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Robert K. Reinmiller Living Trust v. Metschuleit

Court of Appeals of Indiana

October 12, 2017

Robert K. Reinmiller Living Trust, Timothy H. Matthews and Paula C. Matthews, Appellants-Plaintiffs,
v.
Jeffrey L. Metschuleit, Karen Metschuleit, Glenn Nix, and Moira Nix, Appellees-Defendants.

         Appeal from the Harrison Circuit Court, The Honorable John T. Evans, Judge, Trial Court Cause No. 31C01-1408-PL-18

          Attorney for Appellants John A. Kraft Young, Lind, Endres & Kraft New Albany, Indiana 3

          Attorneys for Appellee J. David Agnew Robert P. Hamilton Lorch Naville Ward LLC New Albany, Indiana

          Pyle, Judge.

         Statement of the Case

         [¶1]The Appellants/Plaintiffs, Robert K. Reinmiller Living Trust ("Reinmiller") and Timothy and Paula Matthews (collectively, "the Matthews"), filed a complaint to challenge a legal survey completed on behalf of their neighbors, the Appellees/Defendants, Jeffrey L. and Karen Metschuleit (collectively, "the Metschuleits") and Glenn and Moira Nix (collectively, "the Nixes"). They argued that a center section line ("Center Line") established in the survey was erroneous and that the survey inappropriately included land within the Metschuleits' property boundaries that was not included in their deed's property description. The trial court issued a judgment granting in part and denying in part Reinmiller and the Matthews' (collectively, "the Appellants") requested relief. Specifically, the trial court invalidated the part of the survey that had inappropriately included land within the Metschuleits' property boundaries that they did not own according to their property deed. However, the trial court found that the survey's Center Line was valid.

         [¶2]On appeal, the Appellants argue that the trial court erred when it granted in part and denied in part their challenge to the legal survey. With respect to the trial court's denial in part, they argue that the trial court's determination that the Center Line was valid was based on erroneous and conflicting findings. With respect to the trial court's grant in part, they assert that the trial court granted relief not authorized by Indiana Code § 36-2-12-14(c), the statutory provision governing "appeals" of legal surveys, because it did not have the authority to partially validate and partially invalidate a legal survey.

         [¶3]Because we determine that the trial court's findings were not erroneous and supported its judgment that the Center Line was valid, we affirm the trial court's judgment in part. However, we agree with the Appellants that the trial court granted relief not authorized by statute. Upon rejecting part of the survey at issue, the trial court was required to order a new survey completed by a different surveyor or to order the county surveyor to locate and mark the boundaries with durable markers in the proper places according to the trial court's findings. The trial court chose not to order a new survey but failed to order the county surveyor to locate and mark the proper boundaries according to its findings. Therefore, we reverse in part and remand with instructions for the trial court to enter a new judgment ordering the county surveyor to locate and mark with durable markings the boundaries of the Center Line that the trial court has found valid.

         [¶4]We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand with instructions.

         Issues

         1. Whether the trial court erred when it denied in part the Appellants' challenge to a legal survey.

         2. Whether the trial court granted relief not authorized by statute by partially validating and partially invalidating a survey.

         Statement of the Facts

         [¶5]The parties to this appeal are adjoining and contiguous landowners in Harrison County. The Metschuleits and Reinmiller own adjacent parcels of real estate, situated so that Reinmiller's property lies to the south and the east of the Metschuleits' property. The Matthews own property to the north and east of the Metschuleits and to the north and west of Reinmiller. The Nixes own property to the north of the Metschuleits and Reinmiller and to the west of the Matthews. Victor McCauley ("McCauley"), a professional land surveyor, surveyed the legal boundaries of the neighbors' properties, and that survey is the subject of this appeal. McCauley depicted the boundaries of the properties as follows:

         (Image Omitted)

         (App. Vol. 2 at 107).

         [¶6] Prior to McCauley's survey, a civil engineer and land surveyor, Reginald Timberlake ("Timberlake") surveyed sections of Reinmiller's land in 2005 and 2011 so that Reinmiller could log timber. Timberlake did not record either of these surveys.

