Saturday, February 20, 2021
A reputation in a community — arising before the controversy — concerning boundaries of land in the community or customs that affect the land, or concerning general historical events important to that community, state, or nation.
Courts rarely are asked to apply Rule 803(20), but the recent opinion of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia in Murphy v. Groves, 2021 WL 653200 (W.Va. 2021), is the exception.
In Groves, there was a boundary dispute between Sallie Murphy and Ken Groves.
During [Groves]'s case-in-chief, he called William Helmick, who owns a lot near the parties’ properties and near the mouth of England Run. Mr. Helmick testified to his conversation with a surveyor that a certain stake, which was identified in a picture at trial, “is a starting point from a known referenced area that is used to start a reference for metes and bounds location for different areas ... around.” A young boy is also seen in the photograph with the stake. Mr. Helmick identified the boy as his nephew and said he would now be in his twenties.
The court subsequently
found that [Groves]'s evidence established that the stake referred to by Mr. Helmick and depicted in a photograph admitted into evidence “is on the line of the boundary between the tract deeded to [Murphy]...and the tract conveyed to [Groves],” and that “[a] line running from the former location of the stake...and running thence S 11 E. 50 poles to the public road is...the boundary line between the tracts owned by” the parties.
On appeal, Murphy claimed that the court relied on inadmissible hearsay to reach this conclusion, but the court concluded
that West Virginia Rule of Evidence 803(20) specifically excludes from the rule against hearsay “[a] reputation in a community-arising before the controversy-concerning boundaries of land in the community or customs that affect the land, or concerning general historical events important to that community, state, or nation.” [Groves]'s and Mr. Helmick's testimony as to the significance of the stake in demarcating the parties’ boundary lines fits within this exemption and was, therefore, properly admitted and relied upon by the court.