According to Mr. Bumble, the law is an ass. I disagree (Know a lawyer who’s an ass? That’s another conversation). In Davis v. Mueller the law was not an ass, per se, but as applied by the Texas Supreme Court it showed little mercy.
A refresher on conveyances
- According to the Statute of Frauds, a writing conveying real property must furnish within itself, or by reference to some other existing writing, the means or data by which the land to be conveyed may be identified with reasonable certainty.
- A Mother Hubbard clause is a catchall in a deed to capture small, overlooked, or incorrectly described interests.
- A Mother Hubbard clause is not effective to convey a significant property interest not adequately described in the deed.
- In Texas a general conveyance of all of a grantor’s property in a geographic area is given effect.
Georgia resident Cope conveyed mineral interests in 10 tracts to JD Minerals. Florida resident Mills conveyed minerals in two tracts to JD on an identical form. A general granting clause covered all of grantor’s property in Harrison County “whether or not same is hereinabove correctly described.”
Cope and Mills deeded to Mueller the interests they had conveyed to Davis. Mueller sued to quiet title.
- The deeds were in “tiny print”.
- The grantors lived out of state.
- The deeds contained vague descriptions of several tracts. The general granting language was buried in the third sentence of the Mother Hubbard clause.
- The grantee has been sued many times for fraud by many people, including by the attorney general.
The question for the court
Did the general granting clause enlarge the accompanying conveyance of specifically described property? (Spoiler alert: Yes.)
The court speaks
The general granting clause was not ambiguous, even though it purported to convey a large amount of property and was located in the same paragraph as the Mother Hubbard clause. The specific property descriptions didn’t satisfy the Statute of Frauds. However, the general granting clause was sufficient to pass title to all of the grantors’ minerals in the county.
The proximity of the clauses could mean that the general granting clause was to convey only small pieces of the specifically described tracts. But if that were true then that accomplished nothing. “All” means all.
An unidentified portion of a larger identifiable tract does not satisfy the Statute of Frauds, but that rule did not apply because Cope and Mills conveyed all minerals they owned in the county.
The court rejected the argument that the further assurances clause meant that the parties contemplated other tracts that would be covered by separate instruments.
It didn’t matter that Davis is the kind of actor that gives the business a bad name. Rule of Evidence 404(a) says his other acts and character traits are not admissible to show he is more likely act that way in this suit.
If there’s no mercy, who’s the victim?
- Davis? No, he was the trickster.
- Mueller? No, he bought a lawsuit and lost.
- Cope and Mills? Yes, but not because of the Supreme Court. They lost minerals they probably didn’t intend to sell when they signed the deeds.
- All grantors who don’t read what they sign? Yes. Not because of the “merciless” Supreme Court, but of their own inattention.
A musical interlude for people who trick other people into selling minerals.