Charlotte Park and Recreation Com'n v. Barringer

Annotate this Case

88 S.E.2d 114 (1955)

242 N.C. 311

CHARLOTTE PARK AND RECREATION COMMISSION, a Municipal Corporation, v. Osmond L. BARRINGER, Abbott Realty Company, a corporation, and Charles W. Leeper, I. P. Farrar, Sadler S. Gladden, Robert H. Greene, James Heath, Henry M. Isley, Russell McLaughlin, Anthony M. Walker, Harold Walker, Edward J. Weddington, James J. Weddington, Willie Lee Weddington, L. A. Warner, G. M. Wilkins, Roy S. Wynn and Rudolph M. Wyche, and City of Charlotte, a Municipal Corporation.

No. 532.

Supreme Court of North Carolina.

June 30, 1955.

*119 T. H. Wyche, Charlotte, and Spottswood W. Robinson, III, Richmond, Va., for Charles W. Leeper, I. P. Farrar, Sadler S. Gladden, Robert H. Greene, James Heath, Henry M. Isley, Russell McLaughlin, Anthony M. Walker, Harold Walker, Edward J. Weddington, James J. Weddington, Willie Lee Weddington, L. A. Warner, G. M. Wilkins, Roy S. Wynn, and Rudolph M. Wyche, Defendants-Appellants.

Cochran, McCleneghan & Miller and F. A. McCleneghan and Lelia M. Alexander, Charlotte, for Osmond L. Barringer, Defendant-Appellee.

John D. Shaw, Charlotte, for Charlotte Park and Recreation Commission, Plaintiff-Appellee.

PARKER, Justice.

The decision of the Trial Judge that he had jurisdiction of the property and the parties, and was empowered to enter judgment under the Declaratory Judgments Act is correct. G.S. § 1-253 et seq., Lide v. Mears, 231 N.C. 111, 56 S.E.2d 404.

There are no exceptions to the Judge's findings of fact.

We shall discuss first the Barringer Deed, which by reference, as well as all the other deeds mentioned in the statement of facts, is incorporated in the findings of fact, and made a part thereof. The first question presented is: Does the Barringer Deed create a fee determinable on special limitations, as decided by the Trial Judge ?

This Court said in Hall v. Turner, 110 N.C. 292, 14 S.E. 791: "Whenever a fee is so qualified as to be made to determine, or liable to be defeated, upon the happening of some contingent event or act, the fee is said to be base, qualified or determinable."

"An estate in fee simple determinable, sometimes referred to as a base or a qualified fee, is created by any limitation which, in an otherwise effective conveyance of land, creates an estate in fee simple and *120 provides that the estate shall automatically expire upon the occurrence of a stated event * * *. No set formula is necessary for the creation of the limitation, any words expressive of the grantor's intent that the estate shall terminate on the occurrence of the event being sufficient * * *. So, when land is granted for certain purposes, as for a schoolhouse, a church, a public building, or the like, and it is evidently the grantor's intention that it shall be used for such purposes only, and that, on the cessation of such use, the estate shall end, without any re-entry by the grantor, an estate of the kind now under consideration is created. It is necessary, it has been said, that the event named as terminating the estate be such that it may by possibility never happen at all, since it is an essential characteristic of a fee that it may possibly endure forever." Tiffany: Law of Real Property, 3rd Ed., Sec. 220.

In Connecticut Junior Republic Association v. Litchfield, 119 Conn. 106, 174 A. 304, 307, 95 A.L.R. 56, the real estate was devised by Mary T. Buell to the George Junior Republic Association of New York with a precatory provision that it be used as a home for children. The New York association by deed conveyed this land to plaintiff, "`its successors and assigns, in trust, as long as it may obey the purposes expressed in * * * the will * * * and as long as the (grantee) shall continue its existence for the uses and purposes as outlined in the preamble of the constitution of the National Association of Junior Republics, but if at any time it shall fail to so use said property for said purposes * * * then the property hereby conveyed shall revert to this grantor, or its successors.'" The Supreme Court of Connecticut said: "The effect of the deed was to vest in the plaintiff a determinable fee. Here, as in First Universalist Society [of North Adams] v. Boland, 155 Mass. 171, 174, 29 N.E. 524, 15 L.R.A. 231, the terms of the deed `do not grant an absolute fee, nor an estate or condition, but an estate which is to continue till the happening of a certain event, and then to cease. That event may happen at any time, or it may never happen. Because the estate may last forever, it is a fee. Because it may end on the happening of the event it is what is usually called a determinable or qualified fee.' See, also, City National Bank v. Bridgeport, 109 Conn. 529, 540, 147 A. 181; Battistone v. Banulski, 110 Conn. 267, 147 A. 820."

