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Brown v. Lucas

A-565-02T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2003) (Unpublished)

BOUNDARIES—Expert testimony is required to prove a boundary line and even if someone is personally familiar with the boundary line, that person must certify that he or she has the requisite skill or knowledge to provide testimony.

In the course of constructing a home on property adjacent to a tree farm, the owners noticed that “some trees located by the wall of their property were dead [and] decided to have these trees removed.” The owner of the tree farm noticed that the trees had been removed and told the homeowners that “he believed the trees were improperly removed from his property.” The homeowners admitted removing the trees, but expressed the belief that the trees were within their own property line. The parties were unable to settle the matter and the tree farm owner sued for damages. The lower court held that the tree farm owner “had the burden of establishing the elements of the trespass” and had failed to do so. Essentially, the lower court held that expert testimony was required to support the tree farm owner’s claim because “the subject matter was so esoteric that jurors of common judgment and experience are unable to make a determination without the benefit of the information opinions possessed by a person with specialized knowledge.” It rejected the tree farmer’s testimony that he had “personal knowledge of the boundaries of his property [because] it [had] been in his family for generations.” The tree farm owner “failed to even submit a certification that he [knew and possessed] the requisite skill or knowledge to provide such testimony [as to the boundaries of his property], or that he [was] familiar with the boundaries of his property.” The Appellate Division agreed, pointing out that “[t]he requirement of or necessity for expert testimony is a matter to be determined ‘within the sound exercise of discretion by the trial court.’” “Property lines obviously lend themselves to a definite form of measurement which calls for the services of a surveyor or engineer. Moreover, here, [the tree farm owner] provided his lay opinion that he knew the correct boundary of his property, but he did not provide a certification attesting to this fact.”

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