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Law School Case Brief

Metro. Park Dist. v. Unknown Heirs of Rigney - 65 Wash. 2d 788, 399 P.2d 516 (1965)

Rule:

So far as the law of adverse possession be concerned, it is not conceptually logical for the grantee of a fee estate subject to a condition subsequent to acquire an indefeasible estate simply by remaining in possession of the property following breach of the condition. His continued possession and enjoyment of the property does not become adverse to any possessory estate of the grantor until the latter, or his heirs, elect to declare a forfeiture. This is not to say, however, that the holder of a right of entry, following a continuing breach of condition, is entitled to endlessly sit by refusing to declare a forfeiture, and thus control the use of the property indefinitely. The grantor has a reasonable time after breach within which to declare a forfeiture or to elect not to declare a forfeiture; if he fails to declare a forfeiture within that time, his power to do so has expired.

Facts:

Plaintiff Metropolitan Park District of Tacoma initiated this action against the known and unknown heirs of one John L. Rigney, seeking to quiet title to a certain parcel of real estate located in the city of Tacoma. The original owner, John L. Rigney, had conveyed title in a fee simple estate to the City of Tacoma, although this conveyance was subject to a condition subsequent -- speciifically, that should the City cease to use the strip of land for the purpose of conducting water for the supply of the City of Tacoma, the land would revert back to Rigney and his heirs. The defendant heirs counter-claimed, alleging breach of a condition subsequent specified in the conveyance of John L. Rigney resulted in forfeiture. All parties moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted the plaintiff's motion and entered a decree quieting title in the district. Certain of the heirs appeal.

Issue:

Did the trial court err in quieting title in the city park district, notwithstanding breach of the condition subsequent?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of Washington affirmed the decision of the trial court, noting that the title in an estate subject to a condition subsequent remained with the grantee until affirmative action was taken by the grantor or by his heirs. The court also noted that while a grantee could not generally acquire an interest in an estate subject to a condition subsequent through adverse possession simply by retaining the estate, the grantor or his heirs were limited in how long they could declare a forfeiture. For this reason, the court noted that a grantor who failed to declare a forfeiture within a set period could lose his power to do so.

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