Court Case Record Robert Lanier TATE III et al. v. WATER WORKS AND SEWER BOARD OF THE CITY OF OXFORD. 2150190 UID(3f3b)


Court Case Number: 2150190

Case Number2150190
Case TypeCriminal
StateAlabama, AL
CountyAll Counties
CourtCourt of Civil Appeals of Alabama.
Court Address
Field Date8/12/2016
Close Date


Robert Lanier TATE III et al.Appellee/Petitioner
Robert Lanier Tate III, Deborah Ann Tate Lewis, and Mary Denise Tate Spires (hereinafter referred to collectively as “the heirs”) appeal from a summary judgment entered by the Calhoun Circuit Court (“the trial court”) in favor of the Water Works and Sewer Board of the City of Oxford (“the Board”) on the heirs' claims against the Board, and on some of the Board's claims against the heirs, regarding a parcel of real property in Calhoun County (“the disputed property”). We affirm the trial court's judgment.
Facts and Procedural History
The following facts are undisputed. Robert L. Tate, Jr. (“Robert”), died intestate on December 24, 1972, and he was survived by his wife, Mary Bernice Ginn Tate (“the widow”), and the heirs, who were minors at the time of Robert's death. Before Robert's death, Robert and the widow owned, as joint tenants with a right of survivorship, a parcel of property on Ingram Street in Oxford, where the family resided (“the home property”). The widow claimed the home property as her homestead following Robert's death. Robert also owned, at the time of his death and in his name alone, property located west of Stephens Avenue in Oxford (“the Stephens Avenue property”); the Stephens Avenue property had been conveyed to Robert under three separate deeds. The disputed property is an approximately 2.3–acre portion of the Stephens Avenue property. The widow never sought to administer Robert's estate, and she never claimed or asserted her dower rights or any other rights of a widow with regard to the Step
In 1987, the Board began making plans to acquire a site upon which to build a water tower to service the water needs of the citizens of Oxford, and, having determined that the disputed property was an appropriate location, the Board filed a condemnation proceeding in the Calhoun Probate Court against the widow, seeking to condemn the disputed property. The probate court entered an order of condemnation of the disputed property in favor of the Board on December 4, 1987. The Board filed a notice of appeal from that order, disputing the amount it had been ordered to pay for the property; however, after the notice of appeal was filed, the Board entered into a settlement with the widow, and, on June 23, 1988, the widow executed a deed purporting to convey the disputed property to the Board. Construction of the water tower was completed in approximately February 1989, at which time the Board erected a fence along the boundaries of the disputed property; the fence remains in the same location
The heirs filed a complaint against the Board on July 15, 2014, seeking to quiet title to the disputed property; they also sought injunctive relief and a judgment declaring that they own the disputed property in fee simple and that the Board has no interest in the property. The heirs also asserted claims of ejectment and trespass against the Board. The Board filed an answer, which included a number of affirmative defenses, and it counterclaimed against the heirs. The Board contended, among other things, that it owned the disputed property by virtue of statutory adverse possession and/or adverse possession by prescription, and it sought to quiet title to the disputed property and a judgment declaring that the Board owns the disputed property. The heirs filed a reply to the Board's counterclaim and later amended their complaint, asserting additional claims of inverse condemnation and unjust enrichment against the Board. The heirs and the Board filed competing summary-judgment motions, an
Standard of Review
“Our standard of review is straightforward when, as here, the facts are undisputed:
“ ‘An order granting or denying a summary judgment is reviewed de novo, applying the same standard as the trial court applied. American Gen. Life & Accident Ins. Co. v. Underwood, 886 So.2d 807, 811 (Ala.2004). In addition, “[t]his court reviews de novo a trial court's interpretation of a statute, because only a question of law is presented.” Scott Bridge Co. v. Wright, 883 So.2d 1221, 1223 (Ala.2003). Where, as here, the facts of a case are essentially undisputed, this Court must determine whether the trial court misapplied the law to the undisputed facts, applying a de novo standard of review. Carter v. City of Haleyville, 669 So.2d 812, 815 (Ala.1995). Here, in reviewing the [entry] of a summary judgment when the facts are undisputed, we review de novo the trial court's interpretation of statutory language and our previous caselaw on a controlling question of law.’ “
McKinney v. Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 33 So.3d 1203, 1206–07 (Ala.2009) (quoting Continental Nat'l Indem. Co. v. Fields, 926 So.2d 1033, 1034–35 (Ala.2005)).
