FROM THE CRAWFORD COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 17CV-15-310]
HONORABLE MICHAEL MEDLOCK, JUDGE
Law Firm, P.A., by: Jeff H. Watson, for appellant.
Walters, Gaston, Allison & Parker, by: Veronica L.
Bryant, for appellee.
W. GRUBER, Chief Judge
Martha Rodriguez (formerly Lopez) appeals from an order of
the Crawford County Circuit Court quieting title in favor of
appellee, Noemi Lopez as administratrix of the estate of
Guadalupe F. Lopez. Appellant raises two arguments on appeal:
(1) that the circuit court improperly quieted title in favor
of appellee; and (2) that this court should reverse and
remand for a new trial because the trial judge was
disqualified from hearing the case as the attorney who
drafted the quitclaim deed at issue. We affirm.
and Guadalupe Lopez (Mr. Lopez) were in a relationship when
he purchased the property located at 400 North 23rd Street in
Van Buren, Arkansas. After he purchased the property, Mr.
Lopez executed a quitclaim deed placing title in himself and
Martha C. Salinas as joint tenants with the right of
survivorship. The deed was filed on May 8, 1995. The couple
married on January 28, 1996, and divorced on July 21, 1998.
Section VII of the divorce decree provided:
That during the marriage of the parties, they have acquired
no tract of real property. That [Mr. Lopez] acquired a home
and real property located at 400 North 23rd Street which is
non-marital property. That [appellant] does not have an
interest in said property.
VIII addressed the division of personal property. Paragraph X
of the decree ordered that the parties shall be awarded the
property as specified in paragraphs VII and VIII.
the divorce, Mr. Lopez resided at the home and continued to
pay the monthly note/mortgage until paid in full in 2007, as
well as the property taxes. Mr. Lopez died in 2012. His
daughter, Noemi Lopez, was the administratrix of his estate;
she filed a petition for declaratory judgment to quiet title
on September 2, 2015. A bench trial occurred on May 1, 2017.
testified at the bench trial that she married Mr. Lopez on
January 28, 1996, separated in April 1998, and divorced in
July 1998. She explained that Mr. Lopez purchased the
property in April 1995. Appellant testified that she was with
Mr. Lopez when he obtained the loan and explained that she
was not approved for the loan because of her personal debts
and credit problems. She stated that there was a mortgage on
the property and that a warranty deed had been executed that
transferred property to him. She testified that just before
the divorce, Mr. Lopez told her that the property was in his
name and that she had to leave the property. It was
appellant's understanding when she signed the divorce
decree that the house belonged only to Mr. Lopez. Appellant
testified that after the divorce, Mr. Lopez was solely
responsible for the mortgage payments and that she did not
pay any property taxes until 2014.
testified that Mr. Lopez never told her that he had executed
the quitclaim deed, which was filed on May 8, 1998. She did
not know her name was on the title to the property until
2014, when the tax collector charged her for two years of
property taxes. She testified that she paid the taxes because
they were two years behind, and she hired an attorney to
ascertain her interest in the property. Her attorney told her
she could begin cleaning the home. Appellant stated that she
did not have a key to the home, but she entered the home
through an open door. Appellant indicated that the statement
regarding the property in the divorce decree was a mistake
and that she did not discover the mistake until 2014.
Lopez (Ms. Lopez), who was married to Mr. Lopez before his
marriage to appellant, also testified at the trial. Ms. Lopez
testified that she resumed her relationship with Mr. Lopez
after he was divorced from appellant. She stated that in
1998, she and Mr. Lopez, along with two of her children,
lived in the home located at 400 North 23rd Street. She
explained that in 2000, she and the children moved to
Springdale and they would see each other on the weekends. Ms.
Lopez testified that she and Mr. Lopez paid the mortgage from
their joint checking account and eventually paid off the
mortgage; the bank issued a deed of release. She stated that
they paid the property taxes until Mr. Lopez died in 2012.
Ms. Lopez testified that she moved to Springdale after Mr.
Lopez died and thereafter heard nothing about the property
taxes. In addition, she indicated that Mr. Lopez intended the
property to go to his children and that he never mentioned
appellant as having an interest in the property in all the
years they lived in the home.
Noemi Lopez testified that she is the daughter of Mr. Lopez
and is the administratrix of his estate. She stated that she
had lived in the home with her father, mother, and two
siblings and had visited her father at the home. Appellee
explained that her father lived in the home during the week
while he worked and traveled to Springdale on the weekends.
In addition, appellee lived in the home by herself for a year
and a half. Appellee also testified that there were periods
when her father rented the home and that she assisted him at
times with the rent collection.
explained that her father told her that he wanted his
children to have the house and that he had never mentioned
appellant having an interest in the property. Appellee
testified that her father never told her about the quitclaim
deed, but he had told her that he had put the property in his
and appellant's name ...