Mindy Chambliss v. Melissa Watts-Sanders

Download as PDF ARKANSAS COURT OF APPEALS  NOT DESIGNATED FOR PUBLICATION  WENDELL GRIFFIN, JUDGE  DIVISION III  CA07­430  January 30, 2008  MINDY CHAMBLISS  APPELLANT  AN APPEAL FROM DREW  COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT  [CIV2006­116­4]  V.  HON. DON E. GLOVER, JUDGE  MELISSA WATTS­SANDERS  APPELLEE  AFFIRMED  On January 4, 2006, the Drew County Circuit Court entered an order finding that a  row of trees between the properties of appellant Mindy Chambliss and appellee Melissa  Watts­Sanders was established as a boundary line by acquiescence.  Appellant contends that  appellee failed to prove the elements of boundary by acquiescence.  We disagree and affirm  1  the decision of the circuit court.  The parties share a common backyard boundary, with appellant’s property located  east  of  appellee’s  property.  The  dispute  began  after  appellant  ordered  a  survey,  which 1  Appellant also argues that the circuit court erred in awarding appellee possession of the  disputed tract on an adverse­possession theory.  As noted by appellee, however, the circuit  court  made  no  finding  regarding  whether  appellee  obtained  the  land  through  adverse  possession.  Accordingly, we decline to address this argument.  showed that appellee had constructed a dog pen on what the property deeds described as  appellant’s property.  Appellee claimed property up to a row of pine trees planted on the  disputed tract; however, the trees were twenty­three feet east of the surveyed boundary line.  Appellant demanded that appellee remove the dog pen and threatened legal action if she  failed  to  do  so.  In  a  letter  dated  July  6,  2005,  appellant  asserted,  “The  survey  does  superscede  [sic]  the  fact  that  the  property  was  maintained  for  49  years.”    Eventually,  appellant took possession of the disputed tract by tearing down the dog pen and a flower bed.  According to testimony from appellee’s mother, Wanda Caveness, appellee’s property  formerly  belonged  to  appellee’s  grandparents,  Vivian  and  Loren  Harris.    The  Harrises  purchased the property in 1956 and constructed a house.  Mr. Harris later planted the pine  trees and developed the flower bed toward the rear of the property.  Caveness stated that Mr.  Harris cut the grass between the flower bed and the pine trees and that he treated the pine  trees  as  the  boundary  between  the  two  properties.    She  also  recalled  hiring  someone  to  remove  a  pine  tree  and  noted  that  no  one  objected  to  the  removal  of  the  tree.    She  was  unaware of anyone except her family using the disputed area since 1956.  Appellee also  called J.C. Nichols, who stated that he was familiar with appellee’s property and testified  that  in  the  thirteen  years  he  lived  in  the  area  (1961­1974),  he  was  unaware  of  anyone  claiming the disputed tract other than the Harrises.  Appellee testified that she received the deed to the property from her grandmother in  2004. She recalled memories of going to the property at least once a week.  She noted that 2  the pine trees were planted as close to in a line as possible and that the trees marked the  boundary line between the properties. Appellant stated that her grandparents mowed the area  and used the disputed area to gather debris and limbs. She was unaware of appellant mowing  past the tree line prior to June 2005.  Appellant testified that she purchased her property in 2003.  She stated that when she  purchased her property, she thought that her property went to the concrete edging of the  flower bed.  She was unaware that appellee claimed possession of the disputed property until  appellee placed the dog pen.  Appellant stated that she questioned it, but that she “let it slide”  until  she  had  the  survey  performed.  She  claimed  that  she  had  maintained  the  disputed  property since purchasing it in 2003 and that she never saw appellee on the property.  She  denied that she stopped mowing the lawn at the pine trees.  Appellant also presented the  testimony of Ralph Wells, who owned a rent house south of appellant’s property.  He denied  seeing anyone using the disputed property.  On  January  4,  2007,  the  circuit  court  entered  an  order  finding  that  appellee  had  established the row of trees as the boundary by acquiescence and quieted title to the disputed  property  in  appellee’s  name.  It  also  awarded  appellee  $250  in  damages  for  the  cost  of  repairing and reconstructing the dog pen.  Appellant filed a timely notice of appeal.  Although this court reviews equity cases de novo on the record, we do not reverse  unless  we  determine  that  the  circuit  court’s  findings  of  fact  were  clearly  erroneous.  Robertson v. Lees, 87 Ark. App. 172, 189 S.W.3d 463 (2004).  A finding of fact is clearly  erroneous when the reviewing court is left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake 3  has been committed.  