Greaves v. McGee Case Brief

Summary of Greaves v. McGee, S. Ct. Alabama [1986]

Relevant Facts: In 1926 York acquired title to the parcel by virtue of a deed. In 1928 York and wife executed an instrument in favor of Lamar County. In that quitclaim deed, the Yorks received $1 by Lamar, and then conveyed to Lamar a strip of land so they could build a road or highway through their property 20 ft wide. Lamar and McGee want to establish ownership over the minerals underlying the road.

Legal Issue(s): Whether the Yorks conveyed a fee simple interest in a strip of their land to Lamar County or simply a right of way across their land?

Court’s Holding: Right of way

Procedure: (Bench) Ct ruled in favor of McGee (ee’s) declaratory judgment. Affirmed.

Law or Rule(s): cts should construe instruments so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and should seek to ascertain their intent by looking at the entire instrument. Cts should look to the factual situation and the circumstances existing at the time of creation, and then look to the subsequent acts of the parties to determine correct construction of the instrument.

Court Rationale: Looking to the instrument as a whole, the subject of the conveyance is “a right of way for a public road twenty feet in width." The instrument is replete with references to the limited purpose of the conveyance. The term “land," may, and often does, comprehend an easement as distinguished from a fee in the soil. The Yorks were not certain at the time of the conveyance where the road would ultimately be located or relocated on their land. This kind of uncertainty is simply not consistent with an intent to convey a fee interest. Looking to the subsequent actions of the parties, Lamar admits that the York instrument conveyed to it only a right of way for the purpose of constructing and maintaining a public road. When the granting and description clauses are considered together, it can be seen that the “strip of land" referred to in the last line of the granting clause is characterized in the description clause as a right of way.

Plaintiff’s Argument: The uncertain description of the “strip of land" renders the instrument ineffective as a conveyance of a fee simple title as a matter of law, and an uncertain description is indicative of Yorks’ intent to convey only a right of way.

Defendant’s Argument: (ant’s) The reference in the granting clause to a “strip of land," clearly establishes that the Yorks intended to convey a fee simple.

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