I know contract writers who like to state terms, such as property descriptions, several different ways. If you just have to over-describe, at least be careful, and at least be sure the descriptions are consistent.
The McGregors and Millican were adjacent landowners fighting over a 34.28 acre wooded tract in Brazos County, Texas. The question: Was the acreage in Millican’s chain of title. The answer: “No”. A 1945 deed in Millican’s chain conveyed 202 acres described by metes and bounds. It undisputedly included the 34.28 acres.
The Time Bomb Waiting to Explode
A 1973 deed listed, as the “First Tract”, nine smaller parcels. Added together they totaled 1145.95 acres, though the deed did not mention that sum. One of the parcels was the 202 acre tract, and the previous deed was cited. So far, so good. A metes and bounds description was added, to “more fully describe” the First Tract, but that description did not contain the 34.28 acres. That tract was contiguous to the tract described in the metes and bounds. There were two inconsistencies: The general description purported to convey the 34.28 acres, but the metes and bounds did not. Second, the acreages for the nine parcels totaled only 1145.95, but the deed itself stated the total acreage was 1167.203.
The Rule – Kaboom
In case of conflict between two provisions in a deed, the more specific provision will control over general expressions that apply to the same land. This rule is not arbitrary, but is a means of discerning the parties’ true intent. Because the 1973 deed contained an unambiguous description – metes and bounds which did not include the 32.28 acres – reference to any other deed – such as the one that included he 34.28 acres – was not necessary to locate the tract. A metes and bounds description is more specific and better-indicates the parties’ intent.
Some Exceptions Apply, But Not Here
The court did allow that a metes and bounds description would not be given controlling effect if it is apparent from the language of the deed, read in light of the surrounding circumstances, that the parties intended that the general description should control, or when the grantor’s intention clearly and unmistakably appears from the language of the entire instrument. The clear intent for the general description to control in the face of a directly contrary metes and bounds description did not exist in this case. The court said it has never found a clear intent for a general description to control when directly contrary to metes and bounds that clearly defines an area. The general description can help when the specific description is “defective or doubtful.” Mere inconsistency between the two does not itself render metes and bounds doubtful.
The Court of Appeals Rationale – Rejected
The court disagreed with the court of appeals on three points:
- Lower court: The deed should be construed to convey the greatest estate its terms permit. Supreme court: The preference for the greater estate does cannot overcome the clear and unambiguous specific description.
- Lower court: The 1973 deed incorporated the 1945 deed by reference. Supreme court: The cases cited for that point did not focus on conflicts between general and specific descriptions. There were general statute of frauds discussions or general and specific provisions that could be reconciled.
- The effect of the lower court opinion presented difficulties. The deed stated that the First Tract was composed of 1167.203 acres, but the description referred to nine parcels when added to together total only 1145.95. The metes and bounds description excluded the 34.28 acres but conveyed a larger area that the general description. To rule as the lower court did would create guesswork for future title examinations.
Percy Sledge RIP