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Gault v. Janoyan

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

October 30, 2014

WALTER ALLEN GAULT
v.
JANO JANOYAN, ET AL.

Session Date July 10, 2014

Appeal from the Chancery Court for Knox County No. 185155-3 Michael W. Moyers, Chancellor

This case concerns a boundary line dispute. Walter Allen Gault (“Plaintiff”) sued Jano Janoyan and Pinnacle Bank (“Defendants”) [1] seeking a declaratory judgment 1 that, by way of adverse possession, he is the rightful owner of a triangle-shaped piece of land, 41.59 feet at its base and approximately 302 feet on each of its two sides. The disputed area is within the deed boundaries of the property owned by Janoyan, the Plaintiff’s next door neighbor. (See attached exhibit.) The parties’ properties are in Forest View, a residential subdivision in Knoxville. Defendants filed an answer and a counterclaim for ejectment and quiet title to the property. Both parties moved for summary judgment. After a hearing, the trial court granted summary judgment to the Defendants. Plaintiff appeals. We affirm.

Terry G. Adams and Kevin J. Tonkin, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Walter Allen Gault.

M. Edward Owens, Jr, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Jano Janoyan and Pinnacle Bank.

Charles D. Susano, Jr., C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which D. Michael Swiney and John W. McClarty, JJ., joined

OPINION

CHARLES D. SUSANO, JR., CHIEF JUDGE

I.

Plaintiff has lived on his property continuously since 1970. In 1974, he acquired an ownership interest by way of a deed from his wife, and later owned full title when his wife passed away. In 1971, Plaintiff and his wife began planting trees along what Plaintiff refers to as "the Occupation Line, " the line he claims as the boundary between the two lots by virtue of his alleged adverse possession of the disputed area. Seven trees and a bush remain. They have grown, and, according to Plaintiff, are of sentimental value to him.

Up until 2007, the lot now owned by Janoyan was undeveloped. In 2007, Janoyan's predecessor in interest constructed a home on the lot. In 2013, Janoyan purchased the property and has resided there with his family ever since. Pinnacle Bank holds two deeds of trust on the Janoyan lot. The disputed area is not enclosed. The instant dispute arose after Plaintiff learned that Janoyan intended to fence his property, including the disputed area. The disputed area is situated entirely within Lot 30, title to which is held by Janoyan. Plaintiff, however, claims ownership of the disputed area by virtue of adverse possession. In the alternative, he seeks a prescriptive easement for his exclusive use and enjoyment of the property.

The parties' lots are reflected in their respective deeds by metes and bounds descriptions as well as by reference to the subdivision plat that was recorded in 1955. The Gault lot, excluding the disputed area, is a .773 acre, rectangular tract. The Janoyan lot is a corner lot that is also generally rectangular but wider at the rear property line than at the front. Including the disputed area, the Janoyan lot consists of approximately 1.24 acres. The disputed area totals .144 acres.

An affidavit of the tax assessor reflects that property taxes on the Gault lot and the Janoyan lot have been assessed based on the recorded subdivision plat and deeds for some 38 and 42 years, respectively. The parties do not dispute that they have each paid their respective property taxes.

In April 2013, Plaintiff filed a complaint in which he alleged that he has held the disputed area "exclusively, actually, adversely, continuously, openly and notoriously" for more than forty-two years and thus owns the disputed area by virtue of adverse possession. In addition to planting trees, Plaintiff alleges that he had periodically mowed the grass along the "Occupation Line" and otherwise tended the property for over forty years. Plaintiff further alleges that he used the disputed area as a play area for his children and for a family garden. Plaintiff requested that the court establish the "true and correct" boundary line and find that title to the disputed area has vested in him. In the alternative, Plaintiff sought a prescriptive easement over the disputed area. Janoyan filed an answer in which he averred that Plaintiff had no valid claim to the disputed area and was essentially trespassing with full knowledge that the property was not his. In his counterclaim, Janoyan sought to have Plaintiff ejected from his property and enjoined from further preventing Janoyan's use of his property.

In September 2013, Plaintiff moved for summary judgment on his claim of adverse possession. In his supporting affidavit, Plaintiff alleged that he believed the Occupation Line to be the boundary line between the two lots. In 1982, he built a patio in the disputed area and placed a swing upon it which has been replaced over the years due to weathering but the patio still remains. In addition, Plaintiff built a swing set for his children that was located in the disputed area and remained there until the mid-1980s. Plaintiff alleged that his family had buried some twelve dogs and other family pets in the disputed area, each marked by a readily identifiable headstone. Further, Plaintiff's son had constructed a remote control racetrack that he and other neighborhood children used during the 1980s and early 1990s. Also, in the 1970s, Plaintiff installed a drainpipe that carries water from his property into the disputed area; he made repairs to the drainage pipe as recently as 2013. Plaintiff further alleged that a previous owner of the Janoyan lot had placed stakes at the Occupation Line that Plaintiff considered as a "clear indication" of his property line. Further, according to Plaintiff, all previous owners of the Janoyan lot had maintained that property only to the Occupation Line. Plaintiff alleged that he discussed the boundary line with Janoyan's predecessor in interest, Mrs. Schultz, who confirmed in their discussion that she thought her property ended at the Occupation Line. Plaintiff alleged that since 2004, his grandchildren had used the disputed area as a play area the majority of weekends every month. Plaintiff claimed he never cared to enclose the ...


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