McGee is the Appellee
Greaves is the Appellant
This is a dispute over mineral
The appellees filed a complaint for
a declaratory judgment in the Circuit Court Greaves and the
Lamar County Commission.
Seeking to establish their ownership
of the minerals underlying a public road which crosses their
The appellant, Greaves,
counterclaimed for a declaratory judgment to establish his right
to the minerals in question.
Found for the appellees.
York acquired title to the land in question from Gault and wife
by a deed.
York and wife executed a instrument
in favor of Lamar Country.
we do hereby
release, quitclaim and convey
to the County of Lamar, a body corporate, for the use and
purpose of maintaining a public highway,
all of our right, title,
interest and claim in and to the following strip of
land twenty feet wide to be used for the
purpose of constructing a road
of second grade.
right of way for public road twenty feet in width.
Oil, Gas and Mineral Lease
The Lamar County Commission executed
an oil, gas and mineral lease in favor of Greaves.
Implication: Fee Simple vs Right of Way
Fee Simple Implication
If a fee simple interest was
conveyed, then the judgment of the trial court would have to be
The appellant would have the right
to the minerals by virtue of his oil, gas, and mineral lease
from Lamar County.
Right of Way Implication
If only a right of way was conveyed,
then the judgment would have to be affirmed.
It is a fundamental precept of
property law that courts should construe instruments so as to
give effect to the intent of the
Court has the burden of scrutinizing deeds.
Which is facilitated by a body of
judicially and legislatively created guidelines for the
construction of deeds conveying property.
Steps to Scrutinize
Initially, the court should
seek to ascertain the intention
of the parties by looking to the
The court should be
careful to try to give meaning
to every clause and provision of the instrument.
Second, the court should
look to the factual situation
and the circumstances
existing at the time the
instrument was created.
Finally, the court may look to the
subsequent acts of the
parties to determine the correct construction of the instrument.
conveyed only a right of way to Lamar County.
Replete with Limited Purpose of the Conveyance
right of way for [a] public
road twenty feet in width."
The instrument is replete with
references to the limited purpose of the conveyance (i.e., to
allow for the construction and maintenance of a public road
across the Yorks' land).
Strip of land Disagree
Disagrees with the granting clause
to convey a fee.
way intended to be a strip through any of the Yorks land
The road was already in construction
at the time of the conveyance.
The remainder of the road to be
constructed was to be discretionary with the county.
The language also gives rise to an
inference that the road, once completed, was subject to future
relocation anywhere on the York land at the discretion of the
Appellees Right of Way Argument (McGee)
The appellees argue that the
uncertain description of the "strip of land" renders the
instrument ineffective as a conveyance of a fee simple title as
a matter of law.
They further argue that such an
uncertain description is indicative of the Yorks intent to
convey only a right of way.
Appellant Argument (Greaves)
The appellant insists that the
instrument is effective as a conveyance of fee simple title,
because the location of the strip is capable of ascertainment.
He argues that it is where the road
was located at that time or where it was eventually located and
No fixed locatable Boundary
The trial court found that no
evidence was presented at trial that the "strip of land" could
be ascertained and determined to have a fixed and locatable
It further found that the road had
been moved and relocated on several occasions.
No consistent with intent
The "open" description contained in
the instrument strongly implies that no conveyance of a fee was
contemplated by the Yorks.
It is not reasonable to infer that
the Yorks would have intended such a result.
Quite obviously, the Yorks were not
certain at the time of the conveyance where the road would
ultimately be located or relocated on their land.
This kind of uncertainty is simply
not consistent with an intent to convey a fee interest.
Judge Allen, Chairman of the Lamar
County Commission, testified that the county had never claimed
any interest in the minerals underlying the road.
In both Schneider and Rowell
The deeds in question
affirmatively showed that a
conveyance of specifically
described land was made,
accompanied by a recitation of the
use to which that land was to be put, and the
Court held that a fee simple title was conveyed to the land
In this case
The granting clause is followed by a
description that uses the language right of way.
When the granting and description
clauses are considered together, it can be seen that the "strip
of land" referred to in the last line of the granting clause is
characterized in the description clause as a right of way.