Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

White v. Auger

Supreme Court of New Hampshire, Cheshire

January 11, 2019

QUENTIN H. WHITE
v.
BRIGITTE AUGER F/K/A BRIGITTE GAUDREAU & a.

          Argued: October 11, 2018

          Lane & Bentley, P.C., of Keene (Michael P. Bentley on the brief and orally), for the plaintiff.

          Gallagher, Callahan & Gartrell, P.C., of Concord (Robert J. Dietel on the brief and orally), and Donahue Law, P.A., of Keene (Charles A. Donahue on the brief), for defendant Brigitte Auger.

          BASSETT, J.

         The plaintiff, Quentin H. White, filed an action to quiet title against the defendants, Brigitte Auger (formerly Brigitte Gaudreau) and Joanne Jackson (formerly Joanne Labadie). Jackson defaulted. After a bench trial, the Superior Court (Ruoff, J.) found in favor of Auger on the action to quiet title, as well as on her counterclaims for declaratory judgment and specific performance. White appeals the trial court's order. We affirm.

         The trial court found the following relevant facts. In the spring of 1968, White met Perley E. Swett. Swett introduced himself as the "Taylor Pond Hermit," and explained that he was in need of food. White and his family left and soon returned with food. White refused payment from Swett, and the family remained to talk with Swett. This was the start of an enduring friendship. White regularly visited Swett to check on him, sometimes walking several miles in the snow to do so. He frequently helped Swett by delivering groceries, going to the bank, and taking Swett to visit his sister. White also helped Swett deliver gifts of money or deeds of land to people in the community - mostly to local children. Auger was one of the local children who repeatedly benefited from Swett's generosity; at one point, Swett told Auger that he would give her a horse and some land.

         Swett often attempted to pay White for, in Swett's words, his "services." White always refused payment, feeling that it was his neighborly duty to help. At one point, Swett attempted to give White a deed for a large parcel of land. After a heated discussion, White tore up the deed. Subsequently, in 1972, Swett gave White the deed at issue in this appeal in exchange for White's services. White accepted the deed reluctantly, and did not intend to record it. The deed conveyed to White certain land located in Stoddard, and provides, in relevant part:

Know all Men by these Presents: That I, Perley E. Swett, of Stoddard, New Hampshire, for consideration paid, grant to Quentin H. White of Munsonville, New Hampshire, with warranty covenants to the said Grantee, about ten acres of land, be the same more or less, and this area being that part of the so called "Graves Land" on the south side of the road, conveyed on condition that he (Quentin H. White) may desire to and erect some building on said land and live there either part time or year around. There is, however, no requirement that he live or build on the south side of the road if he were to acquire one or more acres on the north side of the road, which would be a far better building location. The main condition being that this be done within ten years, and that he, Quentin H. White, has not in some way acquired title to any other area of Perley Swett's home farm. In case Quentin H. White does acquire a more attractive land area to live on or to build a house on, this land area should be transferred to Brigitte Gaudreau if she is available. If Brigitte Gaudreau's address or location is not known, this land should be deeded to Joanne Labadie at some time before she becomes twenty-one.

         Swett passed away in September of 1973. Prior to his death, Swett had appointed White to be the executor of his will, which contained several bequests to White, including part of Swett's "home farm." The probate proceedings quickly became contentious, and White resigned as executor. In 1973, prior to his resignation, White recorded the 1972 deed, and entered into a Stipulation with Swett's estate and heirs, thereby relinquishing any of his claims under Swett's will and in connection with any unrecorded deeds.

         In 2016, White attempted to sell the land; however, the sale fell through because the prospective buyer, having become aware of the references to Auger and Jackson in the 1972 deed, was concerned that White might not hold the title free and clear of Auger's and Jackson's interests. White then brought an action to quiet title against Auger and Jackson. Jackson defaulted. Auger contested the action and brought counterclaims against White. The trial court ruled in favor of Auger in the quiet title action, reasoning that the deed, properly interpreted, contemplated transferring ownership of the land to Auger in the event that White did not live on or build on the land within ten years. The trial court also ruled in favor of Auger on her declaratory judgment and specific performance counterclaims. This appeal followed.

         "In an action to quiet title, the burden is on each party to prove good title as against all other parties whose rights may be affected by the court's decree." Hersh v. Plonski, 156 N.H. 511, 514 (2007) (quotation omitted). "We will uphold the trial court's determination unless it is erroneous as a matter of law or unsupported by the evidence." Id. As the appealing party, White has the burden of demonstrating reversible error. See Gallo v. Traina, 166 N.H. 737, 740 (2014).

         White first argues that the trial court erred in interpreting the 1972 deed. Specifically, he argues that the provision mandating that the land be transferred to Auger if White were to "acquire a more attractive land area," was the only circumstance under which the land could be transferred to Auger. Therefore, he asserts that, because he never "acquire[d] a more attractive land area," the deed condition was not satisfied, and the trial court erred by awarding title to Auger. Auger counters that, as the trial court found, the "acquire a more attractive land area" condition should not be read in isolation, but must be read together with the prior provisions. Therefore, Auger asserts that the trial court correctly ruled that Swett intended for the land to be transferred to her not only if White acquired more attractive land, but also if White failed to build or live on the land within ten years. We agree with Auger and the trial court.

         Resolving this issue requires that we interpret the 1972 deed. "The proper interpretation of a deed is a question of law for this court." Ettinger v. Pomeroy Ltd. P'ship, 166 N.H. 447, 450 (2014). "As a question of law, we review the trial court's interpretation of a deed de novo." Id. "In interpreting a deed, we give it the meaning intended by the parties at the time they wrote it, taking into account the surrounding circumstances at that time." Id. "We base our judgment on this question of law upon the trial court's findings of fact." Id. "If the language of the deed is clear and unambiguous, we will interpret the intended meaning from the deed itself without resort to extrinsic evidence." Id. "If, however, the language of the deed is ambiguous, extrinsic evidence of the parties' intentions and the circumstances surrounding the conveyance may be used to clarify its terms." Id. When interpreting the parties' intent, we consider the deed as a whole. See Motion Motors v. Berwick, 150 N.H. 771, 776 (2004). We generally disfavor interpreting deed conditions in such a way that would cause a forfeiture of the property upon breach of such conditions; however, we adhere to the guiding principle that the intent of the parties should be effectuated whenever possible. See Anna H. Cardone Revocable Trust v. Cardone, 160 N.H. 521, 529 (2010). Furthermore, "[w]e remain mindful that formalistic requirements in real estate conveyancing have largely given way to effectuating the manifest intent of the parties, absent contrary public policy or statute." Id. at 530.

         The 1972 deed is not ambiguous. Swett explicitly conveyed the land to White on the condition that White "erect some building on said land and live there either part time or year round." Although the deed allowed White to acquire land on the north side of the road instead, Swett's main condition was that "this" - building and living on the land - "be done within ten years," and that White "not in some way acquire[] title to any other area of Perley Swett's home farm." Swett then explained his intended result in the event that White did not satisfy this main condition by stating that "[i]n case Quentin H. White does acquire a more attractive land area to live on or to build a house on, this land area should be transferred to Brigitte Gaudreau if she is available." Although this latter provision does not explicitly include the "this be done within ten years" language, it does incorporate and reference both aspects of the main condition - that White not acquire more attractive land, and that he live or build on the land. Therefore, we agree with Auger and the trial court that this latter provision was intended to be read together with the prior provisions of the deed, thereby clarifying that the land should be transferred to Auger in the event that any of the conditions were ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.