To the lawyers, is there a legal principle that says “Even though this situation was not come upon legitimately, it has been the case for so long that it has become de facto legitimate?”

An example… a surveyor made a mistake 100 years ago and a property line should be here and not there, but since everyone has been assuming for the last 100 years that the property line is there, the property line needs to be there?

Or it turns out that someone got something (in good faith) that it turned out they were not eligible for, but they’ve had it for a long period of time and therefore the person who theoretically should have gotten it can’t just come and take it?

I’m assuming that there is no outright fraud or that the fraud was not committed by the benefited party.

Update: Maybe a better example of what I am talking about. Several years ago, a contractor employee at Microsoft who got cancer sued Microsoft for the benefits that he was not eligible for because he was a contractor. The courts ruled that even though the employment documentation said that he was a contractor, he had been acting as a de facto regular employee and therefore was due benefits.

(I realize that “de facto” may be the closest I am going to come to what I am talking about. I was just wondering if there was something more specific.)

Category: Courthouse

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6 Responses to Legal Question: Retroactive Legitimacy

  1. Brandon Berg says:

    The two situations you’re describing are very different. In the case of the surveyor error, there’s been for the last century a pretty much universal agreement about the property boundaries. It’s possible that a current or past owner of the land has made improvements based on the incorrect understanding of the boundaries, and requiring him to forfeit the improvements is obviously problematic.

    In the case of the contractor, he’s asserting something which was up to that point universally agreed not to be true. Unless he was misled into believing that Microsoft would provide health insurance, he had no good reason to believe that they would, or to rely on a belief to that effect.

    Estoppel may be the term you’re looking for.

  2. stone says:

    That’s the theory behind adverse possession (someone has possession of property he doesn’t own for so long it becomes his).

    I can’t think offhand of a term that embodies the overall concept, though.

  3. stone says:

    There’s also the defense of “laches” (ie, “you avoided doing something about this for so long, that your opponent would be unfairly screwed by fixing it”). Be a bit more specific, because your first examples are different than your second.

  4. Kevin says:

    There’s also estoppel and statutes of limitation that come into play, depending upon the fact patterns.

  5. web says:

    The answer is: it depends on the jurisdiction.

    Here’s a resource I could find with basics:

    At least in some cases, it can happen when someone puts a fence too far over the line: (reference further down in article:

  6. trumwill says:

    So it sounds like there is more of a web of concepts rather than the singular one I was looking for. I think “estoppel” was the word I was thinking of, having heard it in a context similar to what I was talking about. But the word said aloud sounded like “gustapo” to me and so I couldn’t nail it down. In any even, estoppel refers to something more specific than I had in mind.

    Thanks for the input, everybody.

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