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Denny v. Regions Bank

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, Second Division

September 19, 2017

DAVID G. DENNY and LINDA J. DENNY, TRUSTEES OF THE DAVID G. DENNY AND LINDA J. DENNY REVOCABLE TRUST DATED JUNE 17, 2003 Plaintiffs-Respondents,
v.
REGIONS BANK d/b/a REGIONS MORTGAGE, et al., Defendants-Appellants.

         APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF GREENE COUNTY Honorable Jason Brown, Circuit Judge

          OPINION

          JEFFREY W. BATES, J.

         This case is on appeal to this Court for the second time. See Denny v. Regions Bank, 479 S.W.3d 781 (Mo. App. 2016). Regions Bank (Bank) and Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA) (hereinafter collectively referred to as Defendants) appeal from a judgment entered after a bench trial on remand. The underlying action involved a quitclaim deed (the Quitclaim Deed) from the trustees of the David G. Denny and Linda J. Denny Revocable Trust (the Trust) that conveyed certain real property (the Property) to John and Terah Richardson (the Richardsons).[1]The judgment declared that: (1) the Quitclaim Deed reserved a life estate in the Property, held by the trustees and measured by the natural lives of David and Linda; and (2) that instrument conveyed a vested remainder to the Richardsons, which was later purchased at a non-judicial foreclosure sale by Bank and deeded to FNMA.

         Defendants present two points on appeal. In Point 1, Defendants contend the trial court erred by admitting extrinsic evidence concerning the Dennys' intent as grantors in executing the Quitclaim Deed. In Point 2, Defendants contend the language in the Quitclaim Deed was legally ineffective to reserve a life estate. Finding no merit in either point, we affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

The Dennys were the trustees of the Trust. The Dennys owned the Property as tenants by the entirety. In 2003, they executed a deed conveying the Property to themselves in their capacities as trustees of the Trust. In 2005, the Dennys executed the Quitclaim Deed, in their capacity as trustees of the Trust, conveying the Property to the Richardsons.[2]In relevant part, the Quitclaim Deed stated:
WITNESSETH, The said Grantor, for and in consideration of the sum of $10.00 Ten and no/100 ---------------- DOLLARS, and other valuable consideration paid to the Grantor, the receipt of which is hereby acknowledged, do by these presents, * Remise, Release and forever Quit Claim, unto the Grantee the following [legal description of the Property].
* Grantors reserve unto themselves a life estate in the land conveyed by this Deed.

         In 2007, the Bank recorded a deed of trust on the Property to secure a loan to the Richardsons. Bank's title insurance commitment and lender's title policy noted and included an exception for the life estate mentioned in the Quitclaim Deed. The Richardsons defaulted on their loan in 2012. The Bank purchased the Property at a non-judicial foreclosure sale and deeded it to FNMA.

         The Dennys brought a quiet title action in their capacities as trustees to obtain declaratory relief that they had a life estate in the Property and that Defendants had no interest in the Property. By counterclaim, Defendants asked the trial court to declare, inter alia, that Defendants' title was superior to any interest of the Dennys. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the trial court made the following rulings:

1. The Dennys acted in their capacities as trustees of the Trust in deeding the Property to the Richardsons "with language that expressly included 'Grantors reserve unto themselves a life estate in the land conveyed by this [Quitclaim] Deed.'"
2. By such language, the Dennys intended to convey the Property "subject to the lives of David Denny and Linda Denny personally, husband and wife."
3. "FNMA does have title, but that title is subject to the Life Estate of David G. Denny and Linda J. Denny, personally."

         Defendants appealed from the judgment. A summary judgment in favor of the moving party is only appropriate "when there is no genuine issue of material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Nationwide Ins. Co. v. Dugger, 484 S.W.3d 377, 379 (Mo. App. 2016). Defendants contended the Dennys failed to establish as a matter of law that they held personal life estates in the Property. This Court agreed:

[T]he judgment that the Dennys hold a life estate personally lacks record support in two respects: (1) that they intended to hold such estate personally, not as trustees; and (2) even assuming such intent, that they took appropriate legal action to accomplish ...

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