Porter v. Schaffer

Decision Date29 April 1999
Docket NumberNo. 773,773
Citation728 A.2d 755,126 Md. App. 237
PartiesAlan H. PORTER v. Genevieve Yonkers SCHAFFER.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Robert H. Reinhart (Walsh, Walsh & Reinhart, P.C., on the brief), Cumberland, for Appellant.

Robert O. Kazary, Cumberland, for Appellee.



This appeal arises from a dispute between Alan Porter, appellant, and Genevieve Yonkers Schaffer, appellee, regarding ownership of three unimproved tracts of woodland, located on the northwestern side of Polish Mountain in Allegany County. Together, the three parcels of land contain approximately two hundred acres. All of the property is situated within a larger, 886 1/6 acre tract called "Sideros," surveyed by Richard Caton1 in 1843.

The historical pedigree of the tracts has been contested for decades, and the briefs are not altogether helpful in eludicating the factual contentions. Two of the three pieces of land have historical nicknames that assist in referring to the parcels. One bears the name "Wolf Pen," and consists of 71 acres. The other, "Hornet's Nest", is a 14 acre tract situated northwest of Wolf Pen. The third tract consists of 115 acres of land, and we shall refer to it as "the third tract." Although its location is disputed, appellant asserts that the third tract is situated between Wolf Pen and Hornet's Nest, and he claims ownership by adverse possession.

On April 15, 1996, Ms. Schaffer filed an action to quiet title against Porter in the Circuit Court for Allegany County. Ms. Schaffer claimed record title ownership to all three tracts of land, stemming from her title to Sideros. In an amended complaint filed on September 17, 1996, she also claimed ownership of all three tracts, by adverse possession.2 In his answer to appellee's amended complaint, Porter asserted record title to Wolf Pen and Hornet's Nest, and title to all three tracts by adverse possession.3

After a three-day trial, the court (Leasure, J.) concluded that appellee had superior record title to Hornet's Nest and the third tract. The court further concluded that although Porter's chain of title to Wolf Pen stemmed from a patent that pre-dated appellee's patent to Sideros, appellant failed to meet his burden of locating the tract within Sideros "with reasonable certainty." The court also rejected Porter's claim of adverse possession. Accordingly, the court entered judgment in favor of Ms. Schaffer. That judgment spawned this appeal. Porter presents three issues for our review, which we have rephrased slightly:

I. Did the trial court err in concluding that appellant did not establish with reasonable certainty the location of "Wolf Pen" within the present description of "Sideros"?

II. Did the trial court err in placing the burden of proof on appellant to prove his title to "Hornet's Nest?" III. Did the trial court err in concluding that appellant did not establish title to the disputed land by adverse possession?

We answer each question in the negative. Accordingly, we shall affirm.

Factual Background

At trial, appellee presented a chain of title to the original patent of Sideros, which was issued in 1845. Appellant's chain of title to Wolf Pen and Hornet's Nest stemmed from a deed dated March 20, 1906, conveying portions of a farm owned by Amos Robinette to Frank Troutman, appellant's predecessor in title. Appellant claimed that Robinette's interest in Wolf Pen and Hornet's Nest derived from the original patents for both tracts. The patent for Hornet's Nest was issued in 1795 to Thomas Beall of Samuel; the patent for Wolf Pen was issued in 1841 to Robinette. Appellant did not make a claim of record title to the third tract, however. Rather, his claim to that tract was based entirely on adverse possession.

We shall describe each party's record title claims separately. As each party's argument involves the interpretation of land patents issued in previous centuries, it is helpful to survey, by way of background, Maryland's land patent system.

Land Patents in Maryland

A land patent "has been defined as a grant of some privilege, property, or authority, made by the government or sovereign of a country to one or more individuals.... When used in connection with real property, it means the title deed by which a government, either state or federal, conveys its lands." 1 Logan D. Fitch, Abstracts and Titles to Real Property § 142 (1954).

