Sample Evaluation of a Property Line Fact Situation

In order to illustrate the land surveyor’s use of the foregoing ranking in arriving at an opinion as to where property ownership lines are likely to lie, we present the following hypothetical facts. Alice owns the large parcel of land show in Figure 1. The parcel was surveyed and corners monument in 1932. There are no conflicts between Alice’s line lands those of her neighbors. There are no conflict between Alice’s lines and those of her neighbors. Alice sells a portion of her parcel to Betty in 1960. The land description in Betty’s deed from Alice reads as follows:

Beginning at the NW corner of Alice’s property as marked a 2 iron pipe; thence East along the centerline of White Road 400 feet to the center of the Jones Creed culvert; thence South 200 feet along Jones Creek; hence West 400 feet; thence North 200 feet to the point of beginning.
The field survey exposes the information shown in Figure1. There is little or no possession evidence along Betty’s lines other than the evidence shown: i.e., there are no fences, tree lines, hedges, or evidence of cultivation along her lines. There is absolutely on field or record evidence to suggest that Jones Creek has significantly changes its courses since 1960.
How might a surveyor reasonably evaluate this evidence? One of the surveyor’s obligations in accomplishing a land survey is to locate the title lines and then locate occupation lines in respect to those title lines. Under the given facts, it is proper to consult only the terms of Betty’s deed description in locating the title lines.
• The call for the 2-inch iron pipe is a call for an artificial monument, and if the surveyor can establish that the iron pipe actually found is the pipe called for in the deed, it fixes the location of the point of beginning. The found 1-inch diameter iron bars are not called for in the deed and, therefore, are not legally artificial monuments. There is nothing to suggest that they were set during a survey, except that the bars are of a material and size typically used by surveyors in making property corners and are in the approximate locations where a current survey would place Betty’s property corners. These uncalled-for monuments should be accepted as making the southerly line of Betty’s parcel only if the lines of this parcel are so uncertain that most surveyors would not locate the title lines in the same locations.
• In the first cause, the call “to the center of the Jones Creek culvert” is controlling as a natural monument called for in the deed. The 400-foot distance called for is informational. It provides an approximate distance to aid in finding the called-for physical corner.
• Again, in the second course, the creed as a natural monument called for in the deed delineates he property line. Thus, the eastern line of Betty’s parcel is synonymous with Jones Creed. If the called-for distance of 200 feet is accepted as controlling, it would be necessary to trace the sinuosities of the stream to find the southeast corner of Betty’s parcel.
• The call “thence West 400 feet” does not additionally say “to the east line of Alice’s property.” It appears unreasonable to assume, however, that Alice had intended to retain the small sliver of land that would result if the uncalled-for monument in the south west corner is held as controlling. Additionally, when measured along Betty’s southerly line, the creek is less than 400 feet away from Alice’s west property line. Therefore Betty’s parcel appears to be defined on its west end by Alice’s west property line.
• The only side of Betty’s parcel yet to be located is the southerly boundary. When considering the overall written intentions of the parties to the deed, it appears that the parties intended to partition off a parcel in the northwest portion of Alice’s property bounded by Jones Creed on the east, bounded by Alice’s west line on the west, and having dimensions of approximately 400 feet by 200 feet.
• The sequence of the calls in a description is generally held by the courts to be immaterial. Therefore, reading the description backward, one possible location for Betty’s southwest corner is a t a distance of 200 feet from the point of beginning along Alice’s west property line. It would then appear reasonable to define the southerly line Betty’s parcel by a line extended from this monument and running easterly parallel to White Road. This would result in a configuration for the parcel in close agreement with the overall written intent of the parties.
• In the alternative, the court might find the southerly line of Betty’s parcel to lie a perpendicular distance o f200 feet from and run parallel with the centerline of White Road. Because the grantor had the responsibility for making the description clear and failed to do so, any ambiguity in the description should be resolved in favor of the grantee. This configuration also closely agrees with the overall written intent of the parties. This is the solution that a large number of surveyors would probably reach.
• In some eastern states, particularly in rural areas, uncalled-for monuments tend to carry substantial weight in the courts. In such jurisdictions, the court would probably hold a straight line passing through the two 1-inch diameter bars as defining Betty’s southerly properly line. Due to the inconsistency in the dimensions between the monuments alone the east and west bounds, however, it appears unlikely that a surveyor set the bars. They probability were set by a lay person to mark the approximate locations of the property corners and never intended to mark the precise actual locations of corners. Under these facts, the 1-inch iron bars should not be held as marking the location of Betty’s southerly line.
The primary purpose in presenting the preceding example are to illustrate the thought processes that a surveyor goes through in evaluating property line evidence and to stress that the location of property lines in more a matter of legal opinion than scientific fact. The fact situation presented here is very simple in comparison to the fact situations actually encountered in practice. Surveyors can, and not infrequently do, come to different conclusions in evaluating property line evidence. We re-emphasize, however, that surveyors act primarily as expert witnesses and not as advocates. As an expert in evidence evaluation, the surveyor expects to arrive at the same conclusions from the evidence regardless of whether his client in Alice or Betty. The lawyer, on the other hand, represents exclusively his client’s interests and advocates the client’s side of the story to the very best of the lawyer’s abilities.
If a court upheld the surveyor’s evaluation of the evidence in the example, it is because the surveyor arrived at a comprehensive and well-reasoned answer rather than because he arrived at the theoretically correct answer. Again, there are no “true” answers waiting to be discovered; only well- reasoned answers.
The preceding example has illustrated possible difficulties in locating the exterior bounds of a land parcel. The land surveying work product requested by the land owner or his attorney typically contains far more than a schematic diagram of the property lines and an opinion as to how the surveyor located the exterior bounds of the property. The more information requested from the surveyor, the more complex are the surveyor’s tasks of research, measurement, legal evaluation, and reporting.

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