Jonkers v. Summit Twp.

Citation747 N.W.2d 901,278 Mich. App. 263
Decision Date20 March 2008
Docket NumberDocket No. 272203.
PartiesWendy Wanzer JONKERS, Stanley H. Wanzer, and Grant B. Wanzer, Plaintiffs/Counter-Defendants-Appellees/Cross-Appellants, v. SUMMIT TOWNSHIP and Mason County Road Commission, Defendants/Counter-Plaintiffs-Appellants/Cross-Appellees.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan (US)

Carey & Jaskowski, P.L.L.C. (by Richard J. Jaskowski), Grayling, for the plaintiffs.

Gavigan, Anderson & Andrews (by Roger H. Anderson), Ludington, for the defendants.

Before: WHITBECK, P.J., and JANSEN and DAVIS, JJ.


The parties appeal as of right the trial court's order holding, in relevant part, that plaintiffs (the Wanzers) owned certain shoreline property on Bass Lake, but also holding that defendants (the township) had acquired ownership of a boat launch on the property through adverse possession, and imposing certain restrictions on the use of the boat launch and on future improvements to Bass Lake Boulevard, which runs parallel to Bass Lake between the Wanzers' residence and the boat launch. We affirm.

"We review the trial court's findings of fact in a bench trial for clear error and conduct a review de novo of the court's conclusions of law." Chapdelaine v. Sochocki, 247 Mich.App. 167, 169, 635 N.W.2d 339 (2001). "Equitable rulings to quiet title, as well as questions of law in general" are reviewed de novo. Richards v. Tibaldi, 272 Mich.App. 522, 528, 726 N.W.2d 770 (2006). However, we defer to the trial court's findings of fact in an action to quiet title; those findings will be given weight and reversed only if they are clearly erroneous. Davids v. Davis, 179 Mich. App. 72, 81, 445 N.W.2d 460 (1989). The clear-error standard requires us to give deference to the lower court and find clear error only if we are nevertheless "left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made." Heindlmeyer v. Ottawa Co. Concealed Weapons Licensing Bd., 268 Mich.App. 202, 222, 707 N.W.2d 353 (2005) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

The property at issue in this case is riparian land on the western shore of Bass Lake, in Summit Township, Mason County. The Bass Lake area was first surveyed by the United States government General Land Office in an 1839 lot survey (the GLO survey). In 1856, the United States government granted a patent conveying to James Dexter "Lot 4 of Section 26, Town 17 North, Range 18 West, containing 54.89 acres," which was shown on the GLO survey as being on the western shore of Bass Lake north of an outlet leading to Lake Michigan. The entirety of the above-described property (hereinafter, Lot 4) was eventually conveyed to Wallace B. Gilbert and Anna M. Gilbert. In 1896, the Gilberts caused the property "to be surveyed, laid out, and platted to be known as Gilbert's Addition to Bass Lake Park." The Gilbert's Addition plat states that "[t]he land embraced in the annexed plat of Gilbert's Addition to Bass Lake Park is described as follows: Lot 4, Sec 26, T 17 N R 18 W."

The Wanzers own a parcel of property in Gilbert's Addition. The township operates a boat launch on the shore of Bass Lake, directly across Bass Lake Boulevard from the Wanzers' residence. The primary question in this case is whether the Wanzers' property includes the shoreline land. This is not entirely straightforward because, as it turned out, the GLO survey was not completely accurate. In 1915, another survey (the Mitchell survey) of the area was conducted, and it is undisputed that, although it was solely for the purpose of surveying the location of Bass Lake Boulevard and not any property lines, it correctly shows the shape of Bass Lake. More importantly, the Mitchell survey, which even the Wanzers' expert surveyor conceded was likely "mathematically correct," places the boundary between Section 26 and Section 25 as lying somewhat to the west of the shore of Bass Lake, running through what is presently regarded as Gilbert's Addition. It is also undisputed that a government lot can only be located within one section, and the boundary depiction in the Mitchell survey would appear to show that some portion of Lot 2 of Section 25 lies between the shore of Bass Lake and Lot 4 of Section 26. In 1944, in apparent reliance thereon, Grace Lattin quitclaimed to the township all land in Lot 2 of Section 25 "lying East of Gilbert's Addition to Bass Lake Park" (the Lattin deed).

