United States District Court, D. Maryland
CORRECTED MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
XINIS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Christian Carter Addison and Tanya Lyle bring suit against
Defendant Milton V. Peterson seeking “reversal”
of a 2001 deed conveying land to National Harbor Beltway,
L.C. along with other related relief. ECF No. 2 ¶ 11.
The Plaintiffs initially filed their suit in Prince
George's County Circuit Court, and the Defendant
subsequently removed the action to this Court. ECF No. 1.
Peterson thereafter moved to dismiss the Plaintiffs'
complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).
Upon consideration of the Complaint, the materials attached
thereto, and the parties' briefing on the issue, the
Court GRANTS Peterson's motion.
Plaintiffs allege that they are descendants of John Addison,
who, in 1698, was granted land in Oxon Hill by the government
and received a patent to that land. ECF No. 2 ¶ 3. The
land includes a burial ground for a number Addison family
members (the “Cemetery”). See ECF No. 2
¶ 6. From the Complaint and its attachments, it is
apparent that the patented land was subdivided over time and
subject to a number of conveyances, both through sale and
otherwise. ECF No. 2 ¶ 5 (Walter Addison “received
the Oxon Hill estate through a will”); ¶ 8(a)
(Walter Addison sold all of his land except the cemetery to a
third party); ECF No. 2-1 (“The Addison family patents
passed between a few different branches of the family.
[Certain individuals] named their successors by virtue of
will”; some Addison family members received title to
different parts of the land from different inheritances.).
According to the Complaint, the last member of the Addison
family to live at Oxon Hill was Walter Addison, who sold all
of his land except for the Cemetery to a Zachariah Berry in
1810. ECF No. 2 ¶ 8(a); ¶ 8(b). The Plaintiffs
allege that Walter Addison desired to be, and was, buried in
the Cemetery. ECF No. 2 ¶8, ¶¶8(a)-(d).
Complaint puts forward no facts as to what happened to the
title to the tract of land containing the Cemetery between
1810 and 1954. The Complaint does incorporate apparent land
records noting that in 1954 Roberto and Dora Motta dedicated
the Cemetery to a “reasonable organization”
entrusted to care for the Cemetery. ECF No. 2-5 at 1, 4. The
Plaintiffs allege that the Peterson Group, apparently the
business run by Defendant Peterson, was contracted to
“tend the cemetery, ” and at one time
“owned” the Cemetary. ECF No. 2 ¶ 9(d). The
Complaint is silent as to what relationship, if any exists,
between the Addison family and the Mottas.
Complaint is similarly silent as to the legal status of the
Cemetery between 1954 and 2001. In 2001, a confirmatory quit
claim deed was executed by TRSTE, Inc., KMM, Inc., and
National Harbor Beltway, L.C., establishing National Harbor
Beltway's title to the Cemetery. ECF No. 2-3 at 2. No
facts are alleged as to how the signatories to the
confirmatory deed came to be in a position to
“confirm” National Harbor Beltway as
title-holder. Indeed, one of the exhibits on which the
Plaintiffs rely for information regarding the ownership of
the Cemetery explicitly states that it is not based on
conducting a complete chain of title search. ECF No. 2-5 at
1. Plaintiffs plead no other facts to address the ownership
or possession of the Cemetery during the decades prior to the
2001 issuance of the confirmatory quit claim deed.
the Plaintiffs claim that they have ownership rights in the
Cemetery as descendants of John Addison. Plaintiffs more
particularly allege that John Addison's land patents
grant them, as “heirs, ” “rights to the
land” that are “held in perpetuity and take
precedence over any subsequent legal strictures, including
state laws and constitutional clauses, ” ECF No. 2
¶10(b), that they have “certain privileges that
aren't typically associated with land ownership in the
United States, ” ECF No. 2 ¶ 10(c), that the
“land patents are permanent, ” ECF No. 2 ¶
10(d)(1), and that “rights inherent in patented land
are carried from heir to heir and cannot be changed, ”
ECF No. 2 ¶ 10(d)(2). On this basis, the Plaintiffs seek
“reversal” of the 2001 deed. ECF No. 2
¶¶ 2, 11(a). They further request an order that
Peterson “cease any and all actions . . . to inter,
remove, and relocate” the bodies in the cemetery, ECF
No. 2 ¶ 11(b) and damages in the amount of 20 million
dollars, ECF No. 2 ¶ 11(c).
moves to dismiss the Complaint because he is not the
Cemetery's alleged title holder, and does not have a
possessory interest in the Cemetery. Peterson additionally
argues that the Complaint fails to state any legally
cognizable claim for relief. See ECF No. 10 at 4-5.
Standard of Review
the Plaintiffs are proceeding pro se, the Court must
construe their complaint liberally to allow for the
development of a potentially meritorious case. Hughes v.
Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980). Liberal construction
requires that if the Court can reasonably read the Complaint
to state a valid claim, it must do so; however, the Court
cannot ignore a clear failure to allege facts setting forth a
cognizable claim. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc.
Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir.1990) (“The
‘special judicial solicitude' with which a district
court should view such pro se complaints does not transform
the court into an advocate. Only those questions which are
squarely presented to a court may properly be
addressed.”). Further, “[a] court considering a
motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying
pleadings that, because they are not more than conclusions,
are not entitled to the assumption of truth.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 665 (2009).
motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) properly is granted when a
complaint does not contain sufficient factual allegations to
render the plaintiff's claims facially plausible, or to
permit reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for
the alleged misconduct. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
678-79. In so assessing, a court takes as true all
well-pleaded factual allegations and makes all reasonable
inferences in the favor of the plaintiff. Phillips v.
Pitt Cty. Mem. Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 1999).
A court may consider materials attached to the Complaint when
reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Id.
However, when determining if a plaintiff has stated a valid
claim, a court does not credit conclusory statements or a
plaintiff's legal conclusions, even when the plaintiff
purports them to be allegations of fact. See Iqbal,
556 U.S. 678-79; Giarrantano v. Jonson, 520 F.3d
298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008).
patent is an initial conveyance of legal title for a defined
tract of land from the government to a private individual.
See 42 C.F.R. § 1865.0-5(c) (“Patents or
other documents of conveyance means a land patent, a deed or
some other similar instrument in the chain of title to realty
that has been issued by the United States . . . pertaining to
the disposal of public lands of the United States or of an
interest therein.”); Bicknell v. Comstock, 113
U.S. 149, 151 (1885) (patent was executed by the president
conveying land to Bicknell; when patent has been executed and
recorded, title is conveyed and the power of the executive
over it has ceased); Irvine v. Marshall, 61 U.S.
558, 561-62 (1857) (“[A]ll the lands in the Territories
. . . are in the first instance the exclusive property of the
United States, to be disposed of . . . as the Government may
deem most advantageous.”).
legal title to the land is conveyed by patent, the land may
be disposed of in any manner deemed fit by the owner. See
Phillips v. Washington Legal Foundation, 254 U.S. 156,
167 (1998) (it is a “fundamental maxim of property law
that the owner of a property interest may dispose of all or
part of that interest as he sees fit”); First
Charter Land Corp. v. Fitzgerald, 643 F.2d 1011, 1014-15
(4th Cir. 1981) (“‘property' refers to both
the actual physical object and the various incorporeal
ownership rights in the res, such as the right[ ] . . . to
alienate”); cf. Barney v. Dolph, 97 U.S. 652,
653, 656, 659 (1878) (right equivalent to right of patentee
includes power to sell; individuals with right to patent
could sell property such that the rights of their children to
inherit were cut off); United States v. Oregon Lumber
Co., 260 U.S. 290, 293 (1922) (pantentee ...