ORLANDO-The odds of victory are against them but Clarence Moore, 90 and his invalid wife, Savannah, 96, are appealing a dismissed seven-year Orange Circuit Court lawsuit which alleges their granddaughter forged their names to a 1994 deed and sold their prime, two-acre southwest Orlando tract to Universal Orlando for $1 million or $500,000 per acre ($11.48 per sf).

Meanwhile, Universal can’t break ground on its 70-acre, $100 million time-share project and championship golf course off Turkey Lake Road until the 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach, FL rules on the Moores’ latest legal action, real estate lawyers following the lengthy case tell GlobeSt.com.

Universal officials couldn’t be reached at GlobeSt.com’s publication deadline but lawyers familiar with the case tell GlobeSt.com on condition of anonymity, “Universal will win this thing again, but meanwhile they are between a rock and a hard place, unable to break ground on a multimillion-dollar undertaking.”

Lawyers for the Moores have been representing them on a contingency basis since 1994 when the suit was first filed. The suit alleges the Moores’ granddaughter, Mary Jean Smith, now Mary Jean Smith-Snagg, forged Clarence Moore’s signature to a 1994 deed which purportedly turned the two-acre property over to Smith as a gift.

Smith turned around and sold the dirt to Universal. In late 1994, she bought a $380,000 home in suburban San Francisco, county real estate records confirm.

Clarence Moore paid $1,000 or $500 per acre (one cent per sf) for the land in 1959. He paid off the $1,000 price in 10 monthly installments of $100 from his baker’s salary.

Had he received the $1 million from Universal, GlobeSt.com research shows his total appreciation over the 35 years he owned the land would have been 100,000% or $2,857% per year.

The land, at the time, was deep in rural territory inhabited by wild turkeys, bears and panthers. Today, the two-acre tract is in the middle of a commercial hot spot, 1,000 feet from tourist-clogged Interstate 4 where developers don’t flinch at landowners’ asking $1 million-plus per acre ($23 per sf).

The only problem is there isn’t much uncommitted developable land left in that southwestern hub, land brokers tell GlobeSt.com.

The suit alleges the granddaughter’s deal with Universal allowed the Moores to live on the property in the house they built in 1959 until they died. Universal, however, isn’t acknowledging that proviso as fact, according to the theme park operator’s court-filed responses to the suit. The suit alleges the notary’s signature to the deed was also forged.

The suit argued Moore couldn’t have signed his name to any document because he never learned how to read or write. His signature is an X, which was also forged on the deed, the suit alleges.

“That’s a pretty tough argument to shoot down,” Dean Fritchen, a senior commercial associate at Arvida Realty Services Commercial Division in Winter Park, tells GlobeSt.com. “The big hole in this argument, however, could be that as we grow older, some of us tend to forget we signed certain documents years ago.”

And that’s precisely the argument lawyers for Universal City Development Partners, the granddaughter and her son maintain. The last judge to hear the suit, Walter Komanski, dismissed the action in January 1999.

The Moores’ pending appeal is their second in the 5th District Court of Appeal. They lost their first appeal.


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