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An estate in fee simple determinable, sometimes referred to as a base or a qualified fee, is created by any limitation which, in an otherwise effective conveyance of land, creates an estate in fee simple and provides that the estate shall automatically expire upon the occurrence of a stated event. No set formula is necessary for the creation of the limitation, any words expressive of the grantor's intent that the estate shall terminate on the occurrence of the event being sufficient. So, when land is granted for certain purposes, as for a schoolhouse, a church, a public building, or the like, and it is evidently the grantor's intention that it shall be used for such purposes only, and that, on the cessation of such use, the estate shall end, without any re-entry by the grantor, an estate of the kind now under consideration is created. It is necessary, it has been said, that the event named as terminating the estate be such that it may by possibility never happen at all, since it is an essential characteristic of a fee that it may possibly endure forever.
The plaintiffs conveyed the property in question to the defendant on March 5, 1912, in consideration of One Hundred Dollars ($ 100.00) and pursuant to a statute passed by Congress on March 3, 1875, 18 Stat. 371 et seq., which gave the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States authority to acquire '* * * the right to use and occupy sites for life saving or life boat stations * * *.' Reference is made to this statute at the outset of the deed and it is referred to throughout the conveyance. From the time of the conveyance until July 16, 1956, the Government utilized this property as a lifesaving station. From this date, the defendant has used the land for purposes other than lifesaving. The plaintiffs claim that upon cessation of the use as a lifesaving station, the property automatically reverted to them by operation of law. The parties have stipulated that if a legal obligation does exist for such rent, then Nine Thousand Six Hundred Dollars ($ 9,600.00) is a reasonable rental value.
Did the real property conveyed by the March 5, 1912 indenture to the defendant revert to the plaintiffs when said property ceased to be used by the defendant as a Coast Guard Lifesaving Station?
The court found that while the statute under which the land was acquired might have authorized the land to be acquired in fee simple, the wording throughout the conveyance between the parties indicated that neither party intended an acquisition of the fee. The consideration the Government paid for the land was nominal. The wording of the conveyance manifested a clear intent by the grantors to limit the estate conveyed by restricting the use of the property to the sole purpose of lifesaving. The court found that the conveyance was a fee determinable upon special limitation. The Government became liable for the rental value of the land as soon as it ceased using it as a lifesaving station.