         [¶7] Subsequently, in 2012, the Nixes hired Timberlake to complete a legal survey of the Nixes', the Metschuleits', and the Matthews' properties. Each of the three sets of property owners agreed to pay 1/3 of the price for the survey. However, after Timberlake completed the survey in March of 2012, neither the Nixes nor the Metschuleits agreed with his results. They were concerned that the Center Line, which was the line that determined the boundary between the Nixes' and the Matthews' properties and the boundary between the Metschuleits' and Reinmiller's properties, was not placed where they thought it existed. (Tr. Vol. 2 at 55). They believed Timberlake's line was misplaced because it "severed" a cultivated field, ran west of an existing fence line, and ran west of where they thought it should based on where they believed remnants of an historic school were located. (Tr. Vol. 2 at 25).

         [¶8] With respect to the school, the Metschuleits' deed describes their property as containing the "south half of the northwest quarter of Section 25, Township 1 south, Range 2 east, " except for "one (1) acre out of the southeast corner thereof deeded to Blue River Township for school purposes." (App. Vol. 2 at 53). The deed described the location of the school acre as "[b]eginning at the southeast corner of said northwest quarter, running thence west along the south line of said quarter . . . ." (App. Vol. 2 at 53). The Metschuleits' property contained "remnants of a foundation" of a building on a "man-made plateau area" where they believed that the school had been located, and they believed this location was consistent with where their deed said the school acre was and was inconsistent with Timberlake's survey. (Tr. Vol. 2 at 59, 144). Timberlake's Center Line was to the west of the school acre, whereas the Metschuleits believed the Center Line should be to the east of the school acre.

         [¶9] After receiving Timberlake's survey results, the Metschuleits wrote him letters stating that they believed the survey was incorrect and asking him to re-evaluate his Center Line, but he declined to do so. As a result, neither the Metschuleits nor the Nixes paid the 1/3 of Timberlake's charge they had agreed to pay, and Timberlake did not record the survey.

         [¶10] Subsequently, in mid-2012, the Nixes and the Metschuleits hired McCauley to conduct the legal survey that is depicted above. McCauley completed the survey and recorded it in the Harrison County Recorder's office on June 1, 2014. His survey placed the Center Line around 150 to 165 feet to the east of Timberlake's Center Line. According to McCauley's Center Line, the Metschuleits' eastern property boundary coincided with the eastern boundary of the cultivated field that Timberlake's Center Line had "severed." (Tr. Vol. 2 at 25). However, McCauley also included the one-acre school property within the Metschuleits' property boundaries, even though it was excepted from the deed, as well as a 7.575 acre parcel of land ("7.575-acre parcel") that was not included in their deed's property description and did not appear to have an identified owner.

         [¶11] On August 12, 2014, the Appellants (Reinmiller and the Matthews) filed a complaint challenging McCauley's survey under Indiana Code § 36-2-12-14, which allows owners of property surveyed to "appeal" that survey to the circuit court, superior court, or probate court for the county. They argued that McCauley's survey reflected "different lines" than previous surveys had and requested that the trial court set aside the survey. (App. Vol. 2 at 24).

         [¶12] The trial court held a bench trial on April 22 and July 13, 2016. At trial, both Timberlake and McCauley testified regarding their respective Center Line placements. McCauley testified that when completing this type of legal survey, a retracement survey, the goal is to "retrace the descriptions of the property" or "follow the retracement of a deed." (Tr. Vol. 2 at 28, 42). He further explained that, in determining where a property's boundaries should exist "on the ground, " surveyors consider a "hierarchy" of landmarks. (Tr. Vol. 2 at 45). First, a surveyor looks at the deed, then "natural monument[s]" such as "a cliff, creek, valley, something natural." (Tr. Vol. 2 at 42). Next on the hierarchy, according to McCauley, a surveyor examines "artificial monuments, " such as roads, fence lines, [and] tree lines." (Tr. Vol. 2 at 42-43). McCauley also explained:

In between natural monuments and artificial monuments [are] surveyor monuments that are placed. Then after artificial monuments you go down to bearings, distances. . . . [Y]ou go on down to testimony by long time landowners, parole evidence, . . . and ...

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