A River Runs Through (Not Along) It
Kuykendall owned land in North Dakota. Norby purchased the contiguous parcel, which happened to be in Montana.* Neither chain of title refers to the Yellowstone River as a parcel boundary. Nor does the River form the legal boundary between the states. Over time, a portion of the River crossed over from Montana into North Dakota and onto Kuykendall’s land. The River’s migration had left approximately 96 acres of accreted land between the North Dakota-Montana border and the west bank of the River. Norby claimed title to the accreted land as a riparian owner.
Norby loses. His chain of title only conveyed property within the state of Montana. Hence, his rights could not extend beyond the state line. The Court explained “when the boundary line is fixed without reference to a body of water, as it is in this case, the rule [of title by accretion] does not apply.” Norby v. Estate of Kuykendall, 2015 ND 232 (Sept. 17, 2015).
*For the benefit of our New York subscribers, we should point out that Montana is immediately west of North Dakota.
This opinion would be more informative if it contained more facts. While it is clear the river migrated from west to east, knowing its initial location would have better illuminated the controversy. Was it on the Montana side of the boundary when Norby purchased his land? If the river had in fact run along the state line at some time in the past, how did the descriptions account for it? Would the result be different if the river had been used as a boundary description, but Norby’s deed chain only conveyed property “within the state of Montana?”