Gutierrez v. Stewart Title Co., 550 S.W.3d 304 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2018, no pet.).


Interpretation and Construction


The testatrix’s will devised certain real property to two of her children and then provided that:


None of the real property is to be sold or mortgaged, all property is to be kept in the Gutierrez family. When one of my children dies, that individual’s property is to be divided among the survivors. When the last of my children is the only one remaining, then the property can be sold or do whatever that individual desires, without restrictions.


Despite this provision, the two devisees conveyed the property. After one of the devisee’s died, another sibling claimed an interest in the property asserting that the sales of the properties were void as the devisees did not have the authority to sell the property. This sibling then sued the title company asserting that the company misrepresented to the devisees that they could actually sell the properties despite the will provision. The trial court granted the title company’s request for a summary judgment finding that the statute of limitations to raise a claim that the sale was void had elapsed.


The appellate court affirmed. The court began its analysis by recognizing that the testatrix’s grant potentially created a (1) fee simple, (2) determinable fee subject to an executory limitation, or (3) life estate. Using the logic of the 2018 Texas Supreme Court case of Knopf v. Gray, 545 S.W.3d 542 (Tex. 2018), the court held that the grant created a life estate in the devisees with a remainder interest in the other siblings regardless of whether they were named devisees.


The court then examined whether the complaining sibling’s claim was barred by the statute of limitations. The statutory period for the misrepresentation claim was two years. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 16.003(a). The alleged misrepresentation occurred in 2000 and suit was filed in 2015 well beyond the two year period. The sibling, however, claimed that the discovery rule should apply to give her two years from when she discovered the conveyance. The court did not have to resolve this issue because even if the discovery rule did apply, the sibling’s suit was brought more than two years after the discovery.


Note: The court did not discuss the sibling’s claim against the purchasers of the properties as that issue was severed into a separate case which was not the subject of this appeal.


Moral:  First, grants of property that have restrictions or other conditions should be clearly stated using well-established language to avoid interpretation and construction issues. Second, lawsuits should be brought before the applicable statute of limitations expires.