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Mugaas v. Smith

    Brief Fact Summary. Mugaas (Plaintiff) brought an action to quiet title to a strip of land he claimed by adverse possession and to compel Smith (Defendant) to remove any buildings constructed thereupon. The Plaintiff relied on a fence built in1910 and maintained until 1928 which clearly enclosed the disputed land in favor of Plaintiff’s parcel. The fence disintegrated over time and the Defendant took title in 1941 under a deed, which recited that his parcel included the disputed strip of land.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A conveyance of record title to a bona fide purchaser will not extinguish a title acquired by adverse possession.

    Facts. Plaintiff brought an action to quiet title to a strip of land, 135 feet in length and having a maximum width of 3 and 1/2 feet, he claimed by adverse possession and to compel Defendant to remove from any buildings constructed thereupon. The Plaintiff relied on a fence built in1910 and maintained until 1928 which clearly enclosed the disputed land in favor of Plaintiff’s parcel. The fence disintegrated over time and the Defendant took title in 1941 under a deed, which recited that his parcel included the disputed strip of land. The lower court found that the Plaintiff had established ownership of the land through adverse possession and directed that the Defendant remove any buildings on the strip of land. The Defendant appealed.
    Issue. Was the Defendant, as a bona fide purchaser of real property, entitled to rely on the record title description, which included the disputed strip?

    Held. No. Judgment affirmed.
    • The court cited the recording statute, which stated that any unrecorded conveyance, “is void as against any subsequent purchaser or mortgagee in good faith and for valuable consideration from the same vendor, his heirs or devisees, of the same real property or any portion thereof whose conveyance is first duly recorded.” Rem.Rev.Stat. §§ 10596-1, 10596-2.
    • However, the court distinguished the possession by adverse possession from that by an unrecorded conveyance. The court found no authority which would dispossess the Plaintiff of the land she had acquired title to be adverse possession, notwithstanding her lack of a recorded instrument showing her title to the strip.
    • A conveyance of record title to a bona fide purchaser will not extinguish a title acquired by adverse possession.
    • The court found that if the ruling favored the Defendant, then the doctrine of adverse possession would be impaired. The doctrine of adverse

    Mugaas v. Smith
    possession is based on a statute of limitations, and once a right is established thereunder, the right is vested in favor of the adverse possessor, and the adverse possessor does not have to adversely possess the land thereafter for the right to be upheld.
    • The legislature intended the protection under the recording statute to be accorded to bona fide purchasers of community real property, and did not intend that the mechanics of the recording statute could circumvent the doctrine of adverse possession.
    Discussion. The court based its ruling on the prior acquisition of the strip of land by the Plaintiff through adverse possession. Consider that the Defendant had no actual nor constructive notice of any prior rights of the Plaintiff to the strip of land.


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