Boundary Line Disputes and How Far is Too Far?
In this boundary line dispute between two neighbors, one hired a surveyor to determine the property line while the other built a fence and declared it his. The Court of Appeals determined the fence builder took it too far and awarded the other party the rare frivolous appeal damages.
Cumberland Advisory Group, LLC (“CAG”) purchased property with plans to demolish the current structure and erect a new one. As a part of their process, CAG hired a land surveyor to examine the property and confirm the property boundary lines prior to finalizing their plans. The surveyor determined the boundary separating it from a neighboring property owned by Martha Arnita Lee and Bennie Lee coincided with a chain link fence that had been in place since the 1980s.
In the process of demolishing the existing structure on the CAG property, the chain link fence was damaged in part. The demolition company added a temporary chain link fence in its place to connect the remaining portions of the chain link fence.
During a meeting with Metro Nashville Board of Zoning Appeals, the neighbor, Mr. Lee, argued that the boundary line was not where the fence was, but two feet further, giving his property two more feet of road frontage. CAG disputed Mr. Lee’s allegations but had multiple surveyors independently confirm the boundary line. All surveyors agreed that the boundary line was where the chain link fence had been, and the original surveyor for CAG was correct.
Mr. Lee, attempting to preserve what he believed to be his property, then built a wrought iron fence along his claimed boundary line, preventing CAG’s contractors from being able to continue their work.
CAG filed suit against Mr. Lee to have him remove the wrought iron fence, and for damages caused by the placement of the fence and delay of construction. The trial court entered a temporary injunction that the Lees violated multiple times by placing other objects on the disputed strip of land between the properties, further impeding construction. The court then found the Lees in contempt. The Lees proceeded to trial pro se after their fourth set of attorneys withdrew from representation. While the judge permitted the attorneys to withdraw, he denied the Lees yet another continuance, reasoning that the case had gone on long enough.
After a two-day trial, the trial court agreed with CAG and found that the disputed strip of land was on the CAG parcel. The Lees appealed the trial court’s decision to the Court of Appeals.
The parties argued the case via Zoom on February 4, 2021. On March 31, 2021, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling in all respects, agreeing with CAG about the boundary line. The Court also held that the Lees’ brief did not comply with the Rules of Appellate Procedure and awarded attorney’s fees on appeal for CAG pursuant to the frivolous appeal statute, which is a very rare remedy.