Priest v. Ernest W. Ball & Associates, Inc.
Supreme Court of Alabama
62 So. 3d 1013 (2010)
In 2003, William Buxton and Judy Buxton (plaintiffs) purchased property from Thomas F. Loppnow and Ronna L. Loppnow in Alabama. The law firm of Ernest W. Ball & Associates, Inc. (Ball) (defendant) prepared the deed for the purchase. In part, the deed described the property and transferred it to the Buxtons “for and during their life and upon their death, then to their heirs in fee simple, together with every contingent remainder and right of reversion.” Although the deed’s granting clause used life-estate language, it also included references to fee-simple language. In addition, the deed’s warranty clause referred to the Buxtons’ “heirs, executors and assigns,” which is inappropriate language for a life estate transfer. In 2008, the Buxtons sued, seeking a declaratory judgment that language in the deed was ambiguous and, therefore, that it gave them a fee simple with a right of survivorship instead of a life estate. If deed language is ambiguous, then, to protect purchasers, the greater of the two possible estates is transferred to the purchaser. Here, that would mean if the deed was ambiguous about whether it transferred a fee simple with a right of survivorship or a life estate, then the fee simple with a right of survivorship governs, because it is the greater estate. The trial court agreed with the Buxtons that the deed was ambiguous and, therefore, ruled that the deed transferred a fee simple with right of survivorship to the Buxtons. Ball appealed.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Bolin, J.)
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