The trial court issued a 37–page judgment in this case, in which it determined, among other things, that the Board had acquired title to the disputed property by statutory adverse possession and/or adverse possession by prescription; that the rights of dower, quarantine, and homestead with regard to the widow's purported interest in the disputed property were inapplicable; and that the heirs had failed to prove the elements of their claims of inverse condemnation and unjust enrichment. The heirs dispute each of those findings on appeal.
The heirs first argue that the Board, as a governmental entity, could not have acquired the disputed property by adverse possession after having secured a deed from the widow.
“Alabama recognizes two types of adverse possession: (1) statutory adverse possession pursuant to § 6–5–200, Ala.Code 1975, and (2) adverse possession by prescription. Sparks v. Byrd, 562 So.2d 211 (Ala.1990). Specifically,
“ ‘ “[a]dverse possession by prescription requires actual, exclusive, open, notorious and hostile possession under a claim of right for a period of twenty years. See, Fitts v. Alexander, 277 Ala. 372, 170 So.2d 808 (1965). Statutory adverse possession requires the same elements, but the statute provides further that if the adverse possessor holds under color of title, has paid taxes for ten years, or derives his title by descent cast or devise from a possessor, he may acquire title in ten years, as opposed to the twenty years required for adverse possession by prescription. [Ala.] Code 1975, § 6–5–200. See, Long v. Ladd, 273 Ala. 410, 142 So.2d 660 (1962).” ‘
“562 So.2d at 214 (quoting Kerlin v. Tensaw Land & Timber Co. ., 390 So.2d 616, 618 (Ala.1980) (emphasis omitted)).”
Henderson v. Dunn, 871 So.2d 807, 810 (Ala.Civ.App.2001).
Specifically, the heirs assert that, following Robert's death, the widow inherited a life estate in the disputed property and that, as a result, the deed purporting to convey the disputed property to the Board granted only the widow's life-estate interest in the disputed property to the Board. Thus, the heirs claim, the Board's use of the disputed property was permissive based on the widow's deed granting the Board use of the property and, as a result, the prescriptive period did not begin to run until the widow's death in October 2012. We conclude, however, as explained further below, that the widow did not have a life estate in the disputed property.
At the time of Robert's death, the real estate of a man dying intestate descended first to any children of the intestate in equal parts in fee simple, subject to the widow's dower and homestead rights. See Title 16, § 1, Ala.Code 1940 (Recomp.1958), Mitchell v. Mitchell, 278 Ala. 670, 671, 180 So.2d 266, 267 (1965), and Loeb v. Callaway, 250 Ala. 524, 526, 35 So.2d 198, 200 (1948). The heirs first argue that the widow inherited a life estate in the disputed property pursuant to her right to claim it in lieu of a homestead. “The homestead rights of a widow and minor children are determined by the law in force at the time of the decedent's death.” Stroud v. Stroud, 505 So.2d 1209, 1210 (Ala.1987). In Mordecai v. Scott, 294 Ala. 626, 629–30, 320 So.2d 642, 644–45 (1975), our supreme court discussed the law regarding homestead rights applicable at the time of Robert's death:
“In general, the homestead law provides to named survivors a homestead not exceeding 160 acres in area which is exempt from administration and the payment of debts. Title 7, Sections 661, 663, 697, Code of Alabama, 1940 (Recompiled 1958). Although the term ‘homestead’ is not defined in the statute, this court has stated that ‘[a] homestead, in law, means a home place, or place of the home, and is designed as a shelter of the homestead roof, and not as a mere investment in real estate, or the rents and profits derived therefrom.’ Griffin v. Ayers, 231 Ala. 493, 496, 165 So. 593, 595 (1936). It has been further defined as ‘the roof that shelters and the land used in connection therewith for the comfort and sustenance of the family․’ Moseley v. Neville, 221 Ala. 429, 431, 129 So. 12, 14 (1930), quoted in Griffin v. Ayers, supra. Normally the land must have been occupied by decedent prior to his death. Turner v. Turner, 107 Ala. 465, 18 So. 210 (1895). Contiguous real estate used for renta
“If the decedent owned no homestead or if the homestead cannot be reduced to statutory value, the widow and minor children may receive an exemption in lieu of homestead in decedent's other lands. Title 7, Section 662, Code of Alabama, 1940 (Recompiled 1958).”
In the present case, at the time of Robert's death, Robert, the widow, and the heirs resided on the home property. Because the home property was owned by Robert and the widow jointly with the right of survivorship, the home property vested in the widow as the sole owner at the time of Robert's death. As a result, the home property never devolved into Robert's estate. The widow thereafter claimed the home property as her homestead and, thus, could not claim a homestead exemption in any property owned solely by Robert at the time of his death. See Ala.Code 1940 (Recomp.1958), Tit. 47, § 19; and Skipworth v. Skipworth, 383 So.2d 524, 527 (Ala.1980) (concluding that, when the family had resided on property belonging to the widow at the time of her husband's death, the widow was not entitled to a homestead exemption in the other property of her husband).