March 31, 2008

This opinion discusses several of the ways that courts use to decide which survey is correct

CONNIE R. (DAVIS) PHILLIPS, ET AL., V. LAWRENCE WOODS, ET AL. (Tenn.Ct.App. March 31, 2008).

This appeal involves a dispute over a boundary line and the ownership of a driveway. The plaintiffs, Connie R. (Davis) Phillips and Carol J. (Davis) Miller ("the plaintiffs" or "the Davis heirs"), and the defendants, Lawrence Woods and Charlotte Woods ("the defendants" or "the Woods"), own adjacent tracts of real property in Morgan County. When the initial complaint was filed, the northern tract of property was owned by the plaintiffs' mother, Stella Davis ("Mrs. Davis"), who had filed suit against the Woods, the owners of the southern tract, to quiet title, to establish the common boundary line, and for libel of title. After Mrs. Davis' death prior to trial, her daughters were substituted as plaintiffs.

Upon the conclusion of a bench trial, the trial court found, inter alia, that the Davis heirs owned the property over which the driveway ran, but that the defendants retained an easement by necessity in the roadway, and that the Woods had committed libel of title. While the trial court agreed with the common boundary line described by the surveyor for the Davis heirs, the court reformed the boundary between the parties upon finding that the defendants were entitled to a portion of the Davis property as a result of adversely possessing it for over 30 years. The Woods appeal. We affirm. Case remanded for further proceedings.

Opinion found at TBA website:

"In determining disputed boundaries, resort is to be had first to natural objects or landmarks, because of their very permanent character; next, to artificial monuments or marks, then to the boundary lines of adjacent landowners, and then to courses and distances. [] This rule of construction is to aid in determining the intention of the parties to a deed which is to be determined, if possible, from the instrument in connection with the surrounding circumstances." Id.(citations omitted; quoting Thornburg v. Chase, 606 S.W.2d 672, 675 (Tenn.Ct.App. 1980)).

"The legal description for Tract 1 of the Davis property also calls for the property described to contain about half an acre. ... The dimensions of Tract 1 as depicted on the Nance survey are much closer to the quantity of land called for by the deed than the dimensions of Tract 1 as depicted on the Steelman survey. The call for the quantity of land in a deed may be resorted to for the purpose of locating and identifying the land in certain circumstances. [] “The boundaries of a tract of land are not usually delineated by the quantity or acreage,” but “where boundaries are in doubt, the quantity may become an important factor.” [] Thus, the fact that the Nance survey more closely produces the quantity of land called for in the deed supports the conclusion that it correctly located Tract 1." Id.(citations omitted).