In First Universalist Society of North Adams v. Boland, 155 Mass. 171, 29 N.E. 524, 15 L.R.A. 231, "the grant of the plaintiff was to have and to hold, etc., `so long as said real estate shall by said society or its assigns be devoted to the uses, interests, and support of those doctrines of the Christian religion' as specified; `and when said real estate shall by said society or its assigns be diverted from the uses, interests, and support aforesaid to any other interests, uses, or purposes than as aforesaid, then the title of said society or its assigns in the same shall forever cease, and be forever vested in the following named persons, etc.'" The Supreme Court of Connecticut in Connecticut Junior Republic Association v. Litchfield, supra, has quoted the language of this case holding that the grant creates "`a determinable or qualified fee.'" Immediately after the quoted words, the Massachusetts Court used this language: "The grant was not upon a condition subsequent, and no re-entry would be necessary; but by the terms of the grant the estate was to continue so long as the real estate should be devoted to the specified uses, and when it should no longer be so devoted then the estate would cease and determine by its own limitation."

In Brown v. Independent Baptist Church of Woburn, 325 Mass. 645, 91 N.E.2d 922, 923, the will of Sarah Converse devised land "`to the Independent Baptist Church of Woburn, to be holden and enjoyed by them so long as they shall maintain and promulgate their present religious belief and faith and shall continue a Church; and if the said Church shall be dissolved, or if its religious sentiments shall be changed or abandoned, then my will is that this real estate shall go to my legatees hereinafter named.'" The Court said: "The parties apparently are in agreement, and the single justice ruled, that the estate of the church *121 in the land was a determinable fee. We concur. (Citing authorities.) The estate was a fee, since it might last forever, but it was not an absolute fee, since it might (and did) `automatically expire upon the occurrence of a stated event.'"

In Smith v. School Dist. No. 6 of Jefferson County, Mo., 250 S.W.2d 795, the deed contained this provision: "`The said land being hereby conveyed to said school district for the sole and express use and purpose of and for a schoolhouse site and it is hereby expressly understood that whenever said land shall cease to be used and occupied as a site for a schoolhouse and for public school purposes that then this conveyance shall be deemed and considered as forfeited and the said land shall revert to said party of the first part, his heirs and assigns.'" The Court held that the estate conveyed was a fee simple determinable.

In Collette v. Town of Charlotte, 114 Vt. 357, 45 A.2d 203, 204, the deed provided that the land "was `to be used by said Town for school purposes, but when said Town fails to use it for said school purposes it shall revert to said Scofield (the grantor), his heirs and assigns, but the Town shall have the right to remove all buildings located thereon. The Town shall not have the right to use the premises for other than school purposes.'" The Supreme Court of Vermont in a well-reasoned opinion supported by ample citation of authority said: "It was held in Fall Creek School Twp. v. Shuman, 55 Ind.App. 232, 236, 103 N.E. 677, 678, that a conveyance of land `to be used for school purposes' without further qualification, created a condition subsequent. The same words were used in Scofield's deed to the Town of Charlotte, but they were followed by the provision that `when said Town fails to use it for said school purposes it shall revert to said Scofield, his heirs or assigns,' clearly indicating the intent of the parties to create a determinable fee, which was, we think, the effect of the deed. North v. Graham, 235 Ill. 178, 85 N.E. 267, 18 L.R.A., N.S., 624, 626, 126 Am.St.Rep. 189."

