ORLANDO-After eight years of litigation, 92-year-old Clarence Moore will learn this week if a court of law believes he never signed a transfer deed to his two-acre homestead that Universal Orlando bought for $1 million ($11.48 per sf) in 1987.
Moore says his name and X symbol on the deed are forgeries, allegedly made or orchestrated by his married granddaughter, Mary Jean Smith-Snagg of Oakland, CA. The granddaughter denies the charge and tells the judge Moore simply forgot he signed the deed.
The two witnesses to the alleged transfer died several years ago. Moore’s wife, Savannah, died last year at 96. She purportedly also witnessed Moore’s signature being placed on the deed, lawyers for Universal argue.
Charges of fraud against Smith-Snagg can’t be made because the four-year statute of limitations ran out on this case in 1991. That leaves the forgery issue as the only remaining allegation to be tried.
Orange Circuit Judge Joe Baker has listened to testimony since July 1. The trial ended Aug. 9. There is no jury hearing the case because the plaintiff, Moore and defendant, Universal, agreed to a bench trial with the judge being the final arbiter.
If Baker believes Moore, the former baker and citrus grove worker gets to keep his two acres on Turkey Lake Road that he and his late wife bought on month installment payments for $1,000 (one cent per sf) in 1959.
If the judge believes Universal, the case is closed and the theme park finally gets to add the two acres to a 70-acre parcel planned for a $100 million timeshare venture and championship 18-hole golf course.
If Baker rules for Moore, Universal can immediately appeal the ruling to the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach, FL. If Universal loses there, the park can still appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.
The appellate court decisions could take another year to come down, real estate lawyers familiar with similar scenarios tell GlobeSt.com on condition of anonymity.
Universal has been paying the annual taxes on the land since 1987. The total to date is $80,000. Moore receives a monthly Social Security check of $600.
Even if he wins the case, Moore would be unable to reimburse Universal immediately without selling the land first, lawyers following the case but not associated with it, tell GlobeSt.com.
The annual taxes of $600 zoomed to $8,000 after Universal bought the two acres on Turkey Lake Road in southwest Orlando in 1987. But the property today may not be worth the $1 million Universal paid for it 15 years ago, area land appraisers tell GlobeSt.com.
That’s because the land formerly sat at Turkey Lake and Wallace Roads, a key intersection in Universal’s initial expansion plans. Universal has since moved Wallace Road and Moore’s house and land today are on a short dead-end street.
The land is still within Universal’s 70-acre planned project but not considered as valuable to the theme park as it formerly was, land brokers following the case tell Globe St.com. Universal officials won’t comment <pIf Moore loses, he still gets to stay in his house until he dies, according to agreements Universal made with the granddaughter 15 years ago, court records show.