Timberlane HOA, Inc. v. Brame is a textbook case both with respect to procedure and merit, EXCEPT …
Unlike the opinion itself, I am going to first look at the merits of adverse possession and then review this idea of standing.
Overall, this is a pretty clear case in which someone who had purchased property which as to its “ground truth” was indicative of a boundary certain due to the “TOTALITY” of fence enclosure.
Somehow the HOA discovered that a fence replaced along its original course was not coincident with the line of record title and through its attorney sent a letter to Brame to properly replace it along the correct line. Brame apparently wasn’t keen on doing this and so the HOA followed-through with a lawsuit.
After presumptively a full exchange of discovery, the parties then noted the calendar for cross summary judgment. This is important.
Essentially, with a cross summary judgment the court receives motions for each of the parties in which the content points to the folks on the other side of the ‘legal line of dispute’ to indicate there is no way that the other side can win … so let’s it here.
Each party then gets a chance to respond to the other side’s arguments.
Finally, each party gets a chance to reply to the other parties’ response.
So again, double motion, double response, double reply.
This means the judge gets to look at 8 documents. That’s kind of like North, South, East, and West … along with NE, SE, SW, and NW – all the compass points are covered.
You would think the judge would get it right. But, here the appellate court determined that not to be the fact.
As facts, those supporting adverse possession were as follows:
- Full Enclosure Fence
- Distinct Difference of Land Use
- Tree and bush plantings
- Children Playing w/in Yard
So how is it possible that the judge got this wrong?
Easy, the judge was persuaded by legal argument suggesting it appropriate to apply the legal rule from the easement [not adverse possession (?)] case Burkhard v. Bowen.
Well, the appellate court determined that on the merits that wasn’t going to be the case.
But, instead of just going straight in and attack the decision solely on the legal merit alone, the appellate court gets itself mired in a bunch of nonsense about standing.
The court sprays ink all over the page as to why the HOA doesn’t have standing.
Without standing, the HOA does not have the legal ability to bring this lawsuit against Brame.
Now as a theoretical construct, let’s think this through…
If no one is empowered to enforce property rights then by extension no one owns those property rights. Right?
But, the converse of this is likely that Brame would not have anyone to bring this suit against if the plaintiff … unless the HOA commons are to otherwise be subject to a land rush (a possibility which is not likely the intended consequence of this decision.)
Bottom line, all this standing argumentation just sufficiently clean for me. There must be some other purpose.
So, what I suspect is really going on here is that the appellate court is seeking to neuter an overzealous group of HOA members.
HOA members who quite likely were seeking to use the shield of a collective influence the HOA provides in order to “protect and project” their personal interests.
As a not incidental aside, this “protection and projection” of personal interests can often be much less about legal disputes and instead are about seeking to get one’s neighbors to simply submit.
So, my read is that the appellate court determined that it didn’t want to see such a pedantic legal action from the HOA and sought to telegraph this point.
The end result? A rare reversal of the lower court’s summary judgment decision.
Who was the biggest winner? I would have to say it was Brame predecessor in interest Holly Laggart.
But for a decision against the HOA, she would have been chained to this case all the way through trial and if Brame failed against the HOA it is quite possible that Holly would need to pucker up.
Whether your boundary conflict is one in which you are a current neighbor or you are the predecessor in interest – i.e. you sold your property to one of the neighbors who are now fighting – protect yourself by taking the Justice Smiles Initial Assessment [HERE].