In Mountain City Missionary Baptist Church v. Wagner, 193 Tenn. 625, 249 S.W.2d 875, 876, the deed is an ordinary deed conveying certain real estate. After the habendum clause there appears the following language: "`But it is distinctly understood that if said property shall cease to be used by the said Missionary Baptist Church (for any reasonable period of time) as a place of worship, that said property shall revert back to the said M. M. Wagner and his heirs free from any encumbrances whatsoever and this conveyance become null and void.'" The grantor was M. M. Wagner. The Court said: "When we thus read the deed, as a whole, we find that the unmistakable and clear intention of the grantor was to give this property to the church so long as it was used for church purposes and then when not so used the property was to revert to the grantor or his heirs. The estate thus created in this deed is a determinable fee."

In Magness v. Kerr, 121 Or. 373, 254 P. 1012, 1013, 51 A.L.R. 1466, the deed contained the following provision, to-wit: "`Provided and this deed is made upon this condition, that should said premises at any time cease to be used for cooperative purposes, they shall, upon the refunding of the purchase price and reasonable and equitable arrangement as to the disposition of the improvements, revert to said grantors.'" The Court held that this was a grant upon express limitation, and the estate will cease upon breach of the condition without any act of the grantor.

For other cases of a determinable fee created under substantially similar language see: Coffelt v. Decatur School District No. 17, 212 Ark. 743, 208 S.W.2d 1; Regular Predestinarian Baptist Church of Pleasant Grove v. Parker, 373 Ill. 607, 27 N.E.2d 522, 137 A.L.R. 635; Board of Education for Jefferson County v. Littrell, 173 Ky. 78, 190 S.W. 465; Pennsylvania Horticultural Society v. Craig, 240 Pa. 137, 87 A. 678.

We have held in Ange v. Ange, 235 N.C. 506, 71 S.E.2d 19, that the words "`for church purposes only'" appearing at the conclusion of the habendum clause, where there is no language in the deed providing *122 for a reversion or forfeiture in event the land ceases to be used as church property, does not limit the estate granted. To the same effect: Shaw University v. Durham Life Ins. Co., 230 N.C. 526, 53 S.E.2d 656.

In Abel v. Girard Trust Co., 365 Pa. 34, 73 A.2d 682, 684, there was in the habendum clause of the deed a provision for exclusive use as a public park for the use and benefit of the inhabitants of the Borough of Bangor. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania said: "An examination of the deed discloses that there is no express provision for a reversion or forfeiture. The mere expression of purpose will not debase a fee." To the same effect see: Miller v. Village of Brookville, 152 Ohio St. 217, 89 N.E.2d 85, 15 A.L.R.2d 967; Ashuelot Nat. Bank v. Keene, 74 N.H. 148, 65 A. 826, 9 L.R.A.,N.S., 758.

In North Carolina we recognize the validity of a base, qualified or determinable fee. Hall v. Turner, supra; Williams v. Blizzard, 176 N.C. 146, 96 S.E. 957; Turpin v. Jarrett, 226 N.C. 135, 37 S.E.2d 124. See also: 19 N.C.L.R. pp. 334-344: in this article a helpful form is suggested to create a fee determinable upon special limitation.

When limitations are relied on to debase a fee they must be created by deed, will, or by some instrument in writing in express terms. Abel v. Girard Trust Co., supra; 19 Am.Jur., Estates, Section 32.

In the Barringer Deed in the granting clause the land is conveyed to plaintiff "upon the terms and conditions, and for the uses and purposes, as hereinafter fully set forth." The habendum clause reads, "to have and to hold the aforesaid tract or parcel of land * * * upon the following terms and conditions, and for the following uses and purposes, and none other, to-wit * * *. The lands hereby conveyed, together with the other tracts of land above referred to (the Shore, Wilson and City of Charlotte lands) "as forming Revolution Park, shall be held, used and maintained by the party of the second part" (the plaintiff here), "* * * as an integral part of a park, playground and recreational area, to be known as Revolution Park and to be composed of the land hereby conveyed and of the other tracts of land referred to above, said park and/or recreational area to be kept and maintained for the use of, and to be used and enjoyed by persons of the white race only." The other terms and conditions as to the use and maintenance, etc., of the land conveyed are omitted as not material. The pertinent part of the reverter provision of the deed reads: "In the event that the said lands comprising the said Revolution Park area as aforesaid, being all of the lands hereinbefore referred to * * * and/or in the event that the said lands and all of them shall not be kept, used and maintained for park, playground and/or recreational purposes, for use by the white race only * * * then, and in either one or more of said events, the lands hereby conveyed shall revert in fee simple to the said Osmond L. Barringer, his heirs and assigns," provided, however, that before said lands shall revert to Barringer, and as a condition precedent to the reversion, Barringer, his heirs or assigns, shall pay unto plaintiff or its successors $3,500.

