Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Hinote v. Owens

Supreme Court of Alabama

September 8, 2017

Thomas W. Hinote, Cindy S. Hinote, Rebecca L. Dowdy, and David H. Dowdy
v.
Annette Freeman Owens et al.

         Appeal from Fayette Circuit Court (CV-13-9)

          BRYAN, JUSTICE.

         This case involves two competing claims to a 40-acre tract of land ("the property") and whether the rule of repose may be applied to resolve that dispute. In 1930, Felix Jackson Freeman ("Felix") inherited the property from his father Matt Freeman through Matt's will. Felix married and had 12 children. The record on appeal contains no evidence establishing that Felix conveyed the property during his life. Thus, the record indicates that Felix owned the property when he died in 1961. Felix died intestate, and he was predeceased by his wife and three of his children, only one of whom had a surviving spouse or children. Thus, when Felix died, the property passed by intestate succession to his nine surviving children (each having a one-tenth interest) and to the heirs of one of Felix's predeceased children (who shared the predeceased child's one-tenth interest).

         The complications in this case began in 1964, when one of Felix's children, James Freeman ("James"), purported to deed all the property to another child of Felix's, Joseph Freeman ("Joseph"). The 1964 deed was duly recorded. Nothing in the record establishes that, before that deed was executed, James owned more than the one-tenth interest in the property he had inherited from Felix in 1961. The 1964 deed from James to Joseph began a series of conveyances involving various parties over several years. That line of conveyances ended with two deeds in 2004, when DRL, LLC, purported to convey one-half of the surface estate of the property to Thomas W. Hinote and Cindy S. Hinote and one-half of the surface estate of the property to David H. Dowdy and Rebecca L. Dowdy. DRL also purported to convey a portion of the mineral rights in the property to the Hinotes and the Dowdys; DRL retained a portion of the mineral rights for itself. However, for the sake of simplicity, we will describe the competing claims to the property only as they relate to the surface estate, as to which, for purposes of this appeal, the mineral estate is similarly situated.

         The various transactions created a situation with two sides laying claim to the property. On the one hand, Felix's descendants claim to own various fractional parts of the property as cotenants. They claim that James never owned more than the one-tenth interest in the property he inherited on Felix's death and, thus, that he could not have conveyed more than that one-tenth interest to Joseph in 1964. They contend that, after the 1964 deed, Joseph owned only a two-tenths interest in the property (the one-tenth interest he inherited on Felix's death plus the one-tenth interest he acquired from James). Under their view, the Hinotes and the Dowdys would also be cotenants, each having actually acquired a one-tenth interest instead of the one-half interest they thought they had acquired. The Hinotes and the Dowdys, on the other hand, each claim to own one-half of the property, tracing their titles back to the 1964 deed in which James purported to deed all the property to Joseph.

         In 2011, four of Felix's descendants, Annette Freeman Owens, Willie Freeman, Jr., Eva N. Freeman Jones, and Nona Freeman Farrior, sued the Hinotes and the Dowdys.[1] In pertinent part, the plaintiffs sought a judgment determining the ownership of the property, and they requested a sale of the property for a division of the proceeds. The Hinotes and the Dowdys primarily argued that the plaintiffs' action is barred by the 20-year rule of repose; the plaintiffs dispute that their action is barred by the rule of repose. The Hinotes and the Dowdys alternatively argued that they had acquired the property by adverse possession, contending that they and their predecessors had been in actual, hostile, open, notorious, and exclusive possession of the property for many years.

         Following a trial, the trial court entered a judgment in favor of the plaintiffs. The trial court concluded that the plaintiffs owned the property as cotenants, along with the Hinotes, the Dowdys, and dozens of other descendants of Felix. That is, the court determined that the Hinotes and the Dowdys had each acquired a one-tenth interest in the property instead of the one-half interest their respective deeds indicate. The trial court further ordered that the property be sold and the proceeds divided according to the property interest held. The trial court did not discuss the rule of repose in its judgment. The Hinotes and the Dowdys appealed. We affirm.

