Daily Development for
Thursday, April 16, 1998

by: Patrick A. Randolph, Jr.
Professor of Law
UMKC School of Law

DEEDS; CONTRACTS: Quitclaim deed made pursuant to agreement between husband and wife in which wife agreed to refrain from initiating criminal charges based upon the husband's alleged sexual improprieties with their child in exchange for receiving husband's interest in property was unenforceable as against public policy.

Quiring v. Quiring, 944 P.2d 695 (Idaho 1997).

After wife confronted husband with alleged "sexual improprieties" with their daughter, husband entered into an agreement with wife pursuant to which wife agreed not to bring up "past differences." Wife induced him to sign the agreement by threatening to expose the charges in an employment context in which the charges alone might well have cost him his job. After entering into that agreement, husband signed a quitclaim deed conveying his interest in the property to his wife. Subsequently, there was a prosecution initiated on the child abuse charge, and it later was dismissed.

The Idaho Supreme Court held that the quitclaim was unenforceable as it was the product of a contract to prohibit wife from informing law enforcement with regard to allegations of sexual impropriety with a child. Further, the court was concerned that the taking of the property by the wife under threat of arrest or exposure to hatred, contempt or ridicule would constitute extortion. Therefore, the court held that the agreement was illegal, and that the transfer of the quitclaim deed was premised on illegal considerations and was obtained through "extortion, threats of violence and public exposure to cause loss of employment." As illegal contracts are void, the court reversed and remanded.

Comment 1: Interestingly, the court of appeals had dismissed husband’s appeal as “frivolous.” It is striking, then, that the Supreme Court should take it so seriously.

Comment 2: The feature of the case that most intrigued the editor was that the court stated that the deed was void, not just voidable (cancellable as between the parties, but not as to third party BFP’s). There was no intervening third party interest at stake in the case, and perhaps the court did not take into account the significance of its use of the term. In most instances, courts declare a deed void only under the narrowest of circumstances, tantamount to forgery, since third parties may come to rely on the title and thus be injured.

Here, the husband knew exactly what he was doing, but was “unduly influenced” to do it. That should lead to a conclusion that the deed is voidable, not void. But because of the public policy interests at stake here, it is difficult to be certain that the court does not mean what it says when it concludes the deed is void.

It would be interesting to know whether Idaho follows the rule that precludes parties who rely upon a quitclaim deed from becoming bona fide purchasers. That would render the above discussion moot. Also, keep in mind that the husband’s failure to raise his objections to the deed prior to the attachment of third party interests could lead the court to invoke the laches doctrine and estop him from making the argument.

Comment 3: Note that the wife, under Idaho law, had a legal duty to report incidents of child molestation to the public authorities. This may make the case different from other instances in which a deed is given in settlement of claims arising out of alleged fraud, where at least part of the inducement is an agreement not to press fraud charges. But is that enough of a distinction?

Note also that this is not the only instance in which there is a duty to report wrongdoing. There is great debate generally about the “whistle blowing” responsibilities of professionals - lawyers, accountants, etc. Are there other instances in which a deed induced by an agreement not to blow the whistle would fall under the same rules as applied here?

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