We recently launched the “Land Boundary Master Class” in partnership with BNP Media and Jeff Lucas. I’ve come to learn that Jeff is highly regarded for his honesty, humor, and vision for where the industry of land surveying is going in the 21st century. We asked Jeff to share his thoughts and motivations about the course. Here is what he said.

Why the Land Boundary Master Class?

For about fifteen years I have been diligently studying, researching, writing and talking about property boundary law and the land surveyor’s role in the process of making boundary determinations. I had a twenty-year career under my belt as a practicing land surveyor before I enrolled in law school. The reason I went to law school in the first place was because I saw the nexus between what we do as land surveyors and the law, yet I still had gray areas in my mind as to my duties and responsibilities towards property boundaries. Was I supposed to be rendering an opinion on where I believed the limits of property ownership were located on the ground or was I to simply layout the dimensions of the property based on the record documents?

And many of the things I was doing as a land surveyor didn’t make any sense; they didn’t pass the smell test, so to speak. Why was I setting a new corner monument in close proximity to an already existing monument? Why was I breaking down1 this well-occupied section, calling an existing corner lost and setting a new position based on proportionate measurements? Why was I even employing such techniques as double and single proportionate measurements in the first place? The usual result was that I was nowhere near the apparent property lines when I was done.

“Breaking down,” “sizing” and other similar terms refers to the process of surveying between the four corners of a section and then mathematically calculating the various aliquot parts of the section (quarters and quarter-quarters) on paper, and then utilizing these calculated positions to determine where the property lines are located on the ground.

The Pincushion Corner
My definition of the pincushion corner is:
“The land surveying profession’s collective confusion over its duties and responsibilities towards property boundaries.”

If the fundamental precepts of land surveying are that you are either an original surveyor setting out lines for the very first time or you are a retracing surveyor whose only job is to find where the lines have already been established on the ground, double proportionate measurements will never achieve these objectives. It can’t. Double proportionate measurements to re-set a supposed lost corner isn’t designed to return to the original corner position. It’s designed to distribute excess and deficiencies found in modern measurements, made from what are usually new corner positions, relative to what the original measurements were at the time of the original survey. This is actually a violation of the fundamental precepts of land surveying. When you are applying proportionate measurement techniques, you are no longer retracing boundaries, you a quasi-original surveyor setting out new lines, placing new monuments based on new measurements. So why was I doing it? Because this is what surveyors are supposed to do.

This is why I went to law school. This is why that after law school I started writing about what I had learned that the law had to say on these subjects—and yes—the law has a lot to say about these issues. This is why I started lecturing and developing seminar programs, because we weren’t being told the truth—we were being served up nonsense that couldn’t pass the common sense test, but we bought it anyway. This is why I developed this course. To give land surveyors the basic tools they need to render a well-reasoned opinion on the only question open to the practicing land surveyor—the location question. I believe that this course will achieve that goal.

A Few Things You Should Know

When I first started writing about boundary issues, which almost always involve land surveyors, I was determined that I would not just offer my own opinions on the issues. When it comes to land surveyors, everybody has an opinion and not many of them agree. I would base my writings and any opinions I might develop on actual courts cases, the facts in those cases and the law as expressed by the courts in their written opinions. That way I would have a solid foundation I could point to and let surveyors know that this isn’t just my opinion, it is what the law says.

It is impossible to prepare a course designed for national consumption (this course or any other) that will cover all of the law relative to property boundaries and related issues that will include examples from every jurisdiction. I have currently written three books on the subject and this still haven’t happened. That’s the bad news. The good news is, that is not necessary.

Property boundary law and closely associated areas of the law like deeds, deed interpretation, legal descriptions, property rights, evidence and the boundary establishment doctrines, have turned into vanilla ice cream. What I mean by that is that these areas of the law rely heavily on court opinions that have been developed for nearly 250 years in this country and the preceding 1,000 years of English common law. Ideas that were developed in one jurisdiction have cross pollinated with ideas from other jurisdictions until the whole thing has become as homogenized as the law can get. That does not mean that there are not nuisances in property and boundary law in the various jurisdictions. There are. However, from a big-picture standpoint, they are relatively minor and I have identified many of them for you in this course.

When I first started writing and lecturing on what I had found the law to say on property boundary law and the land surveyor’s duties and responsibilities as articulated in the law, I met a lot of resistance in the surveying community. When I stated at one particular conference that the BLM Manual should be scrapped as an instruction manual for retracement surveying, I very nearly came to physical harm. When I expressed the idea that surveying boundaries is an evidentiary exercise and not a measurement task, the vast majority of land surveyors were treating it as a measurement task to the exclusion of any other evidence. But these weren’t my ideas. I was simply telling surveyors what the law had been telling me. And that is what I’m doing in this course as well.