Thursday, March 8, 2007

Rodeheaver v. State (Ct. of Spec. Appeals)

Filed March 6, 2007. Opinion by Judge Peter B. Krauser.

John Ellwood Hinebaugh devised a large parcel of land to the Sebolds provided they, among other things, did not alienate their interest in the property and continued to farm it. If they did not comply with the terms and conditions of the devise or disclaimed the devise, the property was to pass, under the Will, to the State of Maryland subject to the same conditions and covenants. The Will did not provide for a reversion should the State not comply with the terms and conditions.

Following the Sebolds disclaiming the devise, the State filed a complaint for declaratory judgment in the Circuit Court for Garrett County requesting the alienation provision of the Will be declared invalid and the farming provision unenforceable. Mr. Sebold, as the executor of the Will, and Shelley Rodeheaver, a residuary beneficiary whose request to intervene was granted, opposed the State’s action. The circuit court then granted the State’s subsequent motion for summary judgment. Rodeheaver acquiesced in the court’s ruling that the alienation provision was invalid but maintained on appeal that the circuit court erred in finding the condition that the property continue to be farmed was unenforceable, and if the State failed to farm the property the property would devolve to her and the other residuary beneficiaries.

In affirming the lower court’s decision, this Court reasoned that although a grantor, under Maryland law, can place conditions and restrictions on the use of the granted property, such conditions and restrictions are disfavored because the law favors the free transfer of land. So disfavored are these conditions that the Court of Appeals has declared that a will shall not be construed to create an estate on condition [subsequent] unless the intent of the grantor to make a conditional estate is otherwise clearly and unequivocally indicated, i.e., the testamentary language purporting to create such a condition must clearly state that the grant is void if the condition is not carried out. Otherwise, the grant merely expresses the grantor’s confidence that the grantee will use the property so far as may be reasonable and practicable to effect the purpose of the grant.

The Will did not include language indicating that, if the State did not comply with the farming provision, the grant to the State would become void and revert to Hinebaugh. Without such language, the property would not revert to the estate even if the original beneficiary failed to comply with the stated condition. Because, under the Will, there can be no reversion to Hinebaugh’s estate even if the State ceased to farm the property, the property cannot devolve, through a reversion, to Rodeheaver and the other residuary beneficiaries, and because there is no one else to whom, under the terms of the will, the property can devolve, the farming provision is unenforceable.

The full opinion is a available in PDF.

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