Shapiro v. Bell

A-5032-97T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1999) (Unpublished)
  • Opinion Date: October 22, 1999

SURVEYS; BOUNDARY LINES—Even though the State’s condemnation map showed a gap between the property to be taken and neighboring property, because the boundary description in the condemnation complaint used a “call” and a survey call prevails over a stated distance for a course, the State, not the condemnee, owns the “gap” that the discrepancy created.

A property owner sought to have a billboard removed from an adjacent piece of land. The billboard owner claimed that no part of the billboard encroached on a complaining neighbor’s land. One issue before the Court was the exact location of the complaining neighbor’s boundary line. Apparently, ten years earlier, the State had condemned land belonging to the billboard owner. The billboard owner argued that the State had not condemned all of its land but, instead, left a small piece of land located adjacent to the complaining neighbor’s property. Competing surveyors each determined that there was a gap between the boundary of the land that the State had taken and the land belonging to the neighboring property owner. It was in that gap that the billboard owner erected the sign. Regardless of whether the billboard was located in the gap, the lower court concluded that the State owned the gap that remained after the condemnation: “(1) because the condemnation complaint and declaration of taking clearly indicated that the [condemned] property being taken was bounded at its southerly point by [the neighbor’s] property leaving no remainder in [the billboard owner]; and (2) because the [billboard owner] was estopped and barred by laches from claiming otherwise because he had believed at the outset that the State’s condemnation map did not properly depict the extent of the property owned by him but he nevertheless remained silent.” Distances in feet from point to point were not used in the State’s description. When the State filed its complaint to condemn the property, it was described as “bounded ... on the southwest by land now or formerly of [the neighbor.]” Such a real estate description is known as a “call.” Calls prevail over stated distances in a course leading to a line or point. Consequently, irrespective of the exact location of the boundary line between the two properties, the taking by the State ran to the neighbor’s property. When the exact location of the boundary line was found as a fact by the trial court, the gap so created became owned by the State by virtue of its condemnation. As a result, the billboard owner was ordered to remove its sign.