Most Candid Land Title Opinion in History

Law professors teach students that the law is full of gray with very few black or white answers. The most accurate answer to most legal questions is “It depends.”

But that’s not always the case. Senior Judge James Barlow, San Antonio, TX, sent the below land title opinion, reportedly written in 1928 by a title examiner in Prewitt, Texas named Kress Campel for a client named Alex Deanton. (Unfortunately, we have not been able to authenticate this entry. If you have any info on that point one way or another, please send it along).

The examiner’s opinion was sought concerning a title abstract covering “the South 238 plus acres of the Edmundson Survey.”

If only all legal advice were so sure-footed:

Don’t buy the G** D***** land.

It has been my sorrow and burden to look over several horrible examples of a title-examiner’s nightmare, but this alleged title takes the cutglass flyswatter. It is my private belief that you couldn’t cure the defects if you sued everybody from the Spanish Government (who started this mess) on down to the present possessor of the land, who is in there by virtue of a peculiar instrument optimistically designated by the abstractor as a “General Warranty Deed.” …

 [The lawyer then points out that the title defects probably cannot be cured by either limitations or laches.]

We might rely on limitation here except that I am reliably informed that nobody has succeeded in living on this land for a longer period than two years, before dying of malnutrition. Laches might help out, but anybody who undertakes to buy land under a title acquired by laches is (to paraphrase Mark Twain) setting out like the man who set out to carry the cat home by the tail–he is going to acquire experience that will be of great value to him and never grow dim or doubtful.

This land has been sold for taxes eight times in the last 40 years. Nobody has ever redeemed one of these tax sales–glad to be rid of it, no doubt. The last purchaser sued the tax collector a month after he bought it for cancellation of the sale for fraud and misrepresentation. He doubtless had grounds, but the incident will give you a rough idea of what kind of muzzle-loading smooth-bores have been fritzing with the title.

The next and most serious defect is a “quit-claim deed containing a general warranty” executed by Ellis Gretzberg (who just appears suddenly out of no where) in the chain of title to one Peter (Prolific) Perkinston. Unfortunately, Perkinston died, leaving two wives and 17 children, the legitimacy of two of them being severely contested. Fortunately, a shooting match between the two sets of claimants assisted the title slightly by reducing the original number to six and substituting eleven sets of descendants.

[He then takes up the deed held by the prospective vendor to his client.]

It is executed by a fair majority of one set of the offspring of Peter (Prolific) Perkinston, and is acknowledged in a manner sufficient to pass a County Clerk with his fee prepaid. Outside of the fact that it doesn’t exactly describe the property under search, the habendum clause is to the grantors, the covenant of general warranty doesn’t warrant a thing and it is acknowledged before it is dated, I suppose it is all right.

I would advise you to keep the abstracts, if you can. They are a speaking testimonial to the result of notaries public drawing instruments, county clerks who would put a menu on record if a fee was tendered, and jacklegged jugheads posing as lawyers.

You can buy the land if you so desire. There are 573 people who can give you as good a title as your prospective vendor has, not counting the heirs of the illegitimate son of Prather Linkon who died in the penitentiary in 1889 while serving a term for sodomy.

If this is authentic, it’s an all-time classic of funny legal writing. If it’s not, it’s not as great, but still amusing.

— Thanks to Judge James Barlow, Senior District Judge, San Antonio, Texas.

2 comments to Most Candid Land Title Opinion in History

  • Chad Henson

    I came across this several years ago in Prosser’s 1952 book _The Judicial Humorist_. It includes some additional text.

  • Simon

    I came across a title opinion like this almost word for word written on Dec 11, 1980 by a John H Minton who worked for a law firm named Potter, Guinn, Mintion, Roberts & Ireland to a Mr. John Coalter who worked for Chevron USA for a piece of land northwest of Jefferson in Marion County, TX.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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