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News & Press: MSS News

The Interesting People I've Met While Surveying

Monday, August 19, 2019   (1 Comments)
Posted by: Eric B. Gladhill, P.L.S.
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At C. S. Davidson, Inc [in the 1990’s and early 2000’s] we did all of the survey work for the Gettysburg National Military Park, a division of the National Park Service. It was interesting work and we did such things as a ALTA/ACSM Title Survey of the property where the National Battlefield Tower had stood (south of Gettysburg, between Baltimore Pike and Taneytown Road). This tower had become controversial because many thought that its protuberance on the battlefield was an eyesore. Many others- including me- thought that it offered a unique and special view of the battlefield that could otherwise only be seen from an aircraft. Nevertheless, it was ordered by an act of Congress to be taken down. Our survey plat became part of the eminent domain court proceedings. We also mapped the areas around the Pennsylvania Memorial, Devil’s Den and the Eisenhower Farm. As a result of our engagement with the National Park Service in this way and because of my previous survey on the land adjacent to the Appalachian Trail on the lands of Richard Pry and others, while I was employed at Rettew, I was contacted about serving as an expert witness in Federal Court! Every surveyor prepares for the day that he will be testifying in court. Sometimes that thought is with much apprehension as it may be imagined that his day in court will be to defend his work as a result of a law suit against him. But sometimes that scenario is imagined with some pride, if he is to be called in as an expert witness and does not have to fear for the outcome to have possible financial burdens. In this particular case, I was being asked to prepare and appear to explain how the boundaries were determined in the survey that I had sealed. It was interesting and exciting for me to get the old AutoCAD drawings and start to prepare a series of exhibits to show the judge how this difficult boundary was determined. I knew that Richard Pry didn’t agree with where we placed the boundary, but we had sufficient evidence and records to mark the line partway down the hillside on the east side of South Mountain. Richard had always been told and believed that he owned to the ridgeline. That would have made sense because the ridge line was the dividing line between Frederick and Washington Counties, Maryland. I had several meetings to prepare for the hearing with the directors from the National Park Service and with the attorneys from the Department of Justice. We also met in the field with property owners and I showed them some of the evidence that was used to determine the location of the boundaries. The Federal employees all said that it didn’t really matter what the judge determined at the hearing, because they were going to buy the land; this was just to determine who got paid for it. So, even if the judge decided to disagree with my findings, it would not be seen as an error on my part, it would just give them a clear direction, beyond what a survey determined, to purchase and transfer the land to the USA.

 

          As more meetings occurred with property owners, I became aware that an adjoining property owner to the south of Richard Pry had hired their own expert witness, Draper Sutcliffe. Mr. Sutcliffe was a well-known surveyor in the area and was very involved (and charter member) of the Maryland Society of Surveyors. He had surveyed the property south of the Pry land and had also surveyed a property west of Richard Pry that was bought by Richard’s son. I also learned that they had hired their own attorney, James Demma. Mr. Demma is a well-known surveyor and attorney in Maryland. He had written a book about boundary retracement principles. He also taught seminars on a regular basis; in fact, I had recently taken a seminar that he taught on how to be an expert witness! This will be fun, I thought; I will have my first chance to use this new-found knowledge while being questioned in Federal Court by the very person who taught me these things! The one thing that stood out during that seminar was his instructions to only answer the question that is posed to you in a succinct manner. He even told us that if the question can be answered with a, “Yes” or “No”, you should answer with the appropriate word and not add any information to it until they ask you to do so. He even told a humorous story about his one appearance as an expert witness when the attorney who was questioning him asked, “Mr. Demma, what are you”? Even though he knew they wanted him to give his credentials as a licensed surveyor and attorney, he gave the following responses: “Father, husband, lover, reader, cyclist” and then stopped and asked if there were any categories in particular that the attorney wanted to know about!
 
          As I prepared for my day in Federal Court, I dressed in my best suit and tie, gathered the company’s laptop computer, which was loaded with AutoCAD software and had my drawing file all set up to display the various features that were surveyed on colored layers; I jumped in the 1996 Dodge Stratus that was assigned to me by the company, and headed toward Baltimore. I went from my home in Fairfield, through Emmitsburg and Taneytown with no trouble. I was feeling good, knowing that I had left the house early enough to arrive well before the appointed hearing time. As I headed down MD Rte. 140 toward Westminster, the car started to make some noise and I noticed some vibration. As the noise got louder, I started to ease the car to the paved shoulder of the road and realized that there was a flat tire on the rear right of the car! This car had been assigned to me for several months prior to this trip but I had never thought to look at the spare tire, the location of the jack or any of the tire-changing tools. Now, here I was in a suit and tie at 6:30 in the morning - still dark as night – with no flashlight and a flat tire! Well, I took off my jacket and managed to get the spare installed on the car without getting my pants dirty! I stopped at the first gas station with a restroom to wash my hands and still arrived at the courthouse on West Lombard Street in Baltimore with 20 minutes to spare.
 
