January 11, 2019
- Whether there was legal error in interpreting a 1972 deed
In Spring of 1968, plaintiff Quentin White met defendant Perley Swett, the “Taylor Pond Hermit,” who explained he needed food. White brought Swett food. Swett offered payment, which White declined. This spurred a lasting friendship between the two. White would frequently help Swett with things like running errands, visiting family, and helping Swett deliver gifts of money or deeds of land to local residents. In 1972, Swett gave White a deed for a large parcel of land which Swett justified as payment for White’s services. White initially declined, but then reluctantly accepted with no intention of recording it.
Swett appointed White to be the executor of his will, in which there were several bequests to White, including part of Swett’s “home farm.” Shortly after Swett’s passing in 1973, probate proceedings became quarrelsome. White recorded the 1972 deed and then resigned as executor. In so doing, White entered into a Stipulation with Swett’s estate and heirs that abandoned any claims under Swett’s will and in connection with any unrecorded deeds.
In 2016, White attempted to sell the land in the 1972 deed. The sale failed once a potential buyer becoming aware of references to Auger and Jackson in the deed, and fearing that White might not hold the title free and clear of Auger’s and Jackson’s interests. White brought action to quiet title against Auger and Jackson. Jackson defaulted. Auger contested and brought counterclaims against White. The trial court found that, properly interpreted, the deed explicitly suggested that the land be transferred to Auger should White not live on or build on the land in 10 years, both of which he had not done. White appealed.
On appeal, White argued the trial court erred in interpreting the circumstances under which the land in the 1972 deed be transferred to Auger. He argued the only condition under which that should occur is if he were to “acquire a more attractive land area.” The court found that the deed was not ambiguous and that this condition could not be read in isolation, but together with the prior provisions, including the condition of White failing to build on or live on the land within ten years. Because White did not build or live on the land in ten years, the title transferred to Auger.
White argued that awarding the land to Auger deprived him of compensation for services provided to Swett. The court refused to address this argument as it was not sufficiently developed in the brief to warrant appellate review.
White also argued that by awarding the title to Auger, the court deprived him the benefits of the bargain in the 1973 Stipulation. He argued that in return for relinquishing claims under Swett’s will and in connection with any unrecorded deeds, he was to gain ownership of the parcel of land described in the 1972 deed, free of claims from Swett’s estate or heirs. The Court disagreed, finding that the Stipulation has no bearing on this case and did not alter the conditions in the deed. The argument also fails as Auger was not a party to the Stipulation.
Lastly, White argued the court erred when it ruled that RSA 477:3-b, II(a) (2013) did not void Auger’s interest in the land. The court found that the plain meaning of the statute did not void Auger’s interest because her future interest was created before the respective deadline in the statue.
Lane & Bentley, of Keene, for the plaintiff Quentin White. Gallagher, Callahan & Gartrell., of Concord, and Donahue Law, of Keene, for defendant Brigitte Auger.