COA: trial court skipped step in land dispute

In defusing a property battle among neighbors, the Indiana Court of Appeals has instructed the trial court to order a land survey that includes durable markers.

Victor McCauley, a professional land surveyor, was hired to determine the legal boundaries between the adjacent properties owned by the Metschuleit, Nix, Matthew and Reinmiller families. A dispute erupted over the final survey. The neighbors disagreed over the placement of the center section line between their properties, and they argued over the placement on the Metschuleits’ land of an acre plot that formerly was home to a school and a 7.6-acre parcel.

After a trial in Harrison Circuit court, Judge John Evans held McCauley correctly identified the Center Line but the survey was still “partially invalid.” Specifically, the survey should not have identified the Metschuleits as owners of the school parcel and the 7.6-acre tract of land.

Robert Reinmiller and the Matthews appealed, arguing the trial court erred. They claim the court’s findings conflicted and the Center Line was not valid. They also contend the court erred because it did not have statutory authority to only partially invalidate the survey.

In Robert K. Reinmiller Living Trust, Timothy H. Matthews and Paula C. Matthews v. Jeffrey L. Metschuleit, Maren Metschuleit, Glenn Nix, and Moira Nix, 31A01-1609-PL-2168, the Court of Appeals affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded with instructions.

The appellate panel affirmed the trial court’s ruling that the Center Line is valid.

However, citing its decision in Lane Alan Schrader Trust v. Gilbert, 974 N.E.2d 516, 521 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012), decision clarified on reh’g, 978 N.E.2d 519 (2012), the Court of Appeals concluded the trial court skipped the step of ordering the county surveyor to locate the boundary lines with durable markers, thereby establishing a new legal survey. As Reinmiller and the Matthews noted, the survey as it is cannot give future parties proper notice of the properties’ legal boundaries.

“As the trial court, thus, granted relief not authorized by statute, we determine that it erred by rejecting part of McCauley’s survey without ordering a different surveyor to complete a new survey or ordering the county surveyor to mark the boundaries with durable markers in the proper places according to its findings,” Judge Rudolph Pyle wrote for the court.  

The Court of Appeals remanded with instructions for the trial court to order the county survey to locate the Center Line with durable markers.

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