Sparks v. Emmert

Sparks v. Emmert, 2016 MT 43 (Feb. 23, 2016) (McKinnon, J.; McGrath, C.J., concurring) (5-0, rev’d)

Issue: Whether the district court erred in granting summary judgment to Emmert.

Short Answer: Yes.


Facts: Kurt Heigis executed a quitclaim deed conveying his home to Frances Emmert in 2001. According to Emmert, on the day the deed was executed, June 17, 2001, Heigis personally delivered it to Emmert at her home in Reed Point, Montana. He told Emmert to keep it and not record it until something happened to him. Emmert contends that she and Heigis agreed Heigis would continue to live on his property, maintain it and pay all expenses. Emmert stored the deed in her safe.

On Oct. 31, 2001, Heigis executed a mortgage on his property. On Nov. 1, 2007, he executed another mortgage on the property. In August 2010, Heigis requested a survey of his property be done for the purpose of a gift or sale to a family member. The landowner certification on the survey states that about 20 acres were to be transferred to Heigis’s daughter, Joanna Mong. However, the transfer never occurred.

Emmert attempted to return the deed to Heigis in 2003, but he refused.

Heigis was murdered in Costa Rica in 2014. A month later, Emmert recorded the deed. Sparks, Heigis’s daughter and PR of his estate, filed suit to quiet title.

Procedural Posture & Holding: Both parties moved for summary judgment, contending the facts were undisputed but disagreeing on whether the deed was legally delivered. The district court concluded the deed was delivered on June 17, 2001, and granted Emmert summary judgment. Sparks appeals and the Supreme Court reverses.

Reasoning: Substantial evidence in the record supports both conclusions – that the deed was legally delivered in June 2001, and that it was not. Because this is a disputed issue of material fact, the district court erred in granting summary judgment.

Chief Justice McGrath’s Concurrence: The chief justice notes that Montana law allows landowners to transfer property, effective upon the death of the grantor, by executing a beneficiary deed. § 72-6-121, MCA. However, a beneficiary deed must be recorded prior to the grantor’s death. Id. Emmert’s failure to record the deed prior to Heigis’s death invalidates the deed as a beneficiary deed. The district court must therefore determine whether the deed was legally delivered, as held by the majority.