Johnson v. Little Rock Ranch, LLC

Facts: Two parcels of undeveloped land are divided by a fence. The fence is located inside the boundary line of one owner’s property which is known to the owner. The owner does not communicate their knowledge to the neighbor that the fence is not on the boundary.  The neighbor develops a farm on their property and levels a hillside up to the location of the fence. The owner is aware of the construction but waits until after excavation and continuous exclusive use by the neighbor to inform the neighbor they are trespassing and sues to restore the leveled hillside back to its original condition.

Claim: The neighbor claims they have the right to occupy the property and that the owner’s demands are time barred since the owner knew of the inaccurate position of the fence and waited until after the neighbor finished improvements to advise the neighbor.

Counterclaim: The owner claims the neighbor trespassed by excavation since the fence is not an indicator of the boundary line location.

Holding: A California appeals court holds the owner is time barred from any recovery of the neighbor’s use of the property by the defense of laches since the owner waited until after the neighbor leveled the hillside between the boundary and the fence when the owner was aware the fence was not located on the boundary line. [Johnson v. Little Rock Ranch, LLC (2022) 73 CA5th 576]

Editor’s Note – As the land could not be restored to its original condition, the California appeals court provided an equitable remedy in which the contested property now belongs to the neighbor in exchange for payment to the owner in an amount equal to the value of the portion occupied.  Of course, the fence remains as the marker for possession of the two adjacent parcels.

Read Johnson v. Little Rock Ranch, LLC here.

Related reading:

Legal Aspects of Real Estate                                                                      

Chapter 9: Boundary lines