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Love v. O'Neal

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

November 7, 2018

ETHEL LOVE APPELLANT
v.
ADRIANNE O'NEAL APPELLEE

          APPEAL FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, SIXTH DIVISION [NO. 60CV-14-2648] HONORABLE TIMOTHY DAVIS FOX, JUDGE.

          Bennie O'Neil, for appellant.

          Sanford Law Firm, PLLC, by: Josh Sanford, for appellee.

          PHILLIP T. WHITEAKER, JUDGE.

         This appeal arises from a decision of the Pulaski County Circuit Court determining ownership of certain real property located in Pulaski County as between two family members-Ethel Love and her niece, Adrianne O'Neal. The trial court denied Ethel's claim for adverse possession, concluding that Ethel's occupancy of the property had at all times been permissive. The court then granted Adrianne's claim for unlawful detainer, finding that Adrianne was the sole and exclusive owner of the property. Ethel appeals those findings. Because the trial court's finding of permissive use was clearly erroneous, we reverse and remand for further consideration of Ethel's adverse-possession claim.

         This case is before us for the third time.[1] While our previous opinions set forth the facts in some detail, a brief review of those facts and the appellate history of this action are necessary for a complete understanding of the current posture of the case.

         The property at issue here was originally owned by Herbert Love, individually. Herbert is Adrianne's father and Ethel's brother. During his lifetime, Herbert executed two seemingly conflicting deeds to the property.

         Adrianne traces her ownership interest back to a 1995 deed from Herbert, which purportedly granted an interest in the property to her mother, Gloria Love. The 1995 deed was a warranty deed from Herbert Love and Gloria Love, husband and wife, to Herbert Love and Gloria Love. Although issued in 1995, the warranty deed was not recorded until October 2014. Before this deed was recorded, Gloria conveyed her interest in the property by quitclaim deed to Adrianne in June 2014.

         Ethel, who has lived on the property since 1999, traces her ownership interest back to a 1999 quitclaim deed purportedly granting Herbert's interest in the property to her. When Herbert executed the quitclaim deed, however, he was still married to Gloria, although they were estranged at the time. After the conveyance, Herbert continued to live on the property with Ethel and did so until his death in 2004.

         At the time of his death, Herbert was still married to, but estranged from, Gloria. Ethel remained on the property after his death, paid taxes and insurance thereon, and made some improvements thereto. Gloria, however, took no action with regard to the property after Herbert's death until she executed the quitclaim deed to Adrianne in 2014. She never requested that the property be assessed in her name after Herbert's death; she never paid the property taxes, insurance, or utilities on the property; she never performed any maintenance or repairs; and she never asked Ethel to vacate the property.

         The current dispute arose in 2014 when Adrianne served Ethel with a notice to vacate and intent to issue a writ of possession, and Ethel refused to vacate the property. When Ethel refused, Adrianne filed an action for unlawful detainer against Ethel. Ethel denied the action, claiming to be the title owner to the property. She also defended based on multiple theories including adverse possession, statute of limitations, and the theory of being a good-faith purchaser. Ethel additionally filed a counterclaim seeking to quiet title alleging (1) fee-simple ownership by exclusive possession under a claim of right and payment of taxes since 1999; (2) adverse possession since 1999; and (3) that Gloria had abandoned any homestead rights or dower interest in the property by failing to assert them within the applicable limitations period.[2] Adrianne responded by denying the counterclaim. The trial court quieted title in the property to both Ethel and Adrianne as tenants in common with equal shares to the property. All other claims of the parties were denied and dismissed with prejudice. Both sides appealed.

         In the initial appeal, O'Neal v. Love, 2015 Ark.App. 689, 476 S.W.3d 846 (O'Neal I), we concluded that Gloria and Herbert owned the property as tenants by the entirety by virtue of the 1995 warranty deed. We then ruled that the trial court erred as a matter of law in finding Ethel and Adrianne to be tenants in common. We reversed and remanded for consideration of Ethel's adverse-possession and bona-fide-purchaser claims.

         Following our decision in O'Neal I, the trial court on remand found that Gloria became the sole owner of the property upon Herbert's death based on the 1995 warranty deed, despite it being unrecorded until 2014. The trial court, however, then concluded that Ethel's actions with regard to the property were consistent with that of a bona fide purchaser for value, not of an adverse possessor. The court found that as a bona fide purchaser for value, Ethel was the sole and exclusive owner of the property, quieted title in her name, and denied her adverse-possession claim.[3]

         Adrianne appealed the trial court's order. In the second appeal, O'Neal v. Love, 2017 Ark.App. 336, 523 S.W.3d 381 (O'Neal II), we again reversed the decision of the trial court. We held that when Ethel obtained title to the property by quitclaim deed in 1999, she only obtained such interest as Herbert had in the property at the time of the execution of the quitclaim deed. At that time, Herbert owned the property with Gloria as tenants by the entirety. Thus, when Herbert died in 2004, his interest (and therefore Ethel's interest as a bona fide purchaser) in the ...


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