Anderson v. Fautin

Decision Date31 May 2016
Docket NumberNo. 20140664,20140664
Citation2016 UT 22,379 P.3d 1186
Parties Terral E. Anderson, Petitioner, v. Janet Fautin, Respondent.
CourtUtah Supreme Court

Marcus Taylor, Richfield, for petitioner

Tex R. Olsen, Richfield, for respondent

Chief Justice Durrant authored the opinion of the Court, in which Associate Chief Justice Lee, Justice Durham, and Justice Himonas joined.

Justice John A. Pearce became a member of the Court on December 17, 2015, after oral argument in this matter, and accordingly did not participate.

Chief Justice Durrant, opinion of the Court:

Introduction

¶ 1 This case raises a single legal question: does the occupation element in our boundary by acquiescence doctrine require a claimant to prove that both owners of adjoining land occupied their respective parcels up to a visible line? Terral E. Anderson, the petitioner, owns a vacant parcel adjoining respondent Janet Fautin's parcel. Mr. Anderson failed to visit or inspect his property for a twenty-six year period. During that time, Ms. Fautin occupied her parcel up to a fence dividing the properties. A subsequent survey showed that the fence encroached into Mr. Anderson's vacant parcel.

¶ 2 As the record titleholder, Mr. Anderson sought to quiet title to the disputed strip created by the fence's encroachment. In response, Ms. Fautin claimed title under the doctrine of boundary by acquiescence. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Ms. Fautin, concluding that Mr. Anderson's occupancy was immaterial to the element of occupation. Mr. Anderson appealed, arguing that the occupation element required Ms. Fautin to prove occupancy on both sides of the fence. The court of appeals affirmed. We granted certiorari and, after reviewing our boundary by acquiescence jurisprudence, we also affirm.

Background

¶ 3 The parties do not dispute the facts. Terral E. Anderson, the petitioner, and Janet Fautin, the respondent, own adjoining properties in Piute County, Utah. A fence, which is 2,000 feet long and runs from a highway to a large curve in the Sevier River, divides the properties, with Mr. Anderson's property directly south of Ms. Fautin's property. John A. Hansen, a previous owner of Ms. Fautin's property, installed the fence sometime before 1930. The Hansen family, including John A. Hansen and his sons, owned the property from 1930 to 1957—a period of twenty-seven years. During that time, they lived on the property in the summer and had several milk cows. They built a cabin and established a designated milking area directly north of the fence.

¶ 4 In 1987, Ms. Fautin purchased the property and used it for grazing livestock. In 2000, she replaced the fence when it became deteriorated. Significantly, the parties do not dispute that Ms. Fautin has occupied her property up to the fence since she first purchased the property.

¶ 5 Mr. Anderson purchased his property in 1968. He did nothing with it for twenty-six years, until 1994 when he retired. He explains this period of absence by noting that he was “on the ocean most of the time.” In 2005, Mr. Anderson had his property surveyed. The survey disclosed that the fence did not align with the legal boundary of the property. Two years later, he filed this action, asking the court to quiet title to the disputed property, which lies between the fence and the surveyed boundary line.

¶ 6 The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and the district court granted Ms. Fautin's motion, finding that she had established a boundary by acquiescence. The district court noted that there was an issue of fact regarding the occupancy of Mr. Anderson's land,1 but that the issue was “immaterial, since the law states that occupancy can occur with activity on only one side of a disputed boundary.” Mr. Anderson appealed the district court's interpretation of this aspect of our boundary by acquiescence law. The court of appeals upheld the district court's interpretation, concluding that the occupancy element in our boundary by acquiescence doctrine does not require the claiming party to show occupancy up to both sides of a visible line.2 We granted certiorari on this single legal issue.3

Standard of Review

¶ 7 Mr. Anderson does not dispute the above facts but argues that the court of appeals misread the occupation element in our doctrine of boundary by acquiescence.4 We granted certiorari on whether our boundary by acquiescence doctrine requires a claimant to prove occupancy on both sides of a visible line. This is a question of law that we review for correctness.5 We have jurisdiction pursuant to Utah Code section 78A–3–102(3)(a).

Analysis

¶ 8 To establish a boundary by acquiescence, our prior caselaw required a claimant to satisfy four elements: (i) occupation up to a visible line marked by monuments, fences, or buildings, (ii) mutual acquiescence in the line as a boundary, (iii) for a period of at least 20 years, (iv) by adjoining landowners.”6 This doctrine minimizes litigation, “promot[es] stability in landownership,”7 and “fills an important gap in the law left unaddressed by other doctrines.”8

¶ 9 Mr. Anderson argues that the first element of our boundary by acquiescence doctrine—the occupation element—requires a claimant to show occupation on both sides of a visible line. Ms. Fautin, in response, claims that the occupation element requires a claimant to show occupation only on his or her side of a visible line. She also argues that the nonclaimant's occupancy is relevant, if at all, only to the second element of boundary by acquiescence—the mutual acquiescence element—which is an issue Mr. Anderson did not appeal.

¶ 10 As the parties' arguments demonstrate, we have made inconsistent articulations and applications of both the occupation element and the mutual acquiescence element in our precedent. Our inconsistent approach to the doctrine has largely resulted from the influence of two related doctrines on boundary by acquiescence disputes: boundary by agreement and adverse possession. Consequently, to clarify what the occupation element of boundary by acquiescence requires, we must consider the ways in which these two related doctrines have shaped our boundary by acquiescence jurisprudence.

