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Stevens v. Wilson

OPINION FILED AUGUST 5, 1980.

WINIFRED I. STEVENS, INDIV. AND AS ADM'R OF THE ESTATE OF THEODORE H. STEVENS, DECEASED, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS AND COUNTERDEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS,

v.

ROSS WILSON ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND COUNTERPLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Marion County; the Hon. RONALD A. NIEMANN, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE KARNS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Winifred Stevens, individually and as administrator of the estate of her deceased husband, T.H. Stevens, and their children, brought this action in the Circuit Court of Marion County to remove as a cloud on their title and to declare forfeited for nonpayment by the defendant purchasers, Ross and Lenora Wilson, an installment contract for the sale of certain real property owned by plaintiffs. The complaint also prayed that plaintiffs be allowed to retain certain payments made by defendants as liquidated damages. Plaintiffs appeal from the judgment in favor of defendants on their counterclaim allowing rescission of the contract and damages.

The property to be sold was described in the contract as follows:

"Lots 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 24, the North 80 feet of Lots 37, 38, 39 and the West Half of Lot 48, Lots 67, 68, 72, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 89, 90 and 101, all situated in Lake Forest Subdivision, commonly known as `Hubbard's Woods', Section 19, Town 1 North, Range 2 East of the Third Principal Meridian, Marion County, Illinois, together with all of Sellers' right, title and interest in and to said Lake Forest Subdivision, including roads, streets, lake dam and easements and any and all right, title and interest in and to the use of same and any of the improvements, and appurtenances thereunto belonging, said Lake Forest Subdivision being that laid out by D.M. Hubbard and Stella Hubbard, his wife, and surveyed and platted by Tony C. Pitchford as evidenced by said Surveyor's Certificate dated May 15, 1940, on a part of the South Half of the Northeast Quarter of Section 19, Township 1 North, Range 2 East of the Third Principal Meridian, situated in the County of Marion, State of Illinois; ALSO part of the Southwest Quarter of the Northeast Quarter of Section 19, Town 1 North, Range 2 East of the Third Principal Meridian, Marion County, Illinois, containing 15 acres, more or less; ALSO part of the Southeast Quarter of the Northeast Quarter of Section 19, Town 1 North, Range 2 East of the Third Principal Meridian, Marion County, Illinois, containing 30 acres, more or less, saving, excepting and reserving unto the Sellers an undivided one-half interest in and to all the coal, oil, gas and other minerals underlying all of the above real estate."

The contract was dated April 28, 1972. It provided that "* * * if the Purchasers shall first make the payments and perform the covenants hereinafter mentioned * * *," the sellers would convey the described property. The contract as typed provided for conveyance by quitclaim deed, but the words "Quit Claim" are struck through, with the words "Warranty Except Lots" written above. The contract set a purchase price of $14,000 to be paid by a downpayment of $4000 and four annual installments of $2500, the first of these installments being due April 4, 1973. The buyers were also required to pay all taxes and assessments subsequent to 1971.

The purchasers made the $4000 downpayment before the date of the contract and paid an additional $300 on or about September 1, 1972, but failed to make any further payments. They failed to pay the taxes for 1972 and subsequent years. Prior to the filing of the plaintiff's complaint on July 25, 1977, Lenora Wilson transferred all her interest in the contract to Ross Wilson, and they were divorced.

It is undisputed that the purchaser failed to perform his obligations under the contract beyond making the downpayment. However, in an amended counterclaim seeking rescission of the contract he asserted that the description of the 15 acres in the Southwest Quarter of the Northeast Quarter of Section 19, and the 30 acres located in the Southeast Quarter of the Northeast Quarter of Section 19, are so vague and uncertain as to render the contract invalid.

Apparently, the court agreed, stating in its decree that "[t]he Contract for Deed is patently ambiguous with respect to the description of the premises to be conveyed and the description is so uncertain and indefinite as to render the contract void and unenforceable and to make it impossible for the Sellers under the Contract to convey merchantable title to the Purchasers." Also, the court granted the purchaser's counterclaim to recover the $4300 he paid under the contract and $4417.68 he expended in his efforts to improve the property. Finally, the court ordered the purchaser to execute and deliver to the plaintiffs a quitclaim deed or other recordable instrument to remove the contract as a cloud on title.

