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Hofling v. Csaki

August 14, 2008

AUGUST HOFLING, JR. AND SHIRLEY HOFLING, PLAINTIFFS-RESPONDENTS,
v.
ELIZABETH CSAKI, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, General Equity Part, Monmouth County, Docket No. C-176-05.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued August 5, 2008

Before Judges Sapp-Peterson and Baxter.

Defendant Elizabeth Csaki appeals from an October 18, 2007 order that established a real property boundary line between her property and that of the plaintiffs. The order in question awarded plaintiffs a disputed thirty-five foot strip of land along the common border.*fn1 We affirm.

I.

Plaintiffs August and Shirley Hofling purchased property in Upper Freehold Township on February 5, 1969, by deed from Louis and Cora Valpreda. Defendant's parents owned an adjoining parcel from 1966 through 1995, when they conveyed it to defendant. At the time plaintiffs purchased their property from the Valpredas, they relied upon a survey prepared by Mitchell Mastrangelo dated January 28, 1969. A few years later, plaintiffs questioned the accuracy of that survey after discovering that the Mastrangelo survey was contrary to a hedge row that divided the two properties. Consequently, plaintiffs hired James Newell, who in March 1976 issued a survey that was at variance with the earlier Mastrangelo survey. The Newell survey concluded that a strip of land approximately thirty-five feet wide along the common boundary between the two properties belonged to plaintiffs and not to defendant. At an unspecified time between 1969 and 1995, plaintiffs cut down the orchard that defendant's parents had planted in the thirty-five foot strip because they believed the land belonged to them rather than to defendant.

In 2004, plaintiffs hired surveyor Harris Surveying, Inc. (Harris) to prepare another survey. Like the Newell survey, the Harris survey concluded that the disputed property belonged to plaintiffs.

On June 27, 2005, plaintiffs filed a complaint in the Chancery Division in which they sought to quiet title and reform their deed description to include the disputed thirty-five foot parcel. Defendant answered, acknowledging the dispute, but asserting that she was the rightful owner of the disputed property. She also asserted that if the land was not hers by deed, then it had become so through adverse possession. After the litigation commenced, defendant hired Princeton Junction Engineering (PJE) to survey the property. On October 10, 2005, Ted Pivovarnick of PJE issued a survey that supported defendant's claim that she owned the thirty-five foot strip.

By agreement of the parties, on January 24, 2006, the judge issued an order appointing a Survey Commission pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:28-1. Three members were appointed, two of whom were land surveyors and the third an attorney with considerable experience in real estate matters. On February 14, 2006, the three commissioners took their oaths of office and commenced their work. They held hearings on June 1 and July 31, 2006,*fn2 during which the parties and their experts provided testimony and referred to the voluminous documents that had been previously submitted to the commissioners. Plaintiffs had submitted the 1969 Mastrangelo survey, the 1976 Newell survey and the 2004 Harris survey as well as more than fifty deeds, surveys, field notes and photographs. Defendant had submitted the February 23, 2006 and October 12, 2006 survey opinions prepared by PJE, a letter report dated October 16, 2006 by R. Niels Sperling of L.G.A. Engineering, Inc. (LGA), and approximately seven other deeds and surveys. The boundary commissioners also conducted a site inspection of the two properties during which they walked all the boundaries for both properties.

After the boundary commissioners had completed their site visit to the properties and taken testimony on June 1, 2006, defendant's surveyor, Ted Pivovarnick of PJE, re-visited the site and issued a second survey on July 18, 2006, in which he opined that plaintiffs' deed description should be amended in order to grant them even more land than they were seeking. Pivovarnick returned to the Boundary Commission and testified accordingly on July 31, 2006. Consequently, at the conclusion of the proceedings before the Boundary Commission, three surveys, the Newell survey, Harris survey, and the July 18, 2006 Pivovarnick survey, all favored plaintiffs' position.

Before the boundary commissioners rendered their decision, defendant requested a ten-day extension to permit her to search for the actual "Point of Beginning" stone (POB) that was referenced in her deed description. Ultimately, the Chancery Division granted that additional ten-day extension. Defendant attempted to find that POB because, as she testified before the Boundary Commission, the surveyors had all ignored a stone marker which she knew from accounts from her parents was the point of beginning referenced in her and her parents' deed descriptions. Within a month or so, defendant claimed to have found the stone and asked the boundary commissioners to return and inspect it. According to their report, they did so on November 30, 2006.

On December 4, 2006, the commissioners issued a detailed ten-page report in which they concluded that: the boundary between the tract in question is as located by the Harris survey. That conclusion is founded upon the location and long dependence upon the Ancient Stone Monument, the geometry between them in accordance with the deed descriptions and the evidence of possession and treatment of the physical improvements as an acceptance and acquiescence on the ground as to the boundary location.

In the course of its report, the Commission explained in painstaking detail the reasons why its members concluded that the various surveys prepared over the years were either correct or in some cases, incorrect. The commissioners supported their ...


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