Property I, Pages 268–272

Mahrenholz v. County Board of School Trustees of Lawrence County

Appellate Court of Illinois, 1981

Facts:

Huttons executed a warranty deed that conveyed some land to the predecessors of the defendants. The deed provided that "this land to be used for school purpose only; otherwise to revert to Grantors herein." The Huttons then died intestate with their son Harry Hutton as their only heir. The land became the site of Hutton School and defendant succeeded the grantee. Classes were held there until 1973, when students began to be transported to another school and the former Hutton School became used for storage purposes only.

The farm surrounding the school had been transferred to the Jacqmains, who then conveyed it to the plaintiffs. One year after classes stopped being held in the school, plaintiffs filed a complaint to quiet title to the school property in themselves. While this was pending, Harry Hutton conveyed plaintiffs his interest in the Hutton School land.

Procedural History:

Trial court dismissed the complaint.

Issue:

Could plaintiffs have acquired an interest in the school property from the Jacqmains or from Harry Hutton?

Plaintiff's Argument:

The word "only" communicated a fee simple determinable.

Defendant's Argument:

When ambiguous language is used in a deed, Illinois courts have preferred to construe it as a fee simple subject to a condition subsequent.

Rule:

The rights of re-entry for condition broken are neither alienable or devisable, but they are inheritable.

Reasoning:

It implies a mandatory return because it says it is to be used for school purpose "only" and it does not say the grantor "may" re-enter the land.

Holding:

Defendants have a fee simple determinable followed by a possibility of reverter. Reversed and remanded.


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