and Jennie Hutton, who conveyed the land to him upon their death. The defendant/appellee is the party whom the other 1.5 acres of the 40 were left.
Cause of action/remedy sought: The following is a cause of action to quiet title (court construction of deed).
Procedural History: PL appealed the Circuit Court of Lawrence County’s ruling on an action to quiet property title deeded to DF pursuant to a fee simple which dismissed action, and held the fee simple subject to a condition subsequent followed by a possibility of reverter. PL’s appeal and case is reversed and remanded.
Facts: The Huttons donated an acre and a half to the school with the condition that it be used for school purposes, otherwise to revert to Grantors. The remaining acres were sold to the Jacqmains. They purported to transfer to the Jacqmains the reversion interest in the school land.
The interest of the school land was burdened by a condition that created a possibility of reversion to the Huttons. However, under Illinois law, one could not transfer a reversion interest by sale. It was inheritable, but not transferable inter vivos.
The Jacqmains then sold the same thing to the Mahrenholzs. They then went to the Hutton’s son and tried to get him to give them the right of reversion. Classes then stopped being held on the land, and it was used as a warehouse for used desks. Harry Hutton also gives the reversion interest in the school land to the school district.
Issue(s): Whether the trial court correctly concluded that the PL’s could not have acquired any interest in the school property from the Jacqmains and Harry Hutton, according to the language of the deed?
Holding: No. The language of the deed, upon construction by the court, was determined that the word “only” in the granting clause of the deed to mean the creation of a fee simple determinable. Thus, pursuit for quiet title granted.
Court’s Rationale/Reasoning: Court goes by a determination of the construction of the language in the deed. The word “only” is seen as the key term. The word means essentially that the Huttons wanted to give the land to be used for school purposes only as long as it was needed and no longer. The language of “for school purposes only,” is inconsistent with fee simple subject to condition subsequent.
Other notes: The reversion interest is not alienable. So the transfer to the Jacqmains is not proper. The court says that it is a fee simple determinable and that it belonged to Harry, but the court expressly refuses to decide whether the condition had been breached.
(A later court determined that the condition had not been breached because it was being used for a warehouse for the school, which is a school purposes. [Therefore, the school wins in the end.])
Rule: A determinable fee is created by language which connotes that the grantor is giving a fee simple only until a stated event happens (“as long as”, “until”, “while”) “The difference between a fee simple determinable and a fee simple subject to a condition , is solely a matter of judicial interpretation of the words of a grant.”
Did court avoid issues?: Court refused to answer (1) whether the 1977 conveyance from Harry Hutton was legally sufficient to pass his interest in the school property to PL’s, and (2) whether Harry Hutton effectively disclaimed his interest in the property in favor of the DF’s by virtue of his 1977 disclaimer, and (3) whether the DF’s have ceased to use the Hutton School grounds for “school purposes.”
Dicta: The Huttons would have created a fee simple determinable if they had allowed the school district to retain the property so long as or while it was used for school purposes, or until it ceased to be so used. The Huttons would have created a fee simple subject to a condition subsequent if the were given upon condition that or provided that it be used for school purposes. (better language suggested)