United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Lynchburg Division
For Courtland Realty Associates, Plaintiff: Henry Chamberlaine Devening, Henry C. Devening, P.C., Lynchburg, VA; Royston Jester, IV, Jester & Jester, Lynchburg, VA.
For Gray S. Nash, James G. Amos, Jeanne Nash Amos, formerly known as Jeann Nash Amos, Estate of David S. Nash, formerly known as David S. Nash, Estate of Marion D. Nash, formerly known as Marion D. Nash, Defendants: Bevin Ray Alexander, Jr., Freeman Dunn Alexander Gay Lucy & Coates, PC, Lynchburg, VA.
For United States of America, Defendant: Thomas L. Eckert, United States Attorneys Office, Roanoke, VA.
For LTC Partners Limited Partnership, Intervenor Defendant: Bevin Ray Alexander, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, Freeman Dunn Alexander Gay Lucy & Coates, PC, Lynchburg, VA.
NORMAN K. MOON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Plaintiff Courtland Realty Associates (" Plaintiff" ) filed this action against the Nash Defendants and the United States of America, seeking a declaratory judgment to quiet title to a 100.6 parcel of real estate located in Appomattox County, Virginia. The Nash Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on March 29, 2013. In a July 9, 2013 order, I denied that motion to dismiss, finding that questions about ownership of the property remained.
A one-day bench trial took place on November13, 2013. At trial, Plaintiff and the Nash Defendants contested three major issues: (1) whether this Court had jurisdiction to determine the rights of the parties; (2) whether Plaintiff had conveyed its interest in the 100.6 acres in dispute during the sale following the 1970 partition suit; and (3) whether Plaintiff, in the alternative, had come to own the parcel in question through adverse possession. The United States of America did not, until filing their post-trial brief, assert a claim to the 100.6 acres in dispute, but rather sought a determination of the rights of the parties so as to insure a cloud of title did not arise over a separate, but related, conveyance of 179.82 acres. As explained in the findings of fact and conclusions of law set forth below, I find that Plaintiff did not convey its interest and therefore is the sole owner of the 100.6 acres in dispute, and that the United States of America has good title to its 179.82 acre parcel.
The underlying dispute at the heart of this case arises out of land transfers dating back to the 1920s, and the present action has a complicated procedural history. In 1918, S.L. Ferguson acquired a parcel of land estimated to contain 925 acres in Appomattox County. In 1921, Ferguson conveyed an undivided one-half interest in the parcel to H.D. Flood. When H.D. Flood died intestate in 1921, his interest in the parcel passed to Bolling Byrd Flood (" Flood" ) and Eleanor Faulconer Flood Schoellkopf (" Schoellkopf" ) as his sole heirs at law. When S.L. Ferguson died, he devised all of his property, including his remaining one-half interest in the 925-acre parcel, to his wife, Adelia Ferguson, who died in 1956. The executors of her estate conveyed the Fergusons' interest in the original parcel to Courtland Realty Company, Inc. Thus, by October 1969, Flood and Schoellkopf jointly owned a one-half undivided interest in the original parcel, and Courtland Realty Company, Inc.
owned the other one-half undivided interest in the parcel, less any off conveyances.
On October 31, 1969, Flood and Schoellkopf filed suit in Appomattox Circuit Court to partition certain real estate, including a tract estimated to contain 416.12 acres, being the residue of the original 925-acre tract. The court appointed Special Commissioners to auction off the 416.12 acres. David S. Nash successfully bid on the portion of the 416.12 acres described as lying on the southeasterly side of U.S. Route 24 (the " Southeasterly Parcel" ). By a deed dated November 2, 1970, the Special Commissioners conveyed to David and Marion Nash title to a parcel of real estate described as:
That certain tract or parcel of land, together with the privileges and appurtenances thereunto belonging, situate, lying, and being in Cloverhill Magisterial District of Appomattox County, Virginia, estimated to contain 140 acres, but this being a conveyance in gross and not by the acre, and being that part of a tract of land containing 416 acres, more or less, which lies on the southeasterly side of U.S. Highway No. 24, but having no frontage on said U.S. Highway No. 24.
At the auction, Courtland Realty Company, Inc. successfully bid on the portion described as lying on the northwesterly side of Route 24 (the " Northwesterly Parcel" ). By a deed dated November 2, 1970, the Special Commissioners, at the direction of Courtland Realty Company, Inc., conveyed to Burruss Land and Lumber Company, Inc., title to a parcel of real estate described as:
That certain tract or parcel of land, together with the buildings and improvements thereon and the privileges and appurtenances thereunto belonging, situate, lying and being in Cloverhill Magisterial District of Appomattox County, Virginia, estimated to contain 275 acres, but this being a conveyance in gross and not by the acre, having a frontage of approximately 4,700 feet on the northwesterly line of U.S. Route No. 24, and extending back to the Appomattox River, and being all that part of a tract of land containing 416 acres, more or less, which lies on the northwesterly side of U.S. Route No. 24.
In 1994, David and Marion Nash conveyed by deed of gift to Gray Nash, Jeann Nash Amos, and James G. Amos (Jeann's husband) the one-half undivided interest in the remaining 71 acres of the Southeasterly Parcel that David and Marion had received in the 1970 deed from the Special Commissioners. The Northwesterly Parcel also went through changes in ownership. After the recording of the 1970 deed, Burruss Land and Lumber Company, Inc. was merged into Boston/Lyme Timber Company, Inc. (a Delaware corporation), which changed its name to Burruss Timber Company, Inc. (also a Delaware corporation). Burruss Timber Company, Inc. conveyed the property by deed to Burruss Timber Associates (a Virginia limited partnership), which subsequently changed its name to Burruss Timber Associates, L.P. By a deed dated September 14, 1993, Burruss Timber Associates, L.P., after several off conveyances, conveyed the residue of the Northwesterly Parcel to the United States.
