D. SCOT HAAN AND PATRICE AMITY HAAN, Appellant
JOHN A. WELLS, JOHN WELLS, JR., AND WILLIAM WELLS, Appellee
Argued June 24, 2014
As Corrected October 16, 2014.
Appeal from the Judgment of the Court of Common Pleas, Lackawanna County, Civil Division, No(s): 2011-CV-6813. Before NEALON, J.
Edward J. Hayes, Philadelphia, for appellant.
Brian J. Foley, Scranton, for appellee.
BEFORE: LAZARUS, J., WECHT, J., and MUSMANNO, J.
D. Scot Haan and Patrice Amity Haan (" the Haans" ) appeal the trial court's October 11, 2013 order. In that order, the trial court denied the Haans' motion for post-trial relief and entered final judgments on the matter. We affirm.
In a memorandum opinion issued in support of the denial of the Haans' post-trial motions, the trial court set forth the factual and procedural history of this case as follows:
[Appellants], D. Scot Haan and Patrice Amity Haan (" the Haans" ), and [Appellees], John A. Wells, Jr., and his wife, Susan A. Wells (" the Wells" ), are the owners of contiguous rural properties in Newton Township and Ransom Township, whose chains of title are traceable to the James Davis Warrant and the Stephen King Warrant that were conveyed by William Penn in the late 1700's. (Transcript of Proceeding (" T.P." ) on 1/7/13 at pp. 98-99, 101; T.P. 2/27/13 at pp. 18, 21, 22, 25-27, 34-35, 37-38, 40-41, 51; Plaintiffs' Exhibit Nos. 1-5, 11; Defendants' Exhibit Nos. D1A-D1E). The Haans commenced this action against the Wells seeking to enjoin them from entering or encroaching upon two parcels that their surveyor, George Dunda (" Dunda" ), identified as Encroachment Area #1 and Encroachment Area #2 on his survey. (T.P. 1/7/13 at pp. 69-70, 73, 89, 100, 103-105, 108; Plaintiffs' Exhibit Nos. 6, 19). Although mislabeled as new matter rather than a counterclaim, the Wells also requested affirmative relief via a trespass claim, and sought to compel the Haans to remove
a gate barrier and signs that they erected on separate land which is designated as Parcel #2 on the survey prepared by John M. Hennemuth (" Hennemuth" ). (Docket Entry No. 3 at ¶ ¶ 13-20, T.P. 1/7/13 at pp. 132, 135-37; Plaintiffs' Exhibit Nos. 18, 24; Defendants' Exhibit Nos. D2A-G).
Encroachment Area #1 and Encroachment Area #2 are relevant to the Haans' direct claim, whereas Parcel No. 1 and Parcel No. 2 are pertinent only to the Wells' counterclaim. The parties' surveyors both agreed that due to discrepancies in the metes and bounds descriptions contained in the original deeds for the James Davis Warrant and Stephen King Warrant, the boundaries of the land conveyed in those two Warrants overlap and create areas of " interference" that were first identified in a survey that Dunning Engineering Company conducted for the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (" AT& T" ) in 1953. (T.P. 1/7/13 at pp. 92-93; T.P. 2/27/13 at pp. 25-27, 33-35, 37-38, 40-41, 51). The survey calculations by Dunda and Hennemuth relating to that area of interference differ by 795 feet. (T.P. 1/7/13 at pp. 88-89).
In connection with the Haans' direct claim, Dunda prepared a survey designating Encroachment Area #1 as reflecting the 23.41 acre encroachment involving the Stephen King Warrant, and Encroachment Area #2 as depicting the 5.18 acre encroachment implicating the John King Warrant. (Id. at pp. 89, 103-105; Plaintiffs' Exhibit Nos. 6-7). Conversely, Hennemuth's survey focuses upon Parcel No. 1 (97.74 acres) and Parcel No. 2 (116.46 acres) which were conveyed to the Wells family by Andrew Walukus (" Walukus" ) on November 18, 1920 and July 2, 1924. (T.P. 2/27/13 at pp. 27-28, 53, 86-87; Plaintiffs' Exhibit Nos. 9-18, 24). Dunda's survey does not address the Wells' counterclaim regarding Parcel No. 2, and the Haans' counsel conceded at trial that Dunda " didn't . . . give any opinion whatsoever as to the property being claimed by Wells" in the counterclaim. (T.P. 1/7/13 at p. 119).
