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Davidson Land Company, LLC v. Suellen L. Davidson

February 18, 2011

DAVIDSON LAND COMPANY, LLC, APPELLANT (PLAINTIFF),
v.
SUELLEN L. DAVIDSON, CHARLES NOLLER DAVIDSON, AND DEBORAH J. DAVIDSON, APPELLEES (DEFENDANTS).



Appeal from the District Court of Carbon County The Honorable Wade E. Waldrip, Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kite, Chief Justice.

Before KITE, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, VOIGT, and BURKE, JJ.

NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in Pacific Reporter Third. Readers are requested to notify the Clerk of the Supreme Court, Supreme Court Building, Cheyenne, Wyoming 82002, of typographical or other formal errors so correction may be made before final publication in the permanent volume.

[¶1] Two brothers, Daniel Davidson and Chester Davidson, agreed to partition their ranch in 1982.*fn1 In recognition of a railroad right of way that traversed the ranch, they provided in their agreement that if the right of way were ever abandoned, they would execute any necessary documents to vest the other with full title in the right of way over his respective portion of ranch. Later, Daniel purchased a quitclaim deed to the right of way from the Union Pacific Railroad Company (UPRR), and his successors refuse to execute documents to fully vest Chester's successors with title to the right of way over Chester's portion of the ranch.

[¶2] The district court granted summary judgment and quieted title in property covered by the railroad right of way to Daniel's successors on the basis of the quitclaim deed. Chester's successors claim the district court incorrectly interpreted the terms of the parties' agreement. We conclude, as a matter of law, the district court's interpretation of the agreement was incorrect. The unambiguous contractual language requires Daniel's successors to convey whatever interest they received from UPRR in the right of way over Chester's land to his successors.

[¶3] We reverse and remand.

ISSUES

[¶4] Chester's successors state the issues on appeal as follows:

ISSUE I: Whether the District Court misconstrued the parties' contractual intent.

ISSUE II: Whether the doctrine of Estoppel by Deed precludes appellees' claim of ownership by their after-acquired title.

ISSUE III: Whether title to real property can be quieted in a grantee, sua sponte, based only on a quitclaim deed, without evidence that the grantor owned a fee interest to convey.

Daniel's successors phrase the issue differently:

Che[ster] and Dan[iel] Davidson owned a ranch with a railroad-owned right-of-way through it. By agreement, they divided the ranch in 1982, exchanging warranty deeds. Each would receive the right-of-way through his property if it was ever abandoned. In 1996 Dan[iel] bought the entire right-ofway from UPRR. Are Dan[iel]'s successors now required to transfer any of the right-of-way to Appellant under the terms of the agreement or warranty deed?

FACTS

[¶5] Daniel and Chester Davidson, together with their wives, owned a 160 acre ranch, containing nine separate parcels, near Saratoga, in Carbon County, Wyoming. A railroad traversed the ranch from the northwest to the southeast. Around 1979, the tracks, bridges and abutments were removed by UPRR.

[¶6] In 1982, the two Davidson couples entered into an agreement to partition the ranch by cross-conveying the parcels, with Chester and his wife Norma receiving parcels one through five and Daniel and his wife Earlene receiving parcels six through nine (1982 Agreement). The railroad had been located on parcels three and four on Chester's land and parcels seven and eight on Daniel's land. Title to the lands affected by the railroad in parcels three and four is at issue here.

[¶7] Paragraph 6 of the 1982 Agreement addressed the interests the respective Davidsons owned in the railroad right of way, as follows:

Parcels 3 and 4 contain a railroad right-of-way containing 2.78 acres, more or less. The parties agree that the land within said right-of-way is the property of Chester

C. Davidson and Norma Davidson and that if the right-ofway is ever abandoned, Daniel Davidson and Earlene Davidson agree to execute such instruments of conveyance as may be required to vest said land in Chester C. Davidson and Norma Davidson. Parcels 7 and 8 likewise contain a railroad right-of-way which the parties agree is the property of Daniel Davidson and Earlene Davidson and Chester C. Davidson and Norma Davidson agree to execute such instruments of conveyance as may be required to vest said land in Daniel Davidson and Earlene Davidson if the right-of-way is ever abandoned.

[¶8] At the same time they entered into the 1982 Agreement, the parties executed reciprocal warranty deeds conveying the properties in accordance with the agreement. There is no showing in the record that the land subject to the right of way was excluded from the property description contained in each deed. The property descriptions were followed by the language:

SUBJECT, HOWEVER, to all easements, reservations, restrictions and rights-of-way of record in the office of the County Clerk and Ex-Officio ...


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