When the first sentence of an opinion of the Court of Special Appeals (CSA) concerning the location of property misspells the Baltimore neighborhood of “Hampden” as “Hamden,” you know there is a problem.
When the CSA sticks with a deed that includes a distance between Hickory Lane and the alley behind the houses because the language of the deed was unambiguous, even though two surveyors measured that distance differently from what the deed stated, you know there is a problem.
When two lawyers bought small adjacent lots in Hampden and one of them proceeds to construct a house on one of the lots when its size was in dispute and litigation was imminent and then pending, you know there is a problem.
When both of the parties to the litigation hire the same surveyor and the court belittles the testimony of that surveyor, you know there is a problem.
When the CSA demeans the practice of going to the old survey records of S.J. Martenet to try to find the location of a previous dwelling and refers to one of its side as a “ghost partition wall,” you know there is a problem.
When the Circuit Court for Baltimore City awarded punitive damages without awarding any compensatory damages, you know there is a problem.
When the circuit court later awarded compensatory damages in order to support the award of punitive damages, but did not provide a basis for the compensatory damages, you know there is a problem.
The CSA affirmed the circuit court’s finding that the newly constructed house was partly over the boundary line of the neighbor, and that the invasion constituted a trespass. The circuit court had required that the encroaching portion of the improvements be removed, and the CSA agreed with that. The circuit court had awarded $50,000 in punitive damages and $1,000 in compensatory damages, but the CSA vacated those awards and remanded the case to the trial court for further consideration. Compensatory damages must be equal to the loss of the value of the property, and there was no indication in the file what basis the circuit court had used to determine its award of compensatory damages. And punitive judgments must be based in part on compensatory damages, so the CSA held that that portion of the award needed to be reconsidered by the circuit court as well.
The case is Wilson v. Donald, Sept. Term 2019, No. 287 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Dec. 14, 2020).
For questions, contact Edward J. Levin.
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