Garrett v. Speak (IN)

Summary: The Doctrine of Title by Acquiescence applies when owners of adjoining property, in the absence of fraud, (1) agree to establish a boundary line and (2) improve their respective share.


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Garrett v. Spear, 998 N.E.2d 297 (Ind. Ct. App. 2013).


Facts: Clifford and Judith Ann Garrett owned a parcel of land adjoining another parcel owned by Paul and Linda Spear. The Spears purchased their property in 1978, and the Garretts purchased their property in 1986 from Georgia Gillis. Georgia Gillis purchased the property in 1983 and held title alone. Georgia Gillis was married to Don Gillis when she purchased the land and when she sold it. Don Gillis erected the fence at an unknown time after discussing and agreeing with Paul Spear that it would serve as the boundary between the properties. When the Garrett’s purchased the land from Georgia Gillis, the fence still separated the Garrett’s property from the Spears’ property. In 1996, the Spears erected a garage and installed a driveway on what they believed was their property. The Spears and Garretts respectively tended to the property they believed was theirs on either side of the fence. Judith and Linda allegedly planted flowers along the boundary, until the fence was torn down in 2000. Around 2010, the Garretts had their property surveyed and found that the actual boundary between the properties showed that the Spears’ garage encroached on their property. Thereafter, the Garretts erected a fence along the surveyed boundary of their property, which ran into the south edge of the Spears’ garage.


In response, the Spears filed a complaint against the Garretts, alleging, as one of their counts, quiet title by the doctrine of title by acquiescence. After depositions were taken, the Spears moved for summary judgment on their claims of title by acquiescence and adverse possession. The trial court entered an order granting summary judgment in favor of the Spears, indicating that the ruling was controlled by the doctrine of acquiescence and did not address the remaining theories of recovery. The Garretts subsequently appealed.


Holding: Affirmed. On appeal, the Garretts argued that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the Spears, and in denying their own summary judgment motion. Regarding the Spears judgment of quiet title by the doctrine of title by acquiescence, they asserted that Don Gillis did not have the authority to establish the original fence boundary line, because he did not hold title.


The appellate court first addressed whether Don Gillis' non-titleholding status was relevant under the doctrine. The court found that it was not, because Georgia Gillis, known titleholder, knew and did not take issue with the installation of the fence or its terms. The court, citing a supporting opinion Huntington v. Riggs, stated acquiescence, “need not be express and may be inferred from the parties’ actions,” to support its conclusion. Huntington v. Riggs, 862 N.E.2d 1263, 1268 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007). Second, the court found that the original agreement between the Spears and the Gillis was not based on fraud and went unchallenged for 27 years, which supported a presumption of the doctrines applicability. Further, and more importantly, the court found that the Spears improved the parcel designated by the original boundary agreement. The court stated, quoting the Supreme Court of Indiana in Adams v. Betz, 167 Ind. 161, 78 N.E. 649 (1906), “where owners adjoining premises established by agreement a boundary…and improve the same in accordance with such division, each party, in the absence of fraud, will thereafter be estopped from asserting that the line so agreed upon and established is not the boundary line.” As proof of improvement, the court cited the garage and driveway developed within the original bounds, Judith Garrett’s testimony that she only planted flowers on the side of the fence designated as the Garretts’ property, and the fact that the Garretts did not maintain the property the property claimed by the Spears until after the 2010 survey. Therefore, the court held that the doctrine of title by acquiescence applied, and affirmed the trial court’s holding.


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By: ATG Underwriting Department | Posted on: Mon, 10/27/2014 - 3:11pm