Langley v. Meredith, 860450

Decision Date13 January 1989
Docket NumberNo. 860450,860450
Citation237 Va. 55,376 S.E.2d 519
PartiesT.B. LANGLEY, et al. v. Virginia MEREDITH, et al. Record
CourtVirginia Supreme Court

Carl A. Eason (Wolcott, Rivers, Wheary, Basnight & Kelly, P.C., Virginia Beach, on briefs), for appellants.

H. Thomas Padrick, Jr., Edward T. Caton (Anderson & Padrick, Caton & Koch, P.C., Virginia Beach, on briefs), for appellees.


COMPTON, Justice.

In this chancery suit, we consider the riparian rights of three owners of adjoining property which fronts on a navigable waterway. Specifically, we examine the claims of two of the owners that two individual piers interfere with their right of access to the navigable part of the watercourse.

The parties to this litigation own waterfront property on the south shore of Broad Bay, a navigable, tidal waterway lying generally east and west at the location in question in the City of Virginia Beach. Appellee Virginia Meredith, the plaintiff below, owns Unit 16, improved by a residence, in Green Hill By The Bay Condominium. Appellants T.B. Langley and Deborah B. Langley, his wife, defendants below (hereinafter, Langley), own Unit 15, also improved by a residence, in the same condominium adjoining Meredith to the east. According to the record, this condominium is different from a "conventional condominium" because each unit consisted of a building site upon which a single-family dwelling could be erected. Appellees Billy A. Franklin and Marqueta A. Franklin, his wife, defendants below (hereinafter, Franklin), own real property, improved by a residence, outside the condominium premises but adjoining Langley to the east.

On May 3, 1985, Meredith initiated these proceedings by filing a bill of complaint, amplified by an amended bill, against Langley and Franklin relying on Code § 62.1-164. The statute provides, in part:

"Any person owning land upon a watercourse may erect a private wharf on the same, or private pier or landing, in such watercourse opposite his land; provided, such wharf, pier or land is for noncommerical purposes and navigation be not obstructed, nor the private rights of any person be otherwise injured thereby."

The plaintiff alleged that defendant Langley was in the process of constructing a private pier from his property "that will not be entirely opposite [his] property and will encroach over and beyond the extended property line of your plaintiff." Plaintiff further asserted that if the construction was permitted to be completed, it would constitute a use of Langley's property which will interfere with the use of her property and will prevent her from having an equal proportional frontage on Broad Bay, thereby adversely affecting her right to have equal navigable access to and from her waterfront property.

The plaintiff also alleged that defendant Franklin constructed a private pier on his property which is not entirely opposite his lot and which extends over and beyond Langley's property line extended. She further alleged that Langley states he cannot construct his pier without interfering with her property rights because of Franklin's encroachment.

Meredith asked that Langley be temporarily and permanently enjoined from construction of his pier or, in the alternative, that Langley and Franklin be "required to remove their piers that unjustly encroach and interfere with plaintiff's property rights."

Franklin filed a cross-bill asserting that Langley had no riparian rights incident to his property because of the manner in which the condominium regime was established and that Langley's proposed pier, if completed, would constitute a nuisance. Franklin asked that Langley's construction be enjoined and that the court adjudicate the property rights of the parties as they pertain to the riparian rights of Franklin.

On May 9, the trial court refused to conduct a full hearing on the plaintiff's request for a temporary injunction, stating that resolution of "the issues in this cause will require a substantial amount of testimony." The court ordered that the matter be scheduled for a full hearing on all the issues. The court further ruled that because both Meredith and Franklin "promptly sought Court relief to enjoin" Langley from construction of his pier, the court would order the pier "completely" removed in the event it decided to grant either Meredith or Franklin relief.

Subsequently, Langley filed a cross-bill against Franklin asserting that Franklin's pier encroached over and beyond Langley's property line extended thereby interfering with his use and enjoyment of his property. Langley asked "that the respective rights of the parties be determined" and that Franklin be required to remove "that portion of [his] pier that extends beyond [Langley's] property line extended."

Later, Franklin filed a plea of laches to Langley's cross-bill. He also filed a "supplementary grounds of defense" asserting that neither Meredith nor Langley had any riparian rights because their "property rights do not extend into areas around Broad Bay." In addition, Franklin filed a second "supplementary grounds of defense" contending that neither Meredith nor Langley had standing to prosecute their alleged causes of action because under the condominium declaration they never acquired title to the frontage of Broad Bay.

On February 6 and 7, 1986, the chancellor conducted an ore tenus hearing. In spite of the court's admonition to Langley made during the May 1985 consideration of the request for a temporary injunction, Langley completed construction of his pier and, according to the record, it stands in place to this day. At the beginning of the hearing on the merits, the chancellor stated, "I intend to treat the matter as if the pier had never been built."

The chancellor proceeded to hear the evidence of all parties and, after argument of counsel, ruled from the bench in favor of Meredith on her claim against Langley. In the dispute between Langley and Franklin, the court also ruled against Langley. We awarded Langley this appeal from the February 1986 "judgment order" embodying those rulings. Franklin has assigned cross-error.

