QUENTIN H. WHITE
BRIGITTE AUGER F/K/A BRIGITTE GAUDREAU & a.
Argued: October 11, 2018
& 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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 ...