• 1, 2 The sellers bring this appeal contending that the evidence at trial positively identified the described property. We agree that the following passage from Ashline v. Verble (1977), 55 Ill. App.3d 282, 284, 370 N.E.2d 613, 615, states the controlling principles for determining the sufficiency of the legal description:

"When an uncertainty as to the description of the land exists, the rule that the intention of the parties will determine the effect of a deed applies equally to the description of the property, and extrinsic evidence may be used to determine the parties' intentions. (Brenneman v. Dillon (1920), 296 Ill. 140, 129 N.E. 564.) Or, to state the rule somewhat differently, an instrument will not be rendered ineffective for uncertainty of the premises to which it relates if by the aid of extrinsic evidence it can be made certain and the property located. In re Frayser's Estate (1948), 401 Ill. 364, 82 N.E.2d 633.

It has been held that to satisfy the requirement of certainty in a real estate contract, `that is certain which can be made certain.' (Guyer v. Warren (1898), 175 Ill. 328, 51 N.E. 580.) And, with regard to certainty, it is not necessary in contracts for the sale of real estate that the land should be so described as to admit of no doubt as to what it is. Callaghan v. Miller (1959), 17 Ill.2d 595, 162 N.E.2d 422; Hendrick v. Donovan (1911), 248 Ill. 479, 94 N.E. 144."

For example, Guyer v. Warren held that a contract for the sale of "[o]ur farm in Le Claire's reserve, Rock Island county, and consisting of eighty-three and 31-100 acres, more or less" was not void for uncertainty, where it could be shown with certainty what lands the sellers owned within the reserve and county named. In Werling v. Grosse (1979), 76 Ill. App.3d 834, 395 N.E.2d 629, we held that a description of property as "my farm" was sufficient where the inventory in the seller's estate listed only the property in question and it was stipulated that the seller had owned only one farm.

The purchaser contends that the instant description was "patently ambiguous" with respect to the 15- and 30-acre parcels and that extrinsic evidence is not permissible to cure patently defective descriptions. It is true that language in some cases appears to support the contention that the patent ambiguity rule applies not only in determining whether a real estate contract is specifically enforceable, but also in determining whether a contract exists. (See, e.g., Hogan v. Orr (1930), 341 Ill. 58, 173 N.E. 162; Weber v. Adler (1924), 311 Ill. 547, 143 N.E. 95.) However, the purchaser has cited no case in which the patent ambiguity rule is applied to hold a contract for the sale of real estate void for uncertainty, entirely apart from the question of specific enforceability. We believe that the correct approach in determining whether a description is sufficient to support the existence of a contract was expressed in Guyer v. Warren and Ashline v. Verble, and that the patent ambiguity rule, insofar as it applies to real estate sale contracts, relates to the issue of whether the contract is sufficiently definite in its terms to allow specific performance, rather than to the more limited question of whether a contract exists. To entitle a party to specific performance it is not enough to show that a contract exists; the contract must be so definite and certain in all its terms that the court can require the specific thing contracted for to be done. (Kopprasch v. Satter (1928), 331 Ill. 126, 162 N.E. 141.) The present inquiry is limited to the issue of whether a contract existed, and it is therefore proper under the authorities discussed previously to review the extrinsic evidence of whether the property described could be ascertained.

The records in the estates of D.M. Hubbard, Stella Hubbard, and T.H. Stevens showed that title had passed to T.H. Stevens under a description similar to that in the contract. A title abstract prepared shortly before trial shows that in 1936, D.M. Hubbard owned the entire south half of the quarter section involved and that the Hubbards conveyed various parcels from this land and platted Lake Forest Subdivision on a part thereof. A reading of the abstract supports the sellers' position that the 15- and 30-acre parcels described in the contract consist of all the land in the south half of the quarter section except Lake Forest Subdivision and six parcels conveyed by the Hubbards. Based on his estimation of the area of the ...


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