Law School Case Brief
Herrell v. Casey - 609 N.E.2d 1145 (Ind. Ct. App. 1993)
As a general rule, the "law of the case" doctrine designates that an appellate court's determination of a legal issue is binding on both the trial court and the court of appeals in any subsequent appeal given the same case and substantially the same facts. However, where new facts are elicited upon remand which materially affect the questions at issue, the court upon remand may apply the law to the new facts as subsequently found. Whether the trial court upon remand has jurisdiction to make additional factual inquiries or to hear new issues depends upon what issues are decided upon appeal and what issues are expressly or impliedly reserved upon remand.
In 1973, defendants Harold and Wanda Casey began to landscape and level the property up to the fence between their parcel of land and their neighbors' parcel, Ronald and Janet Marie Herrell; the fence belonged to Herrells. The Caseys planted and maintained several fruit trees along the fence line. In 1984, the Caseys built a shed, replaced with a garage approximately six feet from the fence. In 1987, the Herrells removed the fence and decided to take a survey to determine the exact location of the property line. They then discovered that the Caseys' garage encroached on their property. The Herrells filed a lawsuit against the Caseys in Indiana state court to quiet title to a thin strip of real estate running along their adjoining tracts. The trial court initially awarded summary judgment to the Caseys upon the undisputed facts that the Caseys had maintained the yard, gardened both vegetables and flowers, pruned trees and considered the property immediately adjacent to the fence as their own. Upon the Herrells' appeal, the appellate court reversed and remanded, holding that such "maintenance activities, standing alone, were not sufficient to support a claim of adverse possession." On remand, the trial court found, inter alia, that both the shed and the garage that replaced it encroached upon the Herrells' property and also that the shed encroached in its new location. Consequently, the trial court found that the Caseys had adversely possessed the property for the statutory period and therefore ordered that the strip be awarded to the Caseys. The Herrells appealed, contending that the law of the case doctrine precluded the trial court from finding that the Caseys were adverse possessors of the property.
Did the law of the case doctrine preclude the trial court from finding that the Caseys were adverse possessors of the property?
The appellate court affirmed the trial court's judgment. The court found that additional facts, such as the fact of encroachment of the shed and garage on the Herrells' property, distinguished the case factually from the case that was decided in the first appeal; hence, the law of the case doctrine was inapplicable. According to the court, where new facts were elicited upon remand, which materially affected the questions at issue, the court upon remand may apply the law to the new facts as subsequently found. The court noted that the general rule of the "law of the case" was not an unbending rule of law to be blindly applied in every situation. It was a "discretionary rule of practice" and permitted a court to apply it or not depending upon the circumstances.
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