          The proceedings in the courtroom were quite interesting! I had never witnessed such a thing; in fact, the only time I had been in any courtroom prior to that day was at the Adams County Courthouse on a fourth-grade field trip. When I came to my turn to take the witness stand the Department of Justice attorney asked if I could give my testimony from the defendants table, where I had connected the laptop to the projector for the audience and a monitor for the judge to view the AutoCAD version of the boundary survey. The actual survey, which was signed and sealed with my Maryland Property Line Surveyor stamp, was submitted as the evidence. The judge seemed to pay attention as I switched views on the drawing to show the various original stones set on the old patent lines from the early 19th century, and showed how they fit together to position the current property boundaries on the land. I don’t really know if he understood what he was seeing, but I had worked out my testimony with the attorneys working for the Federal government so that they understood exactly how the determinations of ownership were made by me. After I had completed showing everything that I needed to show, I actually sat in the witness box and answered the questions that were posed to me by the attorneys. When I was being cross-examined by Mr. James Demma, he got a wry smile on his face as he approached me. I had approached him after the seminar and asked some questions, so I couldn’t tell if perhaps he researched my name and found out that I took his course, or if perhaps he recognized me, but I could see that he enjoyed this game of question and answers. As he asked me certain questions about the survey, the monuments that were set and found, I answered as simply and briefly as possible; many times just with a “Yes” or “No”. It seemed as though he might be getting a little bit perturbed by seeming insolence and he started to roll his eyes as he pivoted on his heel and turned away from me and asked that I expound upon my answer and tell the court exactly what the boundary law and case history had to say about natural monuments and their importance in comparison to man-made monuments. I actually felt a bit of pride and confidence in this setting and found that with all of his questioning he was pointing out that the natural monument of the ridge line of South Mountain would hold more weight than the rebars (steel pins) that we set for property corners! I had to admit that the ridge was a natural monument and then he spun away and as he walked back to the plaintiff table, he said, “No further questions”. The Department of Justice attorney wisely asked for further examination and asked some other questions to allow me to explain that our rebar property corners were set based on the natural monuments and the direction and distance contained in the deeds of record for the properties.
 
          Draper Sutcliffe took the stand and recounted his survey of the Butler property which adjoined Richard Pry’s land to the south. His testimony didn’t really refute any of my work. I didn’t quite understand what value his testimony held for the plaintiffs. The real turning point of the whole hearing was when Richard Pry and his son, Timothy took the witness stand. They told of the history of owning the land. Richard was about 65 years-old then and he testified that when he was five years-old, he rode a horse to drag logs down from the ridge line. The somewhat humorous occurrence was when Tim was on the stand and the judge offered anyone else to ask questions of the witness. Tim’s wife stood and identified herself and said that she would like to ask him some questions. I didn’t really think that was too odd; I mean, after all, the judge did invite anyone else to ask questions and he made it obvious that he meant, “anyone”, but when Tim’s wife made her request, the judge suddenly stiffened and then gave a hearty chuckle. Then the attorneys sort of snickered as if they were privy to an inside joke. I realized the humor when the judge said, “I usually don’t allow a wife to question her husband under oath, but if you can promise to only ask questions pertaining to the matter at hand, I’ll allow it”. Most of us in the courtroom nervously laughed at that statement as we began to imagine the line of questioning that some women might use on the husband while they’re under oath: “Where were you on the night that you claimed to be with your buddies shooting pool”! Mrs. Pry simply wanted Tim to bring up some facts regarding the purchase of the property and the title commitment that they had to guarantee clear title to the land.
 
          After all of the testimony, including my well-rehearsed, technical explanation of my boundary determination, the judge ruled that the two Pry families and the Butlers had rights to the land to the ridge of the mountain by adverse possession. This really did make sense in light of their testimony. It was also palatable for most parties because most of the land that they were claiming was several parcels that were vacant and title traced back to the heirs of last-known prior owners from the 19th century. The other two parcels that extended over the ridge line from Washington County was owned in title by a farmer who really wasn’t sure where his eastern boundary was located and a parcel of land that had been purchased, but never surveyed, by the State of Maryland. The DOJ attorney asked the judge for clarification by asking, “Does this ownership by adverse possession include those lands owned by the State of Maryland”? The judge said, “Yes, all of those lands adjoining what is shown as their property on the survey at hand”. This was quite unusual for anyone in the courtroom who understands one of the basic rules of adverse possession; that it cannot be claimed against any sovereign body or body politic! This would appear to me to be a landmark case and I mentioned that fact to James Demma, who at the time had a regularly featured legal article in one of the nationally-distributed surveying magazines at the time. James had offered that he would probably get around to writing an article about it sometime soon. I asked him a few times over the next couple of years, but I never did see the article.

Comments...

R. Wayne Twigg says...
Posted Tuesday, August 27, 2019
Nice article, Eric! Interesting stuff! Your friend, Wayne Twigg

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