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Williams v. River Bend of Cocoa Beach, Inc.

Florida Court of Appeals, Fifth District

September 20, 2019

MARY JEAN ANN WILLIAMS, Appellant,
v.
RIVER BEND OF COCOA BEACH, INC., A FLORIDA CORPORATION, RIVER BEND CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATION OF BREVARD, INC., AND ALL THE OWNERS OF RIVER BEND, A CONDOMINIUM, THROUGH THEIR AGENT, ETC., Appellees.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE MOTION FOR REHEARING AND DISPOSITION THEREOF IF FILED

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Brevard County, Charles J. Roberts, Judge.

          Richard W. Taylor, of Taylor & Nordman, P.A., DeLand, for Appellant.

          James E. Olsen, of Wean & Malchow, P.A., Orlando, for Appellee, River Bend Condominium Association of Brevard, Inc., Etc.

          Joe Caruso, of Law Offices of Caruso, Swerbilow & Wald, P.A., Merritt Island, for Appellee, River Bend of Cocoa Beach, Inc.

          EDWARDS, J.

         This appeal involves both a boundary dispute and a claim that water was being diverted from a condominium onto the adjacent homeowner's property. Appellant, Mary Jean Ann Williams, is the homeowner and Appellees, River Bend of Cocoa, Inc., and River Bend Condominium Association of Brevard, Inc. (collectively "River Bend"), are the developer and homeowner's association, respectively, of the condominium in question. For the reasons we set forth below, we affirm the final judgment regarding the boundary dispute in most respects; however, we hold that the trial court erred in rewriting the legal description of the parties' common boundary, and in failing to include all of the rulings that it orally pronounced in the final judgment. With regard to the water diversion issue, we affirm the final judgment, but remand for the trial court to enter an amended judgment that conforms to its oral pronouncements.

         Appellant bought and moved into her single family home before the River Bend Condominiums were constructed on the adjacent lot. She claimed that a boundary wall constructed by the developer during construction encroached onto her property. She also alleged that the developer altered the elevation of its land, causing excessive waterflow onto her property. Finally, she claimed that River Bend occasionally drained water from its swimming pool and diverted that water onto her property, causing damage. River Bend denied any encroachment or water diversion.

         First, we will discuss the boundary dispute. The parties agreed that the legal descriptions of the respective parcels of land were correct and agreed to the legal description of their shared boundary line. The shared boundary line had been established by reference to the original 1859 federal survey and was described by those section, township, and range lines. What they disagreed about was where the boundary line was physically located on the ground. A bench trial was held, during which each side presented its surveyor's testimony as to where the shared boundary between Ms. Williams' and River Bend's land was physically located.

         The trial court found that River Bend's surveyor had done a more accurate job of determining where the boundary was physically located. After the trial court orally announced its ruling, River Bend's surveyor placed permanent surveyor's monuments along the boundary to delineate where the shared boundary line was physically located. Following that, the trial court in its written judgment ordered that the legal description of the shared boundary line between the properties be rewritten to include a description of River Bend's surveyor's metes and bounds description and the surveyor's monuments.

         We find that the trial court erred in rewriting the legal description of the properties, as there was never any dispute about the legal descriptions. Furthermore, boundary lines that were "established by the federal government surveyors are unchangeable and control all references in deeds and other documents describing parcels of land by reference to the federal government of sections, townships and ranges." Rivers v. Lozeau, 539 So.2d 1147, 1152 (Fla. 5th DCA 1989). An original boundary line "cannot be disregarded or needlessly altered after property rights have been acquired in reliance upon it." Trs. of Int. Imp. Fund of State of Fla. v. Toffel, 145 So.2d 737, 742 (Fla. 2d DCA 1962); see also Routh v. Williams, 193 So. 71, 73 (Fla. 1940) ("[W]here a deed refers to another deed or to a map, plat, or survey for a description, the deed, map, plat or survey becomes as much a part of the instrument as if copied therein."). We remand for the trial court to enter an amended judgment that deletes the changes to the legal descriptions of the shared boundary line, but which can state, as the trial court found, that River Bend's surveyor's monuments placed along the boundary line accurately show the physical location of the shared boundary.

         After concluding that River Bend's surveyor had correctly determined the physical property line, the trial court determined that the subterranean footer of River Bend's boundary wall did encroach very slightly on Ms. Williams' land. However, because the trial court found the encroachment to be de minimis, it ruled that Ms. Williams was not entitled to damages or to have the footer or wall moved. We affirm the trial court on this issue, as competent, substantial evidence established that the six-inch subterranean encroachment of the footer did not seriously interfere with the use and enjoyment of the land, nor did it render Ms. Williams' title unmarketable. See Loeffler v. Roe, 69 So.2d 331, 337 (Fla. 1953). Nevertheless, the trial court also orally ruled that, if the wall between the properties fell into such a state of general disrepair in the future that it must be removed, then at that time, River Bend would be obligated to remove the encroaching footer and ensure that any newly constructed footer and wall would not encroach on Ms. Williams' property. This oral ruling, however, was not included in the written final judgment. A written judgment must conform to the trial court's oral rulings. Goosby v. Lawrence, 711 So.2d 577, 578 (Fla. 3d DCA 1998). The failure of the written judgment to conform to the oral rulings requires reversal and remand so that an amended judgment can be entered. Saucier v. Nowak, 200 So.3d 1298, 1299 (Fla. 5th DCA 2016). We therefore remand for the trial court to enter an amended judgment that includes this oral ruling.

         Relying on River Bend's surveyor, the trial court also found that the return of Ms. Williams' seawall, where it was located at the shoreline, encroached on River Bend's land. The trial court orally ruled that River Bend was not to tear down or change Ms. Williams' seawall; however, that ruling is also not reflected in the written final judgment. We therefore remand for entry of an amended final judgment on this ruling as well, to ensure that the written final judgment contains this oral pronouncement.

         With regard to the water diversion issue, the trial court heard conflicting testimony from both sides and ruled primarily in River Bend's favor, finding that Ms. Williams had not proved that River Bend had altered or configured its property and improvements in such a fashion as to improperly divert water onto her property. We will not disturb the trial judge's findings of fact in this nonjury trial because they were supported by competent, substantial evidence, even though contrary evidence was presented. See Roberts Roofing Co. v. Smith, 605 So.2d 167, 167 (Fla. 3d DCA 1992). Notwithstanding its other findings, the trial court ruled that River Bend was required to regrade specifically described ground near the boundary wall to redirect storm water away from the boundary wall and that River Bend shall permanently stop pumping out its swimming pool water in such a fashion that it would flow onto Ms. Williams' land. The trial ...


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