Clark v. Crowe, 32A01-0201-CV-3.

Citation778 N.E.2d 835
Decision Date20 November 2002
Docket NumberNo. 32A01-0201-CV-3.,32A01-0201-CV-3.
PartiesWilliam and Diane CLARK, Appellants-Plaintiffs, v. James P. CROWE, et al, Appellees-Defendants.
CourtCourt of Appeals of Indiana

Thomas W. Vander Luitgaren, Van Valer Law Firm, Greenwood, IN, Attorney for Appellant.

Loren J. Comstock, Indianapolis, IN, Attorney for Appellee.

OPINION

BAILEY, Judge.

Case Summary

William and Diane Clark ("the Clarks") appeal the negative judgment of the Hendricks Circuit Court on their Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement and the judgment in favor of Robert Vondersaar, Sr. and Robert Vondersaar, Jr. ("the Vondersaars") on their Complaint to Reform Deed. We affirm the negative judgment on the Clarks' complaint and reverse the judgment on the Vondersaars' reformation claim.

Issues

The Clarks present seven issues for review, which we restate as follows:

I. Whether the Vondersaars were estopped from disputing the location of the property line as contemplated by the Settlement Agreement after the Clarks erected a fence;

II. Whether the trial court erroneously disregarded the Schneider Survey commissioned by the parties' agreement in order to resolve prior litigation III. Whether the trial court mischaracterized Diane Clark's testimony in an erroneous finding of fact;

IV. Whether the trial court erroneously failed to order the Vondersaars to remove a portion of their driveway allegedly encroaching onto the Clarks' property;

V. Whether the trial court erroneously interpreted the Settlement Agreement with regard to drainage;

VI. Whether the trial court erroneously failed to address the Clarks' claim that the Vondersaars placed impediments in the drainage easement; and

VII. Whether the trial court erroneously ordered the deed reformed.

Facts and Procedural History

On September 3, 1998, the Clarks filed a quiet title action against fifteen neighbors. As a result of mediation, on December 30, 1999, the Clarks, Robert Vondersaar Sr. ("Vondersaar Sr."), and several other defendants who are not active parties to this appeal, executed a Settlement Agreement and Release ("the Settlement"). The Settlement provided in pertinent part:

1. The Clarks agree to sell to Vondersaar Sr. and Vondersaar Sr. agrees to buy from the Clarks a strip of land twelve (12) feet wide ("Strip") along the entire southeast edge of the Clark's Real Estate subject to all restrictions and easements of record (The Clark's Real Estate after transfer of the Strip shall be referred to as the "Clark's Remaining Real Estate"). The Strip shall be conveyed by quitclaim deed in the form attached hereto as Exhibit B.

2. No part of the Private Drive, including but not limited to, any gravel, retention or support elements, shall, now or in the future, encroach on the Clark's Remaining Real Estate. No easements or any other property rights/interests, in any way related to the Private Drive, exist with regard to the Clark's Remaining Real Estate....

3. Vondersaar Sr. agrees to remove, from the Clark's Remaining Real Estate and to the ground level of the Clark's Remaining Real Estate, any and all parts of the Private Drive which may currently encroach on the Clark's Remaining Real Estate, including but not limited to, gravel, retention or support elements, on or before April 15, 2000.

4. Vondersaar Sr. shall pay to the Clarks Six Thousand Dollars ($6,000.00), the receipt of which is hereby acknowledged by the Clarks.

5. The parties stipulate and agree that a mutual drain exists from the Clark Real Estate, under a certain portion [of] the Private Drive, through the Strip, and under property owned by Vondersaar Sr. Vondersaar Sr. and the Clarks acknowledge that an existing fourteen to sixteen inch (14" to 16") drainage pipe ("Pipe") is located under the Private Drive and under property owned by Vondersaar Sr. draining at a creek on property owned by Vondersaar Sr. Vondersaar Sr. grants to the Clarks a drainage easement under the Private Drive, through the Strip, and over property owned by Vondersaar Sr. in the form attached hereto as Exhibit C. Vondersaar Sr. shall initially remove, or cause to be removed, any obstructions from the Pipe which prevent drainage from the Clark's property.

6. The Parties consent to the construction of a fence by the Clarks on the Clark's Remaining Real Estate along the Private Drive. No part of the fence, including but not limited to retention or support elements, shall encroach on the Strip.