Barringer by clear and express words in his deed limited in the granting clause and in the habendum clause the estate granted, and in express language provided for a reverter of the estate granted by him, to him or his heirs, in the event of a breach of the expressed limitations. It seems plain that his intention, as expressed in his deed, was that plaintiff should have the land as long as it was not used in breach of the limitations of the grant, and, if such limitations, or any of them, were broken, the estate should automatically revert to the grantor by virtue of the limitations of the deed. In our opinion, Barringer conveyed to plaintiff a fee determinable upon special limitations.

It is a distinct characteristic of a fee determinable upon limitation that the estate automatically reverts at once on the occurrence of the event by which it is limited, by virtue of the limitation in the written *123 instrument creating such fee, and the entire fee automatically ceases and determines by its own limitations. Collette v. Town of Charlotte, supra; First Universalist Society v. Boland, supra; Brown v. Independent Baptist Church of Woburn, supra; Copenhaver v. Pendleton, 155 Va. 463, 155 S.E. 802, 77 A.L.R. 324; Tiffany: Law of Real Property, 3rd Ed., Section 217. No action on the part of the creator of the estate is required, in such event, to terminate the estate. 19 Am.Jur., Estates, Section 29.

According to the deed of gift "Osmond L. Barringer, his heirs and assigns" have a possibility of reverter in the determinable fee he conveyed to plaintiff. It has been held that such possibility of reverter is not void for remoteness, and does not violate the rule against perpetuities. 19 Am.Jur., Estates, Section 31; Tiffany: Law of Real Property, 3rd Ed., Section 314.

The land was Barringer's, and no rights of creditors being involved, and the gift not being induced by fraud or undue influence, he had the right to give it away if he chose, and to convey to plaintiff by deed a fee determinable upon valid limitations, and by such limitations provide that his bounty shall be enjoyed only by those whom he intended to enjoy it. 24 Am.Jur., Gifts, p. 731; Devlin: The Law of Real Property and Deeds, 3rd Ed., Section 838; 38 C.J.S., Gifts, § 36, p. 816. In Grossman v. Greenstein, 161 Md. 71, 155 A. 190, 191, the Court said: "A donor may limit a gift to a particular purpose, and render it so conditioned and dependent upon an expected state of facts that, failing that state of facts, the gift should fail with it." The 15th headnote in Brahmey v. Rollins, 87 N.H. 290, 179 A. 186, 187, 119 A.L.R. 8, reads: "Right to alienate is an inherent element of ownership of property which donor may withhold in gift of property." We know of no law that prohibits a white man from conveying a fee determinable upon the limitation that it shall not be used by members of any race except his own, nor of any law that prohibits a negro from conveying a fee determinable upon the limitation that it shall not be used by members of any race, except his own.

If negroes use the Bonnie Brae Golf Course, the determinable fee conveyed to plaintiff by Barringer, and his wife, automatically will cease and terminate by its own limitation expressed in the deed, and the estate granted automatically will revert to Barringer, by virtue of the limitation in the deed, provided he complies with the condition precedent by paying to plaintiff $3,500, as provided in the deed. The operation of this reversion provision is not by any judicial enforcement by the State Courts of North Carolina, and Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1, 68 S. Ct. 836, 92 L. Ed. 1161, has no application. We do not see how any rights of appellants under the 14th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, Section 1, or any rights secured to them by Title 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1981, 1983, are violated.

If negroes use Bonnie Brae Golf Course, to hold that the fee does not revert back to Barringer by virtue of the limitation in the deed would be to deprive him of his property without adequate compensation and due process in violation of the rights guaranteed to him by the 5th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution and by Art. 1, Sec. 17 of the N. C. Constitution, and to rewrite his deed by judicial fiat.