The pertinent facts mainly are undisputed. In 1976, Franklin purchased his property, a pie-shaped parcel. Observing that the deed to the parcel did not convey property past the top of a bank located about 30 feet from the waterline of Broad Bay, Franklin obtained a second deed conveying that strip. He proceeded to build his pier following issuance of a permit by the Army Corps of Engineers. The pier extends approximately 185 feet from the shore of his property. It is not exactly perpendicular to the shoreline but, contrary to the permit, is canted slightly left in a northwesterly direction. An official of the Corps of Engineers testified that there was "no problem" with Franklin's pier at the time it was built.

Subsequently, development of the property adjoining Franklin to the west resulted in the establishment of Green Hill By The Bay Condominium. The condominium declaration, including a plat, was recorded in October 1982.

Meredith purchased Unit 16 in August 1983 and constructed a dwelling on the property. Langley purchased Unit 15 in March 1984 and built a dwelling on his property. With the purchase of their waterfront lots, Meredith and Langley acquired the right to have pier permits previously issued to the developer by the Corps of Engineers assigned to them for the construction of individual piers from their property into the waters of Broad Bay. Meredith has not sought assignment of her pier permit, but Langley obtained assignment of his permit and, in April 1985, had plans drawn for construction of a pier.

Meredith and Franklin voiced opposition to Langley's plans. Meredith learned that Langley's pier would be canted to the left and would encroach on her eastern property line extended into Broad Bay. Franklin anticipated that, even though Langley's pier would be angled to the northwest, the proximity of the end of Langley's pier, which is approximately 200 feet long, would interfere with boat handling at Franklin's pier. Proposed pilings for Langley's pier would be only 28 feet from existing pilings associated with Franklin's pier.

The parties could not resolve their dispute and Langley began construction. Meredith immediately filed her bill of complaint commencing these proceedings.

The evidence shows that the northwesterly deviation of Langley's pier from the virtually east-west shoreline extends the pier in front of Meredith's property. The evidence also shows that had Langley built his pier perpendicular to the shoreline, his pier and Franklin's pier would have run together at the outer ends.

A great deal of the evidence was directed to Franklin's claim that neither Meredith nor Langley had riparian rights because they acquired no property to the water's edge. In effect, Franklin sought to show that the condominium is landlocked. An attorney, who qualified as an expert in the field of real estate title examination and condominium law, concluded from his review of title documents, plats, and the condominium instruments for Green Hill By The Bay, that Meredith and Langley probably had no riparian rights in the water of Broad Bay, or that such rights in front of their properties were shared by all owners of the condominium units.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the chancellor ruled from the bench. The court stated that, based on the expert testimony, "there is a definite cloud on this title" to the "30 to 40 feet of shoreline extending beyond" the northern boundaries of the condominium units. The court decided, however, not to rule whether Meredith and Langley owned the strip in front of their property. The court ruled, for the purpose of this case only, that Meredith and Langley "have riparian rights."

The chancellor proceeded to note that Langley "took charge," persisting in...

To continue reading

Request your trial
14 cases
  • Lambert v. Sea Oats Condo. Ass'n, Inc.
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court
    • April 13, 2017
    ...242 Va. 242, 247 n.3, 409 S.E.2d 148, 151 n.3 (1991) (applying Rule 5:25 to find cross-error not preserved); Langley v. Meredith, 237 Va. 55, 61-62, 376 S.E.2d 519, 522-23 (1989) (same).10 Although the circuit court in this case did not establish an attorney's fees procedure until after tri......
  • Evelyn v. Com.
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court
    • October 25, 2005
    ...this soil, the owner may erect wharves, piers, or bulkheads for his own use, or the use of the public. . . . Langley v. Meredith, 237 Va. 55, 62, 376 S.E.2d 519, 523 (1989). This common law principle "was generally interpreted as having as its main purpose `to induce the erection of wharves......
  • Christopher v. Commonwealth, Record No. 1248-05-3 (Va. App. 12/28/2006), Record No. 1248-05-3.
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals
    • December 28, 2006
    ...preserve that party's right to appeal." Weidman v. Babcock, 241 Va. 40, 44, 400 S.E.2d 164, 167 (1991) (citing Langley v. Meredith, 237 Va. 55, 61-62, 376 S.E.2d 519, 522 (1989)). The record is devoid of any objection by Christopher to the trial court's in camera review of these records. On......
  • Smith Mountain Lake Yacht Club, Inc. v. Ramaker
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court
    • March 2, 2001
    ...concluded that the Ramakers' riparian rights should be fixed in accordance with the principles set forth in Langley v. Meredith, 237 Va. 55, 376 S.E.2d 519 (1989), and Groner v. Foster, 94 Va. 650, 27 S.E. 493 (1897). In applying the Groner formula, the chancellor used the 795-foot elevatio......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT