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Rutledge v. Feher

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

September 5, 2017

LINNIE PRICE RUTLEDGE and husband CHARLES RUTLEDGE, Plaintiffs,
v.
LISA VIELE FEHER, MARSHA VIELE, DAVID VIELE JR., and wife RACHEL VIELE, BEAU SKINNER and wife, JOSEFINA SKINNER, BRIDGETT SKINNER OTERO and husband, JEHIELL OTERO and HELEN VIELE PRICE and husband, GEORGE PRICE, LISA A. ADAMS and husband, CHRISTOPHER ADAMS, PRANTAWAN JUSEE, and BOB J. HOWELL, Successor Trustee of the Dwight A Viele, Sr. Revocable Trust U/A/D July 28, 2010, Defendants.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 24 May 2017.

         Appeal by Defendants David Viele, Jr. and wife, Rachel Viele; Beau Skinner and wife, Josefina Skinner; and Bridgett Skinner Otero from judgment entered 21 September 2016 by Judge Alan Z. Thornburg in Jackson County No. 14 CVS 687 Superior Court.

          McLean Law Firm, P.A., by Russell L. McLean, III, for Defendants-Appellants.

          Scott Taylor, PLLC, by J. Scott Taylor, for Plaintiffs-Appellees.

          MURPHY, Judge.

         This case involves a general warranty deed conveying a life estate to the grantors' children and a future interest to certain of the grantors' grandchildren. One of the grantors' grandchildren, Linnie Price Rutledge, and her husband, brought this action, seeking a declaratory judgment as to their rights and interest in the subject property and an injunction prohibiting Defendants from transferring any ownership interest they have in the property.

         Based on the language of the deed at issue, the trial court concluded that Plaintiff Linnie Price Rutledge and Defendant Lisa Viele Feher both hold a contingent remainder interest in the property. Further, the trial court concluded that the class of grandchildren will not close and cannot be determined until the death of Helen Viele Price, nor can the individuals in which the remainder interest vests be determined until the death of Helen Viele Price.[1] After careful review, we affirm the trial court's decision.

         Background

         C.E. Viele and his wife Margaret Viele (collectively, the "Vieles") owned land in Jackson County (the "Property"). They had four children together: Dwight Allen Viele ("Dwight"), Charles E. Viele, Jr. ("Charles"), [2] Richard E. Viele ("Richard"), and Helen Viele Price ("Ms. Price"). The Vieles also had several grandchildren. Dwight had four children: Dwight Viele, Jr., David Viele, Sr., Terry Viele Skinner, and Lisa Viele Feher ("Lisa").[3] Richard had two children: Debra Viele and Richard Viele, Jr.[4] Ms. Price had one child: Linnie Price Rutledge ("Linnie").

         On 12 October 1983, the Vieles executed a North Carolina General Warranty Deed (the "Deed") to the Property in which they retained a life estate for themselves and conveyed a life estate to their four children as well as a fee simple remainder interest to their grandchildren. In pertinent part, the precise language of the Deed reads:

That [the Vieles] . . . have given, granted, bargained, sold and conveyed and by these presents do hereby give, grant, bargain, sell and convey unto [Dwight, Ms. Price, Charles, and Richard], subject to the exceptions, reservations and restrictions, if any, and together with any rights-of-way, if any, hereinafter state, a life estate, said life estate to continue until the death of the last survivor of the four above-named children; and upon the death of the last of the four above-named children, fee simple title is to vest in our grandchildren, the living issue of the four above-named children, all of that certain piece, parcel or tract of land, situate[d], lying and being in Jackson County, North Carolina, but reserving, however, unto Grantors, a Life Estate in said lands . . . .

(Emphasis added).

         At the time of execution of the Deed, all seven of the named children and grandchildren were alive. According to Appellants' brief, C.E. Viele died in 1987 and Margaret Viele died in 2002.

         Linnie and her husband, Charles Rutledge, (collectively, "Plaintiffs") commenced this action on 24 November 2014, seeking declaratory judgment and injunctive relief. Specifically, Plaintiffs sought a declaration of the parties' respective rights and obligations in the Property pursuant to the Deed, and they contended that "they are the persons with who[m] title vests upon the passing of Helen Viele Price." Accordingly, they requested that the trial court enjoin Defendants from transferring any ownership rights or interest in the Property. At the time, Ms. Price was the only living child of the Vieles, and Linnie and Lisa were their only living grandchildren. David Viele, Jr., Lisa Viele Adams, Beau Skinner, and Bridgett Skinner Otero were living great-grandchildren of the Vieles.

         Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on 18 February 2015, adding several parties not involved in the instant appeal.[5] In March of 2015, Ms. Price conveyed her life estate interest to Linnie. On 15 October 2015, Defendants David Viele, Jr., and his wife, Rachel Viele, Beau Skinner and his wife, Josefina Skinner, and Bridgett Skinner Otero (collectively, "Appellants") and husband, Jehiell Otero, ...


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