This property dispute involves generally undeveloped land in Lake County. According to the map, the western border for Lots 16 through 20 is a natural creek feature. However, the plat map depicts the creek incorrectly. The map shows the creek in a straight line running diagonally on the western edges of Lots 16 to 20, while the creek actually meanders and winds through those lots.
The current dispute involves the ownership of land located west of Creek and inside the calculated dimensions of the Pine River Hills plat. The B owners believed that their lot extended to the thread of Creek, and as a result, the family made several improvements to the land close to the creek, such as building a cabin across the creek on Lots 19 and 20, bringing in electricity, drilling a well, maintaining trails, and building deer blinds and tree stands. However, the owners of lots within Pine River Hills also believed that their lots extended west of Coe Creek, and they too would utilize the area for hiking, mushroom hunting, fishing, deer hunting and other recreational activities.
Quiet Title / Adverse Possession
F owner eventually obtained a survey of her property, which showed that it extended west of Coe Creek. She filed a complaint for quiet title and injunctive relief against the B owner in relation to the land located west of Creek. In response, the B owners filed a counterclaim, asserting that they were the true owners of the disputed property, either by superior claim of title or by the doctrines of adverse possession and acquiescence.
A party claiming adverse possession must show clear and cogent proof of possession that is actual, continuous, open, notorious, exclusive, hostile, and uninterrupted for the relevant statutory period. The statutory period is 15 years. When the elements of adverse possession have been met, the law presumes that the true owner, by his acquiescence, has granted the land, or interest to the land, so held adversely.
The case proceeded to a bench trial concerning the adverse possession and acquiescence claims. The testimony showed that the B owners and their guests used the areas west of the creek on Lots 16, 17, and 18 for activities such as hiking, hunting, and fishing ever since purchased the property in 1964.
There was testimony presented at trial showing that the B owners used the disputed property with the intention to exclude others. For one, the driveway leading to the cabin was protected by a cable, and the property’s northern and southern borders had fences. There was a bridge crossing Creek when purchased the property, but they removed it. B owner later compared his deed to the deed of the owner of the adjacent property. After that confrontation, he placed no trespassing signs on the south portion of Lot 16. He also stated that he went and spoke to the previous owner of Lot 18 regarding his ownership of the land leading up to the creek.
After three days of testimony, the trial court issued a written opinion, concluding that the B owners were the legal owners of the disputed property pursuant to either adverse possession or acquiescence.
Although the neighboring landowners testified that they also made similar recreational use of the land west of Creek, the trial court concluded that the B owners use had been more significant and continuous for a longer period.
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