Taos judge voids land grant deed

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Eighth Judicial District Court Judge Sarah Backus has voided a deed filed in 2010 that lays claim to 20,000 acres north of Taos — a decision that will likely allow real estate transactions in the Arroyo Hondo Land Grant to go forward unimpeded for the first time in more than two years.

The ruling came at a hearing Tuesday morning (Feb. 26) attended by area realtors as well as members of the Arroyo Hondo Land Grant Board.

In 2010, the board filed the warranty deed, purportedly signed by Manuel Ortíz, Sr., who appeared to pass ownership of the entire grant to the heirs of the grant's original settlers and to the members of board. The deed was accompanied by a copy of a federal land patent issued for the grant in 1908.

Since becoming part of the public record, the deed has clouded title to the more than 3,000 properties that lie within the historic grant. The cloud has prevented real estate sales and refinances on the grant because title companies have been unwilling to issue policies without adding an exception.

Tuesday's hearing was part of a civil case brought by three national title insurers and property owners in the grant. An attorney for the title companies argued that the court should invalidate the deed by explicitly declaring that the represents no real transfer of property.

The attorney for the Hondo board countered that the filings were merely ceremonial and were meant to notify landowners in the grant that they may own property on historically communal grant land.

A federal case between the board and the same title insurers was dismissed last year after a judge ruled that the title companies did not have standing to bring litigation.

For more on this story, see the Feb. 28 edition of The Taos News.

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