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Posted by: Chandra Williams on Feb 1, 2016

Court: TN Court of Appeals

Attorneys 1:

Irene R. Haude, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Robert C. Tatum.

Attorneys 2: Kirk Vandivort and Andrew E. Ellis, Dickson, Tennessee, for the appellee, Regina K. Deal.

Judge(s): CLEMENT

At issue is the ownership of real property. Plaintiff and Defendant divorced in 2001. In February 2005, they purchased a home as “tenants in common with right of survivorship.” Seven months later, in September 2005, Defendant transferred his interest in the property to Plaintiff by quitclaim deed. In March 2009, Plaintiff quitclaimed her interest in the property to Defendant. Neither quitclaim deed was recorded until a dispute arose in September 2014 following which Plaintiff commenced this action to set aside the 2009 quitclaim deed based on fraud. Plaintiff contends Defendant fraudulently induced her into conveying the property by assuring her that he would refinance the property and give Plaintiff her share of the equity within one year. Defendant insists he purchased the property outright for $9,000, a payment Plaintiff admits receiving. At trial, Defendant objected to evidence of a purported oral agreement based on the statute of frauds. The trial court ruled the defense had been waived and that evidence of an oral agreement was admissible based on equitable estoppel, an exception to the statute of frauds. At the conclusion of the trial, the court ordered that Plaintiff’s name be put back on the deed so that “both of you . . . own the property together.” Both parties appeal. The trial court summarized the testimony of the witnesses and discussed some relevant legal principles; however, it made few findings of fact, and the findings of fact and conclusions of law identified by the trial court fail to disclose the steps by which the trial court reached its decision. Although, we do not have a clear understanding of the basis for the trial court’s decision, it appears that the trial court’s ruling was based on equitable estoppel, which is significant because equitable estoppel is not a basis for affirmative relief. Because equitable estoppel is not a basis for the relief granted and the trial court did not make sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law as required by Tenn. R. Civ. P. 52.01, we vacate the judgment and remand for the trial court to make findings of fact that include as much of the subsidiary facts as is necessary to disclose the steps by which the trial court reached its ultimate conclusion on each factual issue.