A judge has ruled an aging cattleman showing signs of dementia was not duped when he sold part of his land in the Rocky Mountain foothills to a young couple for a modest sum to keep the property as a working ranch.
John Burby sold the property near Bragg Creek, Alta., to Luke and Laura Ball for $600,000 in a deal that was signed on a small slip of paper in 2010 when he was 86 years old.
Two years later the couple listed part of the land for sale with a realtor to help fund building a house and sought to subdivide it to provide parcels for their children in the future.
John Burby’s brother, Brian Burby, filed a lawsuit seeking to reverse the 2010 sale. He argued the land was worth up to $3.9 million and that his brother was in mental decline when he agreed to sell.
The Balls acknowledged the land was priced under market value. But they argued that John Burby gave them a good deal because he valued ranching life, hard work and ranching families.
Luke Ball had been leasing land from Burby for cattle grazing since he was 19 and had worked for him over the years mending fences and haying to help support his family.
In his ruling, Queen’s Bench Justice William Tilleman said John Burby loved the ranch he was born on in 1924 and had a long history of being generous with neighbours and the community.
The judge said evidence from friends shows that Burby was aware of what he was doing and was happy with the deal.
“John wanted the lands to go to someone who would continue the ranching tradition that he held so dear,” Tilleman wrote in a ruling released Monday.
“I specifically find this meant more to him than the fact that he could make more money if he sold the land to someone else. John reasoned out his decision and believed that the Balls’ future plans for the ranch were aligned with his own.”
Tilleman said the remorse of the seller’s family was not grounds to set aside the transaction.
“The law has long recognized the importance of respecting an individual’s right to self-determination, including an elderly person’s right to dispose of their own property,” he wrote.
Court documents show Brian Burby filed the lawsuit shortly after he became his brother’s co-guardian in 2012.
John Burby moved away from his ranch to live in a seniors home in Midnapore, Alta., when he could no longer look after himself. He died there on April 28 at the age of 93.
His obituary notes that his grandparents homesteaded the ranch in 1907 and that he was known for his community-mindedness, ability with horses and for raising above-average cattle.
— By John Cotter in Edmonton