Timberlane Homeowners Association, Inc. v. Brame – Case Review

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
  • Patio

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].

 

 

Selby v. Knudson – Case Review

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times … a picture tells a thousand words! See [HERE].

Selby v. Knudson is a case which is difficult to comprehend without diving into the reporter to actually get the “picture” – i.e. plat maps.

Unfortunately, today I am not going to allocate the time to run over to the law library to get that picture and so I am going to muddle on.

Oh, you don’t like that. OK, go find yourself an elevator firm in Seattle or Bellevue’s CBD where they pay good money to showcase reporters … which their lawyer’s never [ehr,] “often” review thereby completely worth their firm’s spend on rent.

At any rate, let’s just get down to brass tacks.

First, let’s figure out the players.

Selby – check. First sentence of the decision states: “William and Darlene Selby brought this action to quiet title to a 15.15-foot strip of land located at the eastern terminus of Crown Street in Walla Walla.” Moreover, “[t]he Selbys own the lot which abuts the strip on the north.”

Ziskas – i.e. “Charles and Jane Doe” – check. These are the folks for whom the lower court had “rejected … the claim that the intent of the persons who subdivided this area in 1906 … was to extend [Crown Street] to the western boundary of what is now the Ziskas’ property.”

Stop right there damn it! Could we please be clear that this regards Ziskas’ recorded property.  Ok, resuming …

Nixons – check. “In 1901, Kate and Edward Nixon recorded the plat of Garden City Heights Addition in Walla Walla.”

City of Walla Walla – check. “On June 2, 1992, the Selbys brought this action against the Ziskas, the City of Walla Walla, the Nixons, and others.”

OK, we’re ready to rock and roll … right?

> Ah, Mr. Zierman, is possible that you are forgetting somebody?

Come on don’t bother me, I’m trying to post out a blog before I get “eclipsed” by this weekend. Ha,ha, ha, get it … “eclipsed”!

> Um, no I’m serious here Mr. Zierman, I think you better go back to your list of as you call it … “players.”

Why? What am I missing?

> Could you please tell me and your audience who was defendant Knudson?

Ahhhhh … Ahhhh … Ummm ?… No! Knudson is not important. Must be um, um, one of those “others” … you should know by now, that’s very technical legal jargon – “others.”

I mean heck, the Nixons have put on 91 years since they recorded this plat and Selby’s aren’t leaving them alone … why shouldn’t they just go out there and throw a name in their pleading which OBVIOUSLY the court doesn’t believe to be of sufficient import to indicate. Knudson, Fruitson, Blutson, Chewtson, Zuitson … does it really matter? Of course it doesn’t! His name is “Milton Knudson” … It’s not Milton Bradley!

Alright, Now look right here at footnote 1. What does it say? Read it!!!

> Mr. Zierman, I would be be most pleased to read it. Yet, I kindly request that you please do not use that tone with me.

[Snarl …]

OK Mr. Zierman, here, … here goes. Ahm, Footnote 1:

“An order of default against the Nixons and others was entered on September 8, 1992. A stipulated order of default against the City of Walla Walla was entered on October 13, 1992.”

Good! … Now what that CLEARLY means is there was notice by publication against the Nixons who would have been no less than 109 years of age at the commencement of this lawsuit and for some reason they decided … NOT TO SHOW UP!

You following, my math right. Capacity at 18 plus 91 years … right?

> O … O … OK, Mr. Zierman, but again … could you please lower your voice.

Hold on! You’re not getting the point. You see at least the City of Walla Walla had the decency to show the court some respect.

Sure, they didn’t have any skin in the game and could have stayed home like the Nixons, but did they? Heck no!

Knudson? Shoot for all I know they were dismissed from this action for failure of service in the first place … others is others, OK!

> OK, Mr. Zierman, I, I, .. I get your point. Please just tell me the answer.

The answer is this pal.

Step 1: Selby’s simply wanted to quiet title to their land. You with me so far.

Step 2: Selby’s get litigation guarantees on every affected adjoiner and sue everyone on those list(s).

Step 3: Nobody gives a hoot … the land has been used by the Selby family since 1946 – which is 46 years. And what type of use did they have? The laundry list includes:

  • Beekeeping
  • Use of a “full-size Red Cross tent”
  • Fencing
  • Parking
  • “Gathering and Burning Wood” (Now, that’s a bonfire … . See [HERE].)
  • Children’s games of Play
  • Planting Flowers … and
  • Cutting Grass

Step 4: Waste the next 6 months preparing for trial (Incidentally, that’s extremely quick. King County Scheduling is a full year).

Step 5: Win at trial in front of a judge that somehow didn’t get the memo that the Washington Supreme Court in Chaplin eliminated the need for Selby’s to even make their adverse possession claim “in good faith under a claim of right” … certainly because the attorney didn’t bother to raise this point … along I suspect with hiring a surveyor to testify as an expert witness. And finally …

Step 6: Waste another 2+ years defending against an appeal.