The appellants' assignment of error No. 1 to the conclusion of law of the court that the Barringer deed vested a valid determinable fee in plaintiff with the possibility of a reverter, and assignments of error No. 3 and No. 4 to the conclusion of the court that in the event any of the limitations in the Barringer deed are violated, title to the land will immediately revert to Barringer and that the use of Bonnie Brae Golf Course by negroes will cause a reverter of the Barringer deed, are overruled.

The case of Bernard v. Bowen, 214 N.C. 121, 198 S.E. 584, is distinguishable. For *124 instance, there is no limitation of the estate conveyed in the granting clause.

Now as to the Abbott Realty Company deed. This deed conveyed as a gift certain lands to plaintiff upon the same terms and conditions, and for the same uses and purposes, and for the white race only, as set forth in the Barringer deed. This deed contains a reverter provision, if there is a violation of certain limitations of the estate conveyed, but the reverter provision does not provide that, if the lands of Revolution Park are used by members of a nonwhite race, the lands conveyed by Abbott Realty Company to plaintiff shall revert to the grantor. In our opinion, the estate conveyed by Abbott Realty Company to plaintiff is a fee determinable upon certain expressed limitations set forth in the deed, with a possibility of reverter to Abbott Realty Company if the limitations expressed in the deed are violated and the reverter provision states that such violations will cause a reverter. That was the conclusion of law of the Trial Judge, and the appellants' assignment of error No. 2 thereto is overruled. However, the reverter provision does not require a reverter to Abbott Realty Company, if the lands of Revolution Park are used by negroes. Therefore, if negroes use Bonnie Brae Golf Course, title to the lands conveyed by Abbott Realty Company to plaintiff will not revert to the grantor. See: Tucker v. Smith, 199 N.C. 502, 154 S.E. 826.

The Trial Judge concluded as a matter of law that if any of the reverter provisions in the Abbott Realty Company deed were violated, title would revert to Abbott Realty Company, and that if negroes use Bonnie Brae Golf Course, title to the land granted by Abbott Realty Company will revert to it. The appellants' assignments of error Nos. 5 and 6 are to this conclusion of law. These assignments of error are sustained to this part of the conclusion, that if negroes use Bonnie Brae Golf Course, title to the land will revert to Abbott Realty Company: and as to the other part of the conclusion the assignments of error are overruled.

The appellants' assignment of error No. 7 is to this conclusion of law of the Trial Judge, that the deed from the city of Charlotte to plaintiff created a valid determinable fee with the possibility of a reverter, and that as the city of Charlotte has only one municipal golf course, the use of Bonnie Brae Golf Course by negroes will not cause a reversion of title to the property conveyed by the city of Charlotte to plaintiff, for that said reversionary clause in said deed is, under such circumstances void as being in violation of the 14th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.

From this conclusion of law the city of Charlotte and the plaintiff did not appeal. We do not see in what way appellants have been aggrieved by this conclusion of law, and their assignment of error thereto is overruled.

The appellants also include as part of their assignments of error Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6 these conclusions of law of the Trial Judge numbered 7 and 8. No. 7, that the plaintiff is the owner in fee simple, free of any conditions, reservations or reverter provisions of the property which was conveyed to it by W. T. Shore and T. C. Wilson. The city of Charlotte has not appealed from this conclusion of law, and we are unable to see how appellants have been harmed, so their assignments of error thereto are overruled. No. 8, that Revolution Park, in which is located Bonnie Brae Golf Course, was created as an integral area of land, comprising the various contiguous tracts conveyed to plaintiff by Barringer, Abbott Realty Company, city of Charlotte, Shore and Wilson, and to permit negroes to use for golf any part of said land will cause the reverter provisions in the Barringer and Abbott Realty Company deeds immediately to become effective, and result in title of the plaintiff terminating, and the property reverting to Barringer and Abbott Realty Company. *125 As to this conclusion of law the assignments of error are sustained as to that part which states that, if negroes use Bonnie Brae Golf Course, the reverter provision in the Abbott Realty Company deed will become effective and title will revert to Abbott Realty Company: as to the other parts the assignments of error are overruled.

Judgment will be entered below in accordance with this opinion.

Modified and affirmed.