Extrinsic evident to explain ambiguties in deed involving “stake patents” and “conditional line agreements”: C.W. HOSKINS HEIRS V. BOGGS (SC 12/20/2007)

PROPERTY:  Real Estate Deed, ambiguities, and extrinsic evidence; "stake patents" and "conditional line agreements"
DATE RENDERED: 12/20/2007

This was an action to quiet title to a 155 acre tract of coal (the disputed tract) between the Boggs Heirs and the Hoskins Heirs and the entitlement to mining royalties. Summary judgment was granted in favor of the Boggs Heirs upon trial court’s determination that the deed was not ambiguous. The SC determined that the 1981 deed to the Boggs Heirs’ predecessor in title (Silas Boggs) was not ambiguous and the trial court therefore erred in not considering extrinsic evidence offered by the Hoskins Heirs to show the parties intent as to what was intended to be conveyed by the parties.

Having determined that the deed to Silos Boggs is in fact "ambiguous," thus necessitating consideration by the trial court of any admissible extrinsic evidence relevant to the intention of the parties, and that otherwise, material issues of fact existed at the time of summary judgment, the SC reversed the opinion of the Court of Appeals and vacated the judgment of the trial court, but only as to the issues of title between the Hoskins Heirs and the Boggs Heirs, and remanded the matter back to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

At the heart of this title dispute were "stake patents" and "conditional line agreements." "Stake patents," although valid in Kentucky, have nevertheless engendered a multitude of litigation of their boundaries as to the location of their boundaries, as well as, overlaps with other adjacent patents. "Stake patents," being as imprecise as they were, led to the use of "conditional line agreements" between adjoining neighbors, so as to avoid the inconvenience and expense of boundary line litigation . "A conditional line in eastern Kentucky is a line made by agreement of the parties, generally without the aid of a surveyor. "Conditional line agreements" were often unrecorded, yet marked and known on the ground by their reators–and just sometimes their heirs.

In determining the intention of the parties, courts look at the whole deed, along with the circumstances surrounding its execution, and courts may also consider the acts of the parties following the conveyance. Then, if the ambiguity is not resolved by extrinsic evidence of the parties’ intentions, the rule is well settled that the deed will be construed most strongly against the grantor and in favor of the grantee if it admits of two constructions. The construction of a deed is a matter of law, and absent an ambiguity, the intention of the parties is to be gathered from the four corners of the instrument.for what was said."

There also being genuine issues of material fact existing at the time, the entry of summary judgment was therefore in error.

Michael Stevens

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