On appeal from the Superior Court, Chancery Division, Burlington County.
Michels, Pressler and Bilder. The opinion of the court was delivered by Pressler, J.A.D.
The parties to this action, two competing groups of land speculators, each claim title to a 429-acre tract of land in Burlington County. There being no genuine issue of material fact, each moved for summary judgment quieting its respective title. Plaintiffs appeal from the trial judge's denial of its motion and grant of defendants.
Each of the competing chains of title here derives from a common grantor, The Asbury Company. Insofar as the record shows The Asbury Company sometime prior to February 1913 acquired title to two large tracts of land in Burlington County. One such tract had apparently been conveyed to it by J. Randolph Appleby, The Asbury Company's president, Appleby having acquired the tract from Walter and Elizabeth Pharo in 1900. The other tract had been conveyed to it by the Appleby & Wood Company which had acquired it in 1899 from Andrew and Mary Bogert and Cornelius Christy. All of these referred-to conveyances which resulted in The Asbury Company's title were duly recorded.
On February 12, 1913 The Asbury Company by quitclaim deed conveyed both of the tracts, described by back title recitations, to Appleby Estates, another company of which J. Randolph Appleby was president. This deed was recorded on February 18, 1913, six days later. On February 15 of the same year, The Asbury Company conveyed to one Robert E. Taylor for a stated consideration of $825 a 429-acre portion of the Pharo tract, particularly described by metes and bounds. That deed, a bargain and sale deed, containing no back title recitations, was not recorded until April 25, 1913. Plaintiffs claim through The Asbury Company-Appleby
Estates chain. Defendants claim through The Asbury Company-Robert E. Taylor chain.
The next recorded instrument in The Asbury Company-Appleby Estates chain is a deed back from Appleby Estates to The Asbury Company dated January 7, 1924. This deed conveys to The Asbury Company, together with other tracts, the two tracts The Asbury Company had conveyed to it 11 years before described by the original back title recitations. The 1924 deed back, however, purported to except from the Pharo tract some 19 separate parcels purportedly theretofore conveyed out by Appleby Estates, each such parcel described only as an amount of acreage to a named grantee. The reconveyance by Appleby Estates to The Asbury Company of the Bogert tract was subject to three such exceptions. One of the Pharo tract exceptions is described simply as "429 Acres to Robert E. Taylor." No recording information, back title information, metes and bounds description, or indeed any other identification of the purported exception is stated. There was, of course, no conveyance at all by Appleby Estates to Taylor. The 1913 conveyance to Taylor had been by The Asbury Company.
The recent history of the Appleby Estates chain commenced in 1966 with the first recorded conveyance in that chain since the 1924 deed. On August 15, 1966 Appleby Estates and Appleby & Wood Company, by their surviving director and trustee in dissolution, joined with The Asbury Company as grantors in a quitclaim deed conveying to the Anthony J. DelTufo Agency, Inc. "all of the real property owned by the grantors herein wherever situate within the boundaries of the County of Burlington in the State of New Jersey." The title, if any, thus obtained by Anthony J. DelTufo Agency, Inc. was acquired by plaintiff by mesne conveyances.
The history of the Taylor chain is characterized essentially by similar recent activity. In 1932 Taylor conveyed by recorded deed to one Ruth McCrea. In 1963 Ruth McCrea
conveyed to the Kupire Corp. defendants grantor, who conveyed to defendants in 1973.*fn1
Based on this factual complex, all a matter of title record in Burlington County, the trial judge concluded that the Taylor chain was superior to the Appleby Estates chain. His first basis for this conclusion was that Taylor, having taken title prior to the recording of the Appleby Estates deed, was entitled to rely on there having been no intervening conveyance. He also concluded that it was the presumed intention of The Asbury Company to have excepted from the conveyance to Appleby Estates that portion of the Pharo tract which it apparently had already planned to convey to Taylor and which it did so convey three days later. In our view the judge erred with respect to both of these grounds by misapplying the provisions of the recording statutes of this State and the public policy consideration underlying them. For the reasons hereafter set forth, we have no doubt ...