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Hagaman v. Board of Education of Township of Woodbridge

Decided: December 14, 1971.

CLIFFORD HAGAMAN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE TOWNSHIP OF WOODBRIDGE IN THE COUNTY OF MIDDLESEX, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



Kilkenny, Labrecque and Lane. The opinion of the court was delivered by Lane, J.A.D.

Lane

The complaint seeks possession of real property conveyed by plaintiff's parents to defendant on October 20, 1925. Both parties moved for summary judgment. The trial court, 112 N.J. Super. 221, granted defendant's motion. The judgment that was entered "ORDERED that Summary Judgment be and is hereby granted to the defendant, Board of Education of the Township of Woodbridge dismissing plaintiff's complaint." Plaintiff appeals.

The deed to defendant contained a provision:

It is the understanding of the parties to this conveyance that the hereinabove described land is conveyed solely for the purpose of being used for the erection and maintenance of a public school or schools and that the Board of Education of Woodbridge Township, N.J., will erect a school thereon on or before the school year of 1926 and use such building for school purposes.

From the affidavits and admissions in the pleadings it was uncontroverted that defendant erected a school building on the property and used the property for school purposes until approximately 1968. In that year the school building was closed. The students who formerly would have attended the school began to attend two new schools within the area. At the time of the trial the property in question was used as a recreational park or playground. It was equipped with swings, a sliding board, monkey bars and basketball courts. During the summer it was supervised by a full-time playground supervisor. Organized and supervised play activities were carried on. On March 2, 1971 after the judgment was rendered the school building was destroyed by fire.

Plaintiff argues that the deed expresses a clear and unequivocal intention to convey a fee simple determinable or a fee simple subject to a condition subsequent and that he

is entitled to possession because the property is no longer being used for the maintenance of a public school.

In determining the meaning of a deed, prime consideration is the intent of the parties. Normanoch Association, Inc. v. Baldasanno , 40 N.J. 113, 125 (1963); Baker v. Normanoch Ass'n, Inc. , 25 N.J. 407, 417 (1957); Union Co. Indust. Park v. Union Cty. Park Comm'n , 95 N.J. Super. 448, 452 (App. Div. 1967).

An estate in fee simple determinable is an estate in fee simple which automatically determines upon the occurrence of a given event. The grantor retains a possibility of reverter upon the occurrence of the stated event. Lehigh Valley R.R. Co. v. Chapman , 35 N.J. 177, 182 (1961), cert. den. 368 U.S. 928, 82 S. Ct. 364, 7 L. Ed. 2 d 192 (1961); Oldfield v. Stoeco Homes, Inc. , 26 N.J. 246, 254 (1958); Carpender v. New Brunswick , 135 N.J. Eq. 397, 401 (Ch. 1944); Board of Chosen Freeholders of Cumberland County v. Buck , 79 N.J. Eq. 472, 475 (Ch. 1911); Restatement, Property , § 44 at 121 (1936); 2 Powell, Real Property , § 187 at 44 (1967); 4 Thompson, Real Property , § 1871 at 542 (1961). Generally, the intent to create such an estate is indicated by the use of words denoting duration of time such as "while," "during," "so long as." Lehigh Valley R.R. Co. v. Chapman, supra , 35 N.J. at 183; Oldfield v. Stoeco Homes, Inc., supra , 26 N.J. at 256; Board of Chosen Freeholders of Cumberland County v. Buck, supra , 79 N.J. Eq. at 476; Restatement, Property, supra , § 44, comment l , at 128; 2 Powell, Real Property, supra , § 187 at 45-47; 4 Thompson, Real Property, supra , § 1871 at 549. "The absence of some one of these phraseologies makes it likely that a court will find a covenant, a trust, or some other type of interest less drastic in its sanctions." 2 Powell, Real Property, supra , § 187 at 45-47. See Oldfield v. Stoeco Homes, Inc., supra; Alexander Bldg. Corp. v. Carteret , 31 N.J. 87 (1959); Hewitt v. Camden County , 7 N.J. Misc. 528, 146 A. 881 (Cir. Ct. 1929); Board of Education, West Paterson v. Brophy , 90 N.J. Eq. 57 (Ch. 1919). However,

"* * * particular forms of expression standing alone and without resort to the purpose of the instrument in question are not determinative * * *." Oldfield v. Stoeco Homes, Inc., supra , 26 N.J. at 256. Words of limitation merely stating the purpose for which the land is conveyed usually do not indicate an intent to create an estate in fee simple determinable although other language in the instrument, the amount of the consideration and the circumstances surrounding the conveyance may indicate such an intent. Restatement, Property, supra , § 44, comment m, at 129-130; 2 Powell, Real Property, supra , § 187 at 48-49. When a conveyance contains only a clause of condition or of covenant, such clause does not usually indicate an intent to create a fee simple determinable. Restatement, Property, supra , § 44, comment n, at 130.

An estate in fee simple subject to a condition subsequent is an estate in fee simple which upon the occurrence of a given event gives to the grantor or his successor in interest the right to reenter and terminate the estate. Upon the occurrence of the given event, the forfeiture of the estate is not automatic. Lehigh Valley R.R. Co. v. Chapman, supra , 35 N.J. at 183; Oldfield v. Stoeco Homes, Inc., supra , 26 N.J. at 254-255; Carpender v. New Brunswick, supra , 135 N.J. Eq. at 401; Board of Chosen Freeholders of Cumberland County v. Buck, supra , 79 N.J. Eq. at 475; Restatement, Property, supra , § 45 at 133; 2 Powell, Real Property, supra , § 188 at 54; 4 Thompson, Real Property, supra , § 1874 at 568. The intent to create such an estate may be indicated by the use of such words as "on condition that," "provided that." Lehigh Valley R.R. Co. v. Chapman, supra , 35 N.J. at 183; Oldfield v. Stoeco Homes, Inc., supra , 26 N.J. at 256; Board of Chosen Freeholders of Cumberland County v. Buck, supra ...


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