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ITT Rayonier Inc. v. Bell

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Plaintiff sued Defendant to recover damages for trespass after Defendant had used Plaintiff’s land to moor the boathouse and constructed a sauna, outhouse, and shed. The trial court held that Defendant did not acquire title by adverse possession because he did not hold the land exclusively. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s holding, but also provided an alternative justification by holding that Defendant lacked a good faith claim of right. Defendant appealed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    1) Subjective belief in one’s claim of right is not necessary to acquire title by adverse possession. 2) An adverse possessor must hold land exclusively by using or possessing it to the exclusion of others.

    Facts.

    In 1972, Bell (Defendant) purchased a boathouse adjacent to land owned by ITT Rayonier (Plaintiff). Defendant used the land to moor the boathouse and constructed a sauna, outhouse, and shed. However, two other families, the Klocks and the Olesens, had also used the lad for outhouses and other minimal uses and Defendant never put up any boundary markers.

    Issue.

    1) Whether subjective belief in one’s claim of right is necessary to acquire title by adverse possession. 2) Whether an adverse possessor must hold land exclusively by using or possessing it to the exclusion of others.

    Held.

    1) No. The court of appeals’ ruling on the lack of exclusive possession is affirmed and its alternative ruling on good faith is reversed. Subjective belief in one’s claim of right is not necessary to acquire title by adverse possession. 2) Yes. The court of appeals’ ruling is affirmed. An adverse possessor must hold land exclusively by using or possessing it to the exclusion of others.

    Discussion.

    1) The law of adverse possession serves those who knowingly appropriate another’s land as well as those who honestly but mistakenly believe the land to be their own. Claim of right is satisfied as long as the possessor treats the land as exclusively his throughout the statutory period, regardless of whether he believes he has a right to the land.Permission to occupy the land from the true owner negates the element of claim of right.Defendant admitted to knowing that he had no right to the property in question, but the Court of Appeals erroneously required Bell to have a good faith claim of right.2) Someone seeking to acquire title by adverse possession does not need to prove possession that is absolutely exclusive, however, the possession must be of a type that would be expected from a true owner.Use is neither sufficient nor necessary to establish exclusive possession. A fence is usually the way to exclude others and display the dominion and control characteristic of ownership. Defendant did not erect any boundary markers and allowed others to use the land in a way that would be consistent with his exclusive ownership, which indicates shared occupation of the land.


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