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Carmody v. McGowan

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

January 3, 2017

STEPHEN CARMODY AND ROWENA CARMODY APPELLANTS
v.
SUZANNAH MCGOWAN APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 04/15/2015

         COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: HINDS COUNTY CHANCERY COURT, HON. HENRY L. LACKEY TRIAL JUDGE.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANTS: C. VICTOR WELSH III.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: F. HALL BAILEY HEATHER MARIE ABY OWEN PATRICK LALOR.

          BEFORE LEE, C.J., BARNES AND FAIR, JJ.

          FAIR, J.

         ¶1. This is a dispute over a strip of land bordering residential property owned by the litigants, who are neighbors. Both sides claim record title to the property deriving from Cynthia and M.L. Culley. At issue on appeal is the Stephen and Rowena Carmody's claim, which originates from a deed to J.E. Fowler in 1969. The chancery court found that the deed did not convey the disputed property, and thus that the Carmodys had no claim to it. The court then granted a partial summary judgment to Suzannah McGowan, which was certified as a final judgment under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b). We agree with the chancery court that the deed was unambiguous and that it did not convey the subject property, and so we affirm.

         DISCUSSION

         ¶2. A court interpreting a deed follows the same process as it does with contracts. Conservatorship of Estate of Moor ex rel. Moor v. State, 46 So.3d 849, 852 (¶12) (Miss. Ct. App. 2010). We begin by looking at the language of the instrument itself as contained within its "four corners." Pursue Energy Corp. v. Perkins, 558 So.2d 349, 352 (Miss. 1990). "When an instrument's substance is determined to be clear or unambiguous, the parties' intent must be effectuated." Id. "If the reviewing [c]ourt finds the terms of the contract to be ambiguous or subject to more than one interpretation, the case must be submitted to the trier of fact, and summary judgment is not appropriate." Epperson v. SOUTHBank, 93 So.3d 10, 17 (¶20) (Miss. 2012).

         ¶3. The deed at issue states that the Culleys "do hereby sell, convey and warrant unto J. E. Fowler the following described land and property lying and being situated in the First Judicial District of Hinds County, State of Mississippi, and being more particularly described as follows . . . ." This is followed by a single-spaced, indented description of a 26.7-acre tract, which concludes with the words:

LESS AND EXCEPT therefrom that portion of the above described property which is contained in Riverwood Drive and which is described in easement executed this date by grantors herein in favor of the City of Jackson, Mississippi.

         It is undisputed that this refers to the property now in dispute. The Carmodys point to what immediately follows the above-quoted language, where the deed is no longer indented and returns to double-spaced lines, and recites that:

The warranty of this conveyance is subject to an easement for street purposes, executed this date herein, in favor of the City of Jackson, Mississippi, which easement is for an extension of Riverwood Drive.

         Several other preexisting easements are then excepted from the warranty, and the deed concludes normally ...


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