BEFORE PATTERSON, C.J., PRATHER AND ROBERTSON, JJ.
PATTERSON, CHIEF JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:
Ancel Morgan, Flora Morgan Dunaway, Elma Morgan Sibley, Laverne Morgan Dunaway, Harold Morgan and Vonceil Morgan Williams brought suit in the Chancery Court of Marion County against Wallace Morgan and Getty Oil Company to cancel a quitclaim deed from E. D. Morgan to Wallace Morgan as a forgery; and to cancel all claims of title or interest asserted by either of the defendants under the instrument.
The trial court, following a full hearing, found the deed to
be a forgery and cancelled it. However, the interest or right obtained by Skelly Oil Company (now Getty Oil Company) was not invalidated since the court found the complainants were estopped from establishing a superior title or right because of laches. Aggrieved, the complainants appeal.
E. D. Morgan, who was predeceased by his wife, died intestate January 8, 1967, leaving nine children, six of whom are the appellants and a seventh, is the appellee, Wallace Morgan. Two of E. D. Morgan's children did not participate in the lawsuit.
On June 13, 1947, E. D. Morgan conveyed to Wallace Morgan, by warranty deed the NE 1/4 of the NW 1/4 of Section 16, Township 4 North, Range 13 East, Marion County, Mississippi, subject to an existing oil, gas and mineral lease on 1/2 of the minerals and less 1/2 of the minerals previously transferred. The deed conveyed to Wallace Morgan the surface and an undivided 1/4th mineral interest there being reserved to the grantor a 1/4th mineral interest. This suit concerns the 1/4th mineral interest reserved by E. D. Morgan, the grantor.
On May 3, 1966, Wallace Morgan filed for record a deed which on its face conveyed from E. D. Morgan to him the NE 1/4 of the NW 1/4 of Section 16, Township 4 North, Range 13 East of Marion County. Thereafter Wallace Morgan executed an oil, gas and mineral lease to Skelly Oil Company to the interest purportedly received by him through the May 3, 1966 quitclaim deed, such lease being recorded in the clerk's office on December 13, 1971.
The chancellor found the May 3, 1966 quitclaim deed was a forgery and this determination is not questioned on appeal. Rather, the sole issue is whether the chancellor erred in estopping the appellants from asserting their claim against Getty Oil Company as to the oil, gas and mineral rights it acquired through the mineral lease executed by Wallace Morgan.
Appellants initially argue the 1966 deed to Wallace Morgan was a forgery, was void at its inception, and was therefore ineffective to pass any interest to Skelly.
Undoubtedly the rule in this state is that a deed, void because of forgery, does not operate to pass title. Nevertheless, this does not inevitably preclude an estoppel from being interposed to a claimant to the interest acquired through the void instrument if the facts warrant such because of laches. Continental Oil Company v. Walker, 238 Miss. 21, 117 So. 2d 333 (1960), Arrington v. Masonite Corp., 213 Miss. 817, 58 So. 2d 10 (1952).
In Sample v. Romine, 193 Miss. 706, 732-33, 8 So. 2d 257, 263 (1942), we stated:
[L]aches, in a legal sense, is not merely delay, but delay that results in injustice or disadvantage to another. Time is only one element. There must be some other element than mere passage of time, some element of estoppel or change in conditions or relations of the parties, or intervention of rights of third persons, so that it would be inequitable to permit the party to then assert his rights. There is no absolute rule as to what constitutes laches or staleness of demand. Each case must be determined under its own peculiar circumstances. Too, the question of laches is largely addressed to the sound discretion of the Chancellor, and his decision will not be disturbed on appeal unless it is clearly wrong and amounts to an abuse of discretion.
The evidence establishes that five of the six appellants had actual knowledge either in 1966 or within a few years thereafter that Wallace Morgan, their brother, had acquired the 1966 deed from their father, who was then a patient in a nursing home and, of course, constructive notice was imputed to them when the deed was recorded on May 3, 1966. Additionally all of the appellants testified that when Wallace Morgan acquired the deed in 1966, their father, E. D. Morgan, was physically and mentally unable to sign a deed.
Thereafter, three of the appellants sought the assistance of counsel to have the deed set aside because of E. D. Morgan's mental condition but the lawyer advised against it, stating it was a family matter. In 1968 one of the appellants talked to a second lawyer who said that ...