Adverse Possession: How You Got There Makes All the Difference

January 9, 2018 § Leave a comment

The Joneses filed suit against the Pruitts claiming that they had acquired title to two parcels of the Pruitt’s land. They claimed adverse possession as to one part, and a prescriptive easement as to another.

The chancellor ruled in favor of the Pruitts, and the Joneses appealed.

in Estate of Jones, et al. v. Pruitt, decided September 26, 2017, the COA affirmed. For purposes of this post, we will focus on the permissive nature of the use. Judge Irving wrote for a more-or-less unanimous court (two judges “concur in part and in result without separate written opinion”):

¶13. The Joneses argue that the chancery court erred in denying their claims for adverse possession or a prescriptive easement with respect to the 455-foot roadway, and for adverse possession with respect to the deer-camp structure. Mississippi Code Annotated section 15-1-13(1) (Rev. 2012) provides:

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 . . . .

“The standard and burden of proof to establish a prescriptive easement is the same as a claim for adverse possession of land.” Morris v. W.R. Fairchild Constr. Co., 792 So. 2d 282, 284 (¶7) (Miss. Ct. App. 2001) (citation omitted). In either claim, the following elements must be proven: that use of the property is “(1) under a 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.” Webb v. Drewrey, 4 So. 3d 1078, 1082 (¶12) (Miss. Ct. App. 2009). “The person claiming the possession has the burden of proving each of these elements by clear and convincing evidence.” Biddix v. McConnell, 911 So. 2d 468, 475 (¶18) (Miss. 2005) (citation omitted).

a. Roadway

¶14. First, the Joneses maintain that the chancery court erred in finding that their use of the 455-foot roadway was permissive—and therefore insufficient to satisfy the hostility requirement of adverse possession or a prescriptive easement—on the basis that the Pruitts had given them verbal permission to use the roadway. In support of their argument, the Joneses cite this Court’s decision in Delancey v. Mallette, 912 So. 2d 483, 489 (¶17) (Miss. Ct. App. 2005), in which we held that “[w]hen a use of the lands of another for roadway purposes has been open, visible, continuous and unmolested since some point in time anterior to the aged inhabitants of the community, such use will be presumed to have originated adversely.” (Quotations omitted). Further, the Joneses argue that “[r]equiring a litigant who is attempting to establish adverse possession or a prescriptive easement to prove that there was no permission for use would be unreasonable. The law typically frowns upon requiring a party to prove a negative averment.” Morris, 792 So. 2d at 284 (¶9).

¶15. In response, the Pruitts contend that one of the most basic principles in establishing adverse possession or a prescriptive easement is that the use must be hostile, and that “permissive use by the possessor of the property in question defeats the claim of adverse possession.” Ellison v. Meek, 820 So. 2d 730, 735 (¶15) (Miss. Ct. App. 2002) (citation omitted). In support of their argument, the Pruitts cite the testimony at trial that the Pruitts and Joneses had a friendly relationship up until this dispute. The Pruitts further argue that the fact that Sidney kept the gate locked is consistent with Bocee’s testimony at trial that she allowed him to cross into her land as long as he watched out for her property. Additionally, the Pruitts argue that the fact that Sidney never gave Bocee a key is irrelevant, as Sidney, himself, admitted that the Pruitts did not need a key to access the Joneses’ property.

¶16. This Court held in Cleveland v. Killen, 966 So. 2d 848, 851 (¶11) (Miss. Ct. App. 2007):

As a general rule, permissive possession of lands, even if long continued, does not confer title in the person in permissive possession until a positive assertion of a right hostile to the owner has been made known to him. If there was never a request or a grant of permission to use the land, however, the use would not be permissive, but would be adverse. It is a fact question for a chancellor to determine whether a use is prescriptive or permissive.

(Internal citations and quotations omitted). Furthermore, we reiterated:

Use of property by permission does not evolve into a hostile or adverse use until the permission ends. The time period for obtaining adverse possession or a prescriptive easement, when express or implied permission is previously given, does not begin to run until some form of objection to the use is made by the landowner.

Id. at 852 (¶15).

¶17. Chancellor Harvey-Goree, in her order, found that “all the testimony revealed that the use [of the roadway] was peaceable and permissive.” Chancellor Clark made similar findings in his order on the Joneses’ motion for reconsideration or for a new trial, and affirmed Chancellor Harvey-Goree’s holding with respect to the roadway. We affirm. The record is void of any evidence suggesting that the Joneses’ use of the roadway was anything but peaceful. Furthermore, Irozenell even testified at trial that she never sought to bar the Joneses from using the roadway; rather, she merely sought to have them remove their lock from the gate on the roadway. As such, the Joneses have failed to establish that their use of the roadway was hostile, and their claim for adverse possession or a prescriptive easement thereto is unsuccessful.

