Bad Backsights: Material Discrepancy

Besides the painfully obvious difference between my seersucker jacket and my corduroy pants, (who dressed me, anyway?), what exactly is a ‘material discrepancy’? Does anyone really know? It’s like Bill Clinton’s famous remark during grand jury testimony, ”It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” Huh?

Let’s take a look at the definitively vague (always use at least one oxymoron before lunch) term that affects us so often, or maybe doesn’t, but should. The two words taken together make a term that is somewhat ominous. We all know what a discrepancy is. That’s when your car comes back from the body shop and the recently repaired fender is not quite the same color as the rest of the car. Or, perhaps more relevant to this discussion—your measurements and the record dimensions of something don’t agree. Black’s Law Dictionary defines the word as “a difference between two things which ought to be identical”. So, the concept of a discrepancy is easily understood. But what about material? What makes a discrepancy material?

The aforesaid Black’s states that one meaning of material is “of such a nature that knowledge of the item would affect a person’s decision-making process”. And actually, in the context of this discussion, you could replace the word ‘affect’ with ‘disrupt’, right? Gosh, I was all set to accept those two monuments but there’s an extra half of a foot in the distance, wonder what that means?

Realistically, ‘material’ translates to ‘relevant and significant’, but that’s not much help. Okay so you have a significant discrepancy—how significant? As the term applies in measurements, is it .05’? Is it 0.10? Is it 0.20’? Does the amount of error depend on something like the length of the line, the age of the original survey, the topography? Are there immaterial discrepancies? Maybe those are just the stuff that fits within a given error ellipse.

And would it be appropriate to apply the term to the character of a monument? If the map called for 1” iron pipe but you found an untagged rebar that fits the position, is that a material discrepancy, or do you chalk it up to bad note keeping and accept that it’s the same point? How did the 1878 2×2 hub called for in the GLO notes become an iron pipe in a rock mound? That difference seems somehow material…

When evaluating evidence and measurements, we all have to make up our own minds, and then hopefully memorialize our thinking with the appropriate mapping solution. In the western states, that would be the Record of Survey. Not everyone files one when they maybe should. Their definition of material discrepancy must be different than yours and mine which is a discrepancy of another sort.

Just like my Hawaiian shirt paired with my lobster-pattern shorts, a material discrepancy is in the eye of the beholder.

I Just Need…

I don’t need a full-blown boundary survey, I just need you to find my lot corners so I know where to build my fence.

I just need some idea of how this parking lot drains. Don’t do a complete topo survey.

Hi, I poured the foundation earlier this week for my guest house on the north bank of the river. Now the county informs me that I should have got a flood certificate first. I just need you to prepare the certificate showing I’m above the base flood elevation.

I just need an ALTA/NSPS survey of my corner lot by the end of the week. Oh yeah, it was a gas station back in the ‘50’s.

I just need manhole dips on the main that runs down the north lane of the boulevard. I think they’re about 18’ deep.

I just need you to lower your bid by about 10% and we’re good to go.

I just need to tell you that waste pile has a high sulfur content. The steam rising off the snow melt where your truck is parked is basically sulfuric acid.

I just need you guys to sit through our all-day site-specific safety class before you can come inside the fence and locate that section corner.

I just need a beer.

About the Author

Carl C. de Baca, PS

Carl Baca, PLS, is a Nevada and California licensed land surveyor. He served as President of the Nevada Association of Land Surveyors, and has served on the Board of Governors and Board of Directors of the National Society of Professional Surveyors. He owned a business serving the mining industry for 11 years.