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Chase v. Taft Hill Tree Farm, Inc.

Supreme Court of Vermont

September 26, 2014

Thomas W. Chase, Harold Chase and Ralph Chase
v.
Taft Hill Tree Farm, Inc., Eric S. Scott and Patricia M. Scott

Editorial Note:

This decision has been designated as "Supreme Court of Vermont Appeals Disposed of Without Published Opinion or Memorandum Decision." table in the Atlantic Reporter.

Appeal from: Superior Court, Windham Civ. Division. DOCKET NO. 458-10-11 Wmcv. Trial Judge: Wesley.

Dooley, Skoglund, andRobinson, JJ.

ENTRY ORDER

In the above-entitled cause, the Clerk will enter:

Plaintiffs appeal the superior court's decision granting summary judgment to defendants on their claims to a disputed area of land based on record title and adverse possession. Plaintiffs argue that summary judgment was inappropriate because there are disputed questions of material fact on both issues. We affirm.

I. Facts and Proceedings Below

The parties own abutting tracts of land. Their holdings approximate the land comprising two former farm properties: one formerly known as the Hazelton Farm, roughly corresponding to plaintiffs' property, and the other formerly known as the Taft Farm, roughly corresponding to defendants' property. The disputed area of land is approximately nine acres and lies between the parties' properties. It is located to the east of Back Windham Road in Townshend. Defendants own the land on the west side of the road and plaintiffs own land to the north and east of the disputed parcel. The parcel is bounded to the south by a stone wall, which also forms the southern border of plaintiffs' land. There is another stone wall that runs north-south parallel to Back Windham Road and divides the disputed property in two.

Plaintiffs filed an action to quiet title, claiming they had record title to the property traceable to a 1958 deed to their predecessors in title that they claimed described the disputed parcel. They also asserted ownership through adverse possession. Defendants counterclaimed, asserting record title to the disputed tract. Defendant moved for summary judgment, tracing title to the disputed parcel back to the nineteenth century. The trial court denied defendants' initial motion for summary judgment. Reviewing the undisputed evidence, the trial court concluded that it was clear, as of 1873, that the disputed property was part of the Taft Farm. However, because there was insufficient evidence linking the 1873 deed to the 1958 conveyances upon which plaintiffs relied, the trial court ordered defendants to produce additional briefing and records concerning the conveyances of the property between 1873 and 1958. Defendants complied, and after a hearing the court issued a written decision granting defendants' motion for summary judgment.

After reviewing the relevant deeds, the court recounted the undisputed facts concerning the property. The stone wall bisecting the parcel marks what was the eastern boundary of the Taft Farm (now defendants' property) prior to 1812. There was no evidence that the portion of the land east of the road and west of the bisecting wall was ever conveyed out of the Taft Farm chain of title. As to the portion of the property east of the bisecting wall, the undisputed evidence demonstrated that in May 1812, Peter Hazelton conveyed the parcel to Peter Rawson Taft. That conveyance established a new eastern line for Taft Farm approximately 600 feet east of the stone wall.

The court explained that there was no evidence that after 1812, the parcel east of the stone wall and west of the Hazelton Farm was ever conveyed out of the Taft Farm chain of title. The undisputed facts showed that in 1873, the owners of Taft Farm, two Howard brothers, conveyed two parcels to the owner of Hazelton Farm, Samuel E. Williams. This conveyance effectively restored to Hazelton Farm the land granted to Peter Taft in 1812 except for the disputed parcel, which remained part of the former Taft Farm. The property conveyed in 1873 abuts the disputed parcel to the north and the southern boundary of the conveyed property described in the deed also delineates the northern boundary of the disputed parcel. The southern boundary of the conveyed parcel was described in the 1873 deed as running " thence south 76 degrees east to a stake and stones on the east line of [the former Hazelton Farm]."

From 1873 to present, the conveyances in the Taft Farm chain of title include the disputed parcel. In the first conveyance in this period, in 1882, the Howard brothers conveyed property to Samuel Barber on both sides of the Back Windham Road, and in the deed the northern boundary of the conveyance is described as " the southerly side of Samuel E. Williams land" -- in other words, the line established by the 1873 conveyance. Based on this, the court found that it was undisputed that the deed to Barber included the parcel. Thereafter, the chain of title demonstrates that the parcel passed, and there were no conveyances out. Although the deeds do not contain a metes-and-bounds description, the court concluded there was no dispute that the parcel was included in the deeds and remained intact until acquired by defendants.

Plaintiffs' claim to title rested on a deed from Herbert Bernap to plaintiffs' parents dated April 26, 1958. This deed described the property conveyed by Bernap as " bounded on the west by the back highway leading from West Townshend Village to the Village of South Windham." Plaintiffs' expert attested that in his opinion some portion of the disputed parcel was included in this deed. Defendants sharply contested plaintiffs' reading of the 1958 deed, arguing that it conveyed only the parcel conveyed back to the Hazelton Farm in 1873 -- which is bounded on the west by the highway. The court concluded that there was no evidence to demonstrate Bernap owned the land in question at the time of the conveyance or that any portion of the disputed parcel was ever conveyed out of defendants' chain of title.

For a description of the property, the court relied on a survey completed by Dauchy Associates, Inc., dated December 1990. The survey was admitted into the summary judgment record by stipulation. The boundaries portrayed in the survey correspond to the analysis and diagrams of defendants' expert. In 2008, plaintiffs subdivided portions of their property north of the disputed parcel. That deed utilized the identical description of the southern boundary of ...


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