Before her death in July 2009, the deceased was the sole owner of approximately 182 acres of land in Etowah County. In 1999, she leased 103 acres of this property to her son for 10 years, with an option to lease for another 10 years. The son exercised the option before his mother's death. In 2009, the son subleased the mining rights to the property to a sand and gravel company so that the company could remove limestone and sandstone.
The deceased's will left the entire 182 acres to her son and grandson as joint tenants. In October 2009, the grandson sued the son (his father), claiming that he should receive half of the royalties from the sublease to the sand and gravel company. The Etowah County Circuit Court ruled in favor of the grandson.
Upon appeal, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the ruling of the circuit court because of the doctrine of merger. This legal doctrine holds that when a lesser estate (a lease) and a greater estate (the fundamental ownership of the property or fee-simple interest) "meet" in the same person, they are merged. Because the son inherited the property as a joint tenant and "owned the whole" of the property (even though he is "seized of a part"), the doctrine of merger was properly applied to this property. Thus, the grandson was entitled to half of the royalties from the sand and gravel company. Stated another way, Alabama law doesn't allow someone to be his own landlord. See Clayton v. Clayton, decided on March 11, 2011.
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