Homeowners meet criteria for adverse possession of disputed property

A church that challenged those who, it believed, trespassed failed to convince the Indiana Supreme Court that a disputed strip of land was actually part of its property.

Celebration Worship Center in Floyd County filed a complaint against its neighbors, Patrick and Carolyn Tuckers, in a dispute over the property line and sought injunctive relief against the homeowners to cease trespassing.

The homeowners, who took over ownership of the property through a quit-claim deed from Carolyn Tucker’s mother, countered they had acquired title to the disputed real estate, a grassy portion along the edge of a gravel driveway, by adverse possession and prescriptive easement claims.

Floyd Circuit Court granted summary judgment in favor of the Tuckers, but the ruling was overturned by a unanimous Indiana Court of Appeals. The appellate panel found the Tuckers were not able to show they paid property taxes on the disputed land for the required 10-year period and, therefore, could not make an adverse possession claim.

The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed the trial court in Celebration Worship Center, Inc. v. Patrick Tucker and Carolyn Tucker, a/k/a Patty Tucker, 22S01-1506-PL-401. The five justices found the designated evidence establishes by clear and convincing proof that the homeowners and the former owner met the statutory tax payment requirement of adverse possession.

Pointing to Hoose v. Doody, 886 N.E.2d 83 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008), trans. denied, and Flick v. Reuter, 5 N.E.3d 372 (Ind. Ct. App. 2014), trans. denied, the church argued the Tuckers  offered no evidence as to why they would have believed they paid taxes on the disputed property.

However, the Supreme Court found these cases were distinguishable from the facts of the present case.

 “…the homeowners in the present case argue they and their predecessor have paid all taxes that they reasonably believed in good faith to be due on the disputed real estate because they believed  the disputed real estate to be part of the side yard of their (property) – for which they actually paid taxes,” Justice Brent Dickson wrote. “This reasonable and good faith belief substantially complies with the statutory tax payment requirement.”

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