COA affirms quiet title judgment for property-line dispute

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has affirmed a decision ordering a man to tear down a fence he installed outside of his property line that enabled him to block an alleyway with his vehicle.

Scott Shields, who has interest in property located in the Town of Perrysville, got in trouble with his neighbors after they complained he was parking his car in a nearby alley. Issues arose after Shields obtained a survey of the property that showed a stone drive running north and south on it. The survey showed an alley several feet west of the stone drive between Shields’ lot and a neighboring lot.

After receiving the survey, Shields built a fence along the boundary line just a few feet from an outbuilding on the neighboring lot that almost entirely obstructed the alleyway, and he began parking his car on the stone drive east of the fence. In response to community outcry, the town filed an instant action to quiet title, alleging Shields “erected a fence [that] has completely obstructed the believed location of the alley” in which it obtained interest through a platted and recorded deed. Additionally, the town alleged it had the right to remove the fence because of the doctrine of title by acquiescence.

The surveyor who conducted Shields’ survey testified that his conclusions were a result of his “educated opinion” and that there was a three-foot uncertainty of the property lines on the east-west side. The Vermillion Circuit Court ultimately ruled in favor of the town, ordering that the alley remain as designated by the town and not by Shields’ survey, that the town has title to the area by acquiescence, and that Shields must remove the fence.

On appeal, Shields argued that the town “did not offer any evidence to dispute the expert survey” and requested that the appellate court ignore Town Council president Mike Bowman’s testimony, asserting that Bowman had “a vested interest in the outcome of the proceedings.”

“Shields’s argument amounts to a request to reweigh evidence and reassess witness credibility. We must decline,” Judge L. Mark Bailey wrote for the appellate court. “Moreover, to the extent Shields is arguing that a survey can be refuted only by another survey, he directs us to no authority for this proposition.”

The appellate court ultimately found that the survey “was cobbled together based upon numerous assumptions rather than monumentation in the field making the survey problematic at best.” On Shields’ abandonment claim, the appellate court next observed that Indiana Code Section 36-9-2-5 permits the vacation of public ways.

“Here, however, there is no evidence the alley was vacated,” it noted. “Thus, the court did not clearly err in rejecting a claim of abandonment.”

Judgment in Scott Shields v. Town of Perrysville, 19A-MI-00979, was therefore determined to not be clearly erroneous, the appellate court concluded.

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