In August 2005, Courtland filed two complaints against the Nash Defendants in Appomattox County Circuit Court seeking to quiet title to a 100.6 acre parcel of land. A trial was held on August 4, 2006. On November 17, 2006, the circuit court issued a letter opinion that identified the source of the confusion regarding ownership of the 100.6 acre parcel. Discussing the partition of the 416-acre parcel in 1970, the court stated:
Several facts are undisputed. First, there is no single " tract of land containing 416 acres, more or less" on either the southeasterly or northwesterly side of U.S. Route No. 24. Secondly, there is no tract of land estimated to contain 140 acres on the southeasterly side. There is no tract of land estimated to contain 275 acres on the northwesterly side. There are three tracts of land--one 215 acre tract on the " northwesterly" [north] side, one 100 acre tract on the " southeasterly" [south] side, and one 100.6 acre tract on the south side. This total acreage--415.6 acres in three separate parcels--is the " 416 acres" referred to as " a tract containing 416 acres" in the two deeds.
Thus, the specific description in the Nash deed is problematic. There are two 100 acre tracts [100 and 100.6] on the south side. The deed states the land conveyed is a " certain tract or parcel" which is part of a tract containing 416 acres on the south side. It is not clear whether one or two tracts are being conveyed because there is no tract matching the description. The description states the " part" and " a tract containing 416 acres" are on the south side. However, there are two " parts" on the south side and there are three tracts of land " containing 416 acres."
Moreover, the description in the Burruss deed (a " 275" acre tract " being all that part of a tract of land containing 416 acres, more or less, which lies on the northwesterly side of U.S. Route No. 24) is not clear. Either the entire 416 acres is on the north side, or a " part" is on the north side. Thus the conveyance of " 275 acres may be either " all" of whatever " part" of the 416 tract is physically located on the north side, or " all that part" of a 416 acre tract, with all 416 acres located on that side, or some other conveyance.
The court found that the key question was " whether the conveyance included a separate 100.6 acre tract," and held that it did. The court also held that Courtland did not meet its burden of establishing adverse possession to the 100.6 acre tract by clear and convincing evidence. Accordingly, the court ordered that the land belonged to the Nash Defendants and to Burruss Land and Lumber Company, Inc., or its corporate successor, if any, as tenants-in-common in undivided shares.
Courtland appealed the Circuit Court's decision to the Supreme Court of Virginia. After considering the record, the briefs, and argument of counsel, the Supreme Court of Virginia dismissed the appeal without prejudice and vacated the Circuit Court's order. The Court found that the Circuit Court's order imposed certain duties and obligations upon Burruss Land and Lumber Company, Inc., which was not a party to the case. The court held " that the circuit court lacked the power to grant the relief Nash prayed for because Burruss was a necessary party to the cross-bill." The Virginia Supreme Court remanded the case to the Circuit Court to join Burruss Land and Lumber Company, Inc. as a party in any further proceedings. Upon remand, the Circuit Court first issued an order finding that The Lyme Timber Company may be Burruss's successor in interest and ordering service upon The Lyme Timber Company. Courtland then moved for leave to file amended complaints alleging the United States was the assignee of Burruss Timber Associates.
With the Circuit Court's permission, Courtland filed amended complaints in state court naming the United States as a defendant. The United States removed to this Court because under 28 U.S.C. § 1346(f), federal district courts have exclusive original jurisdiction over claims
against the United States to quiet title. Since § 1346(f) grants federal district courts exclusive original jurisdiction, the state court lacked jurisdiction to hear the quiet title actions that included the United States as a defendant. And since a federal court's jurisdiction upon removal under 28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1) is derivative of the state court's jurisdiction, this Court therefore lacked jurisdiction to hear the removed quiet title action. Accordingly, on February 8, 2013, I dismissed the removed state court action for lack of jurisdiction and granted Courtland leave to file its complaint in this Court under the Quiet Title Act. Courtland then filed this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2409a, which provides that the " United States may be named as a party defendant in a civil action under this section to adjudicate a disputed title to real property in which the United States claims an interest, other than a security interest or water rights."
On March 29, 2013, the Nash Defendants filed a motion to dismiss. A hearing was held on that motion on July 3, 2013, and on July 9, 2013, I issued an order denying the motion. Eventually, a one day bench trial was held on November 13, 2013.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a)(1) provides that " [i]n an action tried on the facts without a jury . . . the court must find the facts specially and state its conclusions of law separately. The findings and conclusions may be stated on the record after the close of the evidence or may appear in an opinion or a memorandum of decision filed by the court."
A. Findings of Fact
On October 1, 2013, the parties filed an uncontested motion in limine (docket no. 19) asking this Court to take judicial notice of the adjudicative facts contained in the record of two suits filed in the Circuit Court of Appomattox County, Virginia, styled Courtland Realty Associates v. Gray S. Nash, et als., cases #CH05-000058-00 and #CH05-000059-00. On October 30, 2013, I issued an order granting the motion in limine (docket no. 30), taking judicial notice of the facts contained in the transcript of the proceedings, the exhibits introduced during the proceedings, and the pleadings, motions, and orders filed. Notably, while I took judicial notice of the facts contained in the record, I do not given any deference to any findings of fact in the vacated circuit court opinion. In addition to the facts described above, these facts of which I took judicial notice ...