That language in the statute, ” … in whatever way such occupancy may have commenced or continued … ,” simply does not embrace occupancy that was commenced or continued by permission because it is not hostile or adverse.

Here the Pruitts gave the Joneses permission to be on the property. The same result would obtain if the occupancy were commenced pursuant to a lease. Both Judge Mason and I have had adverse possession cases involving leases.

Another important point to leave with is that the elements of adverse possession must all be proven by clear and convincing evidence in order to establish a prescriptive easement.

 

JUDGE CARLTON’S PRIMER ON ADVERSE POSSESSION

March 28, 2012 § 1 Comment

To establish adverse possession requires proof by clear and convincing evidence of some rather elusive concepts established by the courts to interpret and apply MCA § 15-1-13. That’s why, whenever I find an exposition on the applicable law, I’m quick to share it so that you can use it.

The most recent useful primer on the subject is Judge Carlton’s opinion in the COA case of Greenwood v. Young, decided February 7, 2012. I’ve stripped out the law to provide you with a skinny you may want to add to your trial notebooks:

¶19. Mississippi Code Annotated section 15-1-13(1) governs claims of adverse possession, providing in part:

“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, saving to persons under the disability of minority or unsoundness of mind the right to sue within ten (10) years after the removal of such disability, as provided in Section 15-1-7. However, the saving in favor of persons under disability of unsoundness of mind shall never extend longer than thirty-one (31) years.

In order to establish a claim of adverse possession, the party claiming to have adversely possessed the property must show, by clear-and-convincing evidence, that his possession was (1) under a claim of right or 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. Pulliam v. Bowen, 54 So. 3d, 331,  334 (¶13) (citations omitted).

The factors:

Claim of Ownership. ¶21. “In the end, the ultimate question is whether the possessory acts relied upon by the would be adverse possessor are sufficient to fly his flag over the lands and to put the record title holder on notice that the lands are held under an adverse claim of ownership.” Hill v. Johnson, 27 So. 3d 426, 431 (¶19) (Miss. Ct. App. 2009) (citations omitted).

Actual or Hostile. ¶23. “The actual or hostile occupation of land necessary to constitute adverse possession requires a corporeal occupation, accompanied by a manifest intention to hold and continue to hold the property against the claim of all other persons, and adverse to the rights of the true owner.” Hill, 27 So. 3d at 431-32 (¶23).

Open, Notorious, and Visible. ¶26. “The mere possession of land is not sufficient to satisfy the requirement that the adverse possessor’s use be open, notorious, and visible.” Webb v. Drewrey, 4 So. 3d 1078, 1083 (¶19) (Miss. Ct. App. 2009) (citation omitted). An adverse-possession claim will not begin “unless the landowner has actual or constructive knowledge that there is an adverse claim against his property.” Id. “An 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.’” Id.

Continuous and Uninterrupted for Ten Years.

Exclusive. ¶29. “Exclusivity, within the meaning of the statute, means that the adverse possessor’s use of the property was consistent with an exclusive claim to the right to use the property.” Hill, 27 So. 3d at 432 (¶27). “Exclusive use is at the most basic level the intent of actual and hostile possession.” Id. “To satisfy the element of exclusivity, ‘the claimant’s conduct must afford an unequivocal indication that he is exercising dominion of a sole owner.’” Stone v. Lea Brent Family Invs., L.P., 998 So. 2d 448, 455 (¶25) (Miss. Ct. App. 2008) (citations omitted). “Exclusive use” does not mean that no one else uses the property. Id. “Rather, exclusive use indicates a right to use the land above other members of the general public.” Id.

Peaceful. ¶30. The adverse possession must be peaceful. Jordan v. Fountain, 986 So. 2d 1018, 1023 (¶17) (Miss. Ct. App. 2008). “The mere existence of a dispute over the use of land does not present an obstacle to satisfy the element of peaceful use.” Hill, 27 So. 3d at 432 (¶29). “Simple disputes often arise between neighboring landowners, but do not rise to the level of destroying the peaceful existence between them.” Id.

Clear and Convinving Evidence. The mere fact that there is contradictory evidence does not mean that the credible evidence is not clear and convincing. See, Stancil v. Farris, 60 So. 3d 817, 824 (¶14) (Miss. Ct. App. 2011) “If clear[-]and[-]convincing evidence could never be shown in the presence of contradictory testimonies, virtually no case requiring a showing by clear and convincing evidence could be proven. Such is clearly not the case.”

You should read the opinion carefully to see how the chancellor applied the law to the facs, and how the COA viewed the chancellor’s ruling. Your case may be distinguishable.

Another adverse possession post highlighting a COA ruling by Judge Roberts is here.

You can find an annotated checklist of adverse possession factors by following the link.

The latest COA case on adverse possession is Massey v. Lambert, decided March 27, 2012, in which the court upheld the chancellor’s ruling that the use of the property had been permissive, which defeats a claim of adverse possession.

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