Alternative Dispute Resolution

Dispute Resolved With Power Saw Will Be Re-Resolved in Court

The type of reciprocating saw that is apparently able to cut a garage in half

Last year I mentioned a property-line dispute that was resolved, as is so often the case, when somebody cut a building in half with a power saw. I ended that report as follows:

[B]efore taking actions like these …, you should confirm that the property line actually is where you think it is. If so, … cutting a structure in half might be a viable option. Not advisable, but it might be viable.

Neighbor Who Griped About Property Line Ends Up With Half a Garage,” (July 20, 2020)

At the time, it was reportedly doubtful there would be legal proceedings in that particular case. That prediction turned out to be wrong.

The Bangor Daily News reported on January 27 that Blake Ritter and his mom, who own the now-semi-garaged property, did indeed sue their neighbors, Gabriel Brawn and his wife. The Ritters also sued the surveyor Brawn hired to confirm the property line, an unknown person who operated a crane that cleared away garage debris, and, weirdly, three NBC affiliate stations and a reporter.

The 16-count (!) complaint accuses the reporter of trespassing—well, more specifically, “prancing about the Ritter Parcel without permission”—but it seems like maybe the Ritters were unhappy with his report on the incident last July. The three stations all broadcast that report, which included an interview with Gabriel Brawn a few days after the bifurcation. Ritter doesn’t appear in the video, but reports suggest that he and his mother no longer live at that address. The media defendants have moved to dismiss.

As for the Brawns themselves, the complaint accuses Gabriel Brawn of being a “bully” who “took it upon himself to cut his neighbors’ garage in half and pile the pieces in his neighbors’ front yard.” It suggests Brawn was trying to drive Ritter out because Ritter is gay, whereas Brawn’s story was that Ritter was just being a difficult neighbor and Brawn got tired of his griping. I would guess it’s rare for a bully to actually cut a building in half, but it’s certainly possible. Whatever prompted the cutting, it looks like this dispute will come down to who’s right about the location of the property line. According to the earlier report, Brawn hired a surveyor to confirm where the line was before he bisected the garage. But the complaint says Ritter got his own surveyor, and you won’t be surprised to learn that he has a different answer.

According to the complaint, the property line is north of where Brawn claimed it was. It doesn’t say exactly how far, however. It does plead facts about the history of the two properties, and while I don’t have and don’t want to read the 12 exhibits, Ritter’s argument appears to be as follows. A 2005 deed says the boundary runs along “the railroad ties presently lying adjacent to the northeasterly side of the garage….” Those railroad ties were later replaced by a concrete retaining wall “which still is in place today.” If all this is true, it would be bad for Brawn, because the wall is north of the garage, or at least it looks that way based on the satellite imagery:

The Bangor Daily News report has a ground-level image of the area immediately above, shown as it currently appears (post-deconstruction). To be honest, I guess that image makes it much easier to understand the issues than the images taken from space. I just like images taken from space, okay?

Anyway, the last paragraph of that section of the complaint says that “the exact location of the present concrete wall relative to the railroad tie[s] … has not yet been determined by Plaintiffs’ surveyor,” though he thinks it’s a little closer to the garage than the ties were. The complaint doesn’t make clear how they know that when they haven’t determined the “exact location” yet, but I’m no surveyor.

Count One of the complaint alleges that “a disagreement exists” between the two sides as to the location of the boundary line, and asks the court to issue a declaratory judgment resolving that. Just in case his surveyor’s wrong, Ritter also argues that adverse possession applies, because the wall’s been in its current location for 20 years. Then there are 14 other counts, some of which are for trespass and some of which relate to the alleged bullying. In that regard, the complaint accuses Brawn not just of dismembering the garage but also of placing a skull to mark one end of the purported boundary line, and various other unneighborly acts.

According to the report, the case is “expected to slowly make its way through Piscataquis County Superior Court,” so it may be some time before we know the outcome. In the meantime, if you want to know how often Google updates its satellite imagery, just look up the address and keep hitting “refresh” in your browser until half of that garage disappears. But that may take a while, too.