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Smith v. Pettigrew

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

July 18, 2017


          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 02/08/2016





          ISHEE, J.

         ¶1. Merle Smith Jr. (Merle Jr.), provided his father, Merle Smith Sr. (Merle Sr.), funds to purchase property. The deed for the property conveyed the land to "Merle George Smith." During Merle Sr.'s residency at the property, he paid the taxes on the property and maintained it. With his heath declining, Merle Sr. deeded the property to his live-in companion, Carla Pettigrew (Carla). Sometime later, Merle Sr. passed away, and Carla continued to reside on the property and pay the property taxes.

         ¶2. Merle Jr. brought an action against Carla in the Hinds County Chancery Court to confirm title and to remove clouds on title-claiming that the property was actually deeded to him and not Merle Sr. And thus, Merle Jr. argued that the property was never Merle Sr.'s to convey to Carla. A trial was held, testimony was heard, and a final judgment was rendered in favor of Carla. In her written order and opinion, the chancellor found, among other things, that Merle Jr. failed to deraign title, and that the land was deeded to Merle Sr.-not Merle Jr. Merle Jr. now appeals. Finding no error, we affirm.


         ¶3. In 1999 Merle Jr. took out a bank loan to purchase property for his father, Merle Sr.[1] The property included a mobile home and the lot it sat on. Merle Jr. gave the money to Merle Sr. to purchase the property from Gerald and Tia Young. The deed for the property designated the grantee as "Merle George Smith." Allegedly, Merle Jr. purchased the property so that his father would have a place to live.

         ¶4. In March 2011, with his health declining, Merle Sr. deeded the property to Carla-his live-in companion-while reserving himself a life estate. He signed the deed "Merle George Smith." Merle Sr. died in 2012. And in May 2014, Merle Jr. sought cancellation of the deed to Carla as void and confirmation of title in himself and further prayed for general relief.

         ¶5. Appearing pro se, Carla filed an answer, which admitted that the 1999 deed from the Youngs conveyed the property to the grantee in fee simple absolute; admitted that Merle Sr., using the name "Merle George Smith, " had executed the March 3, 2011 deed purporting to convey her the property; and denied the other allegations of Merle Jr.'s complaint. A trial was held. Carla represented herself throughout the trial.

         ¶6. Gerald Young testified first. Young testified that he was the former owner of the real property and the mobile home. Young had rental property, and Merle Sr. rented from him. He further testified that he wanted to get out of the rental business, and so he worked up a deal and sold the property to the same person who was renting the property-Merle Sr. Young testified that he did not remember much about the deed, but upon review, identified it as the one he and his ex-wife had signed. And while he was not certain of the agreed-upon price, Young agreed that the property sold for approximately $8, 000. Young testified that he did not know if the deed was to Merle Jr. or Sr., but that he sold it to the man who was renting the property-which was Merle Sr. Young further testified that Bob Lawrence was the attorney who drafted the deed, and that he did not recall who gave him the check or where it came from. On cross-examination by Carla, Young said that he thought he had sold the property to the person who was renting it at the time. Young described the man he sold the property to as appearing around sixty years old-with poor skin and health issues. When the chancery court examined Young, he testified that the tenant to whom he sold the property was not Merle Jr.-who was sitting in the courtroom.

         ¶7. Lawrence-the lawyer that drafted the deed-testified that he had checked his records, and while he could not recall anything about what happened or whom he saw in July 1999, he had a copy of the deed he had prepared for the Youngs. Lawrence testified that he did not know where he or his secretary had gotten the information to put on the deed. But the deed indicated that the grantee's address was 555 Reel St., Jackson, Mississippi 39212. Additionally, the grantee's phone number was listed on the deed. Lawrence also had a copy of his phone ledger from 1999, which showed he had a phone call on July 21 from Young requesting Lawrence "to handle a closing for him." Lawrence's records showed that the Youngs then faxed him a copy of their deed to the property so that he had the legal description. Lawrence further confirmed that the grantee's address listed on the deed was not the address of the property that was being sold. And upon further questioning by the chancery court, Lawrence explained that the address of the property being conveyed was not on the deed, and that "the only time [he] would do that is if the street address corresponds ...

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