Was it worth it? I don’t know.

I do know this much too though … this Division III appellate court though getting to the right answer … still wasn’t unanimously clear as to how.

No, then you have Judge Schulteis jumping in seeking with a concurring opinion to determine this case based on whether the City of Walla Walla still owned this land in its “proprietary” not “governmental” capacity. Gosh, whether that distinction had been vitiated or not at the time of this decision, I don’t know. I’m going home.

Just know this, if you want to get to conclusionary predictions get your survey ready for a Justice Smiles review and fill out this Initial Assessment [HERE].

 

 

 

Curtis v. Zuck – Case Review

Curtis v. Zuck is a case which involves what the court identifies as a ‘shifting easement’. The situation is one in which a gravel road over time ‘shifts’ outside of it’s actual bounds.

Well, just go ahead and put it back into its bounds and stop all this nonsensical meandering.

Unfortunately, it is not quite that easy. The facts indicate that there are trees along one side of the roadway which have grown such that there really isn’t the room to squeeze it back into place.

Now, this is a case which comes before Happy Bunch LLC v. Grandview North LLC determining that trees’ growth do not alter the line of a boundary. [See HERE].

But even so, I think that if a similar case were to come up again in which there is a ‘meandering easement’, the court would likely make the same sort of determination.

Though not stated outright in the case, the reason for this doesn’t lie so much in law as it does in equity.

Basically, Zucks purchased their home 40 years earlier and were lead to believe that they owned up to the south side of east-west running Bennet Street.

However, what their title actually indicated was that they owned to the east-west centerline of  Glass Street.

Platted all the way back in 1888, Glass Street was vacated by operation of statutory law 5 years later because it remained unopened for 5 years – everyone could at least agree on that.

Now somewhere out of nowhere – which we are to later find out is due to an implied easement – a private easement was created for Bennet Street – “a gravel roadway [which] was ultimately constructed to provide access for adjacent property owners … [lying] within and somewhat north of the platted location for Glass Street.

Now it’s a tough situation when one purchases into a problem without knowledge, it can be worse when you inherit it … right next to property you already own.

At any rate, facts for Zucks beyond [a] the treeline … were [b] the fact that they maintained their yard (within the gap of legal title), and had [c] had driveways (plural – hmm?) … oh right, and [d] “the Zucks dwelling was constructed about 10 feet into the southerly portion of the vacated right of way of Glass Street.

Folks, that’s adverse possession right there … and the court got around to indicating it … fortunately.

But, sometimes it’s important for the court to also chop down the forest of paper which comes at it in a claim which just isn’t going anywhere? So, here’s the money quote from this case:

Essentially, the Superior Court divested the Curtises of their implied easement of that portion of vacated Glass Street historically occupied by the Zucks and granted the Zucks a nonexclusive prescriptive easement over those portions of Bennett Road encroaching on the Curtis property.

Feel free to read all this nonsense about the rule of Burkhard and Van Buren if you want. All that says is that the grantees don’t take anything more than was granted to them by the grantor who in turn can not grant anything more than what they have.

What follows is the simple logic of … in that the grantor had granted an implied easement, that implied easement wasn’t extinguished by the mere fact that the grantor’s property is now owned by the grantee.

Though the court didn’t mention this outright, which I think is a real shame, basically this is the inverse of tacking. 

What do I mean by ‘inverse of tacking’ – well just as claimants of adverse possession can add their possession to that of a predecessor in interest to fulfill the statutory requirement (of 10 years per RCW 4.16.020), in a situation in which the title holder doesn’t have totality of land per legal description … the mere fact that they grant it to someone else doesn’t serve to sever neighbors rights such that now they only have access to that land as described by the legal description.

Pretty simple … right? Well, that’s what both the lower court and the appellate court thought.

I suspect it must have been really difficult for Curtis’ to accept the fact that they had a loser of a case. And why do I suspect this?

Because it is not hard to infer that attorney James F Flynn in coming up with a rather creative plausible argument (no doubt after considerable research which relies on those two other cases for argument), had a dog of a case … from paying clients.

[BTW we ‘know’ they are paying clients because to the Curtis’ these were commercial properties.]

Look, if your case smells like manure, wouldn’t you want like to have an attorney who will give it to you straight up front … instead of taking your money in a game you shouldn’t pursue?

Assuming you do NOT prefer smoke up your tail, get started by take this initial assessment with Justice Smiles [HERE].

 

 

Thor v. McDearmid – Case Review

Any lawyer who wants to “Geek Out” on civil procedure will have a heyday with Thor v. McDearmid.

This case explore the ins and outs of Washington’s Deadman’s Statute – RCW 5.60.030.

