Mahrenholz v. County Board School of Trustees


March 1941 – W.E. and Jenny Hutton executed a warranty deed conveying 1.5 acres out of a total of 40 to the defendant’s predecessors, “this land to be used for school purposes only; otherwise reverted to grantors herein.”

July 1941 – Huttons conveyed remainder 38.5 acres to Jacqmains and the reverting interest in the land held by the school.

October 9, 1959 – Jacmains converted deed to plaintiffs for 38.5 acres of land and the revisionary interest in the land.

May 7th, 1977 – Harry conveyed interest to the Hutton school 1.5 acres.

Sept 6th – Disclaimed interest in the land, gave all rights back to board of trustees – got rid of reverter status.

Sept 7th – Filed papers.

Both Huttons died intestate, and only heir was Harry Hutton.

1973 – Board started using the school only for storage.

Defendants argue:

  • The deed conveyed a fee simple subject to a condition subsequent followed by a right of re-entry for condition broken.
  • Where ambiguous language is used, courts prefer to construe language as condition subsequent, and determinable.

Plaintiffs argue:

  • The deed conveyed a fee simple determinable followed by a possibility of a reverter.
  • Word “only” should be viewed as a limitation, rather than a condition.


Could the plaintiffs have acquired a future interest in the 1.5 acres of land from Harry Hutton? (Construction of this deed lays upon what the 1941 original deed and how it is interpreted.)




Upon a grant of exclusive use (“only for school purposes”) followed by an expressed condition for reverter (otherwise reverted to grantors, and didn’t use the words may, or maybe), for when that use ceases, courts and commentators have agreed that it creates a fee simple determinable, not condition subsequent.

Court reasoning

  • Defeasible fee simple estate
  • Interest cannot be transferred by will or inter vivos gift. Must be predicated upon a condition that is broken.
  • Fee simple condition subsequent v. fee simple determinable – in both cases grantor and heirs retain an interest in the property – big difference however for the plaintiffs.
  • If grantor had a possibility of reverter he or his heirs become owners of the land as soon as the condition is broken, by operation of law.
  • If grantor had a right of re-entry for a condition broken, he or his heirs become owners of the property only after they act to retake the property itself.
  • In 1977 – if Harry only had a right of re-entry, and did not act on this right, then, conveying this “right” of re-entry is not allowed if he in fact did not act on this right. However – if he had a possibility of reverter, he already owned the property as by operation of law concepts.

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