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Newell v. Newell

Supreme Court of Alabama

December 15, 2017

Alan Newell
v.
Floyd Newell

         Appeal from Franklin Circuit Court (CV-13-900037)

          MAIN, JUSTICE.

         Alan Newell appeals from a summary judgment entered against him on various claims and counterclaims relating to two tracts of real property located in Franklin County. For the following reasons, we reverse and remand.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         This appeal arises from a dispute between a father, Floyd Newell, and his son, Alan, regarding the ownership of two tracts of land located in Franklin County. The two tracts are farmland referred to, respectively, as "the Hester farm" and "the DeVaney farm."[1] Floyd is the title owner of the two properties. Alan, however, claims to be the true owner of the properties and asserts that the properties were deeded to Floyd only as security for loans Floyd made to Alan to purchase the land.

         On February 21, 2013, Floyd sued Alan, asserting claims of ejectment and detinue. Specifically, Floyd alleged that Alan was unlawfully withholding possession from Floyd of the Hester farm and the DeVaney farm, as well as a number of items of personal property allegedly belonging to Floyd. Alan filed a counterclaim that also alleged claims of ejectment and detinue. Alan contended that it was, in fact, Floyd who had wrongfully obtained possession of the Hester farm and the DeVaney farm and who was precluding Alan's rightful access to the properties. Alan also contended that Floyd was wrongfully withholding various items of Alan's personal property. Alan subsequently amended his counterclaim to add counts seeking a declaration of an equitable mortgage for both the Hester farm and the DeVaney farm. Alan contended that he purchased each property with a loan from Floyd and that the deed to each property was placed in Floyd's name as security for purchase-money loans.

         Floyd moved for a summary judgment as to the ejectment and equitable-mortgage counterclaims, contending that there was no genuine issue as to any material fact regarding the ownership of the two properties. The deposition testimony of Floyd and Alan was submitted in support of and in opposition to the summary-judgment motion. That testimony is hopelessly at odds.

         Alan testified that the Hester farm was purchased in 1992. He claims that, upon learning that the farm was for sale, he arranged financing to purchase the property from a local bank. According to Alan, before the closing on the sale of the property, Floyd offered to finance the purchase so long as Alan agreed to repay the full purchase price of $65, 000, plus $5, 000 in interest. Alan says that, at the time of purchase, he paid Floyd $35, 000 toward the purchase price. According to Alan, the title to the Hester farm was placed in Floyd's name as security for the loan Floyd made to Alan. Alan claims that he made payments toward the loan and that it was paid off in 1999. Alan also claims that he was in possession of the Hester farm following its purchase. He testified that he raised cattle on the Hester farm for several years; that he built an entrance to the farm secured by a gate; that he paid half the cost of constructing a barn on the farm; and that he placed a mobile home and a camper on the farm.

         As to the DeVaney farm, Alan contends that he also purchased this property through a loan from Floyd and that the title to the DeVaney farm was, like the Hester farm, held by Floyd as security for the loan. Alan testified that the property was purchased at auction in 1995 for $89, 000. Alan contends that repayment of the loan he used to purchase the DeVaney farm was accomplished by the withholding of $10, 000 in annual compensation that he was allegedly due from the family business. Specifically, he claims that he was a partner in Floyd's heating and air-conditioning business and that, as part of his compensation, the company was making a $10, 000 per year contribution into a retirement account established for Alan. Alan claims that he and Floyd agreed that Floyd would withhold the retirement contribution for nine consecutive years to pay off the loan. Alan states that he kept cattle on the DeVaney farm; that he cut, hauled, and stored hay on the farm; that he built a fence and gates around the farm; and that he paid for all the improvements to the farm.

         Floyd flatly denies Alan's claim of ownership of the two farms. Floyd contends that he purchased both the Hester farm and the DeVaney farm and that he owns the farms outright. He denies lending Alan money to purchase the properties. He denies that Alan made any payments to him toward the purchase price of the farms. He disputes claims that Alan made improvements to the farms. He denies that Alan was a partner in his heating and air-conditioning business or that any retirement account or contribution was ever set up for Alan or that he received any payment from Alan through withholding such funds. Floyd admits to no more than allowing Alan to use the properties in varying degrees over the years.

         On August 3, 2015, the trial court entered a partial summary judgment in favor of Floyd as to the ejectment claim and counterclaim and as to Alan's claim seeking recognition of an equitable mortgage. The trial court specifically held that the basis for Alan's claim of ownership of the two tracts of real property was barred by the Statute of Frauds. On May 15, 2017, the trial court entered a final judgment disposing of all remaining claims. This appeal followed.

         II. Standard of Review

         Alan's appeal concerns only the claims disposed of by the partial summary judgment. Our review of a summary judgment is de novo. Tanner v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 874 So.2d 1058, 1063 (Ala. 2003). In reviewing a summary judgment, we apply the same standard used by the trial court -- whether there has been a showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Rule 56, Ala. R. Civ. P.; Bond v. McLaughlin, [Ms. 1151215, Feb. 24, 2017] ___So. 3d___, ___ (Ala. 2017). Moreover, we review all ...


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