Considered On Briefs: April 28, 2014.
APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SIXTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT HYDE COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA. THE HONORABLE KATHLEEN F. TRANDAHL, Judge.
GEORGE H. DANFORTH, Huron, South Dakota and MICHELE K. BENNETT, Huron, South Dakota, Attorneys for plaintiffs and appellants.
DANIEL K. BRENDTRO, WILLIAM D. SIMS of Zimmer, Duncan & Cole, LLP, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Attorneys for defendants and appellees.
KONENKAMP, Justice. GILBERTSON, Chief Justice, and ZINTER, SEVERSON, and WILBUR, Justices, concur.
[¶1] In this action to reform a warranty deed, the circuit court ruled that the plaintiff did not present clear and convincing evidence that the deed failed to express the intent of the deceased grantors.
[¶2] Joseph and C. Elaine Lingscheit had numerous landholdings in Hyde and Hand counties in South Dakota. Over the years, the Lingscheits either gifted or sold over 3,000 acres to Elaine's children, who were also Joseph's stepchildren. Of particular relevance here are two conveyances, one in 1980 and another in 2001. In 1980, the Lingscheits transferred 240 acres in fee simple to their seven children as tenants in common. The land was described as: East Half of the Southeast Quarter (E1/2 SE1/4) of Section 36, Township 111, Range 71 (80 acres), Northeast Quarter (NE1/4) of Section 1, Township 110, Range 71 (160 acres). The children in turn transferred a life estate to the Lingscheits. Then in 2001, the Lingscheits executed a warranty deed conveying in fee simple 240 acres to their son, Brian Hines. The land was described as: South Half (S1/2) of the Northeast Quarter (NE1/4) of Section 1, Township 110, Range 71 (80 acres), Southeast Quarter (SE1/4) of Section 1, Township 110, Range 71 (160 acres). Unknown to the Lingscheits or their children, the 2001 deed conveyed 80 acres that had been previously conveyed to all seven children in 1980, in which acres the Lingscheits only held a life estate interest.
[¶3] Elaine died in 2001; Joseph died in 2005. Through the probate proceedings for both Elaine and Joseph, the Lingscheit children discovered that their parents had twice transferred the same 80-acre tract of land in Hyde County. Also during the probate proceedings, the children learned that the Lingscheits still owned, in fee simple, a different 80-acre tract of pasture land. The children had thought their parents either conveyed or sold all their pasture land before they died. At issue in this case is the ownership of the 80-acre tract conveyed twice and the 80-acre tract never conveyed.
[¶4] After the mistake in the 2001 deed was discovered, Brian Hines, joined by Bradley Hines, asked the remaining five children (the Siblings) to execute a new warranty deed to Brian, which would give Brian the 80 acres owned by the Lingscheits in fee simple and remove the 80 acres that had been transferred to all seven children in 1980. The Siblings refused, asserting that Brian merely had a life estate in the 80 acres transferred by the 2001 deed and that the 80 acres owned by the Lingscheits in fee simple passed to the seven children equally. Brian and Bradley brought suit against the Siblings asking the circuit court to reform and revise the 2001 warranty deed. Brian contended that reformation was necessary because the Lingscheits intended to convey to him 240 acres of pasture land in Hyde County, and that this intent would not be accomplished unless Brian received the 80 acres owned by the Lingscheits in fee simple.
[¶5] Before trial, the parties submitted a statement of stipulated facts. Those facts related that the parties were presently engaged in a separate civil partition action in Hand County, involving 1,600 acres of pasture land in both Hand and Hyde counties. They agreed that ownership of the 80-acre tract in Hyde County must be decided before the civil partition action could continue. They also agreed that the 2001 warranty deed was prepared by Attorney Galen Gillette, who " filed the deed for record, ...