New Case Summary – Lundahl Farms v. Nielsen


December 30, 2021

Utah Court of Appeals

2021 UT App 146 (Click for full text)

The Utah Court of Appeals vacated the district court’s holding in a claim for boundary by acquiescence and remanded for further proceedings, concluding that the district court had made a number of mistakes in the fact finding process, inherently making its legal conclusions unsupportable, and making it impossible for any further review on appeal without first entering supplemental/modified findings.  

Background

The facts of this case cover a multi-generational saga beginning in the mid-19th century and continuing to the present, outlining one extended family’s history with a 25-acre plot. In the 1960’s, the plot was subdivided into two parcels—parcel 33, a one-acre plot containing the family’s “ancestral home”, and parcel 34, comprised of 20 acres of farmland for cattle. The titles to parcels 33 and 34 passed through many generations of relatives, but both parties had regular access to each other’s plots. In 2017, Parcel 33 was conveyed to appellee Darwin Layne Nielson, and in 2009, Carl Lundahl conveyed Parcel 34 to Lundahl Farms, an entity of which he is manager. In 2016, Lundahl Farms sent the Nielson family a “notice to remove personal property,” including outbuildings and permanent fixtures, located on Parcel 34, and the two parties met in trial court. The dispute at hand is focused entirely on the boundary between parcels 33 and 34. The trial court found for the Nielson family, owners of Parcel 33, and their argument that a boundary had been set by acquiescence on a physical fence line. Lundahl appealed.

Holding:

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s holding on a number of grounds. First, the Court agreed with the appellant, Lundahl Farms, that the trial court erred in concluding that “Lundahl Farms ‘recognized Parcel 34’s boundary with… Parcel 33 as the visible fence line.’” The trial court relied on an alleged statement from the transcript by Carl Lundahl that affirmed both parties recognized the fence as the boundary line. This Court holds that no such statement exists in the transcript, but rather statements to the contrary do exist in the transcript. This Court also agrees with the appellant that “several aspects of the trial court’s findings render them inadequate to support its conclusion that there was boundary by acquiescence.” This is due to existing evidence that there was permission by both parties to occupy the boundary space. Lundahl farms also shows evidence that the physical fence line which Nielson proposes as the acquiesced boundary line was not built with the intent to demarcate boundaries but was used for farming purposes. Thus, it was never treated by both parties as a boundary line, as both parties co-occupied the disputed boundary space. 

This Court holds that “boundary by acquiescence claims present ‘highly fact-dependent question[s],’” and that “the absence ‘of appropriate and specific findings’ on such fact-dependent questions ‘is a fundamental defect that makes it impossible [for us] to review the issues that were briefed without invading the trial court’s fact-finding domain.’” Because the trial court’s fact finding was erroneous, this Court vacated the trial court’s ruling and remanded the case for the entry of supplemented or modified findings, and for the court to enter judgment in accordance with its revisions.