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Posted by: Tanja Trezise on Apr 19, 2017

Head Comment: With dissenting opinion.

Court: TN Supreme Court

Attorneys 1:

Leroy Johnston Ellis, IV, Old Hickory, Tennessee, for the Defendant/Appellant Darryl F. Bryant, Jr.

Attorneys 2:

Ronald B. Buchanan, Nashville, Tennessee, for the Plaintiff/Appellee, Darryl F. Bryant, Sr.

Judge(s): KIRBY

We granted permission to appeal in this case to address whether a joint tenancy with an express right of survivorship can be severed by the unilateral actions of one of the co-tenants. The owner of the property at issue in this appeal executed a deed conveying the property to herself and to her son in a joint tenancy with right of survivorship. The same grantor later executed a quitclaim deed granting her interest in the property to her grandson (the son?s child). After the grantor died, the son filed a declaratory judgment action against the grandson, claiming that the son was the rightful owner of the property in fee simple as the surviving joint tenant under the first deed. In response, the grandson asserted that the grantor?s second deed severed the joint tenancy, conveyed the grantor?s one-half interest to him, and destroyed the son?s right of survivorship. The trial court granted the son?s motion for summary judgment, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. We reverse. Following the common-law doctrine of severance, we hold that a joint tenancy with an express right of survivorship may be severed by the unilateral action of one of the co-tenants, and that doing so converts the estate into a tenancy in common and destroys the survivorship interests of the original joint tenants. In this case, the grantor?s second deed, conveying her interest in the property to the grandson, severed the joint tenancy and destroyed the son?s right of survivorship, so the son and the grandson own the property in equal parts as tenants in common.