Juanita Sanders, by counsel Jeffry A. Pritt, appeals the
Circuit Court of Monroe County's December 8, 2017, order
ruling in respondent's favor following a bench trial
concerning a real property conveyance. Respondent William
Brown, by counsel Henry L. Harvey, filed a response.
Petitioner filed a reply. On appeal, petitioner argues that
the circuit court erred in failing to grant her equitable
relief from her real property conveyance to respondent and in
determining that her manufactured home was transferred with
the real property.
Court has considered the parties' briefs and the record
on appeal. The facts and legal arguments are adequately
presented, and the decisional process would not be
significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of
the standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented,
the Court finds no substantial question of law and no
prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision
affirming the circuit court's order is appropriate under
Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.
23, 2011, petitioner conveyed, by general warranty deed, a
tract of land to her son, respondent, reserving a life estate
to herself. Petitioner also conveyed the property on behalf
of her husband, for whom she held power of attorney due to
his declining health. The conveyance was without
consideration, as a gift from a parent to a child. Following
the conveyance, respondent assumed responsibility for the
property taxes and insurance on the property.
to the conveyance of the subject property, petitioner
purchased a manufactured home (the "home") for the
property. Both petitioner and her husband lived in it, but it
was titled exclusively in her name. Also prior to the
conveyance, the home was placed on a cinderblock foundation,
decks were built around it, and the tongue, used for
transporting the home, was removed. Petitioner did not cancel
the certificate of title following the home's placement
on the land or transfer title to respondent.
three years after the conveyance, on October 22, 2014,
petitioner's counsel informed respondent by letter that,
"[i]t is our understanding from [petitioner] that you
had an agreement with her that you would return the property
to her at a later date." Accordingly, respondent was
asked to execute a deed enclosed with the letter conveying
the subject property back to petitioner. Respondent refused
to return the property, and petitioner filed suit asserting
claims for breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good
faith and fair dealing, unjust enrichment, constructive
trust, promissory estoppel, and fraud, and she sought
specific performance of their alleged agreement.
circuit court held a bench trial on October 13, 2016.
Recognizing that no written agreement existed to support her
claims, petitioner admitted at the outset of trial that her
only remedy was in equity: "In particular, the
imposition of a constructive trust is probably the primary
one." Petitioner testified that she conveyed the subject
property to respondent prior to her husband's death
because she believed her husband's children from a prior
marriage would either attempt to assert ownership of the
property following his death or attempt unduly to encourage a
transfer prior to his death. Petitioner testified that
respondent was aware of her motives and they agreed that,
following the settlement of her husband's estate,
respondent would convey the property back to her. Petitioner
further argued that she has three other children and did not
intend to favor respondent over the others by conveying the
property solely to him.
countered that no such agreement existed, and that petitioner
would have had no need to reserve a life estate if there had
been an agreement such as that described by her. In fact,
respondent noted that the deed originally conveying the
property to petitioner and her husband included a right of
survivorship, thereby obviating any need to transfer the
property to respondent for protection. Respondent
further highlighted that petitioner was represented by
counsel at the time of the conveyance to him. Finally,
respondent argued that the home was also conveyed as the deed
specified that all improvements go with the property, and, in
any event, fixtures attached to real property become part of
the real estate.
parties also testified regarding their relationship.
Petitioner stated that she and respondent helped one another
out over the years, but that he helped her "[n]o more
than [she] helped him." Petitioner acknowledged that she
was not coerced into conveying the property to respondent.
Respondent testified that, of petitioner's children, he
was the one to assist her, and that he often had to coax his
siblings to visit petitioner. Respondent also acknowledged
that, throughout the years, both he and petitioner helped one
another as needed.
December 8, 2017, the circuit court entered an order in
respondent's favor. With respect to petitioner's
constructive trust claim, the court recounted this
Court's holding in Kersey v. Kersey:
[W]here one obtains the legal title to property through the
influence of a relation of confidence and trust, under such
circumstances that he ought not in equity and good conscience
to hold and enjoy the same as against the other party to the
relation, equity will impress the property with a trust in
favor of the latter.
76 W.Va. 70, 85 S.E. 22, 25-26 (1915) (citation omitted). But
the court found that "[t]he only evidence presented as
to the circumstances of [the parties'] relationship was
that [they] had a fairly good relationship at the time the
property was transferred."
court further found both parties to be equally credible
concerning whether an oral agreement was formed addressing
the property's return. As a result, petitioner, the
moving party who carried the burden of proof, failed to
establish the existence of any such agreement. The court also
noted other factors tending to militate against the existence
of a constructive trust. Namely, petitioner suggested the
property conveyance and consulted with an attorney to prepare
the deed. Respondent did not encourage petitioner to convey
the property, nor was there evidence that he obtained title
to the property by gaining his mother's trust or
otherwise influencing their relationship. Also, petitioner
reserved a life estate, which would have been unnecessary if
she believed the property was held in trust. She also allowed
respondent to pay taxes and insurance.
the court concluded that, because a cinder block foundation
had been built beneath the home, decks had been constructed
around it, and the tongue had been removed prior to the
conveyance, "[t]here can be no question that the
doublewide mobile home became affixed to and was a part of
the subject ...