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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:In the summer of 1998, Mobil Chemical Co., predecessor of petitioner ExxonMobil Chemical Co., bought a 12-inch-wide easement for a propylene pipeline. The recorded deed included a map showing the pipeline crossing three tracts of land, but the text of the easement described the servient estate by referring to another deed that described only one tract. In an amended easement signed three months later granting temporary access for operations, the original easement was described as crossing all three tracts. Two days after the amendment, Robert F. Ford Jr. bought all three tracts by special warranty deed expressly subject to Mobil’s easements. Four months later in return for $20,000, Ford signed another amendment relocating the pipeline’s route across all three of his tracts. Ford claims he signed this amendment only because Mobil falsely represented that the original easement covered all three tracts, when in fact it covered only one. Five years after signing the last amendment, Ford sued for real estate fraud under Texas Business & Commerce Code �27.01. The trial court granted summary judgment for Ford, awarding him $36,167 and ordering the pipeline removed. The 9th Court of Appeals reversed the damage award, holding limitations barred Ford’s fraud claim, but affirmed the removal order, holding quiet title actions have no statute of limitations. Both sides petitioned for review by the Texas Supreme Court. HOLDING:Affirmed in part, reversed and rendered in part. As a preliminary matter, the court disagreed with ExxonMobil that the judgment was interlocutory, because it did not expressly dispose of Ford’s statutory claim for expert witness fees. ExxonMobil, the court stated, argued that the undisputed summary judgment evidence established attorneys’ fees of $36,167 and expert fees of $1,500, and that the trial court’s award of precisely $36,167 meant that it adjudicated only the former. But the court found that the award may have been incorrect if it did not include both fees but that did not mean it was interlocutory. On the merits, Ford argued that the 9th Court erred in holding his fraud claim barred by limitations. The fraud claim, the court stated, had to be brought within four years of when the fraud should have been discovered by reasonable diligence. While not all public records establish an irrebuttable presumption of notice, the recorded instruments in a grantee’s chain of title generally do. The instruments in this case, the court stated, necessarily did so, as Ford’s fraud claim stemmed entirely from a discrepancy among them concerning the servient estate, a discrepancy he admits learning about by simply reading the instruments. Thus, the court affirmed the 9th Court’s judgment barring Ford’s fraud claim. Next, the court agreed with ExxonMobil that the 9th Court erred in holding Ford’s demand for removal of the pipeline was not similarly barred. Having asserted limitations against Ford’s fraud claim, ExxonMobil did not have to assert limitations against each item of legal or equitable relief that stemmed from it, the court stated. In addition, the court stated, limitations would have barred an action to quiet title here even if it had been pleaded as an independent cause of action. “Granted,” the court stated, “an equitable action to remove cloud on title is not subject to limitations if a deed is void or has expired by its own terms. . . . But the same rule does not apply when a deed is voidable rather than void.” Deeds obtained by fraud, the court stated, are voidable rather than void and remain effective until set aside. Texas law is well settled that once limitations has expired for setting aside a deed for fraud, that bar cannot be evaded by simply asserting the claim in equity. If the rule were otherwise, the court stated, limitations would rarely apply in real estate cases, as virtually every case could be recast as an action to remove cloud on title. Because Ford’s legal claim for fraud was untimely, he could not challenge ExxonMobil’s facially valid deed by simply pleading it in equity. Accordingly, without hearing oral argument, the court: reversed the portion of the 9th Court’s judgment granting Ford quiet title, requiring removal of the pipeline, and granting other related relief; affirmed the 9th Court’s holding that Ford’s fraud claim was barred by limitations; and rendered judgment for ExxonMobil. OPINION:Per curiam.

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