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Brand v. Paul

Court of Appeals of Utah

October 26, 2017

Scott M. Brand and April G. Brand, Appellants,
v.
Amy S. Paul, Appellee.

         Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Robert P. Faust No. 140908751

          Vincent C. Rampton, Attorney for Appellants

          Matthew M. Boley and William G. Garbina, Attorneys for Appellee

          Judge Jill M. Pohlman authored this Opinion, in which Judges Kate A. Toomey and David N. Mortensen concurred.

          OPINION

          POHLMAN, Judge

         ¶1 This case involves a dispute between neighbors, in which both sides claim ownership of a strip of land that adjoins their respective properties (the subject property). Each side pursued a quiet title action against the other, and the district court granted summary judgment in favor of Amy S. Paul, the trustee of the Amy S. Paul Trust (the Trust), concluding that the Trust had acquired all right, title, and interest in, as well as marketable title to, the subject property. Scott M. Brand and April G. Brand appeal. We affirm in part and dismiss the remainder of the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

         ¶2 Before the district court, and on appeal, both parties claimed that the subject property was at one time part of a larger parcel of land owned by Mary Judge. Both parties also claimed that ownership of that larger parcel, including the subject property, subsequently passed to Judge's five children, who divided the parcel among themselves. But the parties disagreed as to whether the subject property was included in a conveyance to one of the children, Frances Woodward, or whether the children left the subject property undivided.

         ¶3 The Trust moved for summary judgment, asserting that the subject property had been conveyed to Frances Woodward and that, through a chain of subsequent conveyances, title now rests in the Trust. In response, the Brands asserted that (1) the subject property had not been conveyed to Frances Woodward but had been left undivided, (2) the Trust did not obtain title to the subject property through its chain of subsequent conveyances, and (3) the Brands had obtained title to the subject property through a quitclaim deed from Andrew Woodward, who the Brands asserted was a descendant of Frances Woodward, and had allegedly conveyed all of his right, title, and interest in and to the subject property to the Brands.[1]

          ¶4 During the hearing on the motion for summary judgment, the Trust asserted that the Brands had no basis for challenging the Trust's title to the subject property, for while the Trust had, at a minimum, "colorable title, " the Brands had "nothing except for a deed that is not enforceable as a matter of law . . . from someone who may or may not be a[n] . . . heir of one of the . . . children" and who "did not have title[, ] [b]ecause no title was passed to him under a will, trust, or decree of distribution." The Trust further claimed that there was "no chain" linking the Brands' alleged heir to ownership of the subject property, which the Brands asserted had remained undivided among the five Judge children.

         ¶5 The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Trust, concluding that the subject property had been conveyed to Frances Woodward and, through a chain of subsequent conveyances, the Trust had acquired all right, title, and interest in, as well as marketable title to, the subject property. With respect to the Brands' claim of ownership, which was premised on the quitclaim deed obtained from Andrew Woodward, the district court concluded that (1) "the subject property had already been transferred from [Frances Woodward] to [another entity], and therefore, [Frances Woodward] would not have [had the] property in her estate and thus any decedent . . . would not have obtained the property in question"; and (2) "[f]urther, there is no evidence the property was in the estate of Frances Woodward at the time of her death."

         ¶6 On appeal, as in the district court, the Trust asserts that the Brands have no basis for challenging its title to the subject property. Specifically, the Trust asserts that the Brands' "quitclaim deed from Andrew Woodward, without more, fails to give them standing" to challenge the Trust's property interest. The Brands contend they have standing because they claim an interest in the subject property and, had the case progressed to trial, they would have established that interest. But the Brands also acknowledge that they still "needed to trace passage of title through the estates of Mary Judge's heirs to see if either legal or equitable title had devolved upon their grantor through the process of descent and distribution." (Emphasis added.) The Brands also assert, erroneously, that the district court ruled solely on the Trust's claim of ownership, without "making any determination of [the] Brands' title under the estate of Mary Judge, " despite the district court's conclusion that there was "no evidence the [subject] property was in the estate of Frances Woodward at the time of her death" and that title to the subject property could thus have passed to any of her descendants.

         ¶7 "Since standing is a jurisdictional requirement, we first must determine whether" the Brands have standing to pursue on appeal their challenge to the district court's determination that title rests in the Trust. See Gregory v. Shurtleff, 2013 UT 18, ¶ 9, 299 P.3d 1098. The Brands carry the burden of showing their standing to appeal: "[W]hen a party's standing to appeal is challenged, that party carries the burden to show that he has standing to invoke the court's jurisdiction." Kemp v. Wells Fargo Bank, NA, 2013 UT App 88, ¶ 8, 301 P.3d 23. An appellant whose standing is challenged must show not only that "he or she had standing under the traditional test in the original proceeding before the district court, " but also "generally must show both that he or she was a party or privy to the action below and that he or she is aggrieved by that court's judgment." Chen v. Stewart, 2005 UT 68, ¶ 50, 123 P.3d 416 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         ¶8 Citing Campbell v. Union Savings & Investment Co., 226 P. 190 (Utah 1924), the Trust asserts that when an appeal challenges an adjudication of title to real property, the appellant must demonstrate an interest in the property at issue. In Campbell, the Utah Supreme Court stated that if "the defendant has shown no right to or interest in the premises, . . . how can it be heard to complain that the court erred in adjudging plaintiff to be the owner as against the defendant? Certainly plaintiff's title, however defective it may be, is nevertheless ample to withstand" the defendant's challenge in those circumstances. Id. at 193; see also Pender v. Bird, 224 P.2d 1057, 1060 (Utah 1950) (concluding that "the plaintiff's connection with the record title was through a deed which conveyed nothing, " and therefore the plaintiff "had no standing in court to object to a decree quieting defendants' title against him, " and likewise "ha[d] no standing in this court to attack the decree, since he proved no title in the court below").

         ¶9 The Trust thus asserts that, under Utah law, "[w]hen a party has failed to show any legally cognizable interest [in] the subject property, [it] cannot contest [on appeal] the title of another party." Applying this principle, the Trust contends that, given the Brands' "concession that the Subject Property does not fall within their chain of title and their failure to present any admissible evidence to the court below of any interest on the part of ...


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