Hierarchy of Evidence
Below is a breakdown of the hierarchy of evidence as used to determine land ownership. This was taken from a well-respected book but in Tennessee, Missouri, and Arkansas (and no other state that I know of) there is no actual law that states this specifically.
I believe that this list was established from case law and whether it is “the law” or not, it is what most surveyors, lawyers, and judges use to determine property ownership.
Brown’s* Hierarchy of Evidence
- Senior Rights – The formation of a parcel prior to another
- Writings – Deeds or other written forms of conveyance
- Intent of Conveyances – Written intent of transference
- Calls for surveys – Reference to surveys in written documents
- Monuments – Physical markers called for in written documents
- Natural – Streams, ridges, trees…
- Artificial – Fences, posts, iron pins, pipes…
- Record – Monuments called for that no longer exist but whose location is readily identifiable
- Measurements – Those that are called for on writings
- Direction – Bearings or angles
- Distance – Feet, meters, rods…
- Area – Acreage, square feet, hectare…
A primary conflict between surveyors occurs with the discrepancy in interpretations of numbers 2, 4, & 6 and number 5. Many surveyors believe that the distances called for on writings (#2) or done by another surveyor and documented (#4) supersede the monuments eluded to in #5. While other surveyors believe that these “measurements” called for in these writings are actually #6 and therefore, #5’s monuments supersede them.
Both arguments are not without merit and both have been upheld in various court cases. The argument for the former surveyor, we will call them mathematically inclined, is that it clearly states writings are more important than monuments.
The argument for the latter surveyor, we will call them legally inclined (or fence line surveyors), is that monuments are something tangible that the lay person can see and understand. Anyone can comprehend and visualize that they own to the top of the ridge or to the center of a creek. Reading a legal description or accurately measuring is often beyond their means.
Because of these issues and the fact that no person will measure the same thing exactly the same way, a battle of experts can ensue.
* Brown, Curtis M, Walter G Robillard, and Donald A Wilson. 1981. Evidence and Procedures for Boundary Location 2nd ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Has the Brown’s Hierarchyy of Evidence been adopted as law in Tennessee? If not, what part does it play in courts of law in Tennessee?
Secondly, are there situations when lower class within the Hierarchy may supercede a higher classification of evidence?
Lastly, is there other guidance in Tennessee which may differ from Brown’s Hierarchy?
As far as I know, there are no specific laws regarding the hierarchy of evidence beyond case law in Tennessee. Brown’s has just sort of became the status quo.
As for superseding, I would say that every case is different and every judge is different. I can argue that my non-recorded survey should take precedence over some random tree in the woods, but the judge may rule that no one can see my plat, whereas that hacked tree is standing in plain view for all the world to see and therefore is more important.
To the question of guidance, I cannot say. As I have said earlier, Brown’s is sort of the Bible when it comes to this, primarily as he was the one to write it down – so to speak. If you are looking for a means to promote one piece of evidence over another, you will just need to present your case and provide strong argumentation that the judge can hang her hat on. It will all come down to what they can justify.