Law School Case Brief
Smallwood v. Midfield Oil Co. - 89 S.W.2d 1086 (Tex. Civ. App. 1935)
In reverence of the dead, the law segregates and removes from the realm of commerce property dedicated as a cemetery, and it is no longer a subject-matter of conveyance or inheritance as other property so as to interfere with the use and possession to which it has been devoted. When once dedicated to burial purposes, and interments have there been made, the then owner holds the title to some extent in trust for the benefit of those entitled to burial in it, and the heir at law, devisee, or vendee takes the property subject to this trust.
A church was located on a portion of the subject property and a cemetery was located on the remainder. A church minister and his wife conveyed fee simple title to the property to a trustee. The deed did not declare a trust, but the trustee and grantors later declared that the conveyance was made in trust. The trustee also later stated that there was a parol agreement that the property would be reconveyed to the grantors or their heirs if it ceased to be used for church or cemetery purposes. A dispute arose when the church moved to another location and it was determined that the property was an oil-producing area. A decree was entered restricting the trustees' use of the property and prohibiting any drilling for oil.
Did the trustees have exclusive title and possession of the church lot under the deed?
The court reversed the judgment of the trial court, and judgment was rendered for the trustees for the exclusive title and possession of that portion of the tract that was used as a church lot, with trusteeship of that portion used as a cemetery for the benefit of the heirs, relatives, and others having burial rights therein. The case was remanded for entry of an injunction barring interference by the heirs and relatives with the trustees' use of the church lot. The court ruled that the trustees had exclusive title and possession of the church lot under the deed. Although the cemetery was not property that could be conveyed so as to interfere with the use and possession to which it has been devoted, such that it could only be held in trust for the benefit of those entitled to burial in it, the cemetery had no interest in the church lot.
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