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Van Heyde v. Miller

Supreme Court of West Virginia

April 20, 2017

CYNTHIA W. VAN HEYDE, ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF PATRICK A. WOLFE, Plaintiff Below, Petitioner
v.
SUSAN MILLER, JESSICA MILLER LIPSCOMB, AND HOUSES & MORE, INC., Defendants Below, Respondents

          Submitted: February 7, 2017

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Preston County Honorable Andrew N. Frye, Jr., Judge Civil Action No. 14-C-87

          William E. Ford III, Esq. Lisa Furbee Ford, Esq. Ford Law Office Clarksburg, West Virginia Attorneys for Petitioner

          Rodney L. Bean, Esq. Monte L. Williams, Esq. Chelsea V. Prince, Esq. Steptoe & Johnson PLLC Morgantown, West Virginia Attorneys for Respondents

          Attorneys for Respondents JUSTICE WORKMAN delivered the Opinion of the Court.

         SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

         1. "A motion for summary judgment should be granted only when it is clear that there is no genuine issue of fact to be tried and inquiry concerning the facts is not desirable to clarify the application of the law." Syl. Pt. 3, Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co. v. Fed. Ins. Co. of N.Y., 148 W.Va. 160, 133 S.E.2d 770 (1963).

         2. "Summary judgment is appropriate if, from the totality of the evidence presented, the record could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, such as where the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of the case that it has the burden to prove." Syl. Pt. 2, Williams v. Precision Coil, Inc., 194 W.Va. 52, 459 S.E.2d 329 (1995).

         3. "If the moving party makes a properly supported motion for summary judgment and can show by affirmative evidence that there is no genuine issue of a material fact, the burden of production shifts to the nonmoving party who must either (1) rehabilitate the evidence attacked by the moving party, (2) produce additional evidence showing the existence of a genuine issue for trial, or (3) submit an affidavit explaining why further discovery is necessary as provided in Rule 56(f) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure." Syl. Pt. 3, Williams v. Precision Coil, Inc., 194 W.Va. 52, 459 S.E.2d 329 (1995).

         4."'A person is mentally competent to make a conveyance of land if he knows the nature, character and effect of his deed.' Carrigan v. Davis, 84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473 [100 S.E. 91 (1919).]" Syl. Pt. 1, Cyrus v. Tharp, 147 W.Va. 110, 126 S.E.2d 31 (1962).

         5. "'The presumption of law is in favor of the sanity and mental capacity of a grantor, and the person attacking his conveyance on the ground of his incapacity, or the exertion of undue influence over him in inducing him to make the deed, bears the burden of proof. One who charges fraud and undue influence must prove it.' Carrigan v. Davis, 84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473');">84 W.Va. 473 [100 S.E. 91 (1919)]." Syl. Pt. 2, Cyrus v. Tharp, 147 W.Va. 110, 126 S.E.2d 31 (1962).

         6."'A grantor ina deed maybeextremelyold, his understanding, memory, and mind [e]nfeebled and weakened by age, and his action occasionally strange and eccentric, and he may not be able to transact many affairs of life, yet if age has not rendered him imbecile, so that he does not know the nature and effect of the deed, this does not invalidate the deed. If he be capable, at the time, to know the nature, character and effect of the particular act, that is sufficient to sustain it.' Point 5 Syllabus, Buckey v. Buckey, 38 W.Va. 168 [18 S.E. 383 (1893)]." Syl. Pt. 3, Cyrus v. Tharp, 147 W.Va. 110, 126 S.E.2d 31 (1962).

         7. "The presumption of law is that the acceptance of a deed, made in pursuance of an antecedent written agreement for the sale of land, is satisfaction of all previous covenants, and, although such acceptance mayin some circumstances, be but partial execution of the contract, to rebut the legal presumption, the intention to the contrary must be clear and convincing." Syllabus. William James Sons Co. v. Hutchinson, 79 W.Va. 389, 90 S.E. 1047 (1916).

         8. "A party challenging the validity of a deed because of inadequate consideration and grantor incompetence has the burden of proving those facts. Absent convincing proof, a trial court should find the challenged deed valid." Syl. Pt. 3, McElwain v. Wells, 174 W.Va. 61, 322 S.E.2d 482 (1984).

          OPINION

          WORKMAN JUSTICE

         This is an appeal by Cynthia W.Van Heyde (hereinafter "petitioner"), Administratrix of the Estate of Patrick A. Wolfe, from an order granting summary judgment to Susan Miller, Jessica Miller Lipscomb, and Houses & More, Inc. (hereinafter "respondents" or referenced individually) entered by the Circuit Court of Preston County, West Virginia, on September 30, 2015. The petitioner contends the circuit court erred in granting summary judgment where genuine issues of material fact exist regarding a real estate transaction. Upon thorough evaluation of the parties' briefs, arguments, record on appeal, and applicable precedent, this Court finds no error in the circuit court's determinations and consequently affirms the summary judgment order.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         The petitioner's uncle, Mr. Patrick A. Wolfe, owned a sixty-acre parcel of land in Preston County, West Virginia. Mr. Wolfe met with Respondent Mrs. Susan Miller, a real estate agent with the real estate brokerage company of Houses & More, Inc. (hereinafter "Houses & More"), in June 2013 to discuss listing his property for sale. He was eighty-five years old at the time of the initial meeting. Mrs. Miller and Mr. Wolfe visited the subject property, and, according to the deposition testimony of Mrs. Miller, Mr. Wolfe advised her that he wanted to sell the property quickly. After visiting the property a second time independently, [1] Mrs. Miller met with Mr. Wolfe to discuss the list price. Mrs. Miller contends that Mr. Wolfe wanted to list the property for $90, 000, including Mr. Wolfe's portion of the mineral interests. They discussed recent comparable sales and the unique terrain of the property, its overgrown meadows, and the existence of high-tension power lines through the property. Mr. Wolfe and Mrs. Miller thereafter entered into a listing agreement whereby Mrs. Miller would list the property at a price of $90, 000. In a hand-written notation, Mr. Wolfe indicated the price included both the surface and his portion of the mineral interests.

