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Yuk v. Robertson

Supreme Court of Alaska

May 26, 2017

JAY YUK and HEE SU YUK, Appellants,

         Superior Court No. 3 AN-15-08659 CI

         Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Mark Rindner, Judge.

          Appearances: John C. Pharr, Law Offices of John C. Pharr, P.C., Anchorage, for Appellants.

          J. E. Wiederholt, Aglietti, Offret & Woofter, Anchorage, for Appellees.

          Before: Stowers, Chief Justice, Winfree, Maassen, Bolger, and Carney, Justices.


          WINFREE, Justice.


         After a surveyor discovered a discrepancy between the location of a longstanding fence and the boundary between two lots, property owners sued to quiet title to the fenced-off section of their lot. But the owners of the encroaching fence claimed adverse possession of the fenced-off section, and the superior court entered summary judgment in their favor. The property owners who brought the quiet title action appeal, arguing that the court erred in its application of procedural rules and substantive law. Seeing no error, we affirm the superior court's decision.


         A. Facts

         A fence between Lots 3 and 4 of A-B-K Commercial Subdivision No. 3 in Anchorage does not follow the platted boundary line, effectively placing a 6-foot by 3 00-foot portion of Lot 4 (the disputed property) on Lot 3 's side of the fence. The lots were platted in 1967. A municipal sewer easement recorded in 1969 for the "West 10 feet of Lot 4" wholly encompasses the disputed property. The sewer line was built later that year, and the parties agree that the municipal easement still exists.

         A 1969 aerial photograph of the area shows no fence or building on either lot, but the fence appears in its current location in a similar 1979 photograph. Before Sidney and Theresa Robertson purchased Lot 3 in 1991, Sidney's parents owned it and used it for a daycare. The Robertsons bought Lot 3 and the daycare "as a turn-key operation" and have continued operating it since. Both they and their predecessors used the disputed property for the daycare's playground equipment.

         Jay and Hee Su Yuk purchased Lot 4 in 2010; they then commissioned a property survey that documented a discrepancy between the fence and the boundary line. In 2011 the Yuks demanded that the Robertsons move the fence to the correct boundary; the Robertsons refused, claiming they owned the disputed property through adverse possession. The Yuks repeated their demand in 2015, but the Robertsons again refused. The Yuks then sued to quiet title to the disputed property.

         B. Proceedings

         In answer to the Yuks' quiet title complaint, the Robertsons asserted adverse possession as an affirmative defense. They moved for summary judgment, claiming that they had acquired title to the disputed property. The Yuks, in an opposition and cross motion for summary judgment, claimed that the Robertsons should have raised adverse possession as a counterclaim and that the Robertsons failed to satisfy the adverse possession requirements.

         Before the summary judgment hearing the superior court ordered the parties to read its recent order in Ibarra v. Daugherty[1] - an unrelated case in which the court had found adverse possession of a parcel enclosed by an encroaching fence - and to be prepared to discuss it at the hearing. After the hearing the court granted the Robertsons' summary judgment motion and denied the Yuks'. The court observed in a footnote that the Yuks had failed to distinguish the facts and ruling of Ibarra. Determining that the Robertsons proved by clear and convincing evidence that they had satisfied the elements of adverse possession, the court recognized their ownership of the disputed property.

         The Yuks appeal.


         "We review grants of summary judgment de novo, exercising our independent judgment to determine whether the parties genuinely dispute any material facts and, if not, whether the undisputed facts entitle the moving party to judgment as a matter of law."[2] Under the independent judgment standard, we adopt "the rule of law that is most persuasive in light of precedent, reason, and policy."[3] "We review de novo a superior court's interpretation of court rules ... ."[4] We also review de novo "whether an evidentiary presumption was correctly applied."[5]


         The Yuks make two procedural claims involving the superior court's application of court rules. The Yuks also dispute the superior court's determination that the Robertsons satisfied the elements of adverse possession. We affirm the superior court's decision in all respects.

         A. Procedural Claims

         The superior court recognized the Robertsons' title to the disputed property notwithstanding the Yuks' claim that affirmative relief was not available unless the Robertsons asserted adverse possession as a counterclaim, rather than as an affirmative defense. The Yuks make the same argument on appeal. But despite the Yuks' repeated assertions, prior cases have never required that adverse possession be raised as a counterclaim in a suit to quiet title.[6] And Alaska Civil Rule 8(c) allows the superior court to treat a mistakenly identified defense as a counterclaim.[7] The court did not err by granting the Robertsons relief based on their affirmative defense of adverse possession.

         The Yuks also claim that the superior court violated Alaska Appellate Rule 214 by citing Ibarra in the final summary judgment order.[8] The Yuks argue that because Ibarra was unpublished, it "should have limited precedential value." Even assuming Rule 214 applies to judges - and there is no indication that it does[9] - the court first cited Ibarra in its order prior to the summary judgment hearing as a similar recently decided case that the parties should be prepared to discuss, and later to help explain its ultimate decision.[10] The ...

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