In a decision released on Nov. 9, the state Supreme Court unanimously denied a woman’s claim to a Decatur property that federal authorities acquired in a drug-related bust. At issue was whether a mother’s plea bargain 20 years ago, which involved the property, could relinquish her daughter’s rights to it.
According to court documents, Zindi Mims acquired ownership of 2166 Rollingview Drive in 1975 where she engaged in drug trafficking. Two years later, she transferred the property to her brother-in-law, and he transferred it to Mims’ 4-year-old daughter, Sabrina Burnett.
In 1980, Mary and Homer Slatter, Burnett’s aunt and uncle, resided in the property under an oral lease purchase agreement with Burnett’s father, who was married to Mims. The court notes that Mims confirmed the existence of the agreement.
Federal authorities indicted Mims on racketeering and drug charges in 1988 and held a forfeiture proceeding against the property. The Slatters, still residing in the house, entered into an occupancy agreement with the U. S. Marshall Service to rent the property.
Mims, on behalf of her daughter, filed a claim to the property and an answer to the forfeiture action. But later Mims entered a plea agreement with prosecutors to withdraw any claim to the property.
An agreement between the Slatters and the government cleared the way for the couple to take legal ownership of the property. The federal court issued a consent order in 1991 that acknowledged that Mims entered a claim on her daughter’s behalf but “erroneously” stated that she failed to file an answer to the forfeiture claim.
Ultimately, the federal court granted all rights in the property to the government and the Slatters. The couple then paid off a promissory note to the government and all property taxes as they became due. “The Slatters, however, never received any deed to the property from Mims on behalf of Burnett,” Justice Harold Melton notes.
Burnett, now in her late 30s, filed a quiet title action in 2008, asking the court to declare her the rightful owner of the disputed property and to order the Slatters to either buy the house or pay rent to her. Mary Slatter responded with a federal action to enforce the forfeiture judgment.
In March, the federal court reiterated its earlier position that Mims withdrew her claim to the property on her daughter’s behalf. A special master assigned to the case also backed the couple’s ownership. Burnett then filed an appeal with the high court.
“It is well-settled that a person must establish ownership of property on the strength of her own title and cannot prevail in a quiet title action by relying on the weaknesses in another’s title,” Melton states.
According to the plea agreement, Mims agreed that she would not make a claim to the disputed property. As a legal guardian, Mims waived any rights that her daughter may have had to the property, the justices ruled.
They added: “It is this agreement by Mims, on behalf of Burnett, that allowed the federal court to find and rule in its 1991 judgment that all potential claimants other than the Slatters were in default, and, as a result, that 1991 order extinguished all right, title, and interest in the real property other than that of the Slatters and the United States.”