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Lott v. Saulters

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

January 23, 2014

BRENDA S. LOTT AND FRANCES H. SAULTERS
v.
RALPH D. SAULTERS

Page 795

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 796

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: COVINGTON COUNTY CHANCERY COURT. DATE OF JUDGMENT: 08/14/2012. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. DAVID SHOEMAKE.

FOR APPELLANTS: EUGENE COURSEY TULLOS.

FOR APPELLEE: AUDRY REGNAL BLACKLEDGE.

CHANDLER, JUSTICE. WALLER, C.J., KITCHENS, PIERCE AND KING, JJ., CONCUR. DICKINSON, P.J., DISSENTS WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION JOINED BY RANDOLPH, P.J., LAMAR AND COLEMAN, JJ.

OPINION

Page 797

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - REAL PROPERTY

CHANDLER, JUSTICE.

¶1. This is an interlocutory appeal from the Chancery Court of Covington County. We are asked to determine whether the plaintiff, Ralph D. Saulters, has alleged sufficient ownership interest in a disputed piece of land to sustain his complaint to clear title to his alleged remainder interest; whether the various allegations in his complaint fall under the ten-year statute of limitations to recover land or the general three-year statute of limitations governing fraud; and whether the relevant statute of limitations has expired. The chancellor denied the defendants' motion to dismiss, holding that Ralph's valid claims are not time-barred. We affirm the chancellor's holding that the claim to quiet title is not barred by the statute of limitations. However, because any claims for actual and punitive damages are barred as untimely, we reverse the chancellor's holding as applied to Ralph's claims for damages.

FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS IN THE TRIAL COURT

¶2. Frances Saulters is the mother of Ralph Saulters and Brenda Lott. According to Ralph's complaint, on June 11, 2001, Frances conveyed real property in Covington County via a warranty deed to Ralph, reserving for herself a life estate. Four months later, on October 24, 2001, Frances executed a second warranty deed which conveyed the exact same property to Brenda, once again reserving for herself a life estate. At the time the second deed was executed, Brenda had actual knowledge of Ralph's deed and " understood that Ralph was going to have his instrument recorded." On that same day, October 24, Ralph and Brenda each recorded their respective deeds. Brenda beat Ralph to the courthouse by forty-five minutes; Brenda's deed was stamped filed at 10:25 a.m., while Ralph's was stamped filed at 11:10 a.m.

¶3. On January 3, 2012, more than ten years after Brenda recorded her deed, Ralph brought the present action to set aside the deed to Brenda, to remove cloud and quiet title, to confirm title, for failure of covenants of warranty of deed, and other relief. Ralph also seeks actual and punitive damages from Frances and Brenda, alleging that Frances violated the covenants of warranty in the first deed, that Brenda took her deed with actual knowledge of his deed, and that Brenda procured her deed from Frances by undue influence, fraud, and bad faith. Brenda and Frances moved to dismiss the action, asserting that Ralph's claims were barred by the statute of limitations. The chancellor denied Brenda's and Frances's motion to dismiss, finding the following facts and holding that Ralph's action was not barred by the statute of limitations:

1. On June 11, 2001, Frances H. Saulters executed a Warranty Deed to

Page 798

Ralph D. Saulters which reserved a Life Estate in Frances H. Saulters.
2. Several months later, Frances H. Saulters executed a Warranty Deed on the exact same parcel of real property to Brenda S. Lott, which also reserved a life estate in Frances H. Saulters.
3. Both instruments were recorded on October 24, 2001. The instrument to Brenda S. Lott has a time of 10:25 a.m., and the instrument to Ralph D. Saulters has a time of 11:10 a.m.
4. Both instruments reserved a Life Estate in Frances H. Saulters, who is alive, and she has control over the real property as the holder of a Life Estate.
5. Since no adverse entry has been made due to France[s] H. Saulters' Life Estate, the statute of limitations has not expired.

¶4. Brenda and Frances then filed this interlocutory appeal. They argue first that Ralph cannot bring an action to recover the land because Brenda recorded her deed first, leaving Ralph with no possessory interest in the land on which to make a claim. They next argue that, even if Ralph has an interest in the land, the ten-year statute of limitations began to run the day Brenda recorded her deed and has now expired, barring Ralph's claim. They also argue that the three-year statute of limitations applying to claims based in fraud governs Ralph's claims because Ralph's complaint alleges that Brenda obtained her deed from Frances by fraud and seeks to have that deed canceled.

DISCUSSION

¶5. " This Court uses a de novo standard of review when passing on questions of law including statute of limitations issues." Stephens v. Equitable Life Assurance Soc'y, 850 So.2d 78, 82 (Miss. 2003). In deciding whether to grant a motion to dismiss, all of the allegations in the plaintiff's complaint must be taken as true, and the motion should be granted only where " it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff will be unable to prove any set ...


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