(App. 21-3.) Thus, the primary objectives of the Settlement were to permit Vondersaar Sr. to acquire the land on which his private driveway was to be located, to permit the Clarks to erect a privacy fence and to facilitate drainage from the Clarks' property.1 The parties also executed a separate Easement Agreement, which provided in pertinent part that the Clarks could, at their sole option and expense, maintain the drainage pipe, and obligated Vondersaar Sr. to maintain the outlet portion of the pipe and keep the area clear of debris.

The parties commissioned a survey to be used to prepare a legal description for the conveyance of a quitclaim deed transferring a 12-foot strip from the Clarks to Vondersaar Sr. and for the location of a new driveway within a mutual easement (hereinafter "the Schneider Survey"). After Vondersaar Sr. sold his property on contract to his son, Vondersaar Jr., and the instant litigation was commenced, the Vondersaars commissioned Lewis Engineering to determine whether the Clarks' fence was located outside a twelve-foot strip commencing from the Vondersaars' former property line. The Lewis Engineering report concluded that the fence was entirely within twelve feet of the Vondersaars' old property line.

On January 31, 2001, the Clarks filed a complaint to enforce the Settlement provisions, which alleged that the Vondersaars had failed to abide by their obligations under the Settlement, allowed their driveway to encroach upon the Clarks' property, failed to excavate the driveway to ground level and failed to remove the obstructions to the drainage pipe. On March 7, 2001, the Vondersaars filed their response and counterclaim, seeking to have the quitclaim deed reformed. Trial was held on October 23, 2001. On November 27, 2001, the trial court issued findings of fact and conclusions of law, which provided that the Clarks' privacy fence was on land the Clarks had agreed to deed to Vondersaar Sr., Vondersaar Sr. had not failed to remove obstructions from the drainage ditch, and the Quit Claim Deed premised on the Schneider Survey did not convey the entire twelve-foot strip which Vondersaar Sr. was to have received. The trial court determined that the Clarks breached the Settlement and ordered removal of the fence and reformation of the deed. The Clarks now appeal.

Discussion and Decision
I. Standard of Review

Where a party who had the burden of proof at trial appeals, he appeals from a negative judgment and will prevail only if he establishes that the judgment is contrary to law. Cutshall v. Barker, 733 N.E.2d 973, 978 (Ind.Ct.App.2000). A judgment is contrary to law when the evidence is without conflict and all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the evidence lead to only one conclusion, but the trial court reached a different conclusion. Id.

When the trial court has entered findings of fact and conclusions of law upon the request of a party, pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 52, we apply the following two-tier standard of review: whether the evidence supports the findings and whether the findings support the judgment. CSX Transp., Inc. v. Rabold, 691 N.E.2d 1275, 1277 (Ind.Ct.App.1998). The court's findings and conclusions will be set aside only if they are clearly erroneous, that is, that the record contains no facts or inferences supporting them. Id. A judgment is clearly erroneous when a review of the record leaves us with a firm conviction that a mistake has been made. Id. We neither reweigh the evidence nor assess the credibility of witnesses, but consider only the evidence most favorable to the judgment. Ahuja v. Lynco Ltd. Medical Research, 675 N.E.2d 704, 707 (Ind.Ct. App.1996).

II. Estoppel

The Clarks contend that the trial court's judgment is contrary to law because when owners of adjoining property agree to their boundary, and possess and improve the premises in accordance with that agreement, absent fraud, both parties are then estopped from disputing the boundary. They rely upon Adams v. Betz, 167 Ind. 161, 78 N.E. 649, 652 (1906).

The doctrine of equitable estoppel generally involves misrepresentation and detrimental reliance, but is not strictly limited to circumstances involving an actual false representation or concealment of existing fact. Paramo v. Edwards, 563 N.E.2d 595, 598 (Ind.1990). However, where persons stand on equal footing and in no fiduciary relationship, the law will not protect one who fails to exercise common sense and judgment. Id. at 599. The elements of equitable estoppel are: (1) a representation or concealment of a material fact, (2) made by a person with knowledge of the fact and with the intention that the other party act upon it, (3) to a party ignorant of the fact, (4) which induces the other party to rely or act upon it to his detriment. Wabash Grain, Inc. v. Smith, 700 N.E.2d 234, 237 (Ind.Ct.App.1998). Here, there is no superior knowledge by one party and no concealment. As such, the Clarks' contention does not fall squarely within an equitable estoppel theory. However, there is long-standing legal authority for the Clarks' position:

As a general rule, it is affirmed by the authorities that where owners of adjoining premises establish by agreement a boundary or dividing line between their lands, take and hold possession of their respective tracts, and improve the same in accordance with such division, each party, in the absence of fraud, will thereafter be estopped from asserting that the line so agreed upon and established is not the true boundary line,
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