Ft. Lauderdale, FL, November 5, 2014 — Becker & Poliakoff today announced that it had secured a court victory in a long-running family dispute centering on the ownership of residential property that one family member had attempted to transfer to another family member despite having deeded away the property many years earlier. The case was originally brought in 2011, after the defendant, Norma Lyons, attempted to convey the property to herself and her daughter in derogation of a deed that she executed – in 1993 – conveying the same property to a family trust.
This case presented unique issues rarely addressed by a Florida appellate court, such as whether one spouse can assert the other’s Florida constitutional homestead rights and whether concepts of estoppel prevent a grantor of real estate from later seeking to invalidate his or her own deed.
Ms. Lyons argued that the 1993 deed was null and void because her now-deceased husband had not co-signed that deed in violation of his Florida constitutional homestead rights. Becker & Poliakoff, representing the family trust, argued that Ms. Lyons lacked standing to assert her husband’s homestead rights, which are personal in nature.
On October 29, 2014, the Fourth District Court of Appeal issued an opinion adopting Becker & Poliakoff’s argument and ruling in favor of the family trust. The court found that Ms. Lyons lacked standing to raise her deceased husband’s homestead rights, noting that she was not within the class of persons that Article X, Section 4(c) of the Florida Constitution (the homestead provision at issue) was designed to protect: surviving spouses and minor children. Although her husband predeceased her, she was not considered a “surviving spouse” under that homestead provision because she already owned the property outright at the time of the 1993 transfer by virtue of a separate deed–executed the same day by her husband–transferring his entire interest in the property to her. The court held that to the extent there were any infirmities in the 1993 transfer to the family trust, only the husband could rely on the homestead provisions to invalidate the deed.
The Fourth DCA also focused on Ms. Lyon’s conduct in this matter, pointing to the fact that she was, in essence, seeking to invalidate her own deed. The court emphasized that Article X, Section 4(c) “does not serve to protect Norma from her own actions in transferring her own property.” The court held that it would be “absurd” for the party “who created the alleged infirmities in the quit claim deed to be able to attack the viability of the same quit claim deed.” In other words, as the court explained, “Norma should not be able to attack the same quit claim deed as void ab initio, where she drafted, relied on, and was the sole signatory to it.”
Finding that the lower court had erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Ms. Lyons, the Fourth DCA reversed and remanded for further proceedings.
Becker & Poliakoff shareholders
represented the Lyons family trust in this appeal. Mr. Levine is the Chair of the Firm’s Business Litigation Practice Group. In that capacity, he oversees all of the Firm’s real estate-related litigation. Mr. Wallach, also a member of that group, is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Appellate Practice.
William M. Tuttle II, a solo practitioner in Coral Gables, Florida, represented Norma Lyons and her daughter, Valerie Lyons.