Ault v. Holden

Decision Date26 March 2002
Docket Number No. 20001008., No. 20000690
Citation2002 UT 33,44 P.3d 781
PartiesLeo H. AULT and Virginia Ault, Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. Darrell C. HOLDEN and Patsy E. Holden, Defendants and Appellees.
CourtUtah Supreme Court

William J. Hansen, Karra J. Porter, Salt Lake City, for plaintiffs.

Scott A. Broadhead, Tooele, for defendants.

RUSSON, Associate Chief Justice.

¶ 1 Leo and Virginia Ault (collectively, "the Aults") appeal from an order granting Darrell and Patsy Holden (collectively, "the Holdens") summary judgment, quieting title to two disputed parcels of property in the Holdens. We reverse and remand.

BACKGROUND

¶ 2 This matter involves claims by two adjoining landowners to a strip of land that runs along their respective properties in Vernon, Utah ("the strip"), and to another parcel ("the western parcel"). See Figure 1.1 The lot to the north of the strip is owned by the Aults. The lot south of the strip is owned by the Holdens. The Aults claim title to both of these disputed parcels by virtue of their warranty deed, and the Holdens claim title under the doctrine of boundary by acquiescence. The Holdens also claim that the Ault deed was defective and, in any case, was not recorded prior to the Holdens' deed and did not affect the Holdens' rights in the disputed property.

I. RELEVANT PROPERTIES AND PROPERTY INTERESTS

¶ 3 The Aults purchased the north lot in 1962 from Clarence M. Plant and Anna M. Plant Ross pursuant to a uniform real estate contract. The real estate purchase contract provided for delivery of a warranty deed upon completion of a series of payments. This contract was recorded with the Tooele County Recorder's Office in December 1962. The payments were made, and Plant and Ross executed a warranty deed2 on June 15, 1972, and delivered it to the Aults ("Ault deed"). The Aults recorded the deed on August 22, 1975.

¶ 4 On March 21, 1973, the Holdens purchased the property directly south of the Ault property.3 They recorded the warranty deed conveying the south lot to them ("Holden deed") on April 9, 1973. Then, on February 26, 1976, the Holdens purchased a thin, triangle-shaped parcel of property ("triangular parcel") located on the west of the Holden property and west of the southern portion of the Ault property.

¶ 5 Along the border of the north and south lots sits the strip in question, which is approximately 30 feet wide and 553 feet long. On the north side of the strip is a fence line,4 which runs westwardly from a county road— bounding the south lot, the north lot, and the strip on the east—to a point about 26 feet from the Ault property's western boundary, as defined by the Ault deed, and then turns northward. The Ault deed's legal description of the north lot expressly encompasses the strip, but the Holden deed's legal description of the south lot does not explicitly include the strip. ¶ 6 On the west, the fence continues northwesterly for about 115 feet. West of this section of the fence is the western parcel, a rectangular parcel of property. The western parcel, which is about 26 feet wide and 115 feet long, is also claimed by both the Aults and the Holdens. The legal description of the Ault property also expressly encompasses the western parcel, but the legal description of the Holden property does not. Whether the Holdens have occupied the western parcel for more than twenty years is unclear from the record and the parties' briefs, but the trial court specifically found that the "Holdens are in possession of the disputed property," implicitly finding that the Holdens occupied the western parcel.

¶ 7 Before purchasing the south lot, the Holdens leased the lot commencing in 1969. From that time, the Holdens occupied the south lot. They also used the strip in controversy up to the fence. Indeed, between April 1, 1972, and sometime in 1977, the Holdens leased the Ault property from the Aults. Further, the Holdens used the Ault property between 1982 and 1997.5

II. CONVERSATIONS

¶ 8 At various times during the period relevant to this appeal, Darrell Holden and Leo Ault had conversations in which they discussed the strip. They both acknowledged that the fence did not demarcate the boundary between the Holden and Ault properties. The first conversation occurred in 1978. Another such conversation occurred during the early 1990s.6 During this conversation, Ault apprised Holden that the fence was not the boundary. In response, Holden offered to trade a parcel of property to Ault in exchange for the strip or offered to purchase the strip from the Aults. However, neither a trade nor a purchase was ever consummated. Before the trial court, the Holdens acknowledged that "those conversations took place."

¶ 9 In 1997, Ault told Holden that he did not want the Holdens on the Ault property because the Holdens had erected structures and fences on the Ault property without the Aults' consent. Subsequently, on June 2, 1998, the Holdens received a letter from Ault demanding that the Holdens remove their possessions from the Ault property.

