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 purpose 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. If one who has an estate in fee simple creates a determinable fee in favor of another, he has thereafter merely a possibility of re-acquiring the land by reason of the occurrence of the contingency named or indicated, this possibility being known as a possibility of reverter.
The court granted certiorari review to a judgment of the Circuit Court for Worcester County (Maryland) which declared, in an equity action commenced by plaintiff trustees against defendant city, that the trustees had title in a subject property by operation of a certain deed reverting interest in the property to them. The lot had been granted to the United States for use as a life saving station by deed dated 1878 stating that should the United States cease using the land for such purpose it would revert to the trustees. The United States quitclaimed its interest in the lot to the city after which the successor trustees brought this action. The court affirmed the trial court's judgment. . By operation of the deed conveying the lot to the United States for use as a life saving station, the lot reverted to the trustees when the United States ceased to use the lot for such purpose.
Did the United States acquire title in fee simple absolute through adverse possession of the lot?
The court found that (1) the trustees who in 1878 conveyed the lot to the United States as an estate in fee simple determinable had the power to make the conveyance from a deed of 1876; (2) an 1892 chancery action on certain lots distributed under the 1876 deed did not void the 1878 deed, and therefore the United States did not acquire title to the property in question by adverse possession; (3) the United States ceased to use the lot as a life saving station; and (4) the trustees' action was not time-barred, and they had met the statutory requirements to preserve the possibility of reverter in the 1878 deed. The court concluded that the trustees acquired a fee simple absolute estate by the realization of the possibility of reverter.