Conner v. Donahoo, 85 Ark. App. 43, 145 S.W.3d 395 (2004).  In  reviewing the lower court’s findings, this court gives due deference to the circuit judge’s  superior position to determine the credibility of the witnesses and the weight to be accorded  to their testimony.  Id.  Appellant argues that appellee failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that  the pine tree line was the boundary by acquiescence. She makes three arguments: (1) the tree  line was not a physical and permanent boundary; (2) there was evidence that neither appellee  nor her predecessors occupied the disputed property; and (3) appellee failed to provide any  testimony that any of appellant’s predecessors in interest took any actions to indicate that the  disputed land belonged to appellee.  The  mere  existence  of  a  fence  or  some  other  line,  without  evidence  of  mutual  recognition, cannot sustain a finding of boundary by acquiescence. Warren v. Collier, 262  Ark. 656, 559 S.W.2d 927 (1978); Robertson, supra.  Silent acquiescence is sufficient, as  the boundary line is usually inferred from the parties’ conduct over so many years.  Warren,  supra; Hicks v. Newton, 255 Ark. 867, 503 S.W.2d 472 (1974).  A boundary by acquiescence  may be established without the necessity of a prior dispute or adverse use up to the line.  Rabjohn v. Ashcraft, 252 Ark. 565, 480 S.W.2d 138 (1972).  For a party to prove that a  boundary line has been established by acquiescence, that party must show that both parties  at least tacitly accepted the non­surveyed line as the true boundary line. The mere subjective  belief that a fence is the boundary line is insufficient to establish a boundary between two  properties. Webb v. Curtis, 235 Ark. 599, 361 S.W.2d 87 (1962). 4  First,  appellant  contends  that  the  tree  line  cannot  constitute  a  boundary  line.  However, the law merely requires the boundary line to be some monument (e.g., a fence,  turnrow, lane, or ditch) tacitly accepted as visible evidence of a dividing line. See Ward v.  Adams, 66 Ark. App. 208, 989 S.W.2d 550 (1999) (affirming a finding that an old fence line  and a pecan tree in a neighbor’s yard had been used as the boundary line).  The pine trees  in this case can constitute a boundary line.  Next, appellant argues that neither appellee nor the Harrises occupied the disputed  tract.  She relies on Wells, who testified that he never saw anyone occupy the disputed tract.  However, this argument ignores the other evidence showing that appellee and the Harrises  did  occupy  that  area,  including  evidence  that  Mr.  Harris  planted  the  pine  trees  and  appellant’s July 2005 letter acknowledging that appellee and the Harrises had maintained the  disputed tract for forty­nine years.  Finally, with respect to appellant’s argument that appellee never presented evidence  showing  that  either  she  or  her  predecessors  in  interest  agreed  to  the  tree  line  being  the  boundary, appellant correctly notes that there must be conduct by landowners over many  years to imply the existence of an agreement about the location of a boundary line.  See  Webb, supra.  However, appellee presented evidence that no one other than she and her  family used the disputed tract.  We have held that boundary by acquiescence existed in cases  where one party has used land belonging to another and the true landowner did nothing to  assert his interest.  See Boyette v. Vogelpohl, 92 Ark. App. 436, 214 S.W.3d 874 (2005)  (holding that mutual recognition of a boundary line existed when both parties mowed up to 5  the disputed line and the true landowner asserted no interest in the disputed property until  obtaining a survey); Summers v. Dietsch, 41 Ark. App. 52, 849 S.W.2d 3 (1993) (holding  that mutual recognition of a fence as a boundary line existed when both sides maintained  their property up to the fence, the true owners did not object to the use of their property, both  sides maintained the fence itself, and the true owner did nothing about challenging the fence  line for over a decade).  In the present case, appellee and her family occupied property up  to  the  tree  line,  and  appellant  had  no  objection  until  she  had  the  property  surveyed.  Appellee’s family’s use of the property remained undisturbed for almost fifty years.  No one  objected when appellee’s mother had one of the trees removed.  Acquiescence can result  from the silent conduct of the parties, see Warren, supra; Hicks, supra, and the fact that none  of  appellant’s  predecessors  used  the  property  east  of  the  tree  line  can  be  seen  as  tacit  acceptance of the tree line as the boundary between the two properties.  Though there was evidence presented to the contrary, the circuit court’s finding that  appellee established the tree line as the boundary by acquiescence is not clearly erroneous.  Accordingly, we affirm.  Affirmed.  ROBBINS and MARSHALL, JJ., agree. 6