Utah Supreme Court
May 31, 2016
2016 UT 22 (Click for text of opinion)
In this case, the Utah Supreme Court clarified that in a boundary by acquiescence dispute only the claimant must occupy his or her property up to the new boundary line. The court also outlined the policy reasons behind this clarification of the boundary by acquiescence doctrine.
Anderson and Fautin own adjacent parcels of land. A fence has divided these two parcels since before 1930. Fautin purchased her property in 1987 and consistently occupied the land up to the fence line. Anderson, however, did not use or visit his property for 26 years. In 2005, Anderson had the land surveyed and discovered that the fence was encroaching on his property. Fautin argued that under the doctrine of boundary by acquiescence, the fence now represented the legal boundary between the two parcels. In turn, Anderson claimed that the mutual occupancy requirement had not been met because he had not occupied his land up to the visible line. Both the district court and the appellate court held that the elements of boundary by acquiescence had in fact been met and that Fautin had title to the disputed strip of land. The Utah Supreme Court affirmed this decision and clarified the elements of boundary by acquiescence.
In the past, the court was inconsistent with articulating and applying the elements of boundary by acquisition because it had conflated the doctrines of boundary by acquiescence and boundary by agreement. They often required occupancy by both the claimant and the nonclaimant and looked for evidence of an implied agreement between the parties. In this decision, the court abandoned these views and clarified that the correct interpretation of boundary by acquiescence looks solely at the claimant’s occupancy to determine whether the nonclaimant received adequate notice of the boundary line. Additionally, the mutual acquiescence element of the doctrine no longer requires evidence of an implied agreement. Rather, silence or indolence by the nonclaimant is enough to satisfy this standard. Through the doctrine of boundary by acquiescence, the court hopes to minimize litigation, promote stability in land ownership, and fill a gap in boundary dispute law.