¶ 11 As discussed below, we conflated boundary by acquiescence with boundary by agreement in our early caselaw. This led us to look for evidence of mutual occupancy in boundary by acquiescence cases. It also encouraged this court to look for evidence from which to imply consent by a nonclaimant to a boundary line. But our more recent cases have properly separated boundary by acquiescence from boundary by agreement, recognizing the close relationship between the former doctrine and adverse possession. Under this more recent caselaw, we have abandoned any mutual occupancy requirement, finding the occupation element satisfied when a claimant occupies his or her property up to a visible line. Accordingly, to the extent our early cases required a claimant to show that both parties occupied up to a visible line to satisfy the occupation element, we here expressly disavow any such requirement. Because the facts show that Ms. Fautin occupied her parcel up to the fence, we affirm the court of appeals' judgment.

I. Our Early Cases Failed to Adequately Separate the Doctrine of Boundary by Acquiescence from the Doctrine of Boundary by Agreement

¶ 12 In our early caselaw, we failed to separate the doctrine of boundary by acquiescence from the doctrine of boundary by agreement. This approach to boundary by acquiescence disputes had two unfortunate consequences: (1) it led this court to impose upon a claimant a burden of showing that both adjoining landowners had occupied up to a visible line; and (2) it led this court to distort the mutual acquiescence requirement by focusing on evidence from which to infer that a nonclaimant had consented to the location of a boundary at a visible line. We have in our more recent caselaw abandoned these initial approaches, including the mutual occupancy requirement.

¶ 13 The conflation of boundary by acquiescence and boundary by agreement in our early caselaw was caused, in part, by the close conceptual relationship between the doctrines—both of which apply to boundary disputes and look for acquiescence or agreement by adjoining landowners.9 As noted above, boundary by acquiescence requires occupation up to a visible line and acquiescence in that line as a boundary by adjoining landowners.10 In comparison, the related doctrine of boundary by agreement requires:

(1) an agreement between adjoining landowners, (2) settling a boundary that is uncertain or in dispute, (3) a showing that injury would occur if the boundary were not upheld, and (4) where the doctrine is being invoked against successors in interest, demarcation of a boundary line such that a reasonable party would be placed on notice that the given line was being treated as the boundary line between the properties.11

¶ 14 We first began to conflate these two doctrines in Holmes v. Judge.12 In that decision, we noted that

in all cases where the boundary is open, and visibly marked by monuments, fences, or buildings, and is knowingly acquiesced in for a long term of years, the law will imply an agreement fixing the boundary as located, and will not permit the parties or their grantees to depart from such line.13

In subsequent cases, we relied on this “implied agreement” language to frame our boundary by acquiescence inquiry. This reliance eventually led us to treat boundary by acquiescence claims as subsidiary to boundary by agreement claims, applying the former doctrine to imply a boundary agreement only if the claimant could not marshal evidence of such an agreement.14

¶ 15 As a subsidiary doctrine that applied only where courts could infer a boundary agreement, we began to rely on contract principles—as articulated in boundary by agreement—to assess boundary by acquiescence claims. This, in turn, laid the groundwork for a mutual occupancy requirement, which required a...

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  • Pioneer Home Owners Ass'n v. Taxhawk Inc., 20180159-CA
    • United States
    • Utah Court of Appeals
    • December 27, 2019
    ...(ii) mutual acquiescence in the line as a boundary, (iii) for a period of at least 20 years, (iv) by adjoining landowners." Anderson v. Fautin , 2016 UT 22, ¶¶ 8, 30–31, 379 P.3d 1186 (cleaned up). A party "obtain[s] title [to the disputed property] by operation of law at the time the eleme......
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    • Utah Court of Appeals
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    ...a boundary; (3) mutual acquiescence in the line as a boundary by adjoining landowners; (4) for a period of at least 20 years." Anderson v. Fautin , 2016 UT 22, ¶ 31, 379 P.3d 1186. To prevail on a claim of boundary by acquiescence, a claimant must prove each element "by clear and convincing......
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    • Utah Court of Appeals
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    ...a boundary; (3) mutual acquiescence in the line as a boundary by adjoining landowners; (4) for a period of at least 20 years." Anderson v. Fautin , 2016 UT 22, ¶ 31, 379 P.3d 1186 ; accord Linebaugh v. Gibson , 2020 UT App 108, ¶ 25, 471 P.3d 835. "To prevail ..., a claimant must prove each......
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    ...as a boundary; (3) mutual acquiescence in the line as a boundary by adjoining landowners; (4) for a period of at least 20 years. Anderson v. Fautin , 2016 UT 22, ¶ 31, 379 P.3d 1186. "To prevail on a claim of boundary by acquiescence, a claimant must prove each element ‘by clear and convinc......
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1 books & journal articles
  • Utah Law Developments
    • United States
    • Utah State Bar Utah Bar Journal No. 29-5, October 2016
    • Invalid date
    ...claims judgment, so long as the party seeking the jury makes a timely demand under Utah Rule of Civil Procedure 38(b). Anderson v. Fautin, 2016 UT 22 (May 31, 2016) In this boundary dispute case, the Utah Supreme Court held that Utah’s boundary by acquiescence doctrine does not require a cl......

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