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Housewright v. McCormack

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

November 29, 2016

PAUL HOUSEWRIGHT, et al.
v.
DR. RONALD K. McCORMACK, et al.

          Session Date: September 14, 2016

          Appeal from the Chancery Court for Hawkins County No. 2014-CH-225 Douglas T. Jenkins, Chancellor

          This appeal concerns the validity of a warranty deed in which the decedents conveyed a parcel of property for the benefit of a church. The deed contained a reversionary clause requiring the property to revert back if no longer used for the benefit of the church. The same parcel was included in another deed that did not contain a reversionary clause but was recorded before the original deed. The church listed the property for sale approximately 67 years later. The decedents' heirs filed suit. The defendants sought summary judgment, claiming that ownership of the property was established through the deed recorded first. The court granted summary judgment. We affirm.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery Court Affirmed; Case Remanded

          Phillip L. Boyd, Rogersville, Tennessee, for the appellants, Paul Housewright, Billy Kyle Housewright, Judy Housewright Jenkins, Danny Gladson, Armina Kegley, Diana Sweet, Patricia Michael, Frank Gladstone, and Paula Diggers.

          Sandra L. Schefeik, Estill Springs, Tennessee, for the appellees, Dr. Ronald McCormack, First Church of the Nazarene of the East Tennessee District, and Town and Country Realty.

          John W. McClarty, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which D. Michael Swiney, C.J. and Thomas R. Frierson, II, J., joined.

          OPINION

          JOHN W. McCLARTY, JUDGE

         I. BACKGROUND

         On June 26, 1947, W.E. Housewright and Mary Sue Housewright (collectively "the Housewrights") signed a warranty deed in which they sought to convey a parcel of property for the construction of the Church Hill Nazarene Church ("the Church") and other improvements. The deed provided, in pertinent part, as follows:

This property is deeded for the purpose of erecting a Nazarene Church and if it should ever fail to be used as such, then this said land will go back to parties of the first part.

         The deed did not list a grantee and was not recorded until August 19, 2014, shortly before the present litigation.

         Moreover, on April 12, 1948, the Housewrights signed another warranty deed in which they conveyed 14 acres of property, including the parcel at issue, to Clarence W. Wallace and Mary Kate Wallace (collectively "the Wallaces"). The Wallaces paid the Housewrights $3, 000 and recorded the deed on April 28, 1948. This deed was later corrected, presumably to exclude the parcel already conveyed to the Church.[1]

         On August 4, 1948, the Wallaces then conveyed the parcel at issue by warranty deed to Ada Long and Mrs. Housewright, as Trustees of the Church and their successors in office. This deed was recorded on January 12, 1950.

         In May 2014, the Advisory Board of East Tennessee, the Church's governing entity, decided to sell the property because of low attendance and financial difficulties. The Housewrights' heirs (collectively "Plaintiffs") filed suit against Dr. Ronald McCormack, First Church of the Nazarene of the East Tennessee District, and Town and Country Realty (collectively "Defendants"), alleging that the property could not be sold as a result of the reversionary clause in the 1947 deed.

         Defendants sought summary judgment, claiming that ownership of the property was properly established through the August 1948 deed from the Wallaces to the Church. Defendants attached an affidavit from Dr. McCormack in which he provided that a title search revealed that the Church held the title to the property at issue. He claimed that he first learned of the 1947 deed in August 2014.

          Plaintiffs moved to dismiss the motion for summary judgment, claiming that the motion failed to state a basis upon which it could be granted and that Defendants failed to comply with Rule 56.03 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure by failing to file a statement of undisputed material facts and by attaching an affidavit that was not supported by the affiant's personal knowledge.

         Plaintiffs also filed a statement of disputed facts in which they claimed that the 1947 deed was properly recorded and should be included in the property's chain of title. They asserted that the October 1951 deed of correction clarified that the April 1948 deed erroneously included the property at issue. They further claimed that construction of the Church began two years before the 1948 deeds and three years before the 1951 deed of correction. They provided that a dedication plaque was presented to Mrs. Housewright in recognition of her donation of the property.

         Plaintiffs attached affidavits from Paul and Billy Kyle Housewright, who attested to their personal knowledge of their mother's status as the original grantor and trustee of the property at issue. They further provided as follows:

It was common knowledge of the Church members and neighbors [that] this property was a part of the Housewright property [and that] there was a reversionary clause stating [that] at any time the Church ceased operations ...

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