Utah Supreme Court
February 16, 2016
2016 UT 8 (Click for text of opinion)
In this case, the Utah Supreme Court held that title to property passes by operation of law when the elements of boundary by acquiescence are met.
The Hugheses owned property adjacent to property owned by Q-2 L.L.C. (“Q-2”) in Syracuse, Utah. An old fence had served as the boundary between the properties from 1927 to 1971. This fence ran north to south to the east of the actual record property line. When the Hugheses acquired the property in 1998, this fence was no longer visible and the Hughes used their property up to the record property line. In doing so, the Hugheses occupied property that the adjacent owners and their predecessors in interest had considered part of their property based on the historic location of the fence. Q-2 filed suit in 2008 to quiet title in the property between the record property boundary and the historic location of the fence between their respective properties based on a claim of boundary by acquiescence. The Hugheses counterclaimed by asserting that even if they had lost the property under boundary by acquiescence, they had reacquired it by adverse possession.
The trial court quieted title in the disputed property in Q-2 and dismissed the Hugheses’ counterclaim on summary judgment. The Utah Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s conclusion that title to the property had transferred to Q-2 by boundary by acquiescence, but reversed the court’s dismissal of the counterclaim after holding that title to the disputed property passed to Q-2 by operation of law no later than 1971 and that the Hugheses otherwise introduced enough evidence to survive a summary judgement motion on their adverse possession claim.
The Utah Supreme Court reviewed the appeals court’s ruling to determine if it correctly held that title to property passes by operation of law when the elements of boundary by acquiescence are satisfied. The Utah Supreme Court confirmed that title to property passes by operation of law when the elements of boundary by acquiescence are met because 1) the Court held that parties obtained title by operation of law in its prior boundary by acquiescence cases; 2) title passes by operation of law in the closely related doctrine of adverse possession; and 3) policy considerations favor the transfer of property by operation of law.
We note the Utah Supreme Court cites an article by Elliot Lawrence written while he was an attorney in the Office of the Property Rights Ombudsman to support its policy conclusions.