James v. Griffin

Decision Date22 May 2001
Docket NumberNo. 20000216.,20000216.
Citation626 N.W.2d 704,2001 ND 90
PartiesJuanita D. JAMES, David M. James and Leanna Hudson, Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. Paul GRIFFIN and Julene Griffin, Defendants and Appellees.
CourtNorth Dakota Supreme Court

Dan D. Plambeck (submitted on brief), Stefanson, Plambeck & Foss, Moorhead, MN, for plaintiffs and appellants.

Janel B. Fredericksen (submitted on brief), Smith & Strege, Wahpeton, ND, for defendants and appellees.

SANDSTROM, Justice.

[¶ 1] Juanita D. James, David M. James, and Leanna Hudson (collectively referred to as "James") appealed from a judgment quieting title in Paul and Julene Griffin to a 4-feet by 173-feet piece of residential property. We conclude the trial court correctly ruled James failed to establish ownership of the disputed parcel of property under the doctrine of acquiescence, and we affirm.

I

[¶ 2] The parties own and occupy adjoining property. James owns Lot 4, and the Griffins own Lots 5 and 6, in Block 1 of Hubbard and Tyler's Addition to the City of Wahpeton. George James, who was the husband of Juanita James and father of David James and Leanna Hudson, purchased Lot 4 from Arnold L. Olson through a warranty deed dated October 16, 1945.

[¶ 3] George and Juanita James owned the property until September 5, 1979, when they gave the City of Wahpeton a warranty deed to the property because their house had been condemned. They vacated the property, a new house was placed there, and on November 20, 1979, the City gave them a quit claim deed to Lot 4, and they resumed occupancy. In 1997, Juanita James received Lot 4 from her husband's estate, and she transferred the property to her children, reserving a life estate.

[¶ 4] In August 1995, the Griffins purchased Lots 5 and 6 from Elva Lambert, who had occupied the property from 1956 until its sale to the Griffins. The Griffins had the property surveyed in June 1998 to determine the actual platted lot line between Lots 4 and 5. The Griffins discovered James's brick fireplace, gravel drive, and old garage foundation encroach on their property. According to James, the structures had been placed there long before 1979. The Griffins erected a fence on the actual plat line in 1998 in an attempt to prevent James from encroaching on their property.

[¶ 5] James began this quiet title action in April 1999. James alleged that prior to May 1998 and for a period substantially exceeding 20 years, the owners of Lots 4 and 5 mutually recognized as the boundary between their lots a line defined by a row of trees located four feet south of the north line of Lot 5, and James had acquired superior title to the disputed property under the doctrine of acquiescence. The Griffins counterclaimed, seeking to have title to the disputed property quieted in them.

[¶ 6] At the "Pretrial Conference and Bench Trial," the trial court encouraged the parties to settle. After settlement negotiations proved unsuccessful, the court held the pretrial conference and alerted the parties to an issue neither side had addressed. The court noted the chain of title had been broken for a period of time in 1979 when James deeded the property to the City of Wahpeton. The court informed counsel of its intention to dismiss James's lawsuit unless James could show continuous acquiescence during the entire 20 years preceding construction of the fence by the Griffins in 1998. James argued there was continuous acquiescence in the boundary line from 1945 until 1979, thereby satisfying the 20-year requirement. The court allowed the parties to present testimony and exhibits, and Juanita James, David James, and Leanna Hudson testified. The Griffins presented no evidence.

[¶ 7] The trial court ruled:

2. Plaintiffs have submitted no evidence showing that their predecessor in interest, the City of Wahpeton, mutually recognized with the adjoining lot owner, the boundary they now claim. It is undisputed that Plaintiffs regained ownership of the property by Quit Claim Deed from the City of Wahpeton dated November 20, 1979. It is also undisputed that 20 years have not elapsed between November 20, 1979 and the time (1998) when Defendants placed a fence on the plat line after survey. Therefore, Plaintiffs cannot show at least twenty years mutual intent, agreement, and acquiescence to the boundary they claim ...

3. Plaintiffs' claim that they are allowed to "tack" the period from first ownership (1945) to the present which would clearly be more than the twenty years required. "Tacking" is allowed ... However, "tacking" of any predecessor's ownership still requires that all elements of the doctrine of acquiescence be shown during any predecessor's interest in the property. In this case, there has been no evidence, much less clear and convincing evidence, showing that the City of Wahpeton mutually intended, agreed and acquiesced with the adjoining land owner concerning the boundary claimed by Plaintiffs during the City's ownership of Plaintiffs' Lot Four (4). Therefore, as a matter of law, "tacking" any period prior to 1979 is not allowed and the period from which to measure the minimum twenty-year requirement must commence after the property was deeded back to Plaintiffs' predecessors from the City in 1979.