Thus, the township asserts that Gilbert's Addition — and therefore the Wanzers' property — does not include the shoreline property on which the boat launch is located, because that property should never have been included in Lot 4, that the Mitchell survey has been relied on and should therefore be considered conclusive, and that the township received a valid conveyance of that property from its true owner. In contrast, the Wanzers assert that the GLO survey must be considered supreme, that the GLO survey has been relied on, that Lot 4 and therefore Gilbert's Addition extend to the shore, and, therefore, that the Wanzers own the property. The trial court found in favor of the Wanzers, and we agree.

"Public policy clearly favors consistency in ascertaining boundary lines, especially where, as here, a multitude of boundaries has been established in reliance upon the location of the [survey monument at issue in that case]." Adams v. Hoover, 196 Mich.App. 646, 651, 493 N.W.2d 280 (1992). In Adams, this Court relied on the law as set forth by Justice Cooley more than 100 years ago, and which is still the law today:

Nothing is better understood than that few of our early plats will stand the test of a careful and accurate survey without disclosing errors. This is as true of the government surveys as of any others, and if all the lines were now subject to correction on new surveys, the confusion of lines and titles that would follow would cause consternation in many communities. Indeed the mischiefs that must follow would be simply incalculable, and the visitation of the surveyor might well be set down as a great public calamity.

But no law can sanction this course. . . . The question is not how an entirely accurate survey would locate these lots, but how the original stakes located them. No rule in real estate law is more inflexible than that monuments control course and distance, — a rule that we have frequent occasion to apply in the case of public surveys, where its propriety, justice and necessity are never questioned. But its application in other cases is quite as proper, and quite as necessary to the protection of substantial rights. The city surveyor should, therefore, have directed his attention to the ascertainment of the actual location of the original landmarks . . . and if those were discovered they must govern. If they are no longer discoverable, the question is where they were located; and upon that question the best possible evidence is usually to be found in the practical location of the lines, made at a time when the original monuments were presumably in existence and probably well known. . . . As between old boundary fences, and any survey made after the monuments have disappeared, the fences are by far the better evidence of what the lines of a lot actually are, and it would have been surprising if the jury in this case, if left to their own judgment, had not so regarded them. [Diehl v. Zanger, 39 Mich. 601, 605-606 (1878) (Cooley, J., concurring) (internal citation omitted).]

In Adams, this Court concluded that to "give effect to the technically correct but maverick" survey that contradicted a prior survey upon which numerous boundary lines had relied would be a "`mischief" that could not be permitted. Adams, supra at 654-655, 493 N.W.2d 280. Justice Cooley reiterated in Flynn v. Glenny, 51 Mich. 580, 584, 17 N.W. 65 (1883), that the conclusiveness of government surveys depends not on their accuracy, "but it is whether they were planted by authority, and the lots were purchased and taken possession of in reliance upon them. If such was the case they must govern, notwithstanding any errors in locating them."

In the instant case, it is undisputed that the plat of Gilbert's Addition relied on the GLO survey. The Mitchell survey was not even performed until 19 years later, and the surveyors agreed that as far as they could determine, there had been no other surveys of the area in the interim between the GLO survey and the platting of Gilbert's Addition. It appears that numerous other properties around the Bass Lake area also relied on the GLO survey. In contrast, the only apparent reliance on the Mitchell survey was the Lattin deed. It was also undisputed that giving the GLO survey supremacy would only disrupt titles flowing from the Lattin deed; in other words, only the township's claim to the boat launch. But giving the Mitchell survey supremacy would disrupt titles and cause confusion to numerous properties within Gilbert's Addition. It is clear that the least mischief would flow from considering the boundary of Lot 4 to be Bass Lake, as shown on the GLO survey.

Furthermore, it is significant that the property at issue — specifically, the property that became Gilbert's Addition — was conveyed by lot from the Federal government, not by metes and bounds. Moreover, the property continued to be described as Lot 4 through the time it became Gilbert's Addition; indeed, the description of Gilbert's Addition is Lot 4. The conveyance was therefore completely based on the GLO survey; as a consequence, the boundary lines are controlled by the boundary lines depicted in the GLO survey. Gregory v. LaFaive, 172 Mich. App. 354, 358-359, 431 N.W.2d 511 (1988). The property description of Gilbert's Addition is coextensive with Lot 4 and, at the time Gilbert's Addition was platted, Lot 4 was considered to extend to the shore of the lake. Although the Gilbert's Addition plat did not explicitly state an intention to extend...

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