Book Review: Alabama Boundary Law
Most land survey practitioners of today have been “raised” on the standard texts that have been around since the mid-1960s. While these texts have for the most part been revised, updated or republished, I have for many years felt that something was either missing or not entirely luminous about them. However, I could never quite put my finger on it--until I read the newly published text by Jeffery N. Lucas, PLS, Esq.
This new text does not follow the general format of principle and rule of law so frequently seen in the standard texts of the past 50 years. Through probably no conscientious fault of these former authors, too many land surveyors have mistakenly interpreted the rule of law presentation format to mean that we can “cookbook” the law of boundaries and the surveying thereof. Of course, the law has simply never contemplated this type of approach and does not lend itself to it--and, rightfully so. This change in format and approach is a significant improvement.
The title of the book could be somewhat misleading, as it covers in 12 chapters the whole realm and logical progression of legal matters pertaining to land surveying and boundaries. It is definitely not restricted to Alabama law alone. Granted, the book’s principal thrust is to focus on Alabama law first, but cases from other jurisdictions are numerous and included on points of law where Alabama’s courts have either been silent or where the author wishes to stress generally accepted principles applicable in most any jurisdiction.
The book is also not limited to land surveyors, although they will probably be the principal users. This is a work that will be of tremendous help to attorneys, title people, right-of-way professionals, landsmen and others who work with real property matters. Additionally, I can foresee this text becoming a standard within college curriculum courses teaching boundary law principles and surveying for the determination and resolution of boundary location.
Instead of following the standard rule of law format, the author has wisely chosen to discuss in depth the contemporary legal thinking on a given topic supported by pertinent case law excerpts. He takes the reader to case reports that apply to specific questions and issues at bar for each of the chapters and their subsections. What follows each of the cited case law excerpts is a thorough legal analysis of the case, indicating how and why it was decided the way it was and, if applicable, the errors made by the land surveyor(s) involved, or in some cases the deficiencies of the court in ruling as it did. Through the legal analysis of the cases, the reader gains a greater understanding of the issues involved as well as a broader awareness of the legal principles the court saw fit to apply to the facts determined at the trial court level and under the specific circumstances of the individual cases reviewed. This is real-world instruction and a far cry from attempting to “cookbook” a boundary solution wherein somehow one ‘rule’ applies to all situations.
The book contains ample case law citations. The text of these cases has been carefully excerpted to retain the germane point(s) of law at issue in each case and which the author wishes to specifically target. Other portions of the case reports have been abridged or completely excluded in areas where ancillary discussion occurs for the purpose of saving space and avoiding less than pertinent discussion not specific to the key issues at bar. In certain instances, internal citations to other cases have been retained, either to point the reader to related sources of law or to emphasize a point that is being brought out by the author of the book. In any event, all pertinent source citations are made available for the reader who may wish to explore a particular topic or point of law in more detail.
The individual chapters of the book and even the subsections within each chapter can stand alone, plus they are numbered and decimally divided (sub-sectioned) within the principal topic and subtopics of the chapters. This system is keyed to the Table of Contents for quick reference. Page headers throughout the book properly cite not only the chapter number but chapter title, as well. Further, the author has chosen to use footnotes instead of end notes for each chapter, which provides the reader with ready access to resources and additional information.
The book’s index convention is wisely chosen for quick searching of a specific topic and its principal thrust (employing both words and phrases). The stated purpose of the book is to be primarily that of a ready reference for busy professionals and not necessarily read from cover to cover. However, the layout and structure of the book will accommodate a full read just as well. The index uses page numbers, with the principal treatment of a given word or phrase employing bolded page numbers, thus providing the location where prime discussion occurs on that topic, and distinguishing it from pages indicating where the word or phrase appears elsewhere in the book.
The succinct introduction to the book provides the reader with the author’s intended purpose and conventions for efficiently using the book. It clearly states the layout and design is first and foremost one of a quick reference for the busy professional. However, the content is comprehensive, permitting one to explore a topic in depth. It is therefore equally suitable for practicing professionals or students.
Beginning with the first chapter, the author establishes a logical progression for the subsequent chapters and the flow of subject matter. Here, the land surveyor’s extent of responsibility and gravity of duty is well discussed--laying key foundation principles which, if not understood, can lead to disaster for practitioner, client and client’s adjoiners.
In the second chapter, the author rightly points out the fact that today virtually no one is immune from liability, particularly not the professional land surveyor or any professional. The professional services provider is most prone to liability under the legal concept of torts.
Chapter 3 discusses applicable limitations for land survey services, and points out that this subject is not well understood by the majority of practitioners nationwide. Although state-specific citations to Alabama’s statute occurs in this chapter, there is more than casual information for other jurisdictions, as well.
Other chapters discuss the origination and enforcement of property rights, deeds and conveyances, monuments and corners, the Public Land Survey System and other surveying systems, easements and rights-of-way, and water boundaries. Each chapter contains case law excerpts with legal analysis following.
A pivotal section of the book is Chapter 6, which discusses how boundaries are established. The author opens with an overview discussion of the seemingly age-old debate within the land surveying community as to whether, and to what extent, the practitioner is required to know and understand the laws of real property, boundaries and evidence. Although the thinking changed somewhat in later editions of the earlier texts, they at first left many land surveyors with the impression that the client’s deed measurements were their only responsibility in performing a boundary survey. (Indeed, it is my own observation that the later editions of the standard texts, in making revisions to acknowledge a move away from “deed only” responsibility, probably caused more confusion than clarification on this important matter.) Through his clear discussion, augmented with ample case law quotations and excerpts, Lucas provides the reader with contemporary clarity on the question.
Because of the author’s approach, content and background insights, this is a fresh new work that brings to currency and dignity a proper perspective of the solemn responsibility entailed in boundary location determination. It is written by one who not only possesses the intuitiveness of an experienced land survey practitioner but also has the insights of a practicing attorney specializing in the subject matter. There is no greater qualifying combination.
I highly recommend Alabama Boundary Law to all practicing land surveyors, students of land surveying and the allied disciplines who have occasion to interface in any way with land and water boundary matters.
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About the Book: Alabama Boundary LawBy Jeffery N. Lucas, PLS, Esq.
Available through the Alabama Society of Professional Land Surveyors
P.O. Box 241254, Montgomery, AL 36124
Released June 2010
List Price: $135 (hard cover)