The patent process in Maryland has its roots in the charter given to George Calvert, Lord of Baltimore, by Charles I, in 1632. The Maryland Charter created in the Barons of Baltimore a "grand fief or honor, to be held of the Crown by the tenure of free and common socage," which included an annual presentation to the King of two Native American arrows as a seal of the Lord Proprietor's "tenure of petit sergeantry." John M. Brewer and Lewis Mayer, The Law and Rules of the Land Office of Maryland 1 (1871); see also John Kilty, The Landholder's Assistant (1808); Matthews v. Ward, 10 G. & J. 443, 450-51 (1839). When the Colony of Maryland became the State of Maryland, the power of the Lord Proprietor to grant land passed to the judges of the Land Office, a position now represented by the Commissioner of Land Patents. Md.Code (1974, 1996 Repl.Vol.), § 13-201 of the Real Property Article; see Marquardt v. Papenfuse, 92 Md.App. 683, 690-91, 610 A.2d 325, cert. denied, 328 Md. 93, 612 A.2d 1316 (1992).

The transition from colony to state did not change the method for obtaining a patent, as the Land Office adopted the same warrant procedure employed by Lord Baltimore and his successors. An applicant who wished to claim vacant lands was required to apply to the Land Office for a warrant of survey or resurvey. That warrant compelled the county surveyor to conduct a survey within one year of the warrant. Adjacent landowners were notified of the survey. Maryland Coal & Realty Co. v. Eckhart, 25 Md.App. 605, 610, 337 A.2d 150 (1975); see Brewer and Mayer, 12-18.

Several types of warrants could be obtained by a prospective grantee. The early case of Cunningham v. Browning, 1 Bland 299, 310-12 (1827), is helpful in identifying a variety of warrants.

There were under the Proprietary's government, and still are, five different modes of beginning to obtain title to lands, or, in other words, five several kinds of warrants.... If it be his object ... to obtain a certain quantity of vacant land any where, without regard to any particular space, or tract ... the register of the land office gives him a common warrant, directed to the surveyor, commanding him to lay out the specified quantity of land.... But if required by the applicant,... the register will insert a particular description of the land ... in the warrant itself; which specification gives to it the denomination of a special warrant.... But, if the applicant had already obtained a title ... and only wished to add to it some contiguous vacancy, he may obtain ... a warrant of resurvey.... [I]f any one had caused a particular tract of land to be surveyed, but had failed to comply with the conditions... and ... to take out a patent ... any one else ... may obtain ... a proclamation warrant authorizing the applicant to take up the same lands.... And finally, any one by ... setting forth that a ... tract of land had actually escheated by the death of the ... owner intestate and without heirs, may obtain immediately ... an escheat warrant....

(Emphasis added); see Marquardt, 92 Md. App. at 691-92, 610 A.2d 325.

After the surveyor completed his work and returned a certificate of survey, the certificate remained with the Land Office for six months. During that time, any interested party could enter a caveat. The Commissioner's resolution of the caveat was final as to the patent, but it did not resolve all questions of title in the land, because "a patentee could only take subject to all prior claims, encumbrances, and equities...." Eckhart, 25 Md.App. at 610-11, 337 A.2d 150. Thus, "the general rule of the Land Office in doubtful cases was to let the patent issue, for if it were granted, the question thereafter could be brought before a court of law or equity to vacate the patent." Id. at 611, 337 A.2d 150. Schaffer's Record Title to "Sideros"

Appellee claims a direct chain of title to the original land patent of Sideros. In 1843, Richard Caton obtained a warrant of resurvey for Sideros. The resulting survey described Sideros as containing 886 1/6 acres. Caton died shortly after the survey was completed. In 1845, however, a patent for Sideros was issued to Caton's four daughters. Subsequently, the Caton lands were placed in a trust managed by the Alexander Yearley firm of Baltimore (the "Yearley Trustees"). The Yearley Trustees continued to manage Sideros, along with the remainder of Caton's vast holdings in Allegany county, long after the last of the Caton daughters died.4 As part of their duties, the Yearley Trustees submitted annual reports to the court. On April 5, 1922, the Yearley Trustees executed a deed conveying Sideros to "Harry W. Yonker", appellee's father.5 The deed provided:

NOW, THEREFORE, in consideration of the premises and of the sum of One Dollar in hand paid, the said party of the first part [the Trustees] does hereby grant and convey unto the said party of the second part [Yonkers], all the right title and interest of the parties to said cause No. 2227 Equity, in and to a tract of land called "Sideros", situate, lying and being in Election District No. 3, in Allegany County, Maryland originally patented December 24th, 1845 to Mary Ann Wellesly and others for 886-1/2[6] acres, except so much of the same as stated in the Report of Sale above mentioned, said original trust being described as follows:

In the 18th Report of the Trustees, filed on November 22, 1921, the trustees reported the sale of Sideros to Yonkers, but provided the following exceptions:

"... excepting the

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