Trappett v. Davis

Citation102 Idaho 527,633 P.2d 592
Decision Date08 September 1981
Docket NumberNo. 13177,13177
PartiesEarl TRAPPETT and Dixie Trappett, husband and wife; and Elvina Ogborn, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Melvin C. DAVIS, Defendant-Respondent.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Idaho

Dean Williams, Blackfoot, for plaintiffs-appellants.

Stephen J. Blaser, Blackfoot, for defendant-respondent.

BAKES, Chief Justice.

This is an adverse possession case. The plaintiff appellants, Earl Trappett, Dixie Trappett and Elvina Ogborn, appeal from a judgment awarding them part, but not all, of a piece of property which they claim by adverse possession. Decades ago, a plat of "Younie's First Addition," located in Blackfoot, Idaho, was filed. The plat included Lot 32, which contains the property now in dispute. As platted, the northern 25 feet of Lot 32 was reserved for a roadway; nothing was reserved on the southern edge. However, at some point in time, there came into being a road, McAdoo Street, which is centered on the southern boundary of Lot 32.

In 1946, the Ogborns purchased a parcel of property in Lot 32. The Ogborns' deed describes the property (by metes and bounds) as a 290' X 110' rectangle in the southwest corner of Lot 32. Again, no reservation was made for a roadway on the southern border.

In 1975, the Trappetts acquired the property adjacent to the Ogborn property. The Trappetts' deed describes the property (by metes and bounds) as a 290' X 109 ' rectangle. The Trappetts' deed was subject to a reservation of a 25 foot strip on its southern boundary for a public highway, namely, McAdoo Street. The Trappetts' predecessor, Roland Baird, had owned the property from 1961 to 1975.

Since 1946, and probably earlier, there has existed a fence (operational, though in various states of disrepair) to the north of the Ogborns' and Trappetts' legal boundary. The property in dispute lies between the fence line and the legal boundary. It is a four-sided parcel measuring approximately 47.4' X 159' X 30.5' X 158.3'.

Baird, Trappett and Ogborn testified that they had put the disputed area to use for many years Baird and Trappett for pasture, and Ogborn for gardening. Mrs. Ogborn stated that sometime prior to 1968 the ground was sterilized for purposes of weed control. Since that time, she has kept that portion of the disputed property plowed.

In 1968, Davis acquired the parcel of property immediately to the north of the Ogborn and Trappett properties. Davis bought it at a tax sale. The alleged boundary fence ran at an angle through Davis's property. Davis testified that shortly after the tax sale, he informed both Ogborn and Baird that he was the new owner of the property to the north and that his boundary was in fact to the south of the fence line. Davis contends that he consented to his southern neighbors' use of the disputed property. Ogborn and Baird did not recall any conversation with Davis wherein he informed them of the true legal boundary. Ogborn, Baird and Trappett all testified that they felt that their property went all the way to the fence line.

Since 1968, Davis, the Trappetts, their predecessor Baird, and Ogborn have all paid the taxes on their respective pieces of property. The county assessor testified that the assessments were based on the metes and bounds description found in the records of the county assessor and treasurer. The assessor did not consider fence lines in appraising the parties' properties. The county assessor's office gives each parcel of property a tax number, e. g., T-2201, which represents the metes and bounds description of the property. However, the tax notices sent out by the county treasurer do not contain a metes and bounds description, but refer only to the property's tax number.

The assessor's records include a plat of Lot 32 which designates individual parcels by tax number. According to a surveyor hired by Davis, the assessor's plat is in error. The plat depicts the northernmost edge of McAdoo Street as the southern boundary of the Ogborn and Trappett properties. The surveyor testified, and the trial court found, that the center line of McAdoo Street was the actual southern boundary. Thus, the assessor's office platted the entire Trappett and Ogborn parcels 25 feet to the north of their actual legal location.

In the spring of 1978, Trappett plowed the area just south of the fence line. In response, Davis hired the surveyor, who determined the location of the legal boundary. Davis then dismantled the old fence and began to construct a new one along the legal boundary. Ogborn and the Trappetts then commenced this quiet title suit, claiming title by adverse possession. They requested actual and punitive damages and attorney fees. Davis answered and counterclaimed, asserting paramount legal title to the property in question. Trial was conducted before the court. In a memorandum decision, the court determined that the 1968 tax sale gave Davis an absolute, unencumbered title to the property described in his deed, including the property in dispute. Under the court's ruling, evidence of adverse possession prior to 1968 was technically irrelevant, the tax deed having commenced a new chain of title. However, the court found that the evidence clearly and convincingly established that the elements of adverse possession had been met since 1968, with one exception, the tax requirement of I.C. § 5-210, which requires that the person claiming title by adverse possession must have paid all taxes levied and assessed on the disputed property.

