Point to Point: Arguably on Target

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Surveyors are the only players in the real estate industry who are expected to transcend reasonable certainty in property descriptions and provide reliable certainty. Reasonable certainty is the litmus test generally used by the courts to determine whether a description is sufficient or not. It generally requires not that the description provide absolute certainty itself, but that it, together with other evidence that might be germane, provide the means to achieve that goal. Reliable certainty, on the other hand, is the threshold that real users of property need in order to support quiet enjoyment. That standard entails having accurate, precise locations on the ground, backed up by someone on-thehook if it is wrong. We provide the bridge between those two concepts.

All boundary surveyors know, however, that that bridge is sometimes a rickety affair, prone to collapse upon the slightest challenge. The remedy for fragile boundary determinations is what is known as "defensible retracement."

Defensible Retracement

The circumstances surrounding every boundary dictate that decision points must be traversed before a result can be determined. In other words, the end result is not obvious to us upon cursory inspection, and can only be found after an analysis process which itself morphs into different shapes depending on the situation. As in every decisionbased task, alternative decision tracks can lead to different results. Obviously there is only one theoretical boundary location; which track leads to the correct result?

In the November issue we examined the chronological approach to boundary resolution, which is an essential part of the retracement mindset, but deferred the discussion of how that is extended to situations where the sporadic evidence available forces secondary and tertiary decisions to take center stage. In short, how does one decide when the boundary analysis, with all its warts, will withstand scrutiny?

Our thought process needs a road map.

The best metaphor I have found is that of a target. The center of this target would be whatever in your state cannot be outweighed by conflicting evidence–for instance, a found, identifiable, undisturbed monument, called-for in a controlling grant. No other evidence would trump such a position. A retracement incorporating that monument would be unassailable, and earns the position in the bull’s-eye. In the next ring would be whatever would trump anything except that monument above, and so on. Who decides on the arrangement of the rings? The courts in your state have already decided. It remains for each surveyor to distill that arrangement in accordance with those decisions. This is not as tough as might first appear. By way of example, and not by fiat, here is the way that target works out in my state (Maryland):

[Controlling Grant]
1. Original Monument (bull’s-eye)
2. Courses and Distances
3. Area
4. Coordinates
[Next-earliest grant (or resurvey)]
5. Original Monument
6. Courses and Distances
7. Area
8. Coordinates
[Evidence unassociated with grant]
9. Uncalled-for monuments
10. Possessory evidence
And so on.

There is likely to be some debate as to the arrangement of the rings, especially the outer ones, and my intention here is not to argue those merits, but to illustrate the target itself. (And I am setting aside for this discussion unwritten transfers such as adverse possession and its ilk, not because the surveyor is not entitled to consider them in his analysis, but because their treatment is fundamentally different than written boundaries and, as I think about it, can be best considered using a completely different target.)

How It’s Used
Each line or corner of the retracement is subjected to the target analysis, beginning with the oldest line of the boundary (a la last issue), and working forward in time until complete. In practice, incorporating the bull’s-eye metaphor begins with a target comparison, to wit: "Do we have evidence satisfying this ring?" If yes, the analysis is over for that location; if no, we step out to the next ring and repeat the process.

Viewing the retracement task in this manner tends to focus attention on the priorities inherent in correct analysis. For each corner of the boundary, one merely begins at the center of the target, and works his way out until he has evidence residing in the ring. And, importantly, he ends the analysis there. This results in defensible retracement–one that will withstand scrutiny.

Thus, if identifiable evidence happens to reside at ring 5, the retracement is defensible as long as no evidence is available (or known to the surveyor) in rings 0 though 4. In this manner, the decisions conform to the rules governing retracement, taking into account the available evidence. Equally as important, the surveyor can later demonstrate that the controlling evidence was sought after, and was only passed over when declared unavailable.
Obviously the target analysis requires that the surveyor have at hand the information necessary to ask the target questions. In fact, this is an essential component of the defensible retracement. One cannot, for instance, evaluate whether one has a call for a monument in the controlling grant unless one has identified the grant in the first place and has a copy. Structuring the target itself facilitates the analysis process. There are other benefits. Often monuments conflict with one another, each deriving its authority from a different grant. Arranging the "pecking-order" of the grants also decides the relative weight of the monuments called-for by them.

This process does two things: it will likely result in the correct boundary location, and it will probably convince others reviewing the work that the surveyor understood and applied the controlling factors as well as measurement science.

The Difficulty
The difficulty of boundary surveying results not from being a Herculean concept (because it is not), but from the mass of conflicting (and sometimes unavailable) evidence clamoring for attention in implementing that concept. That evidence demands of the surveyor a clear understanding of what counts and what doesn’t; when enough evidence is available to make a decision and when it is not.

This is the prescription for a persuasive retracement. Woe to him who tries to challenge it with less rigorous, fuzzy analysis. A survey’s value lies in its reliability. And reliability should be our calling card.

Joel Leininger is a principal of S.J. Martenet & Co. in Baltimore and Associate Editor of the magazine.

A 237Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE

About the Author

Joel M. Leininger, LS

Joel Leininger, Associate Editor of the magazine, is the managing partner of S. J. Martenet & Co., a 154-year-old surveying firm in Baltimore, Maryland. He lectures frequently around the country on surveying-related subjects. Leininger has authored more than thirty articles and essays dealing with surveying and retracement, some of which have been published in Canada and Australia. Prior to his work at S.J. Martenet, he served as department head at Fisher, Collins and Carter, and as project manager with Daft-McCune-Walker, both in Baltimore. Leininger has also served as both Contributing Editor and Associate Editor of Professional Surveyor Magazine. He served five years on the Maryland Board of Registration and is a past-president of the Maryland Society of Surveyors. Contact Joel Article List Below