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Pedersen v. Webb

September 16, 1996


Appeal from Superior Court of Whatcom County. Docket No: 91-2-00835-0. Date filed: 03/24/94. Judge signing: Hon. David S. Nichols.

Authored by C. Kenneth Grosse. Concurring: William W. Baker, Walter E. Webster. WE Concur

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Grosse

GROSSE, J. -- Kirie Pedersen appeals the trial court's judgment and order quieting titles in two parcels of land owned by Pedersen and her former husband, Carl Morton Webb. After hearing both parties testify about their oral agreement leading to the execution of two quit claim deeds dividing the property, the court quieted titles to both parcels pursuant to the parties' oral and written agreements. Asserting that the quit claim deeds tell the whole story, Pedersen claims (1) that the court violated the parol evidence rule by looking beyond the face of the quit claim deeds; and (2) that the parties' verbal agreement regarding the parcel awarded to Webb is void because it violates the statute of frauds and RCW 64.04.010 which prohibits oral conveyances of real estate. We reject these claims as controlled by settled law and affirm.


During their marriage, Pedersen and Webb purchased two parcels of land in Bellingham. The former family home sits on the parcel known as the Lindsey Addition. The other parcel, the Star Addition, consists of ten lots. After their 1984 divorce, Pedersen and Webb kept the property as joint tenants. The parties contemplated, as reflected by their divorce decree, that the parcels would be sold within six months and the net proceeds divided. Because the property did not sell, the parties met that same year in Pedersen's attorney's office to decide how to divide the property.

At that meeting, the parties orally agreed that Pedersen would get the Star Addition and Webb would keep the Lindsey Addition and the house. To make up the value difference, Webb agreed to pay Pedersen $8,000. Webb gave Pedersen $3,000 that day. Contemporaneously, they both executed quit claim deeds. Webb quit claimed his interest in the Star Addition to Pedersen and Pedersen quit claimed her interest in the Lindsay Addition and house to Webb. Pedersen also orally agreed to give Webb the right of first refusal on the Star Addition. As security for the remaining amounts owed, Pedersen's attorney held Webb's deed.

Six months went by with no further payments from Webb. Webb eventually gave Pedersen another $1,000. There were letters and further negotiations between the parties. In one of those letters, Pedersen confirmed their "deal" and extended Webb's final payment date to October 1986, or she would sell her Star Addition lots free of his right of first refusal. Webb made no further payments. He also became delinquent in paying the property taxes.

In early 1991, Pedersen filed the quit claim deed conveying the Star Addition to her. She had the Lindsey Addition quit claim deed destroyed.

Later that year, Pedersen filed her action for ejectment and quiet title asking that the court quiet title in the Star Addition to her based on her recorded quit claim deed. Because Webb's quit claim deed on the Lindsey Addition had never been delivered or filed, Pedersen alleged she remained a co-tenant of that parcel under the divorce decree. She asked that the court partition the parcel and award her the off-sets. Unable to determine on the record who had ownership of the Lindsey Addition, the court denied Pedersen's motion for summary judgment and the matter went to trial.

Pedersen moved in limine to prevent the introduction of parol evidence. The court reserved ruling stating that because the record was confusing, testimony might be necessary to sort out the situation and to determine the parties' intentions. Both parties testified. Prior to Pedersen's testimony, Pedersen's counsel asked for a continuing objection to the parol evidence but proceeded to question Pedersen about the parties' oral agreement. Based on the parties' testimony, the court rejected Pedersen's position that the Star Addition transaction had nothing to do with the parties' agreement concerning the Lindsey parcel. Instead, it found that Webb gave Pedersen the quit claim deed for the Star Addition as part of their overall agreement regarding the property division and that Pedersen was not entitled to the parcel "except as a total solution to the property dispute."

The court further ruled that once Pedersen enforced her ownership in the Star Addition both by letter and by recording the deed, she had elected her remedy. And that, as a result, Pedersen's sole remedy was money damages for Webb's breach.

Ms. Pedersen, of course, argues that her interest in Star has nothing to do with the Lindsay [sic] deal and she is still a cotenant with Mr. Webb since he failed to perform. The Court concludes that had she wanted out of the deal she could have declared it so early in the game by nullifying all the deeds, declaring the deal failed and sued for partition of all their cotenancy property, Star and Lindsay [sic]. Since the Court finds, however, that she did not do that but reaffirmed the deal, she must abide that decision.

The Court holds that the parties never intended other than a package to take care of all their affairs and that damages are the only remedy available to the plaintiff, not recision [sic].

The court, among other things, quieted titles of the Star Addition in Pedersen, the Lindsey Addition and house in Webb, and awarded Pedersen judgment for the remaining $4,000 owed plus interest. Pedersen ...

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