COA: No error in ruling over disputed gravel driveway

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A dispute between two neighbors concerning who was permitted to use a gravel driveway splitting their properties ended in favor of a woman who argued she paid taxes and had been using the entry for more than 20 years before her neighbors showed up. 

Lakeside properties owned by next-door neighbors Ruth McClintic and Gregory and Kelly Hardin in Monroe County have been separated by a gravel driveway since the 1960s.

At that time, the Bloomington Boat Club took residence on the Hardin property and shared the use of the driveway with owners of the McClintic property to access their individual lots. Each shared the costs of maintaining the driveway.

In 2007, the Hardins conveyed the property from the boat club and made plans to put up a fence around it. They soon discovered part of the gravel driveway was included in the proposed fence area, and McClintic objected to its installation. A tenant renting her property subsequently blocked a contractor from putting up the fence. 

Thereafter, the Hardins filed suit against McClintic, seeking a permanent restraining order based on trespass and to enjoin her from entering onto their property, including the driveway. They also sought damages based on McClintic’s trespass on their property in  blocking the installation of the fence gate, and her alleged tortious interference with the Hardins’ fencing contract.

McClintic filed counterclaims of adverse possession of the strip of land encompassing the gravel driveway, prescriptive easement for use of the gravel driveway to access her property and implied easement from prior use.

The trial court ultimately ruled in favor of McClintic, based on her theory of adverse possession, prescriptive easement, and easement by prior use. It subsequently entered judgement against the Hardins, who filed a motion to correct error, arguing that the judgment, among other things, “completely deprive[d] [the Hardins] of any continued or future use of the driveway area.”

The trial court later granted McClintic’s motion to amend in response, quieting the title to the land “up to the right wheel track of the gravel driveway” in fee simple favor of McClintic. It also quieted the title to the remainder of the gravel driveway in her favor as well, granting McClintic’s right to use the remainder of the gravel driveway for purposes of ingress and egress to her property.

On appeal, the Hardins argued the trial court erred in entering judgment against them and in favor of McClintic, but the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed in Gregory T. Hardin and Kelly T. Hardin v. Ruth McClintic, 53A01-1712-PL-2964.

It first rejected the Hardins’ assertion that McClintic’s counterclaims should be reversed because her use of the gravel driveway, and the use of her predecessors in title, was merely permissive. Rather, it noted that neither McClintic’s predecessors nor the member of the boat club had ever sought or granted permission to use the gravel driveway.

It further rejected the Hardins’ contentions that McClintic was not the only individual to use the gravel driveway and their argument that others could use the gravel driveway was “fatal” to her claim of adverse possession.

Lastly, the appellate court found McClintic was not required to make a good faith showing that she had paid taxes for the entire driveway because she claimed that she owned only a portion of it.

The appellate court concluded by pointing out that the Hardins’ claims for injunctive relief and for damages would only be reviewable on appeal if McClintic’s counterclaims were reversed.

“Because we affirm the trial court’s judgment in favor of McClintic on her counterclaims, we need not address the Hardins’ argument challenge to the trial court’s judgment on their claims,” Judge Rudolph Pyle III wrote for the court.  “Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.”

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