STEVEN J. THOMAS, ET AL.
JEFFREY M. THOMAS, ET AL.
DELMUS L. THOMAS, ET AL.
4, 2017 Session 
from the Chancery Court for Crockett County No. C-9383 George
R. Ellis, Chancellor
appeal concerns the proper ownership of a piece of farm
property in which the deed recites ownership as one-half to
parents and one-fourth each to their two sons. The trial
court eventually ruled that the property in dispute was
solely owned by parents based on the complaining son's
nonpayment of taxes and awarded full ownership of the
property to the parents under the theories of title by
prescription and unjust enrichment. We reverse and remand.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
Court is Reversed and Remanded\
W. Knott, Milan, Tennessee, for the appellant, Steven J.
Phillip G. Hollis, Camden, Tennessee, for the appellees,
Delmus L. Thomas, and Emily Faye Thomas.
Steven Stafford, P. J., W.S., delivered the opinion of the
court, in which Brandon O. Gibson, J. and W. Michael Maloan,
MEMORANDUM OPINION 
STEVEN STAFFORD, JUDGE.
23, 2010, Plaintiff/Appellant Steven J. Thomas
("Steven") and his wife filed a petition in the
Crockett County Chancery Court for a partition by sale of
four farms jointly owned with his younger brother, Defendant
Jeffrey M. Thomas ("Jeffrey, " together with
Steven, "Sons") and Jeffrey's wife. On August 10,
2010, Jeffrey filed an answer, counter-claim, and third-party
complaint, seeking the partition of eight additional farms
and therefore bringing into the case as third party
defendants Sons' parents, Defendants/Appellees Delmus L.
Thomas ("Father") and Emily Faye Thomas
("Mother, " or, together with Father,
"Parents"). Only one of the eight farms, referred
to as the "McLemoresville farm, " ("the
property") is directly at issue on this appeal. The deed
to this property reflects that Parents own a one-half
interest, Steven owns a one-fourth interest, and Jeffrey owns
a one-fourth interest in the property. On October 20,
2010, Parents filed a pro se response alleging that the
property was conveyed to the Sons solely for inheritance tax
purposes and denying that Parents should be forced to sell
four years later, on December 5, 2014,  Parents, through
counsel, filed an answer and counter-complaint, alleging
several causes of action. Parents sought exclusive ownership
of the property either through a declaration of resulting
trust, constructive trust, or reformation of the deed.
Parents also argued that they are presumed to be the sole
legal owners of the property based on their payment of
property taxes for more than twenty years before the action
was filed in 2010 pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated
sections 28-2-109 and 28-2-110. On December 30, 2014, Steven
filed a response, denying the material allegations contained
in Parents' pleading, and a motion for a more definite
statement. Several contentious filings followed, but
ultimately, on January 11, 2016, a consent order was entered,
with the parties agreeing to the following stipulated facts:
The [property] was deeded to Delmus Lee Thomas and wife,
Emily Faye Thomas and Steven Joe Thomas in December 1976.
This original deed by its acceptance had the buyers assume an
existing debt to Federal Land Bank, but none of the buyers
signed any separate assumption document. A loan was obtained
from PCA and secured by the [property] and another piece of
land owned by [Parents]. The deed of trust to PCA was signed
by all three owners of record. This deed was prepared in
accordance with the instructions of [Parents].
That at the time of purchase of the [property], both [Sons]
were residing in the home with their Parents and being
supported by them.
At or about the time that Jeff[rey] . . . became an adult,
[Parents] and Steven executed a Warranty deed [on January 19,
1979] that stated [Parents] would own a one-half (1/2)
interest as tenants by the entirety and [Sons] would each own
a one-fourth (1/4) interest in the property.
In 1980, the loans were refinanced with Federal LandBank. All
four (4) owners of record signed the deed of trust, but only
Mr. and Mrs. Thomas signed the note to FLB. The refinance
paid off the assumed FLB debt and the PCA debt done at the
time of purchase.
In 1992 and in 2000, small pieces of the [property] were sold
to the State of Tennessee-Department of Transportation. All
four (4) parties signed both deeds.
The parties all farmed together in a harmonious relationship
the properties owned by them from 1980 until 1998 when
[Parents] retired from active farming. After the retirement
of [Father], [Sons] farmed together and while they farmed
together, [t]hey paid [Parents] rent based on a share of the
crop proceeds. Since 2006, Jeffrey has farmed the [property]
and paid rent to [Parents] in the same way. The rent he paid
in 2014 was $25, 000.00.
Since the property was first acquired, [Parents] have paid
all taxes, expenses and costs and have received and kept all
revenues and monies from the [property]. [Sons] never paid
any of the property taxes on the [property]. No party, or
combination of parties, had ever commenced a court proceeding
as to any matter or issue until the filing of this partition
case in Crockett Chancery Court.
The first mention or talk that [Sons] did not own any
interest in the [property] came in 2010 at or about the time
that Jeff[rey] . . . filed his Petition for Partition asking
for the Partition of the [property]. [Parents] have stated
that they would have never thought that [Sons'] name[s]
would have needed to come off of the deed to the [property]
until 2010 when the Partition suit was filed.
[Parents] had a quitclaim deed prepared in 2010 to have
[Sons] convey all interest they had in the [property] to
[Parents]. Jeff[rey] . . . has signed his interest over to
[Parents] but the deed has never been delivered or recorded.
All deeds, deeds of trust and other documents of record in
the Register's Office of Carroll County, Tennessee are
agreed to as being the same as if certified copies were
and Steven also filed trial briefs, and the case was
submitted to the trial court for adjudication based on the
record. Steven's trial brief, in particular,
anticipatorily objected to any theories of ownership that
Parents may raise in their trial brief that were not
previously raised in the pleadings, such as title by
prescription and unjust enrichment. Parents later filed their
trial brief, indeed raising these anticipated theories.
17, 2016, the trial court entered an order finding that
Parents are the sole owners of the property based on
prescription and unjust enrichment because they paid for all
of the costs associated with ownership of the property for
over two decades. On October 18, 2016, the trial court
entered an amended order,  which also: (1) ruled on the
disposition of the other seven farms in the original petition
for partition, stating that because partition in kind was not
feasible, the farms should be sold at an auction with the net
proceeds divided among the parties; (2) clarified that the
dispute involved ownership of the property and that all other
claims had been withdrawn by voluntary dismissal; and (3)
stayed the sale of the other seven farms until the ownership
of the property is finally resolved. Steven
raises the following issues for our review, which we have
taken from his brief ...