In doing so it parses concepts related to the definitions of “statements”, “parties in interest”, and “waiver” and “offers of proof” within its context.

Once finished beating that “horse”, the case review moves on to explain the intricacies in establishing a “resulting trust” as distinguished from a “constructive trust.”

Heck, even though it is probably hard to figure out “who’s who in the zoo” without going to the reporter because the familial relations between these combatants portrayed in an image is omitted (just as is often the case with survey exhibits which I have previously griped about [HERE]), we can readily intuit the virtually certain use of a litigation guarantee.

But, when we get right down to the nub of the adverse possession question this case is a no-brainer.

Here’s the facts for these 1,280 acres – i.e. (virtually) 2 square miles – of land held in co-tenancy.

[1] McDearmid’s children used the land “from time to time” for recreational purposes.

[2] McDearmid paid taxes for a straight stretch of 22 years (and somewhat intermittently thereafter).

[3] “The land was sometimes leased for cattle grazing […].”

Well, here’s what you have to know about adverse possession …

In those situations in which there is either an express easement or a co-tenancy (which is to say situations in which different parties have an interest in the title to the same real property), the only way to secure a victory by adverse possession is through “OUSTER.”

Ouster, which has a “clear, unequivocal, or convincing” [as I supposed distinguished from “clear, cogent, and convincing”] burden of proof is a virtually unobtainable standard of of conduct. Moreover, not only does the ouster have to occur to put the other title holder’s no notice, the resulting situation has to then stay in effect for the statutory period of generally 10 years per RCW 4.16.020.

The court explains this by looking back at precedential authority and then it notes something else:

They and their successors [the respondents opposed to McDearmid] enjoyed the use of the property at will for 40years, just as did Ms. McDearmid. The fact that Ms. McDearmid may have used it more is insufficient to prove ouster.

Now back up to that first sentence! This is where the “needle” completely trashes this “LP track.”

Folks, have we forgotten that adverse possession requires exclusive use? … Why yes indeed it does.

In fact, this might be used as the “counter-clockwise” approach to understanding ouster.

In cases in which there is an easement (or here co-tenancy), one can not claim some sort of “prescriptive use” in an attempt to “move the needle” as to ownership percentage in some sort of half-measured manner.

No, instead it requires an all-out push!

Believe me, if you are experiencing the “all-out push” which is required for an ouster, you won’t be sitting on your rights for 10 years grinning and bearing it.

Whether its your neighbor or your family, if you feel your rights to your land are not being honored take a moment to fill out Justice Smiles’ Initial Assessment. It’s free and it’s [HERE].

 

Reitz v. Knight – Case Review

While the conflict attendant to boundary disputes is tremendously wasteful on their own, there is a way to accelerate the extreme wallet purge as if a financial bulimic. That way is to challenge the validity of the neighbor’s survey with one’s own. This is what occurred in Reitz v. Knight. 

In surveyor speak this type of situation is called a dueling survey. In such cases, the fact-finder is called to make sense of the difference between no less than two professional land surveyors and quite often this can expand to three or more when other surveyors are brought in as expert witnesses to assist understanding.

Here it may be worthwhile to note that whereas attorneys are extreme linguists, surveyors are extreme mathematicians. As a result, it can and often is difficult for an attorney to properly assess and express the contours of a dueling survey while at the same time surveyors may be more inclined to mathematical and depiction than ‘using their words.’

Now there is something equivalent of a lawyers’ joke which generally all surveyors have heard which laments surveyors’ chosen profession it goes something akin to this …

Whereas Doctors bury their mistakes and Lawyers jail their mistakes, Surveyors record their mistakes for all to see forever.

So though the vast majority of surveyors work in unbiased fashion to opine and mark the lines on the ground of record title and will represent these lines whether subjectively beneficial or detrimental to their clients, once having rendered an opinion as is the case with any professional who takes pride in craftsmanship, most do not want to be challenged and dig in when this occurs.

Yet, just as is the case with all professions surveyors run the gambit in skill and ability. So as is the case here, sometimes not only is the surveyors mistake recorded, but it becomes further memorialization as an appellate case to allow instruction so the mistake is not again made.

As a not so incidental aside, the people who pay for this instruction are the both land owners. So again by way of warning, survey your resources, your case merits, and your determination before diving into a boundary dispute … especially if it may become a dueling survey. Now returning …

Reitz v. Knight is a case in which an initial surveyor discovered that “the 1904 plat map for Block A (which was contained in both Reitz and Knights’ lots) … did not specify a width for Block A’s southernmost lot, … and the actual length of Block A exceeded that indicated on the plat map by 20 to 40 feet, depending upon the width assigned to lot 36.”

Hmm? A 2o’ tolerance of error for Lake Washington fronting property on the tony, Seattle city of Mercer Island? Do you hear the warning bells a ringing?

