If asked, most pro se litigants would probably say that a legal argument before a judge is an intimidating, confusing pain in the butt. Others might call it powerful and rewarding. Nonetheless, a legal argument must be endured if you’re to save your house, get custody of your children, and so on. It should be crafted to persuade a judge to rule in your favor.
A legal argument, whether oral or in writing, should include an introduction, the facts, the law, the argument, and a conclusion.
Outline of a Legal Argument
In your introduction, tell the Court (the judge) in a sentence or two what the case is about and what you want the court to conclude. The case can be about shoddy workmanship, contract law, medical malpractice, trespassing, etc. It could be about a motion to dismiss for failure to prosecute or some other procedural matter. Just keep it short and simple.
Then, state the pertinent facts of the case. The statement of facts should be clear, concise, and honest. It should be unencumbered by flowery language, irrelevant points, and misstatements.
Here’s a scenario we’ll work with.
In a Georgia case, Plaintiff (Corey) and defendant (Annelise) owned adjacent land. The defendant believing that a particular parcel of land was hers, improved it by installing pipe for water, building a fence and shed and keeping it in pristine condition. On occasion, she rented the property to tenants. This went on for 20 years. When the plaintiff had the land surveyed, he discovered that he had title to the improved portion and brought action against the defendant for title. The defendant counterclaimed for adverse possession
Next, state the law. What is the overarching statute, code, or rule upon which you’re basing your argument? State that statute, code, or rule. Sometimes a simple statement of the law will do. Or you can quote a clause from the statute. If a statute is long, just quote the pertinent parts. Be sure to properly use quotes and identify your source.
In the Georgia case with Corey and Annelise, both parties rely on O.C.G.A. 44-5-161 (2010), a law that permits adverse possession only in cases where the possession is public, continuous, exclusive, uninterrupted, peaceable and accompanied by a claim of ownership rights.
Once you know the law, begin with your best or strongest argument or point and select your best appellate case for that point. The best case is one with similar facts as yours that was supported by the Court and makes a strong statement that supports your position.
Make your argument by comparing the facts of your case to appellate case law as follows:
- Once you’ve selected your best case, write down the answers to three questions (1) What are the facts of my best supporting case? (2) What was the outcome? (2) What was the court’s reasoning?
- Draw similarities and differences between your best supporting appellate case and the facts in your own case. Point out the ways that the facts in your case are similar to those in the appellate case.
- Defeat your opponent’s supporting case(s). Draw comparisons to your opponent’s case and state why your set of facts are different and are more inline with the law. Tell the court why your opponent’s argument doesn’t work and your’s does.
- Go to the next strongest point and continue through for each point.
Make your Conclusion
Conclude by making a statement that is the result of applying case law and statutory law to the facts in your case. Then tell the judge how you would like him or her to rule.
Summary of a Legal Argument
After Corey makes his argument, Annelise makes hers. Below is Annelise’s notes and argument.
All the requirements of adverse possession have been met, including exclusivity, a claim of right and continuous and uninterrupted possession for 20 years.
The Defendant owns land adjacent to the Plaintiff’s property. During the years 1993 through 2015, the Defendant, believing that a parcel owned by the Plaintiff was hers, improved it and built on it and treated it has her own with the right to tent it to tenants. The Plaintiff later discovered that he had the deed to the disputed parcel and brought this action for title. The defendant counterclaimed for quiet title by adverse possession.
O.C.G.A. 44-5-161 (2010) states as follows:
“Adverse possession; effect of permissive possession
(a) In order for possession to be the foundation of prescriptive title, it:
(1) Must be in the right of the possessor and not of another;
(2) Must not have originated in fraud except as provided in Code Section 44-5-162;
(3) Must be public, continuous, exclusive, uninterrupted, and peaceable; and
(4) Must be accompanied by a claim of right.”
- In Kelley v. Randolph, 295 Ga. 721, 722(1), 763 S.E.2d 858 (2014), the Randolphs leveled and constructed terraces on a neighbor’s land believing it was theirs. When the adjacent property owners, the Kelleys, sued for trespassing, the Randolphs sued for adverse possession. In affirming the lower court’s summary judgment for the Randolphs, the Supreme Court determined that they satisfied their burden as to each of the elements required to establish prescriptive title by adverse possession.
- Under OCGA § 44-5-165, actual possession may be evidenced by enclosure, cultivation, or any use and occupation which is so notorious as to attract the attention of every adverse claimant and so exclusive as to prevent actual occupation by another. Like the defendants in Kelley, supra, the defendant in the current case improved the adjacent land and was at all times in possession of it for over 20 years. See also Friendship Baptist Church v. West, 265 Ga. 745, 462 S.E.2d 618, (1995). The fact that the defendant rented out the property for a time does not matter because it is not necessary to reside on the property to establish adverse possession. Rather, it is only necessary to exercise dominion over it. DeFoor v. DeFoor, 722 S.E.2d 69 (2012)
- The plaintiff relies on Gurley v. East Atlanta Land Co., 276 Ga. 749, 751(2), 583 S.E.2d 866 (2003) to support his claim that there was no uninterrupted and continuous possession. However, Gurley owned and rented to tenants, who for more than 20 years used the adjacent property as a side yard. The court ruled against adverse possession of the adjacent land to Gurley because Gurley never paid taxes on it and never claimed it as his. In the current case, the defendant has for twenty years claimed the property as hers and has paid taxes on it. Even when it was rented for two years, she considered it her property.
For twenty years, the Defendant believed the property was hers. She built on, improved and used it exclusively and continuously without interruption. Even when the property was rented, she claimed it as her own with all the rights of a property owner. Thus, she is entitled to adverse possession under O.C.G.A. 44-5-161.
This is a winning argument for Annelise.
A motion or brief, can have several points or arguments. If you have more than one point, handle them one at a time. Each point has its own argument. Continue through each part of the point as described above. Introduction, facts, law, argument, conclusion.
A legal argument can be powerfully crafted to get you what you want from a judge.