Scribner v. Wineinger, No. 02-19-00208-CV, 2019 Tex. App. LEXIS 9170 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth Oct. 17, 2019, no pet.)
In this leasehold adverse possession case, the Fort Worth Court of Appeals held that an acknowledgement of the record title holder’s title by an adverse possessor will not defeat an adverse possession claim if the limitations clock had already run out before the acknowledgement occurred. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the oil and gas company on their affirmative defense of adverse possession and limitations title under the five-year statute.
Scribner’s father owned the leasehold interest under an oil and gas lease in Archer County, Texas. In 1999, Scribner’s father assigned all the working interest to Scribner by virtue of an assignment and bill of sale that was filed of record. When Scribner’s father died, the executor of his estate executed an assignment to an oil and gas company, but did not obtain Scribner’s signature. In fact, Scribner was not even aware of the assignment to him until 2016.
Meanwhile, beginning at least in 2010, Parra and its predecessors (who obtained an assignment from the executor following the death of Scribner’s father) operated the lease, received revenue, and paid all taxes. This competing chain of title was reflected in assignments that were also recorded in Archer County.
In June of 2016, an attorney representing Parra discovered the 2002 Assignment, and asked Scribner to execute an assignment in favor of Parra to cure the cloud on title. One of the owners of Parra worked with Scribner’s wife and also sent her a draft assignment and asked her to have Scribner sign it.
Schribner filed suit asserting claims for trespass to try title, and the appellees responded by asserting the affirmative defense of perfection of title by adverse possession under the five-year statute of limitations (section 16.025 of the Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code).
Schribner argued that, when appellees contacted Scribner regarding execution of the proposed assignment, those contacts constituted an acknowledgment of title that precluded any limitations from running in appellees’ favor as a matter of law, and was evidence showing that any possession by appellees was not adverse.
The appellate court held that any acknowledgement of title in 2016 did not preclude limitations from running in favor of the appellees. The court stated that “an acknowledgment of title precludes limitations from running in favor of an adverse-possession claimant only if it occurs before limitation title is completed.” Here, the five-year limitations period ran from April of 2010 through April of 2015, and all of Scribner’s alleged evidence of an “acknowledgment of title” occurred in the summer of 2016. “Accordingly, assuming without deciding that the three contacts at issue constitute “acknowledgements of title” in Scribner, we conclude as a matter of law that they did not preclude limitations from running in favor of Appellees’ predecessors in title.”
The court also held that any acknowledgement of title in 2016 did not create a genuine issue of material fact on whether the possession by the appellees was adverse to Scribner during the statutory time period. The court acknowledged that, “a possessor’s acknowledgement of title in another after the limitation period may tend to show that the possession was not adverse.” Here, however, there was no evidence that the attorney or the owner that contacted Scribner and Scribner’s wife had any affiliation with the lessees who possessed the leasehold interest between April 2010 and April 2015.
The court also rejected Scribner’s argument that appellees’ claim was defeated because they had knowledge of the break in the chain of title. As the court explained, knowledge of a possible break in the chain of title through Scribner might prompt an investigation into the property’s title, but that knowledge is not evidence that the appellees would disavow the title to the property that was cured by their predecessors. “Scribner is again relying upon events that occurred too late to be of help to him.”
As a result, the appellate court determined that the trial court properly quieted title in Parra, decreed that it was the owner of the property, and ordered that Scribner take nothing on any causes of action that relied on his claim of title.