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Jarvis v. Gillespie

    Brief Fact Summary.

    The town of Waterville conveyed a 1.2-acre parcel of land to Gillespie (Defendant). Jarvis (Plaintiff) then sought a declaratory judgment to establish his ownership of the parcel through adverse possession.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    The requirements for adverse possession are met when the claimant’s use of the land is consistent with that of an average person in ownership of similar land.

    Facts.

    The town of Waterville owned a 1.2-acre parcel of land for 51 years before granting it to Defendant. Plaintiff owned the land that surrounded three sides of the Waterville parcel and, for 39 of the 51 years, had used the parcel for rural and agricultural activities consistent with the character of the land. Plaintiff even posted “No Trespassing” signs on the property and his actions were visible from the road which ran along the fourth side of the parcel. Plaintiff filed for a declaratory judgment stating that he was the owner of the land through adverse possession. Defendant responded by asserting that Plaintiff could not gain title because lands given to a public use could not be adversely possessed under 12 V.S.A. § 462. The trial court found for Plaintiff, finding no public use had been made of the parcel during the time in question. Defendant appealed.

    Issue.

    Are the requirements for adverse possession met when the claimant’s use of the land is consistent with that of an average person in ownership of similar land?

    Held.

    (Allen, C.J.) Yes. The requirements for adverse possession are met when the claimant’s use of the land is consistent with that of an average person in ownership of similar land. Adverse possession is gained through open, notorious, hostile, and continuous possession of another’s property for 15 years. The actions of the claimant must be examined in light of the property type. Here, the parcel is located in a rural and agricultural area. Acts consistent with the type of property include grazing livestock, cutting hay, and planting and cutting trees. Continuous possession does not require the claimant to be present on the disputed site at all times. Possession is open and notorious if actions are conducted in a manner which would put a person of ordinary caution on notice of the claim. Here, the parcel bordered a road, allowing anyone passing by to see Plaintiff’s activities. In order to be hostile, the possessor must only intend to claim the land and treat it as his own. Plaintiff met each of these requirements. Also, because the land was not used by the public while it was owned by Waterville, and then was conveyed to a private individual, the Vermont statute does not apply. Affirmed.

     

    Discussion.

    The court noted that continuous possession did not require constant presence. Plaintiff’s actions in using the land some of the year for certain activities and not using it the rest of the year was still continuous enough for adverse possession. Therefore, when a type of land is suited to a seasonal purpose, such as a hunting area during hunting season or a beach during summer, seasonal use can be considered continuous. The length of time required to obtain adverse possession varies by state and by the types of activities conducted on the land.


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