The district court analyzed the tax problem in the following manner. The county tax plat erroneously showed the edge of McAdoo Street as the southern border of the Ogborn and Trappett properties. This caused the county to tax the properties based on their full 290 foot length. Land included in public highways, the 25 feet in McAdoo Street, is not subject to assessment for taxation. I.C. § 63-108. Thus, Ogborn, the Trappetts, and their predecessors were paying taxes on an extra 25 foot strip. Because the county tax plat erroneously showed that the Ogborn and Trappett tracts were situated 25 feet north of their actual metes and bounds descriptions, the court concluded that the county was receiving an illegal double tax, i. e., that both Davis and Ogborn/Trappett were paying taxes on the southern 25 feet of Davis's property. Accordingly, the district court awarded Ogborn and Trappett only the southern 25 feet of Davis's property and denied their claim to all of the property south of the fence.

Since the court concluded that the fence line was wholly contained in Davis's property, the court awarded no damages for its destruction. The court also held that Davis's trespass on the 25 foot strip of land was a technical violation which caused no actual damage.

Ogborn and Trappett appeal, insisting that they should have gotten all of the land south of the fence. Davis cross appeals, insisting that they should have received none of the disputed property. The primary question presented by this appeal concerns the district court's analysis of the tax payment requirement in adverse possession cases.

The trial court found that Ogborn and the Trappetts met their burden of proof on the non-tax elements of adverse possession. Our review of the record convinces us that this finding is supported by substantial and competent evidence and must be sustained on appeal. The tax requirement poses a more difficult issue, however.

This Court frequently "wrestles" with property disputes involving the tax payment requirement. Flynn v. Allison, 97 Idaho 618, 621, 549 P.2d 1065, 1068 (1976). Decades of judicial gloss have steadily chipped away at a literal application of the tax requirement. A good deal of that judicial gloss has evolved mechanically and without benefit of supporting rationale, a criticism which might well be leveled at the tax payment requirement itself. In any event, given the state of case law, it may be better to commence our analysis by stating the obvious rule and then attempting to list the exceptions and qualifications to that rule.

In the general case (which is by no means the most typical case), I.C. § 5-210 requires actual payment of taxes which are assessed to the disputed property. Fry v. Smith, 91 Idaho 740, 430 P.2d 486 (1967); White v. Boydstun, 91 Idaho 615, 428 P.2d 747 (1967); Larsen v. Lindsay, 80 Idaho 242, 327 P.2d 775 (1958); Balmer v. Pollak, 67 Idaho 494, 186 P.2d 217 (1947). Of critical importance is the assessor's actual basis for valuation of the property in question, i. e., whether his assessment was based on estimated acreage derived from physical inspection, value based on frontage feet, area calculated from a metes and bounds description, or some other method of valuation. The general tax rule focuses on actual payment as evidenced by the assessor's actual valuation. However, this Court has fashioned several corollaries and exceptions to the general rule which, when applied, have the effect of satisfying the tax requirement (by fiction or otherwise), even though it cannot be determined that the adverse claimant actually paid property tax on the disputed land.

The first and most frequent example is the "lot number" corollary.

"(I)n the case of boundary disputes between contiguous landowners, where one landowner can establish continuous open, notorious and hostile possession of an adjoining strip of his neighbor's land, and taxes are assessed by lot number or by government survey designation, rather than by metes and bounds description, payment of taxes on the lot within which the disputed tract is enclosed satisfies the tax payment requirement of the ... statute." Scott v. Gubler, 95 Idaho 441, 443-44, 511 P.2d 258, 260-61 (1973) (emphasis added, footnote omitted).

The following cases apply the lot number corollary in one form or another: Nesbitt v. Wolfkiel, 100 Idaho 396, 598 P.2d 1046 (1979); Standall v. Teater, 96 Idaho 152, 525 P.2d 347 (1974); Scott v. Gubler, supra; ...

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19 cases
  • Baxter v. Craney
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Idaho
    • December 15, 2000
    ...Code section 5-210 requires actual payment of the taxes that are assessed with regard to the disputed property. See Trappett v. Davis, 102 Idaho 527, 633 P.2d 592 (1981); Fry v. Smith, 91 Idaho 740, 430 P.2d 486 (1967); White v. Boydstun, 91 Idaho 615, 428 P.2d 747 (1967); Larson v. Lindsay......
  • Luce v. Marble
    • United States
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    ...either of the parties, and is uncertain or in dispute, such coterminous owners may agree upon a boundary line." Trappett v. Davis, 102 Idaho 527, 531, 633 P.2d 592, 596 (1981). Ignorance of what is later deemed to be the true boundary suffices to show uncertainty. Morrissey v. Haley, 124 Id......
  • Wilson v. Gladish
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    • Court of Appeals of Idaho
    • July 14, 2004
    ...Idaho Code § 5-210 requires actual payment of taxes assessed with regard to the disputed property. See Trappett v. Davis, 102 Idaho 527, 530, 633 P.2d 592, 595 (1981); Fry v. Smith, 91 Idaho 740, 741, 430 P.2d 486, 487 (1967); White v. Boydstun, 91 Idaho 615, 622, 428 P.2d 747, 754 (1967); ......
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    • June 6, 2011
    ...and the Schneiders had paid taxes on the property. The district court then applied the rule announced by this Court in Trappett v. Davis, 102 Idaho 527, 534, 633 P.2d 592, 599 (1981), that “when both the record owner and the adverse occupant pay taxes on the disputed property during the adv......
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