May 2013 Bar Bulletin
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May 2013 Bar Bulletin

A New Framework:

Depicting Appellate Courts, Facts and Results

By Robert W. Zierman


Last month's article provided a theoretical framework for representing and depicting case merits.1 Though its presentation related to adverse possession, it was posited that its approach could extend to other arenas of law.

The challenge taken up in this article is to link the overall framework provided in that article by using both a Likert scale of 1-5 and 3D representation to tackle a limited sample of information in the examined cases2 as provided below.

The list (see Figure 1) starts with Chaplin v. Sanders, a 1984 Washington Supreme Court case which eliminated "subjective intent" (aka, "good faith") as a required element when determining adverse possession for the 10-year statutory period per RCW 4.16.020.

The list then seeks to identify all other adverse possession cases with 10-year statutory periods in which the appellate court analyzed the number (and nature) of the facts in the respective cases subsequently decided to identify sufficiency. Including Chaplin, 22 different cases were analyzed and three of those cases had separate sufficiency components, bringing the total analytical set up to 26.3

Beyond date and case citation,4 each case is further identified by its appellate court, land type, number of facts and disposition regarding adverse possession. While not providing an overwhelming degree of information, culling patterns from this black-and-white chart is not obvious for most individuals.

This is where using some of the tools applied to big data - particularly by Seattle's own Tableau Software5 - can greatly assist. Despite that potential assistance, graphic designer Curtis Dickie was again called upon to create two sample "visualizations" to demonstrate how graphical representation of cases can increase understanding and predictive ability.

These visualizations allow analysis of four fact categories: court (the first visualization) and land type (the second visualization); case date;6 number of facts, and dispositive strength or weakness. Here, dispositive strength needs clarification.

This dispositive strength for the one claiming adverse possession is illustrated by a legend titled "AP Holding Strength" (see Figure 2). This legend assists to demonstrate how the use of color adds another variable in a manner that makes the visualizations below operate essentially in 3D. In the mind's eye, rotate 90 degrees along the middle axis line such that green is in the foreground and the red is in the background.

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