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Surginer v. Roberts

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

February 3, 2017

John Mark Surginer and Jeffrey Ward Surginer
v.
Sharon M. Roberts

         Appeal from Wilcox Circuit Court (CV-09-68)

          DONALDSON, Judge.

         John Mark Surginer ("John") and Jeffrey Ward Surginer ("Jeffrey") appeal from a judgment of the Wilcox Circuit Court ("the trial court") purporting to vest title to certain property in Sharon M. Roberts. Both the Surginers and Roberts describe the proceedings conducted before the trial court as involving a claim by Roberts for judicial redemption of that property. Although we question the manner in which the proceedings were presented to the trial court, we must address the issues presented on appeal as framed by the parties. Because the Surginers have not demonstrated a basis for reversal, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         Facts and Procedural History

         In 1994, Roberts purchased approximately 68 acres of land along the Alabama River ("the property").[1] The property contained, among other things, an uninhabitable trailer and a cabin. In 2001, Jeffrey offered to purchase the property from Roberts. Roberts declined the offer. Jeffrey then obtained an assignment of a mortgage on the property from Charles and Maxine Haskew, the previous owners and the mortgagees of the property. Immediately thereafter, Jeffrey attempted to foreclose on the property, but he was unable to do so because Roberts was under the protection of a United States bankruptcy court. In 2002, Roberts apparently commenced an action in the trial court against Jeffrey relating to his attempt to foreclose on the property.

         Although the circumstances are not entirely clear from the record, it appears that in 2002 Jeffrey paid the property taxes on the property that were apparently delinquent at the time. In 2004, John purchased the property at a tax sale for $10, 100. Jeffrey testified that he did not know at that time that John had purchased the property. In September 2005, apparently in settlement of the action Roberts had commenced, Jeffrey executed a quitclaim deed conveying his interest in the property to Roberts in exchange for $10, 000. Roberts's action against Jeffrey was dismissed pursuant to that settlement.

         On July 10, 2007, the Wilcox Probate Court, noting that the time for redemption following the 2004 tax sale had elapsed, recorded a deed, pursuant to § 40-10-29, Ala. Code 1975, conveying the property jointly to the Surginers.[2] In 2007 and 2008, the Surginers made various purported improvements to the property.

         In 2008, Roberts commenced an action in the probate court seeking to redeem the property pursuant to § 40-10-120 et seq., Ala. Code 1975. On January 26, 2009, the probate court issued a certificate of redemption to Roberts. See § 40-10-127, Ala. Code 1975. Thereafter, the Surginers were ordered to be ejected from the property.

         On November 18, 2009, the Surginers filed a complaint for declaratory relief in the trial court. In the complaint, the Surginers sought a judgment declaring that the certificate of redemption issued by the probate court in January 2009 was void and that Roberts had no right to possess the property. In her answer to the Surginers' complaint, Roberts asserted, among other things, that she had received from Jeffrey, in exchange for $10, 000, a quitclaim deed to the property in September 2005. After Roberts filed her answer, the case was placed on the administrative docket by the agreement of the parties.

         On June 21, 2011, Roberts filed an amended answer, in which she asserted that she had redeemed the property, and a counterclaim, in which she sought, among other things, a judgment declaring that the certificate of redemption issued by the probate court on January 26, 2009, was valid. Thereafter, the trial of the case was continued several times.

         On October 17, 2014, the Surginers filed an amended complaint and a reply to Roberts's counterclaim. In the amended complaint, the Surginers reasserted their previous allegations, but they also asserted that Roberts had wrongfully evicted them from the property and had wrongfully removed timber from the property. Roberts filed an answer to the amended complaint and an amended counterclaim, asserting claims of abuse of process and conspiracy to commit abuse of process.

         A trial was held on December 3, 2014. The only witnesses at the trial were Jeffrey and Daniel Crigger, a home inspector hired by Roberts. On March 9, 2016, the trial court entered what it styled as a "Final Order." In the order, the trial court made various findings of fact and conclusions of law, and ordered the following:

"1. The Certificate of Redemption issued by the Probate Judge of Wilcox County on January 26, 2009 is vacated as null and void and the Probate Judge shall vacate such redemption.
"2. To redeem the property at issue, the Defendant, Sharon Roberts, shall pay the following sums within thirty (30) days from the date of this Order.
"a. The sum of $19, 229.47 to the [Surginers] reflecting the purchase price and taxes paid by the
[Surginers] and interest at a rate of 12 percent per annum.
"b. A reasonable attorney's fee to [the Surginers'] attorneys for bringing this action.
"c. The sum of $15, 800.00 for loss [of] use of the property.
"3. If the amounts contained within this Order are not paid in full by [Roberts] within thirty (30) days from the date of this Order, then [Roberts's] right to judicially redeem the property at issue shall terminate and the Court will issue an additional Order quieting title to such property and granting possession of such property to the [Surginers].
"4. That the Probate Court of Wilcox County is hereby ordered to immediately pay to the Circuit Clerk of Wilcox County all money held by the Probate Court previously paid to the Probate Court of Wilcox County by Sharon Roberts in order to obtain a Certificate of Redemption issued by the Probate Court of Wilcox County on January 26, 2009.
"5. The costs of this action, consisting of the filing fee in the amount of $435.00 is hereby taxed against [Roberts].

         On April 14, 2016, the trial court entered the following, which it styled as a "Judgment":

"This matter having previously come before the Court for trial on the merits, and the Court having entered an Order on March 9, 2016, setting forth the monetary amounts that were required to be paid by [Roberts] in order to redeem the subject property from a prior tax sale, and the Court having further ordered that if the amounts set forth in the March 9 order were not paid in full by [Roberts] on or before April 8, 2016, then [Roberts's] right to judicially redeem the subject property from the tax sale was terminated, and it now appearing to the satisfaction of the Court that [Roberts] failed or refused to pay the various ...

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