Law School Case Brief
Cole v. Steinlauf - 144 Conn. 629, 136 A.2d 744 (1957)
Where the common-law rule is in effect, a grant to a grantee "and his assigns forever" vests only a life estate in the grantee. A deed can be reformed to vest a fee in a grantee where the word "heirs" is omitted if it can be determined from the clearly expressed intent of the parties that a fee was intended.
Plaintiff and defendant entered into a contract for the sale of real estate conditional upon defendant delivering marketable title. Upon reviewing title, plaintiff discovered that a deed had been executed in New York, and under Connecticut law, defendant apparently only had a life estate in the property and could not have the authority to convey full title to plaintiff. As a result, plaintiff refused to accept defendant's deed and demanded that defendant return his deposit and the cost of the title search. Defendant refused, and plaintiff brought suit. Defendant won at the trial court level, and plaintiff appealed.
Did plaintiff have grounds to refuse to accept defendant's deed?
On appeal, the court stated that plaintiff had reasonable grounds for refusing to accept defendant's deed because it was not clear whether defendant had the authority to transfer the deed, and plaintiff should not have been forced to take the risk of defending title later. The cases cited by the defendant may go in proving that the title conveyed was a fee simple; that is not the issue. It is not whether the property was in fact the defendant's to convey absolutely, but whether there is enough doubt in the chain of title to bring the plaintiffs up short and make them think twice before buying a lawsuit at a future time to determine title. Perhaps the court at a future time would find good title, but the plaintiffs do not have to gamble on that. Consequently, the trial court judgment was reversed.
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