(CN) – A South Carolina extended family is too late to challenge the validity of a 60-year-old property deed, the state Supreme Court ruled.
Sara Mae Robinson led 32 others in a 2005 quiet title lawsuit, disputing the ownership of 10 acres of land on James Island. They claimed that their ancestor was the true heir to land that was improperly conveyed in 1946.
The trial court did not rule in Robinson’s favor, but the court of appeals agreed with her that the 1946 conveyance was invalid and reversed the decision.
On Monday, the South Carolina Supreme Court overturned that ruling, agreeing with the trial court that Robinson could not challenge a 60-year-old action. The ruling states that the original owners, the estate of Eloise Pinckney Harris, should retain the property.
“Accordingly, we believe that the doctrine of laches formed a part of the circuit court’s reasoning in dismissing respondents’ complaint,” Justice John Kittredge wrote on behalf of his colleagues. Laches, the ruling explains, is neglect for an unreasonable and unexplained length of time, under circumstances affording opportunity for diligence, to do what in law should have been done.
Justice Donald Beatty authored a lengthy dissenting opinion.
“Although the circuit court stated Robinson should have filed an appropriate action in this case sooner, the court did not make specific findings of fact or analyze the requirements for establishing laches, and it would be unfair to hold as a matter of law that respondents’ complaint is barred on this basis,” he wrote.