         On appeal, the Hinotes and the Dowdys argue that Alabama's common-law rule of repose bars this action. In Ex parte Liberty National Life Insurance Co., 825 So.2d 758 (Ala. 2002), this Court clarified the law concerning the rule of repose. In that case, we explained that the rule of repose bars an action not brought within 20 years from the time the action could have been brought. 825 So.2d at 764. The rule is based solely on the passage of time. Id. This concept is distinct from the accrual of a claim for purposes of a statute of limitations: "[R]epose does not depend on 'accrual, ' because the concept of accrual sometimes incorporates other factors, such as notice, knowledge, or discovery." 825 So.2d at 764 n.2. However, in some cases the start of the 20-year period of repose will coincide with the accrual of a claim. Unlike a statute of limitations, which extinguishes the remedy rather than the right, the rule of repose extinguishes both the remedy and the action itself. 825 So.2d at 765. The rule is based on the ideas that "'[i]t is necessary for the peace and security of society'" that disputes should end at some point and that "'it is inequitable to allow those who have slept upon their rights for a period of 20 years'" to bring an action after memories have faded and parties and witnesses have passed away. 825 So.2d at 763 (quoting Snodgrass v. Snodgrass, 176 Ala. 276, 280, 58 So. 201, 202 (1912)). "'[T]he only circumstance that will stay the running of the 20 year period of repose is a recognition of the existence of the claimant's right by the party defending against the claim.'" 825 So.2d at 765 (quoting Boshell v. Keith, 418 So.2d 89, 92 (Ala. 1982) (emphasis omitted)). That recognition must be express and explicit. 825 So.2d at 765.

         The Hinotes and the Dowdys trace their titles to the 1964 deed by which James purported to convey all the property to Joseph. They contend that "[a] claim existed and a right could have been asserted as early as 1964 when James ... purported to convey the full interest -- not just his interest -- in the [property] to Joseph." The Hinotes and the Dowdys' brief, at 16. Thus, the Hinotes and the Dowdys argue that a 20-year period of repose began to run at that point in 1964. Therefore, they argue, the 20-year period expired long before the plaintiffs filed their action in 2011 and, thus, the action is barred. However, the rule of repose simply does not apply in this case.

         Initially, we emphasize the fundamental principle that one cannot convey more property that one owns. Simmons Grp., LTD v. O'Rear, [Ms. 1150475, March 24, 2017] ___ So.3d ___, ___ (Ala. 2017) (stating "the basic property rule that a grantor cannot convey more than the grantor actually owns"). In 1964, James purported to convey all the property to Joseph by deed. However, nothing in the record establishes that, when that deed was executed, James owned more than the one-tenth interest in the property he had inherited in 1961. The record indicates that James was a cotenant of the property with Felix's other heirs. The Hinotes and the Dowdys acknowledge as much in their brief by noting that "one cotenant[, James, ] attempted to convey all of the [property]" and that, in the 1964 deed, "James ... purported to convey the full interest -- not just his interest -- in the [property] to Joseph." The Hinotes and the Dowdys' brief, at 14 and 16 (emphasis in original).

         Given that James attempted in the 1964 deed to convey more than he owned and that the Hinotes and the Dowdys claim through that deed, it is evident that the plaintiffs, who claim through intestate succession from Felix, have superior title to the Hinotes and the Dowdys. Once superior title has been established, there is a limited manner by which another party may wrest away that title. In this case, the Hinotes and the Dowdys attempt to use the rule of repose to divest title from the other cotenants; however, the rule may not be used in that way. "The rule of repose has been described as the 'running of the period against claims' rather than a device to displace title. ... [T]he rule of repose cannot be used against one with valid record title by one who clearly does not have title." Oehmig v. Johnson, 638 So.2d 846, 850 (Ala. 1994) (quoting Boshell, 418 So.2d at 92 (emphasis in Boshell omitted)), overruled on other grounds by Ex parte Liberty National, supra. In a case like this, the method of divesting title from other cotenants would be to establish adverse possession.

         Knouff v. Knouff, 485 So.2d 1155 (Ala. 1986), illustrates that point. In the proceedings below and on appeal there has been some discussion about whether and how Knouff relates to Ex parte Liberty National, which clarified the law on the rule of repose 16 years after the opinion in Knouff was issued. We take this opportunity to address that issue. Like this case, Knouff involved several heirs who inherited land intestate and thus became cotenants. After taxes were not paid on the land, one of the cotenants, S.S. Knouff, purchased the land at a tax sale. S.S. received a tax deed to the land in his own name. More than 20 years later, certain heirs, claiming they still owned the land as cotenants, sought a sale for division. S.S.'s son and heir, J.R. Knouff, then sought to quiet title to the land. J.R. argued that the rule of repose barred the heirs' attempt to have the trial court order a sale for division. This Court disagreed, concluding that the rule of repose did not bar the action.

         The Court first observed that, although S.S. had bought the land at a tax sale and had acquired a tax deed in his own name, his doing so was deemed to be for the benefit of all the cotenants. Thus, the tax deed had not actually given S.S. exclusive ownership of the land. The Court then addressed J.R.'s argument that he and his father S.S. had nevertheless adversely possessed the land since the date of the tax deed. The Court used "repose" language when discussing the adverse-possession claim:

"There is a strong presumption in the law that the possession of one co-tenant is the possession of all, and possession by one tenant in common alone does not repel the presumption. Monte v. Montalbano,274 Ala. 6, 145 So.2d 197 (1962). ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.