Supreme Court Unanimously Upholds Client’s Property Rights in Boundary Dispute
May 08, 2018
Linda Sellers of Halverson Northwest Law Group gained a satisfying victory for our client—and landowners in general—with the recent, unanimous ruling of the Washington State Supreme Court in Garcia v. Henley.
It was the classic case of someone building a fence on their neighbors’ property. The Henleys proceeded to rebuild the fence multiple times, each time seizing more of the Garcias’ land and ignoring requests to keep to the original boundary. Finally, the Garcias had had enough, and Halverson Northwest sought a court order requiring the removal of the fence from our clients’ private property. Well, the trial court denied that request, instead ordering a “forced sale”—meaning the Henleys’ fence would stay put, and the Garcias had to sell their piece to the Henleys for $500.
This ruling didn’t sit well with the Garcias or Halverson Northwest. A forced sale may occasionally be necessary, but this remedy should be reserved for the unusual or exceptional case. Furthermore, there are five different elements which must be proven—by clear and convincing evidence—before an encroaching structure could be allowed to remain. The trial court had entered no findings of fact regarding these five elements.
The matter was brought before the Washington State Supreme Court. Considering this high burden of proof, the Supreme Court held that the absence of the findings of fact must be construed as a finding against the trespassing neighbor. In reversing the decision of the trial court, the Supreme Court reinforced the importance of private property rights in the State of Washington, stating “The right to eject an unlawful encroaching structure is among the most precious contained within the bundle of property rights.”
In a decision where all nine justices unanimously agreed that the fence must be removed, the Washington State Supreme Court affirmed a landowner’s fundamental right to retain, control and possess her own property.
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