The Haans established that they own 71 acres and 55 pieces of property by virtue of a series of conveyances involving the Catherine Evans tract. (Plaintiffs' Exhibit Nos. 1-5, 11). Dunda surveyed that property on behalf of the Haans. (T.P. 1/7/13 at pp. 74/84, 97-98), and concluded that Encroachment Area #1 and Encroachment Area #2 are situated on the Haans' land. (Id. at pp. 89, 103-105). [Appellee] John A. Wells, Jr. testified that he and other members of his family have hunted on Encroachment Area #1 and Encroachment Area #2. (Id. at pp. 158-60). However, [Wells] admitted during his testimony that he does not claim ownership of that particular land. (Id. at pp. 145-52). [Appellant] D. Scot Haan testified that he filed this suit in order to bar the Wells from continuing to trespass upon Encroachment Area #1 and Encroachment Area #2.
The Wells' trial evidence primarily focused upon Parcel No. 2 and the Haans' trespass on that land. (T.P. 2/27/13 at pp. 131-140, 143, 145, 149-151). John A. Wells, Jr., testified that he owns Parcel No. 2 and pays real estate taxes for that land. (Id. at pp. 131, 145-46). Wells stated that he and his family have used Parcel No. 2 to hunt, ride all-terrain vehicles and pick berries, (Id. at pp. 131-132), but that Mr. Haan has now erected a gate blocking an access road and posted " private property" signs on that land without the Wells' permission.1 (Id. at pp. 132-136, 143). D. Scot Haan admitted during his testimony that he installed a gate barrier on the access
road in Parcel No. 2, and also posted " private property" signs on that property. (T.P. 1/7/13, pp. 109-114).
1The signs which have been posted on trees located in Parcel No. 2 identify " Haan" as the landowner, and state: " POSTED: PRIVATE PROPERTY. HUNTING, FISHING, TRAPPING OR TRESPASSING FOR ANY PURPOSE IS STRICTLY FORBIDDEN. VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED." (Defendants' Exhibit No. D2G).
The Wells also presented the expert testimony of Hennemuth, who has been a licensed professional surveyor since 1976 and has conducted " many, many surveys" in Newton and Ransom Townships, including surveys of properties that are contiguous to the parties' lands and which involve the James Davis Warrant, the Stephen King Warrant, the Methias Keppling Warrant, the Adam Schrack Warrant, the William Smith Warrant, and the John King Warrant. (T.P. 2/27/13 at pp. 14-16, 18, 21-22, 114-115). Hennemuth opined that due to inaccuracies in the metes and bounds descriptions in the deeds for the James Davis Warrant and Stephen King Warrant, and the imprecision of early surveys of the rugged terrain comprising those Warrants, the boundaries of that land overlap and have created areas of " interference," which are designated as Encroachment Area #1 and Encroachment Area #2 on the Dunda survey. (Id. at pp. 25-27, 33-35, 37-38, 40-41, 51).
Unlike Dunda, Hennemuth devoted most of his trial testimony to Parcel #2 where the Haans have erected a gate barrier and posted signs based upon their claim of ownership of that land. Hennemuth stated that the " vaguely written description" of the property that the Wells' predecessor-in-title, Andrew Walukus, conveyed to the Wells family in 1920 and 1924 is attributable to an unreliable survey that was conducted with the Warrant Deed to James Davis on September 17, 1794. (Id. at pp. 61, 64-65). Those inaccuracies were later compounded by Lackawanna County's conveyance of 312 acres to Andrew Walukus via a deed which contains no metes and bounds description. (Id. at pp. 85, 87; Plaintiffs' Exhibit No. 10). The dimensions of the parties' properties were further complicated by the flawed boundary line designation for Newton Township and Ransom Township, as reflected in the 1903 survey by George Stephenson. (T.P. 2/27/13 at pp. 75-76, 80-81). As a consequence, boundaries indicated in the earlier deeds were " guesstimated" by " someone who had no idea" of the accurate dimensions since the descriptions contained in those deeds were not premised upon accurate surveys, or metes and bounds recitals, and did not " close mathematically." (Id. at pp. 90-91, 94, 113).
