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Courts should construe instruments so as to give effect to the intent of the parties. Ala. Code §§ 17, 23 (1940). Initially, the court should seek to ascertain the intention of the parties by looking to the entire instrument. The court should be careful to try to give meaning to every clause and provision of the instrument. Second, the court should look to the factual situation and the circumstances existing at the time the instrument was created. Finally, the court may look to the subsequent acts of the parties to determine the correct construction of the instrument.
In 1926, W.C. York acquired title to the Northeast Quarter of the Northeast Quarter and the East One-Half of the Southeast Quarter of the Northeast Quarter of Section 24, Township 16 South, Range 16 West, Lamar County, Alabama. In 1928, W.C. York and wife executed an instrument in favor of Lamar County, Alabama, authorizing the latter to locate and maintain a public highway through the Yorks’ land. The instrument granted Lamar County a right of way for public road twenty feet in width. In 1956, W.C. York and wife conveyed to Willard P. McGee the Northeast Quarter of the Northeast Quarter and the East One-half of the Southeast Quarter of the Northeast Quarter of Section 24, Township 16 South, Range 16 West, Lamar County, Alabama. In 1984, the Lamar County Commission executed an oil, gas and mineral lease in favor of Peyton Greaves, which lease purported to cover and included the lands described in the instrument from W.C. York. The appellees, Willard McGee, Rachel McGee, and McGee, Ltd., a limited partnership, filed a complaint for a declaratory judgment in the Circuit Court of Lamar County against Peyton Greaves and the Lamar County Commission, seeking to establish their ownership of the minerals underlying a public road that crossed the appellees’ property. The appellant, Greaves, counterclaimed for a declaratory judgment to establish his right to the minerals in question. The lower court entered judgment for the appellees, holding that the original grantor had only conveyed the county a right of way across the land. Appellant Greaves challenged the decision.
Did the appellant have the right to the minerals by virtue of his oil, gas, and mineral lease from Lamar County?
The Court affirmed the judgment of the lower court, holding that the county lessor had only a right of way for the express purpose of constructing and maintaining the public road. The Court found that the instrument executed by the grantor and the county lessor was replete with references to the limited purpose of the conveyance, an open description contained in the deed strongly implied that no conveyance of a fee simply was contemplated, and the grantor's uncertainty as to the location of the road was not consistent with the intent to convey a fee interest.