from the Superior Court No. IKE-15-00056 CI of the State of
Alaska, First Judicial District, Ketchikan, William B. Carey,
S.Katz, Anchorage, for Appellant.
Thompson, Leif Thompson Law Office, Ketchikan, for Appellee.
Before: Stowers, Chief Justice, Winfree, Maassen, Bolger, and
mother and son dispute ownership of a house in Ketchikan. The
son contends that his mother gave him the property following
her husband's death, and that he spent years repairing
and renovating it on the understanding that it was his. His
mother argues that she still owns it. She contends that she
agreed to transfer title only if her son repaired the
property and paid off the mortgage, which he failed to do.
a bench trial on the son's quiet title claim, the
superior court found that he failed to prove his mother's
intent to transfer the property. Because the superior court
properly applied the relevant legal doctrines and did not
clearly err in its findings of fact, we affirm its judgment.
FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS
David Dixon purchased a one-bedroom house on Warren Street in
Ketchikan. In 1998 he conveyed the property by quitclaim deed
to himself and his wife, Carolyn Dixon. Carolyn testified at
trial that the couple lived in the Warren Street house until
2002; thereafter David continued using it as a workshop and
died in 2005, and Carolyn had little interest in dealing with
the Warren Street property. Her son Dan Dixon proposed that
she refinance the house - encumbered by an approximately $30,
000 mortgage - and offered to renovate it. According to
Carolyn, Dan "was supposed to fix [the house] up and
rent it and ... pay the mortgage, pay any expenses that came
up, and then keep the rest of the money." Dan testified
that "the goal was [to] get [the house] refinanced in
[his] name" and "get [Carolyn's] name off the
mortgage"; he would then pay Carolyn back whatever she
had to lend him to make this happen.
signed a quitclaim deed on December 16, 2007. The deed says
that she "convey[ed] and quitclaim[ed]" her
interest in the Warren Street house to Austin Dixon,
Dan's son. According to Dan, Carolyn named Austin as the
grantee at Dan's request; Dan "wanted [the house] to
be for [his] son, " but he was also concerned about
"IRS issues" if the house was deeded to him. He
testified, though, that he was sure Carolyn would have made
out the deed in his name if he had asked her to.
quitclaim deed was not notarized or formally witnessed.
Carolyn gave it to Dan, but neither he nor Austin recorded
it. Carolyn testified at trial that she did not believe the
deed could effectively transfer her interest in the house
until the mortgage had been paid off.
Carolyn refinanced the Warren Street property. She used the
money from the refinance to pay off the first mortgage; she
also added $33, 000 of the proceeds to a shared checking
account Dan could access for house-related expenses,
including mortgage payments. Dan eventually depleted the
account, apparently mostly on repairs to the house, though
some of the money may have gone toward his dental bills and
other unrelated debt. Between 2007 and 2014 Carolyn made ten
of the mortgage payments, at Dan's request; Dan
apparently made the rest of the payments out of the shared
2008 and 2010 Dan made a number of repairs and renovations to
the house, including plumbing and electrical work, refraining
and foundation work, floor refmishing, repainting, and
remodeling the kitchen and bathroom. He claimed he paid for
the work with a combination of the refinance money from
Carolyn and his own money. At trial he was unable to give any
accounting of these expenses, and he could not distinguish
between what he paid for with his own money and what he paid
for with money from Carolyn.
lived in the house with his son for about a year in 2010.
Starting in 2011 he rented it out for the summer season.
Between 2011 and 2014 he found three different tenants and
brought in approximately $17, 000 in rental income.
spring 2014 Carolyn's insurance company informed her that
the policy on the Warren Street house had to be rewritten to
reflect that the property was no longer owner-occupied.
Carolyn asked for a landlord policy instead but was informed
that the house would need to be rewired before it could be
insured at all. Around this time Carolyn also learned that
the utilities were about to be cut off because the bill had
not been paid, and she received notice from the mortgage
company that the checking account she shared with Dan was
overdrawn and would not cover the monthly mortgage payment.
Carolyn emailed Dan in May 2014, telling him that she had
closed the shared bank account and her account with the
utility company. She also informed Dan that she had written
the mortgage company to let it know he would be handling the
mortgage from then on. When Dan failed to respond she resent
the email a week later, following up with a handwritten note
on the June mortgage statement. In both the handwritten note
and the email, Carolyn wrote, "The house is yours."
was in Seattle for the summer, and he made no further
mortgage payments. And though he apparently planned to rewire
the house himself in September, the insurance company
informed Carolyn that it had to be done by late July in order
to preserve coverage. Carolyn "realized [she] had to
take ... the house over" to address the wiring issue and
to pick up the mortgage payments. After the rewiring was done
she had her son Bruce and his daughter Amanda remove
Dan's belongings, board up the house, and change the
managed to get back inside. Carolyn eventually sought police
assistance to remove him, and in October 2014 she obtained a
20-day restraining order to keep him away from the house.
February 2015, after repeated calls to the police about
Dan's alleged trespass on the Warren Street property,
Carolyn filed a complaint to recover the house from him and
in March sought a writ of assistance, which was granted. Dan
filed an answer to Carolyn's complaint and ...