JUDGE ROBERTS’ PRIMER ON ADVERSE POSSESSION
November 17, 2010 § 3 Comments
In the case of Dean vs. Slade, et al., rendered November 9, 2010, Judge Larry Roberts of the Court of Appeals laid out a template of authority you should keep on hand for your next adverse possession case. Although the decision does not touch on all of the adverse possession factors, it touches on some important authority that you can use to your advantage. I simply stripped the material below right out of Judge Roberts’ opinion, making a couple of minor editorial changes.
THE ADVERSE POSSESSION FACTORS
MCA § 15-1-13(1) (Rev. 2003) provides the following: Ten (10) years’ actual adverse possession by any person claiming to be the owner for that time of any land, uninterruptedly continued for ten (10) years by occupancy, descent, conveyance, or otherwise, in whatever way such occupancy may have commenced or continued, shall vest in every actual occupant or possessor of such land a full and complete title[.] Thus, the party claiming adverse possession must prove by clear and convincing evidence that his/her possession was “(1) under claim of ownership; (2) actual or hostile; (3) open, notorious and visible; (4) continuous and uninterrupted for a period of ten years; (5) exclusive; and (6) peaceful.” Stringer v. Robinson, 760 So. 2d 6, 9 (Miss. Ct. App. 1999) (citing Rice v. Pritchard, 611 So. 2d 869, 871 (Miss. 1992)). “The ultimate question is whether the possessory acts relied upon by the would be adverse possessor are sufficient enough to place the record title holder on notice that the lands are under an adverse claim of ownership.” Id. (citing Johnson v. Black, 469 So. 2d 88, 90-91 (Miss. 1985)).
THE EVIDENTIARY STANDARD
Clear and convincing evidence has been defined as follows: that weight of proof which produces in the mind of the trier of fact a firm belief or conviction as to the truth of the allegations sought to be established, evidence so clear, direct and weighty and convincing as to enable the fact-finder to come to a clear conviction, without hesitancy, of the truth of the precise facts of the case. Moran v. Fairley, 919 So. 2d 969, 975 (Miss. Ct. App. 2005) (quoting Travelhost, Inc. v. Blandford, 68 F.3d 958, 960 (5th Cir. 1995)). “Clear and convincing evidence is such a high standard [of proof] that even the overwhelming weight of the evidence does not rise to the same level.” Id. (citing In re C.B., 574 So. 2d 1369, 1375 (Miss. 1990)).
Absent a finding of an abuse of discretion or manifest error, a chancellor is the sole judge of the credibility of witnesses and the weight to give to the evidence. Webb v. Drewrey, 4 So. 3d 1078, 1081 (Miss. Ct. App. 2009).
ACTUAL OR HOSTILE
“Actual possession is ‘effective control over a definite area of land, evidenced by things visible to the eye or perceptible to the senses.’” Warehousing Mgmt., LLC v. Haywood Props., LP, 978 So. 2d 684, 688 (Miss. Ct. App. 2008) (quoting Wicker v. Harvey, 937 So. 2d 983, 993-94 (Miss. Ct. App. 2006)). The adverse possessor must hold the property without the permission of the true title owner since “permission defeats adverse possession.” Gillespie v. Kelly, 809 So. 2d 702, 706-07 (Miss. Ct. App. 2001) (citing Myers v. Blair, 611 So. 2d 969, 971 (Miss. 1992)). “Adverse use is defined as such a use of the property as the owner himself would exercise, disregarding the claims of others entirely, asking permission from no one, and using the property under a claim of right.” Peagler v. Measells, 743 So. 2d 389, 391 (Miss. Ct. App. 1999) (quoting Cummins v. Dumas, 147 Miss. 215, 113 So. 332, 334 (1927)).
OPEN, NOTORIOUS AND VISIBLE
The mere possession of land is not sufficient to satisfy the requirement that the adverse possessor’s use be open, notorious, and visible. Wicker, 937 So. 2d at 994 (citing Craft v. Thompson, 405 So. 2d 128, 130 (Miss. 1981)). A claim of adverse possession cannot begin unless the landowner has actual or constructive knowledge that there is an adverse claim against his property. Scrivener v. Johnson, 861 So. 2d 1057, 1059 (Miss. Ct. App. 2003) (citing People’s Realty & Dev. Corp. v. Sullivan, 336 So. 2d 1304, 1305 (Miss. 1976)). “[A]n adverse possessor ‘must unfurl his flag on the land, and keep it flying, so that the (actual) owner may see, and if he will, [know] that an enemy has invaded his domains, and planted the standard of conquest.’” Wicker, 937 So. 2d at 994(citing Blankinship v. Payton, 605 So. 2d 817, 820 (Miss. 1992)).