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Bullock v. Howton

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

January 30, 2015

Alvin A. Bullock and Helen Bullock Johnson
v.
Donald W. Howton

Released for Publication August 5, 2015.

Appeal from Madison Circuit Court. (CV-12-901426). Ruth Ann Hall, Trial Judge.

REVERSED AND REMANDED WITH INSTRUCTIONS.

For Appellants: Gary P. Wolfe, Wolfe, Jones, Wolfe, Hancock, Daniel & South, LLC, Huntsville.

For Appellee: Norman Bradley, Jr., Huntsville.

THOMPSON, Presiding Judge. Pittman, Thomas, Moore, and Donaldson, JJ., concur.

OPINION

Page 1271

THOMPSON, Presiding Judge.

Alvin A. Bullock and Helen Bullock Johnson (" the Bullocks" ) appeal from a judgment entered by the Madison Circuit Court (" the trial court" ) determining that Donald W. Howton is the owner of a 3.48-acre tract of land (" the disputed property" ).

On August 7, 1973, Grady H. Stapler, Howton's predecessor in title, filed a complaint in the trial court, together with a survey of his property (" the 1973 survey" ), seeking a judgment declaring the legal boundary lines between his property and the surrounding, contiguous properties. Stapler's complaint named as defendants the owners, including the Bullocks, of the contiguous properties. Stapler's complaint contained two descriptions of his property: the first was a general description referencing section lines (" the general description" ), and the second was a more specific metes and bounds description (" the specific description" ) that identified a fence line (" the original fence" ) shown on the 1973 survey. According to the specific description and the 1973 survey, the original fence served as the southern boundary of Stapler's property and as the northern boundary of the Bullocks' property. Stapler's complaint asked the trial court to establish the boundary lines, one of which he asserted was the original fence, set forth in the specific description and the 1973 survey as the " specific, actual[,] and true boundary lines" of his property. The Bullocks did not defend against Stapler's action because, according to Helen, " [t]here was nothing to disagree about."

On January 25, 1974, the trial court entered a judgment (" the 1974 judgment" ) in which it determined that " the boundary lines of [Stapler's] property as relates to the defendants ... are as determined and represented on [the 1973 survey] ..., which are the same boundary lines as set out in [the specific description]." Thus, the 1974 judgment established the original fence as the boundary line between Stapler's property and the Bullocks' property.

On February 4, 1974, Stapler conveyed his property to Howton by means of a warranty deed (" the first deed" ). Howton testified that he was aware of Stapler's action to establish the boundary lines of Stapler's property at the time he purchased the property. The first deed used both the general description and the specific description that had been used in both Stapler's complaint and the trial court's 1974 judgment.

Approximately one year later, Howton asked Stapler for another deed, and, on June 6, 1975, he received a second deed (" the second deed" ) from Stapler that conveyed essentially the same property as the first deed conveyed. However, at Howton's request, the second deed contained only the general description of the property referencing the section lines; it did not include the specific description referencing the original fence that had been used in Stapler's complaint, the 1974 judgment, and the first deed. Howton testified that he had requested the second deed because he did not want the southern boundary of his property to be limited to the location of the original fence but, instead, wanted his property to extend to the section line, which lies south of the original fence. However, Howton admitted that, according to the 1973 survey and the 1974 judgment, the original fence is the boundary line between his property and the Bullocks' property.

In 2011, Howton built a new fence (" the new fence" ) enclosing the disputed property. The new fence runs along the section line, which is essentially parallel to the original fence and is approximately 380 feet south of the original ...


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