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Kinder v. Bryant

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

May 22, 2018

JOHN KINDER ET AL.
v.
WENDELL BRYANT ET AL.

          Session March 13, 2018

          Appeal from the Chancery Court for Bradley County No. 2016-CV-228 Jerri Bryant, Chancellor

         The plaintiffs commenced this declaratory judgment action to establish that their claim to a forty-acre tract of real property is superior to that of the defendants. The plaintiffs claim to have purchased the disputed property in 1980; however, their deed was not recorded until 1995. The defendants' predecessors in interest purchased the property at a tax sale in 1994, and their deed was duly recorded prior to the plaintiffs' deed. The plaintiffs' claims are based, inter alia, on adverse possession and the contention that the 1994 tax deed is void or voidable due to lack of notice of the sale. After hearing cross-motions for summary judgment, the trial court summarily dismissed the complaint finding that the plaintiffs were not entitled to notice of the tax sale because, at the time of the sale, the plaintiffs' deed had not been recorded and the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the lack of notice to their predecessors in title who were the owners of record at the time of the tax sale. The trial court further found that the plaintiffs had not paid any taxes on the property and that the defendants paid the property taxes for more than twenty years, which raised the rebuttable presumption of ownership under Tenn. Code. Ann. § 28-2-109. Based on these findings, the trial court held that Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-2-110 barred any affirmative action by the plaintiffs to claim an interest in the property and summarily dismissed the complaint. We affirm.

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

          George N. McCoin, Thomas F. Bloom, and Sheridan C. Randolph, Cleveland, Tennessee, for the appellants, Mitchell Kinder and John H. Kinder.

          Neil A. Brunetz, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellee, Wendell P. Bryant, Jr.

          Frank G. Clement Jr., P.J., M.S., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which D. Michael Swiney, C.J. and Thomas R. Frierson II, J., joined.

          OPINION

          FRANK G. CLEMENT JR., P.J., M.S.

         John Kinder ("Plaintiff") purchased a forty-acre tract of land located in Bradley County ("the Disputed Property") from E. L. Richmond in December 1980. The Disputed Property adjoined another tract of land already owned by Plaintiff where his house was located. Soon after the purchase, Plaintiff fenced in the Disputed Property. He restricted access to the property with gates and used the property for cropland, pasture, grazing of livestock, and storage of equipment, and at times, rented out the property. In the mid-1980s, Plaintiff built a barn on the Disputed Property.

         For reasons unexplained by the record, the 1980 deed from E. L. Richmond was never recorded and apparently lost. Upon discovery of this omission, Mr. Richmond signed a Replacement of Lost Deed in December 1992; however, the replacement deed was not recorded until three years later, in September 1995.

         In the interim, on April 13, 1994, Doris and Wendell Bryant, Sr. ("the Bryants"), the parents of Wendell Bryant, Jr. ("Defendant"), acquired the Disputed Property by tax deed, and the 1994 tax deed was promptly and duly recorded. Twenty-two years later, on February 3, 2006, the Bryants conveyed the Disputed Property by quitclaim deed to Defendant as Trustee of the Wendell P. Bryant Sr. Trust. The quitclaim deed was promptly and duly recorded.

         Prior to 2016, neither Defendant nor his father, Wendell Bryant Sr., made use of the Disputed Property. In March 2016, however, Defendant demanded that Plaintiff vacate the property. Since that time, Plaintiff contends that Defendant has trespassed on the Disputed Property and destroyed locks and gates, which gave rise to this litigation.

         On November 3, 2016, Plaintiff and his son Mitchell Kinder (collectively "Plaintiffs") filed a complaint for trespass, unlawful entry, declaratory judgment, and injunctive relief against Defendant, individually, and as Trustee of the Wendell Bryant Sr. Trust (collectively "Defendants"). Plaintiffs claimed that Plaintiff John Kinder purchased the Disputed Property in 1980 and has had continuous, open, exclusive possession of it since that time. Plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that the 1994 tax deed to the Bryants was void or voidable and that Plaintiff John Kinder lawfully acquired the land in 1980 or, alternatively, that Plaintiffs are the rightful owners of the land through adverse possession. Plaintiffs contend the tax deed obtained by the Bryants is void or voidable because neither Plaintiffs nor the previous property owner, Mr. Richmond, were notified of the delinquent property taxes owed nor were they informed that the Disputed Property would be sold at a tax sale.

         Defendants filed a timely answer in which they contended that Plaintiffs' claims are statutorily barred by Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-2-110 based on the undisputed fact that Defendants paid the property taxes for more than twenty years and Plaintiffs never paid any property taxes assessed on the Disputed Property.[1] Defendants also contended ...


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