Hennepin County District Court File No.T020411
Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge, Willis, Judge, and
To show adverse possession, the disseizor must show, by clear and convincing evidence, an actual, open, hostile, continuous, and exclusive possession for the requisite period of time, which, in Minnesota, is 15 years.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: G. Barry Anderson, Judge
Appellants challenge the district court's adoption of the findings of the Hennepin County Examiner of Titles that respondents proved, by clear and convincing evidence, acquisition of title to a portion of appellants' property by adverse possession. Appellants also allege that the district court erred by classifying the present action as a boundary-line dispute, which would exempt respondents from the requirement that they pay assessed real-estate taxes on the disputed property for at least five years. Because the district court's findings were supported by the record and were not clearly erroneous, we affirm.
Appellants Michael and Linda Ganje live on a Bloomington lot (Ganje parcel) immediately to the west of respondents Charles and Susan Schuler. The parties share a common boundary. The strip of land at issue here is located along that common boundary and is several hundred feet in length. Except for a driveway and maintained lawn area, the disputed property is mostly unimproved, wooded land. For ease of analysis, the Hennepin County Examiner of Titles (the examiner) divided the disputed property into five parts, running from south to north: (1) the dog pen, (2) the area next to respondents' house, (3) the driveway and "area of well maintained lawn," (4) the woods, and (5) the right-of-way of Auto Club Road.
Respondents purchased their land (Schuler parcel) in 1969 and built a house on the property in 1972. At the time of the construction of their house, the septic system extended westward onto land respondents believed to be part of their lot, but which, in fact, was across their lot line. Respondents' driveway and lawn also extended across the western boundary line, but no one noticed this at the time.
Thomas and Freya Pope lived on the Ganje parcel from 1983 to 1993. Thomas Pope testified that he was aware in 1983 that there was a discrepancy between the legal and actual boundaries of the Ganje parcel. In 1987, the Popes commissioned a survey of the Ganje parcel that determined that respondents' dog-pen fence encroached on their property. Pope testified that he discussed the removal of the fencing with Charles Schuler, but respondents never took the fence down. Pope also testified that respondents were concerned about their septic system, which lies partly under the dog pen and, thus, on the Ganje parcel.
Freya Pope testified that during the ten years the Popes lived on the Ganje parcel they engaged in the following activities in the disputed property area: (1)ámaintained a row of lilacs and cleaned brush, (2) harvested wild flowers from the woods, (3) the Pope children played in the woods, (4) retrieved wood from the wooded area, and (5) picked crab apples. Freya Pope also testified that other than the well-maintained lawn area, she only saw respondents use the disputed property to take out brush or wood a few times.
At the hearing before the examiner, respondents offered the following evidence of their use of the disputed property and argued that these actions were sufficient to acquire title to the disputed areas by adverse possession:
Dog pen - Respondents constructed a wire-fence dog pen in 1973 where they thought their western boundary line was located. The location of the fence was never changed and is still in place today. Also, respondents cut, trimmed, and planted trees; raised cantaloupe and raspberries; put down wood chips; and ran their septic-tank system under the fenced-in area.
Area next to respondents' house - Respondents and the Popes planted shrubs, trees, and flowers; built a pathway; put down wood chips every two years; maintained a compost box; hired professional tree trimmers to maintain large maple trees; and pruned and cut their side of a hedge of lilac bushes.
Driveway and "area of well-maintained lawn"*fn1 - Appellants do not dispute that respondents maintained the driveway, mowed the lawn, and exclusively occupied this area since 1970.
The woods - Respondents took out dead trees, branches, and grape vines; hauled brush away for disposal; and operated a wood chipper on this portion of the disputed property.
Auto Club Road right-of-way - Respondents mowed, raked, fertilized, seeded, watered, and cut brush in this area near the boulevard.
Appellants challenged the extent of respondents' alleged activities in the disputed area during the hearing and claimed that, over a period of 20 years, respondents' accumulated actions did not meet the adverse-possession requirements. Appellants testified that they also made use of the disputed property, including dumping leaves there in the fall, hiring a tree service to cut tree limbs, and planting in the area. Linda Ganje also testified that in the disputed property area, she (1) sprayed for weeds and fertilized, (2) trimmed along the sidewalk, (3) removed brush in the wooded area, (4) pruned the lilacs, (5) removed bramble bushes, and (6) planted wildflowers. She stated that while doing these activities, she never noticed respondents engaged in any activities on the disputed property other than near the well-maintained lawn area and the driveway. Michael Ganje testified that he hardly ever saw respondents make use of the disputed property and that no physical evidence existed that identified respondents' use of the area (other than the driveway, well-maintained lawn area, and the fenced dog pen).
In 1995, appellants bought the Ganje parcel and were informed that respondents' driveway encroached on the property. In 1998, appellants asserted ownership rights to the disputed property and offered respondents an easement agreement to allow respondents to continue using the ...