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"The 2Point Way" - Deed Calls to an Adjoiner Boundary Can be Tricky

Updated: Aug 30, 2021

Call for Adjoiner—Variation of a Monument??

One tricky category included in the rules of construction is the call for an adjoiner. Some states classify this element as a ‘monument,’ while others create a separate category—generally following artificial monuments—for a call to an existing boundary. In either scenario, they generally supersede measurements and area.

As with other aspects of rules of construction, surrounding circumstances may alter the significance of this element. The strength of a call to an adjoiner boundary can be correlated—loosely—with its level of certainty and notoriety. A well-marked boundary between legitimate corner monuments carries more weight than an unmarked line between dubious endpoints. Lines widely recognized by local residents gain legitimacy by their general acceptance within the community. By contrast, a call to lands of an unknown individual whose name does not appear in the chain of title of the associated tract has little value. Despite these considerations, the general rule is that a call for an adjoining boundary controls the ‘course and distance’ elements in a description.

The Rule

In general, where the relevant documents call only for adjoining property boundaries, those lines control if they can be established with reasonable certainty. An excellent illustration of this principle is found in the New Jersey decision Passage v. McVeigh: 23 N.J.L. 729 (1852). The relevant portion of the description is quoted here: “Beginning at the northeast corner of the lot belonging to Mrs. Mary Hunter, thence south twenty-three degrees east, along the line of the lands of the said M. H. seven chains and thirty-five links, to the lands of the Rev. Dr. Samuel Miller.”

In this instance, the court concludes that the call for adjoiner controls the associated bearing ,and considers the call to an adjoiner as a monument: “The judge had very properly told the jury “that the plaintiff's land lay along Mrs. Hunter's tract up to Dr. Miller’s line. These are monuments controlling the course.” Unfortunately, the surveyor whose work was in dispute had held posts that were purported to be on the boundaries called for, but were not. In cross-examination, the surveyor admitted that he did not check to see if the posts used were actually in the boundaries called for. The court concludes: “The position, then, of the fence or of the posts referred to by the witnesses settles nothing. The question still remains, where is the true last line of the Hunter lot?”

Exceptions Can Occur

The complexity of proper application of the rules of construction is on full display in the Texas decision Frost v. Socony Mobil: 433 S.W.2d 387 (1968). In this instance, the lower court erroneously held that the adjoiner call controlled, but the appellate court concluded that measurements and monuments were more persuasive evidence of the intent of the original parties. In reaching this conclusion, the court provided extensive discussion of the significance of adjoiner calls.

The fact that some original descriptions were based on incomplete field work was a factor in this dispute. Few corners were marked by the original surveyor, and some blocks—purportedly surveyed later—were actually the result of fraudulent field notes, a practice described locally as preparing “office surveys.”

The Texas court affirms that, even when adjoiner lines are not well marked, they often still control over measurements: “We recognize the general rule that calls for adjoinder will ordinarily prevail over calls for distance. … This is so even where the call is for adjoinder with the unmarked but ascertainable lines of an adjacent survey.”

This decision also identifies a limited exception to the rule. In general, rules of construction may be disregarded where clear mistake or fraudulent intent is proved: “There is, however, an important exception to the general rule, and petitioners insist that the present case is governed by the exception. When it appears that the call for adjoinder was made through mistake, it may be disregarded and the matter is set at large with the court left free to construct the survey in such manner as will best give effect to the intention of the parties as determined from the entire description when read in the light of the surrounding circumstances.”

Despite the legitimacy of this exception, it should not be used as an excuse to circumvent the typical priorities laid out in the rules of construction. Not every minor mistake merits departure from the general rule: “… mistaken or conjectural adjoinder call is not necessarily shown by mere variances in distance. … As pointed out in State v. Sullivan, supra, an “inconsiderable excess is not of itself evidence that the surveyor was mistaken in the location of the adjoinder for which he called, but, when there is no other evidence of mistake, is usually … taken to mean that the mistake was in the measurement or in the calculation of the distance.” … In this instance variances in distance are not the only evidence of mistake.”

The North Carolina courts chronicle another example where the adjoiner call was disregarded because the line identified had not been marked was in dispute at the time the subject description was surveyed. In Lance v. Rumbough: 150 N.C. 19 (1908), Judge Walker observes: “There was no evidence that the red line had been established or was known as the Johnson line at the time the deed was made to the plaintiff. The location of that line was then in dispute and a suit was pending for the purpose of establishing it…

The general rule undoubtedly is, that the line or corner of another tract of land which is sufficiently established will control course and distance, but it is not a rule without an exception, and the principle we have just stated constitutes an exception to it. Baxter v. Wilson, supra. The instruction which the defendant asked the court to give to the jury, that the third call should stop at the red line, assumed that it was the Johnson line, when there was no evidence showing that it had, at the time the deed was made, been established. The evidence tended to show that Rumbough, when he executed the deed, did not so regard it.”

The detailed discussion found in the examples above—and in many other cases not described here—demonstrate that calls for adjoining boundary lines must be treated with caution. Specific circumstances of each decision are critical and seemingly insignificant evidence may change the outcome of the case.

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