III. DEEDS AND SURVEYS

¶ 10 The legal description in the Ault deed defines all the courses to the Ault property: The last course simply states "[t]hence south 1.77 chains to the place of beginning, containing approximately 17 acres." The Holden deed provides that the northern boundary of the Holden property is "the South line of the A.M. Ross and C.M. Plant property." The parties do not dispute that this boundary description actually refers to the southern boundary of the Ault property.

¶ 11 Based upon the Ault and Holden deeds, several surveys of the Ault and Holden properties have been conducted during the time period relevant to this appeal. The first survey, the Rosenberg survey, was performed in 1969 and was a survey of the south lot. A second survey was completed by H.K. Bullen for the Holdens on July 8, 1974, in connection with Holden's 1976 purchase of the triangular parcel. The third was obtained by the Aults of the north lot in connection with previous litigation in the late 1970s or early 1980s. The fourth survey, dated July 5, 1998, was performed by D.H. Jensen and Associates.7 Jensen and Associates surveyed both the Ault and Holden properties. All four of the surveys determined that both of the disputed parcels belonged to the Aults. However, the Jensen survey noted that the legal description of the Ault property in the Ault deed did not close.8 Darrell Holden denies seeing the first three surveys until "the late '80s," including the Bullen survey that Holden requested.

IV. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶ 12 On November 30, 1998, the Aults filed a complaint against the Holdens, asserting four causes of action: (1) quiet title, (2) conversion of personal property, (3) unjust enrichment, and (4) trespass. On February 8, 2000, the Holdens moved for summary judgment. On July 18, 2000, the district court granted the Holdens summary judgment, quieting title to the strip and the western parcel in the Holdens. Specifically, the trial court determined that the Holdens were entitled to the disputed parcels based on, inter alia, the doctrine of boundary by acquiescence. The trial court reasoned in the order granting summary judgment:

The parties agree they had a conversation in 1978, that the fence was not the actual record boundary line as noted in their deeds. Nonetheless, the Aults did not seek to oust the Holdens from occupying the disputed property. In spite of the conversation, the objective evidence and conduct of the parties shows that they each acquiesced in the fence as their dividing line.

In its order, the trial court determined that the Holdens occupied the strip for boundary by acquiescence purposes between 1978 and 1998.

¶ 13 On August 1, 2000, the Holdens filed a verified memorandum of attorney fees and costs. The district court then awarded the Holdens $3,518.65 in costs and $13,550 in attorney fees. The Aults appealed.

¶ 14 On appeal, the Aults contend that the trial court erred by concluding that (1) the Holdens had established their ownership of the disputed parcels under the doctrine of boundary by acquiescence, (2) the Ault deed was ineffective in that it failed to close, and (3) the Ault deed was subject to the Holdens' rights in the disputed parcels because the Holdens were parties in possession. Further, the Aults argue that the Holdens are not entitled to attorney fees or costs. In response, the Holdens argue that the trial court properly granted summary judgment to them and that they are entitled to attorney fees and costs.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶ 15 Summary judgment is appropriate when "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Utah R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also, e.g., State ex rel. Div. of Forestry, Fire & State Lands v. Tooele County, 2002 UT 8, ¶ 8, 44 P.3d 680

; Tustian v. Schriever, 2001 UT 84, ¶ 13, 34 P.3d 755. To determine whether a trial court properly granted summary judgment, we review the trial court's legal conclusions for correctness, affording those legal conclusions no deference. Utah Coal & Lumber Rest., Inc. v. Outdoor Endeavors Unlimited, 2001 UT 100, ¶ 9, 40 P.3d 581; SME Indus., Inc. v. Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback & Assocs., Inc., 2001 UT 54, ¶ 9, 28 P.3d 669. "Because summary judgment is granted as a matter of law, we may reconsider the trial court's legal conclusions." Winegar v. Froerer Corp., 813 P.2d 104, 107 (Utah 1991). Additionally, when "reviewing a grant of summary judgment, we view the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." DCM Inv. Corp. v. Pinecrest Inv. Co., 2001 UT 91, ¶ 6, 34 P.3d 785.

ANALYSIS
I. BOUNDARY BY ACQUIESCENCE

¶ 16 The paramount issue in this case is whether the trial court erred in quieting title to the strip and the western parcel in the Holdens under the doctrine of boundary by acquiescence. For a court to quiet title in a parcel of...

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