In County of Solano v. Handlery, (— Cal.Rptr.3d —, 2007 WL 2744919, 07 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 11,509, Cal.App. 1 Dist., Sept. 21, 2007), a California Court of Appeal considered a dispute between a county and the heir of individuals who donated property to the county in 1946, with the condition that the property be used as a county fair or exposition site.
The court reversed a trial court’s summary judgment in favor of the county, that the 1946 restrictions on the county are now unenforceable, ruling instead that triable issues of fact exist regarding the parties’ interests, rights and obligations with respect to the property.
In 1946, Rose and Harry Handlery donated property in Vallejo to the County of Solano (“County”). The deed specified that the property was to be used as “a county fair or exposition and purposes incident thereto, which may include but not necessarily be limited to a public park, playground, and/or recreational area.” The deed provided that if the County breached those terms, the property would revert to the Handlerys or their heirs. A second deed, in 1947, contained similar restrictions but omitted the language about reversion. In 1947, the County adopted a resolution accepting the property “as a gift for a county fair site, and other uses, as in said quitclaim deed set forth.” A county fair facility was developed at the site. Harry and Rose Handlery died in 1965 and 1970, respectively.
In June 2003, the County wrote a letter to Paul Handlery, the Handlerys’ son and sole heir, discussing a “new vision” for the property, involving the renovation and reconstruction of fair facilities, and stating the County’s opinion that any reversionary interest Handlery’s family may have held under the 1946 deed had expired. The County asked Handlery to clear the property’s title by executing a grant or quitclaim deed. Handlery declined.
In June 2004 the County filed suit, seeking a judicial determination that it was the sole owner of the property, and that Handlery no longer possessed any interest. A trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the County, and Handlery appealed.
Under conditions similar to these, the court said, “California courts have been loathe to cast aside use restrictions on property contained in deeds.” Citing several case precedents, the court added, “It is well settled that where a grant deed is for a specified, limited and definite purpose, the subject of the grant cannot be used for another and different purpose.”
The court rejected the County’s contention that the conditions it agreed to in 1947 were mere “personal covenants” with Rose and Harry Handlery that expired upon their deaths. The terms the County expressly agreed to at that time contained no clause providing for the expiration of the terms at a certain date or occurrence, such as the deaths of the original parties. As the Handlerys’ successor-in-interest, Paul Handlery had standing to seek to enforce the restrictions. The court further stated that even if the County were correct in its assertion that it owned the property outright, a triable issue remains whether the County, in accepting the terms of the 1947 deed, assumed a trust-like obligation not to divert the property from its dedicated purpose.
Therefore, the court concluded that “triable issues of material fact exist regarding the parties’ interests, rights and obligations” with respect to the property. The order granting summary judgment for the County was reversed.