In formulating his professional opinions, Hennemuth reviewed the relevant deeds, prior land surveys, maps and tax assessment records, and conducted his own " field work" on the ground. (Id. at pp. 17-18). During the course of his survey of the land at issue, Hennemuth located concrete monuments, pins, and notched trees which he used to measure and plot accurate boundary lines and to calculate correct acreage for the property owned by the Wells. (Id. at pp. 19-23, 28). Hennemuth testified that the gate barrier situated on Parcel No. 2 is " well within the Wells' property." (Id. at p. 27). His conclusion that the Wells own Parcel No. 2 is corroborated by the 1953 Dunning survey, as well as by the pertinent tax maps and the Lackawanna County tax assessment records memorializing the Wells' payment of property taxes for Parcel No. 2. (Id. at pp. 28-29,
45, 88-89, 93-96, 112-113, 117; Defendants' Exhibit No. 3).
Although the Haans did not offer any expert testimony to rebut Hennemuth's conclusions regarding Parcel No. 2, (T.P. 1/7/13 at p. 119), Mr. Haan introduced his own lay testimony in opposition to the Wells' claim of ownership of Parcel No. 2. Mr. Haan claimed that he acquired Parcel No. 2 at a tax sale, and later litigated a quiet title action involving ownership of that property. (T.P. 1/7/13 at pp. 123-125). However, he conceded that he did not name the Wells as parties in that quiet title action, nor did he serve them with any quiet title filings. (Id. at p. 125). More importantly, the Haans did not introduce a single document from the quiet title proceeding reflecting the boundaries, acreage or location of the land that they purportedly purchased at the tax sale. (Docket Entry No. 19 at pp. 4-5, 10-11).
After the parties filed their proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law on May 28, 2013, and June 11, 2013, (Docket Entry Nos. 17-18), a non-jury decision was issued on June 19, 2013. (Docket Entry No. 19). A verdict was entered in favor of the Haans with regard to their trespass claim based upon the finding that the Haans possess " title and ownership of Encroachment Areas #1 and #2," and " that the Wells have entered Encroachment Areas #1 and #2, albeit based upon the mistaken belief that the land was not owned by the Haans." (Id. at p. 9). As a result, it was determined that " [b]y virtue of the Wells' unprivileged and intentional intrusion upon Encroachment Areas #1 and #2, they are liable to the Haans for trespass and will be enjoined from any further unauthorized entry upon that property." (Id. at pp. 9, 12).
With respect to the Wells' trespass claim relating to Parcel No. 2, the Wells " presented credible testimony and documentary proof by John M. Hennemuth establishing the Wells' ownership of Parcel #2," including " the Dunning survey that was prepared for AT& T on December 1, 1953, [which] clearly identifies the Wells as the owners of the portion of Parcel #2 which is at issue." (Id. at p. 10) (citing T.P. 2/27/13 at pp. 94-96; Plaintiffs' Exhibit Nos. 18, 24; Defendants' Exhibit No. 3). The Haans' assertion " that they acquired a portion of Parcel #2 via a tax sale and subsequent quiet title action" was rejected since " the record [wa]s devoid of the requisite proof of that purported acquisition" in that " [no] exhibits were admitted into evidence establishing the details of that alleged tax sale or the scope of the quiet title action." (Docket Entry No. 19 at pp. 10-11). Because " [t]he credible evidence established the Wells' ownership and right to immediate possession of the relevant portion of Parcel #2," the Haans were " directed to immediately remove the gate in question, which is identified in Defendants' Exhibits Nos. D-2E and D-2F, as well as all signs which have been posted on said property by the Haans." (Id. at pp. 11, 13).
On June 25, 2013, the Haans' trial counsel withdrew as counsel for the Haans, (Docket Entry No. 20), and their current counsel entered his appearance on July 1, 2013. (Docket Entry No. 21). On that same date, the Haans filed their  motion for post-trial relief. (Docket Entry No. 22). The Wells [did] not file a post-trial motion challenging the non-jury verdict in ...