         Respondent Jessica Miller Lipscomb is Mrs. Miller's daughter and is also a real estate agent with Houses & More. On June 21, 2013, Mrs. Lipscomb met with Jason Haskiell and Ashley Kyle (hereinafter "buyers") at the Houses & More office. The buyers submitted an offer to purchase the property for $90, 000, including Mr. Wolfe's portion of the mineral interests. Mr. Wolfe accepted their offer and executed a real estate purchase agreement the following day. Mrs. Miller and Mrs. Lipscomb represented Mr. Wolfe and the buyers as dual-agents in the transaction, the dual agency was properly explained to the seller and buyers, and all parties signed a Notice of Agency Relationship. The purchase agreement specified that the sale included Mr. Wolfe's portion of the mineral interests, and it required any changes, modifications, or amendments to the agreement be in writing and signed by the parties. The closing was to occur on or before August 28, 2013.[2]

         In August 2013, Mr. Wolfe informed Mrs. Miller that he had changed his mind and no longer wanted to include the mineral interests in the sale. He did not complete any documentation regarding this change of intention, but he advised Mrs. Miller that his nephew, husband of Petitioner Van Heyde, would contact Mrs. Miller about the property sale. On August 19, 2013, the petitioner and her husband, residents of Florida, met with Mr. Wolfe and Mrs. Miller. Unbeknownst to the petitioner, her husband, or Mr. Wolfe, Mrs. Miller recorded the meeting on an audio recorder.[3] During the meeting, the petitioner and her husband questioned the contract price of $90, 000 for surface and mineral rights. Mrs. Miller explained that $90, 000 was the price suggested by Mr. Wolfe based upon discussions regarding factors to be considered in valuing property, and she also emphasized that any alteration to the purchase agreement would require written documentation, pursuant to the terms of the agreement.[4] On August 21, 2013, the petitioner and her husband submitted a letter to Mrs. Miller on Mr. Wolfe's behalf. The letter expressed Mr. Wolfe's desire to continue with the sale of the surface interests at a "mutually agreed upon" price, but it indicated Mr. Wolfe's intention to retain his portion of the mineral interests. The petitioner and her husband thereafter returned to their home in Florida. The petitioner's husband later testified that, prior to leaving for Florida, the petitioner had told Mr. Wolfe she would purchase the subject property, including the mineral rights, for $90, 000. Mr. Wolfe had rejected her offer.

         Based upon Mr. Wolfe's expressed intention to alter the terms of the purchase agreement, Mrs. Miller scheduled a meeting with the parties to the agreement. On August 26, 2013, she first met with Mr. Wolfe in the morning and later met with Mr. Wolfe and the buyers in the evening. The petitioner and her husband were not present for either meeting. Mrs. Miller also surreptitiously recorded the meetings of August 26, 2013. During the morning meeting, the petitioner emphasizes Mr. Wolfe's statement that he did not wish to sell the property with the mineral rights. Mrs. Miller thereafter informed him that his refusal to sell the mineral interests would cause him to be sued, and she advised him to go through with the transaction. Mrs. Miller further advised Mr. Wolfe that "since we are representing both you and them . . ., we can't take sides[.]"

         During the evening meeting with the buyers on August 26, 2013, Mr. Wolfe confirmed that he was willing to sell both the surface and mineral rights for the contract price of $90, 000, noting that he only owned three-fifths of the mineral interests. The parties thereafter memorialized their understanding by executing an addendum to the purchase agreement confirming the sale of both the surface and mineral rights.

         An attorney, Neil Reed, subsequently met with Mr. Wolfe to prepare the deed transferring the property to the buyers. Mr. Reed later testified that Mr. Wolfe did not exhibit any indication of confusion or mental incompetency during their meeting. The parties proceeded to the closing on August 28, 2013, at the law office of the closing attorney, Trudy Goff. Mrs. Miller and Mrs. Lispcomb, as well as the buyers, later testified that Mr. Wolfe evidenced a complete understanding of the significance of that transaction. Ms. Goff also testified that Mr. Wolfe comprehended the details of the sale; she did not observe any indication of undue influence over Mr. Wolfe.

         Mr. Wolfe received a check in the amount of $83, 925.01 after the execution of the deed; this constituted the purchase price minus settlement charges. He deposited the check in his personal checking account that same day and placed the documentation regarding the transaction in the box in which he kept other important documentation. On August 30, 2013, Mr. Wolfe visited Dr. Roger Lewis for treatment of minor injuries he sustained in a fall. Dr. Lewis later testified that Mr. Wolfe was coherent during the examination and had sufficient mental capacity to understand the nature of his medical treatment and to refuse to be admitted to the ...


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