Well, the first surveyor approach was to assign 42 feet to lot 36 which resulted in “28 feet of excess land within Block A.” This 28 feet was then “apportioned” among the 36 lots [in Block A].

Now let’s see … 12 inches in a foot times 28 feet equals 336. Now take that 336 and divide by 36 blocks and we have exactly 9.3333333 ad infinitum feet – i.e. 9 and 1/3rd – to give to all the neighbors. Now that’s a tidy solution.

What’s best of all this meant that the boundary line between these parties fell exactly “4 feet north of Knight’s foundation” … this is say underneath Knight’s foundation.

Knight apparently was not concerned with this odd result, but his neighbor Reitz was. Reitz evidently didn’t want his neighbor’s foundation or anything else on his property, so he hired a second surveyor.

This surveyor determined that apportionment was just not going to work out, because tellingly … “the newly established lines encroached into existing improvements.” This surveyor instead determined that to allow his client his full 70 feet, he would have to set the line … “one inch north of Knight’s chimney.”

Now here let’s take a break from the world of theory and just think what serves as real world sense with this question:

Is it better to have a boundary line lie 4 feet under the foundation of someone’s home or 1 inch offset from it? 

Well, if you said 4 feet under someone’s foundation, then you would be in league with the trial judge. But this is precisely the reason why we have appeals … because sometimes even judges in the tricky area of boundary dispute law will find themselves unable to rely on the information put before them and along with such lack comes also the absence of common sense.

On appeal, Knight put forward several arguments. The first was to argue the weight of the rules by which surveyors make their determination as to where to assign error … here the error which had been discovered in “the 1904 plat map for Block A.”

The appellate court first acknowledges the general rule of surveying procedure – apportionment – as had been performed by surveyor number one. Yet the court then goes on to indicate that this general rule is excepted by the “rule of possession”.

Under the “rule of possession”, an apportionment of an excess or deficiency of land will not be made when to do so would disturb long established occupational lines or would otherwise be impractical or inequitable.

Now holding that adverse possession is valid law, this makes sense doesn’t it?

For surveyors, though not contextually the same, you have another quip which is quite apt.

Let the error lie, instead of kicking it down the road.

My understanding is if failing to do so, the error becomes magnified … just as the road of legal error was magnified by surveyor number one for failing to recognize that calling out an error and effectively demanding its correction does not serve anyone’s best interest well after the prescriptive period of 10 years – at least here in Washington – has run.

Now once the line had been established to have been located 1″ north of Knight’s chimney, the appellate court was free to progress on the claim of adverse possession.

Now the facts attendant to adverse possession:

[1] “Knight offered evidence that since 1958, the eaves of his house have extended seven inches over the boundary line established by [Surveyor #2].” Also …

[2] “Reitz expressly disavowed ever caring for the plants [alongside Knight’s house], and Knight testified that since acquiring the property in 1976, he is the only person who maintained them.”

In that there obviously wasn’t a legal description in place to allow the certain transfer of real property by Knight as prevailing party of his adverse possession claim per RCW 7.28.120 … the case was remanded for the trial court to accordingly make this determination.

Wow! What a mess. Try not to have your boundary dispute matter become similarly messy by being in contact with Justice Smiles, pllc through its Initial Assessment [HERE].

Here are a couple of other interesting rules were restated within the context of this case.

[A] Illustrative Evidence – “[A]n exhibit specially prepared for trial as substantive independent evidence should not be allowed unless there is preliminary testimony, by one who can be cross-examined, as to the accuracy of the data upon which the exhibit is based.” Owen v. Seattle, 49 Wn.2d 187, 194, 299 P.2d 560 (1956).

[B] Necessary Parties –  “In the context of boundary line disputes, joinder [per CR 19] ordinarily is required only of persons who own property adjacent to the disputed boundary line.” Cady v. Kerr, 11 Wn.2d 1, 14, 118 P.2d 182 (1941).

[C] Irregular Cove Exception – “One exception, recognized in Washington [to rule [B] immediately above], is that when property lines are uncertain for all owners of shoreline property situated on an irregular cove, all owners are necessary parties to a boundary line dispute.” Seattle Factory Sites Co. v. Saulsberry, 131 Wash. 95, 98, 229 P. 10 (1924).

[D] Remnant Rule – The appellate court’s second end note indicates that whereas the second surveyor’s approach was adopted [based on the “rule of possession”] … “[a]nother exception that could have been applied in this case is the “remnant rule”. The remnant rule applies when the subdivider declares the dimensions of each lot except the last and thus leaves an irregular, undimensioned space.” Further expressed is that this rule relies on “Grantor’s Intent” for its semantic validity.

[E] Establishing Lost or Uncertain Boundaries RCW 58.04.020 was not applicable to the facts of this case on the basis that adverse possession was the equitable relief granted.

 

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