COA affirms judgment for church in neighbors’ adverse possession dispute

A church in a property dispute with its neighbor over a grassy area between the properties received an affirmation from the Indiana Court of Appeals on Friday.

After more than 25 years of living in a property adjacent to the Larkin Baptist Church, Richard and Lisa Moseley were sued by the church trustees for trespass, conversion and nuisance. The complaint sought to quiet title to the grassy area located along their common boundary line.

Richard regularly mowed, maintained and parked on the grassy area, but he never built any structures there. However, after the church commissioned a survey of the property that concluded the grassy area was owned by the church, Richard installed a fence along the edge of the disputed area.

Once the church filed its complaint, the Moseleys filed a complaint to quiet title and for adverse possession, which was later converted to a counterclaim. The Spencer Circuit Court granted summary judgment on the Moseleys’ counterclaim in favor of the church and later issued a partial judgment for the church on the trespass and quiet title claims.

When the trial court issued a final judgment on the remaining claims, it awarded the church $1,300 in damages and $18,000 in attorney fees.

The Moseleys’ subsequently appealed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the church on their adverse possession counterclaim, but the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed in Richard D. Moseley and Lisa M. Moseley v. Trustees of Larkin Baptist Church and the Larkin Baptist Church, an unincorporated association, 20A-PL-98.

In its decision, the appellate court agreed with the trial court’s conclusion that neither the yard maintenance activities nor the periodic or sporadic use of a small portion of the disputed area constituted the control required to establish adverse possession by clear and convincing evidence as a matter of law.

“Here, given that the Moseleys’ use of the disputed area included no structures, either permanent or temporary, for a ten-year period and consisted only of yard maintenance and the intermittent parking of different vehicles, their designated evidence is insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact,” Judge Edward Najam wrote for the appellate court.

The panel further rejected the Moseleys’ citation of Celebration Worship Center, Inc. v. Tucker, 35 N.E.3d 251 (Ind. 2015), to which the couple argued their occupation of the disputed area was analogous.

“The Moseleys’ reliance on Celebration Worship Center is unpersuasive. The Moseleys did not maintain any structure or any improvement akin to a gravel driveway within the disputed area, and they do not cite any authority that a different ‘pattern of mowing’ would establish possession of the area,” Najam wrote.

Thus, finding that the Moseleys did not designate evidence sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact, the appellate court held that the trial court did not err when it entered summary judgment for the church.

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