4. The brick fireplace, gravel drive and old garage foundation which encroach on Defendants' property were all initiated prior to 1979 and for the reasons stated in the foregoing paragraph 3 of these Conclusions of Law cannot be used to "tack" to Plaintiffs' ownership from and after 1979. No evidence was submitted that the City of Wahpeton even knew that any of these structures encroached on Defendants' property nor was there any evidence submitted showing that even if the City knew of these encroachments, that these encroachments were intended by the City as a mutual acquiescence to a new boundary and not some sort of license type arrangement.

The court dismissed James's complaint and quieted title in the Griffins.

[¶ 8] The trial court had jurisdiction under N.D. Const. art. VI, § 8, and N.D.C.C. § 27-05-06. James's appeal was timely under N.D.R.App.P. 4(a). This Court has jurisdiction under N.D. Const. art. VI, § 6, and N.D.C.C. § 28-27-01.

II

[¶ 9] We reject James's argument the trial court's ruling should be treated as granting a motion for judgment on the pleadings under N.D.R.Civ.P. 12(c). The parties were allowed to present testimony, exhibits, and trial memoranda on the narrow factual issue of whether the City of Wahpeton recognized the boundary allegedly established by James. The trial court's finding on that issue is governed by the clearly erroneous standard under N.D.R.Civ.P. 52(a). See Knutson v. Jensen, 440 N.W.2d 260, 262 (N.D.1989)

. Because James does not challenge the trial court's finding that the City did not recognize the boundary during its ownership of the property in 1979, the legal question becomes whether James could establish acquiescence by relying on a continuous 20-year period of mutual recognition by the parties or their predecessors before the City became the owner of the property in 1979. Questions of law are fully reviewable on appeal. Thompson v. Associated Potato Growers, Inc., 2000 ND 95, ¶ 7, 610 N.W.2d 53.

[¶ 10] The doctrine of acquiescence was created to allow a person to acquire property when occupying part of a neighbor's land due to an honest mistake as to the location of the true boundary, because the adverse intent requirement of the related doctrine of adverse possession could not be met under those circumstances. Production Credit Association v. Terra Vallee, Inc., 303 N.W.2d 79, 83-84 (N.D.1981). To establish a new boundary line by acquiescence, it must be shown by clear and convincing evidence that the parties recognized the new boundary line as a boundary, and not a mere barrier, for at least 20 years. Knutson, 440 N.W.2d at 262. Although acquiescence may be found from a party's silence, or inferred from conduct, Ward v. Shipp, 340 N.W.2d 14, 16 (N.D.1983), the burden of proving acquiescence rests with the person claiming property to the exclusion of the true owner. Manz v. Bohara, 367 N.W.2d 743, 748 (N.D.1985).

[¶ 11] As in adverse possession, the principle of tacking is applicable to claims of acquiescence. Bernier v. Preckel, 60 N.D. 549, 557, 236 N.W. 243, 247 (1931). Thus, acquiescence in a boundary line is binding on the parties thereto and those claiming under them, and where successive adverse occupants hold in privity with each other under the same claim of title, the time limit for maintaining an action may be computed by the last occupants from the date the cause of action accrued against the first adverse user. Trautman v. Ahlert, 147 N.W.2d 407, 412 (N.D.1966). Our caselaw makes it clear that when tacking is relied upon to meet the 20-year period, it must result in a single continuous acquiescent possession. See, e.g., Brooks v. Bogart, 231 N.W.2d 746, 751 (N.D.1975)

; Ahlert, 147 N.W.2d at 411-12; Severson v. Simon, 110 N.W.2d 289, 292 (N.D.1961); Morgan v. Jenson, 47 N.D. 137, 141-42, 181 N.W. 89, 90-91 (1921). If a possession is not adverse to the true owner, it may not be tacked to satisfy the 20-year period. See McGee v. Stokes' Heirs at Law, 76 N.W.2d 145, 151-52 (N.D.1956). Temporary possession in a government entity does not relieve the party claiming acquiescence or adverse possession from showing the government entity's possession was adverse. See Grandin v. Gardiner, 63 N.W.2d 128, 132-33 (N.D.1954).

[¶ 12] The 20-year requirement for establishing acquiescence comes from the statutory period required for acquisition of title by adverse possession. Odegaard v. Craig, 171 N.W.2d 133, 137 (N.D.1969); Bernier, 60 N.D. at 557, 236 N.W. at 247. The statute of limitations for quiet title actions based on adverse possession or acquiescence is found in N.D.C.C. § 28-01-04, which provides:

No action for the recovery of real property or for the possession thereof may
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