Law School Case Brief
Brown v. Gobble - 196 W. Va. 559, 474 S.E.2d 489 (1996)
Following a bench trial, the circuit court's findings, based on oral or documentary evidence, shall not be overturned unless clearly erroneous, and due regard shall be given to the opportunity of the circuit judge to evaluate the credibility of the witnesses. W. Va. R. Civ. P 52(a). Under this standard, if the circuit court's account of the evidence is plausible in light of the record viewed in its entirety, the appellate court may not reverse it, even though convinced that had it been sitting as the trier of fact, the evidence would have been weighed differently.
Defendants, David L. Gobble and Sue Ann Gobble, were told that their property boundary extended to and included the fence enclosing their property. By a survey, plaintiffs, Gary S. Brown and Mitzi Brown, were on notice that a two-feet tract of land within the Gobbles’ fence was a part of their property, but they did not nothing to exercise ownership or control of the land until five years later. Thereafter, the Browns instituted an action which sought to have the Gobbles enjoined from interfering with the Browns' intended use of a two-feet-wide tract of land that formed a boundary running between the adjoining properties of the parties. The Gobbles answered the complaint and filed a counterclaim alleging ownership to the tract of land by adverse possession. In its decision, the trial court determined that the Gobbles failed to prove their claim by clear and convincing evidence, which was held to be the applicable standard for establishing the claim.
Did Gobbles fail to prove their claim by clear and convincing evidence?
The trial court's judgment in favor of the Browns was reversed and remanded for further proceedings to show clarification of the trial court's decision. According to the Court, while there appeared to be a significant amount of evidence supporting the Gobbles’ claim, the decision of the trial court in weighing the credibility of the evidence was not to be overturned absent clear error. The Court further indicated that it appeared that the trial court either misunderstood or misapplied the theory of the adverse possessors, and further clarification of the trial court's rationale for its decision was required.
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