Query v. Burgess

371 S.C. 407, 639 S.E.2d 455 (Ct. App. 2006)



A suit for declaratory judgment is neither legal nor equitable, but is determined by the nature of the underlying issue. To make this determination, the courts look to the main purpose of the action as determined by the complaint. Where the main purpose of the complaint concerns the determination of title to real property, it is an action at law. The determination of title to real property is a legal issue. In an action at law, an appellate court will affirm the master's factual findings if there is any evidence in the record which reasonably supports them.

A deed or grant by the State is construed strictly in favor of the State and general public and against the grantee.


An owner of property adjoining mashlands brought a declaratory judgment action against the State and applicant for a permit, seeking to establish ownership of the land. At trial, the owner claimed ownership of the marshlands because the State specifically granted the marshlands to one of his predecessors in title. Nevertheless, the trial court found in favor of the State and the applicant. The owner appealed.


Was the owner of adjoining property able to establish her title to the marshlands?




The appellate court found that the master examined the grant in question and accompanying plat and found that they lacked the requisite specificity to indicate the State's intent to grant the marshlands to one of the owner's predecessors in title. The master noted the absence of terms consonant with granting property below the high water mark, such as "marsh," "marshland," "high-water mark," or "low-water mark." Based on these factual findings, the master reasonably determined the grant and accompanying plat did not demonstrate the State's intent to grant title to the marshlands. The master thus found the plat was not sufficiently detailed to rebut the State's presumption of title to land below the high water mark. There was evidence to support the master's findings.

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