When a man died in Lee County without leaving a will, two Sumter County properties that were part of a land deal became part of a real estate dispute.
Here is a summary of the case provided by the Supreme Court-
ANSLEY V. RACZKA-LONG (S13A0488)
A woman is appealing a Sumter County judge's ruling that awarded two properties in Americus, GA to a widow that the woman claims are hers.
FACTS: Annemarie Raczka-Long was married to Andrew Charles Long, and while she filed for divorce in 2009, she was still married to him when he died in 2011. Rose Ansley was a real estate agent and investor who owned two properties in Americus at 149 Pearl Drive and 151 Pearl Drive, which she was interested in developing.
In September 2010, Andrew Long approached Ansley about purchasing one of the lots and building a house on it. Ansley deeded the lots to Long. According to Ansley, Long needed additional assets to secure a construction loan and she agreed to help him. She claims affidavits show that her intention in deeding the properties to Long was solely for the purpose of aiding him in obtaining financing and that he promised to deed both lots back to her if he failed.
According to Long's widow, however, Long legally purchased the properties at 149 and 151 Pearl Drive for $15,000 each from Ansley via warranty deeds. She claims that two promissory notes associated with the transaction do not mention any condition requiring Long to deed the properties back to Ansley.
In 2010, Long listed the property at 149 Pearl Drive with a realtor, apparently intending to sell it. Soon after, Long died "intestate" – without a will – while living in Lee County. Following his death, Long's girlfriend signed Long's name to two quitclaim deeds that purportedly conveyed the properties back to Ansley, dating them prior to Long's death. In March 2011, Long's widow filed a petition in the Lee County Probate Court asking that her husband's two properties be set aside to her as a "year's support." (When an individual is survived by a spouse or children, the survivors are entitled to an allowance from the estate, called a "year's support," to help in their expenses. That property takes priority over any debts to be paid by the estate.)
The probate court appointed a temporary administrator of Long's estate, and he subsequently filed in Sumter County Superior Court a petition to cancel the two quitclaim deeds on the ground they were forged. Long's widow, Annemarie Raczka-Long, was later substituted as the petitioner. Ansley responded, claiming there were competing claims of title to the properties. In October 2012, the Sumter County judge awarded the properties to Raczka-Long. Ansley now appeals to the state Supreme Court.
ARGUMENTS: Ansley's attorney argues the trial court erred by relying entirely on two promissory notes in finding a lack of intent on Long's part to transfer title of the properties back to Ansley. "There were a number of affidavits setting forth in full the intention of the parties and their agreement that title would be reconveyed by the husband back to Appellant," the attorney argues in briefs. The Sumter County Superior Court committed error by conducting a review of the Lee County Probate Court's award of a year's support to Raczka-Long, when it had no authority to review a decision by another county's court. Furthermore, because Ansley never received any notice of the year's support proceeding in Lee County, as required under state law, she never had the opportunity to object. The award of the properties as a year's support to Raczka-Long was not a determination of title, because the probate court does not have authority to determine title.
The trial court also erred by awarding "summary judgment" to Raczka-Long when the facts were in dispute. A court only grants summary judgment when it determines there is no need for a jury trial because the facts are undisputed and the law falls squarely on the side of one of the parties. "The undisputed testimony contained in the affidavits shows the terms of the agreement" and Long's intent to deed the properties back to Ansley if he failed to get financing. "There is evidence that Mr. Long never provided any compensation for the properties at issue, and thus the award of these properties unjustly enriches the Appellee," Ansley's attorney argues. "Intent is a question for the jury and not an appropriate issue to be decided on summary judgment."
Raczka-Long's attorney argues Ansley was not entitled to notice of Long's petition for a year's support because Ansley had no title to the properties. Rather, title belonged to the administrator of her husband's estate. Nevertheless, Ansley did receive notice of the petition for year's support when she was served with the petition asking the court to cancel the two fraudulent quitclaim deeds. The trial court correctly determined there were no issues of material fact that needed to be brought before a jury. There was no evidence of an oral promise Long supposedly made to deed the properties back to Ansley. Long had record title to the properties without any restrictions. And the two admittedly forged deeds Ansley relied on were rightly canceled. "For all legal purposes, those deeds never existed," the attorney argues in briefs.
Furthermore, "the alleged oral contract was barred by the Statute of Frauds. Contracts for the sale of land are unenforceable unless they are in writing and signed by the party to be charged with their performance." Neither the deeds nor the promissory notes make any reference to Long's alleged oral promise to Ansley to deed the property back to her in the event he failed to procure financing.
In fact, he apparently intended to sell one of the properties since he listed it for sale with a realtor a little over a week before his death, Raczka-Long's attorney contends.
Attorney for Appellant (Ansley): W. Edward Meeks, Jr.
Attorney for Appellee (Raczka-Long): Alexander Hart