Generally, when construing a deed, the intent of the parties is of paramount importance and courts must ascertain and enforce such intent. However, where a party conveys property via a statutory warranty deed and the granting clause conveys a definite strip of land, courts must find that the grantor intended to convey fee simple absolute title unless additional language in the deed clearly and expressly limits or qualifies the interest conveyed. Thus, if the deed is in statutory warranty form, it carries a presumption of conveying fee simple absolute title. Wash. Rev. Code § 64.04.030.
In 1950, the landholders conveyed, by statutory warranty deed, a parcel of land to the orchard grange. The deed stated that if the land was no longer used for grange purposes it reverted back to the original plot. In 1964, the landholders sold their property to appellant property owners. In 2004, the orchard grange dissolved and the parcel ceased to be used for grange purposes. The orchard grange's interests in the parcel succeeded to respondent state grange. Respondent brought a quiet title action against appellant. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of respondent. On appeal, the appellate court reversed the judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.
Was summary judgment in favor of a successor grange in an action to quiet title against property owners of the grange in a reversion action?
Although the 1950 deed conveyance was in statutory warranty form, the landholders conveyed something less than an absolute fee simple interest to the orchard grange. The executory interest of the deed violated the rule against perpetuities because of the possibility that the interest of the unidentified "then" owner or owners of the "original plot" would not vest within 21 years of a life in being. The reversionary clause created a determinable fee simple with a possibility of reverter in the landholders as grantors. An issue of fact existed as to who had the reversionary interest. The grange had no interest in the property because its fee interest was terminated upon the cessation of the land's use for grange purposes.