Neighbors’ property-ownership dispute reversed in adverse possession case

The Indiana Court of Appeals has reversed a decision quieting title of two pieces of land in a battle between Miami County neighbors, finding there wasn’t enough proof that the parcels were acquired by adverse possession.

Stephen Presley, Daniel McCain and Joseph DeRozier are neighbors in Peru, Indiana, who own three adjacent properties. The men argued as to who owned a strip of land and a small patch separating their properties that they call dog run and the flower bed.

According to an original plat, Presley legally owned both parcels, and he filed a pro se complaint for ejectment and damages against DeRozier and McCain, arguing that they do not own the contested parcels. DeRozier and McCain filed a joint motion for summary judgment, and during the next 30 days, Presley filed 10 different pro se motions, including a motion for leave to amend the pleadings, which DeRozier and McCain moved to strike.

A trial court ultimately denied DeRozier’s and McCain’s joint motion for summary judgment and granted Presley’s motion for leave to amend. Later, the men came back with a definite statement and a counterclaim arguing that they had acquired ownership of the parcels through adverse possession.

The trail court ruled in favor of DeRozier and McCain, finding they had acquired ownership of dog run and the flower bed, respectively, through adverse possession. Although the trial court granted an easement to Presley on the two parcels, it later vacated that award after the men moved to correct error.

Presley appealed, arguing that the trial court erred when it awarded McCain and DeRozier title to the two parcels in Stephen J. Presley v. Daniel S. McCain, et al., 19A-MI-00088. The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed with Presley, reversing the decision upon finding a dearth of evidence proving that DeRozier and McCain acquired ownership of the land through adverse possession.

“It was not until November 2016 that DeRozier put Presley on notice that he wanted exclusive control over Dog Run by placing a lock and ‘no trespassing’ sign on the gate. This timeline falls short of the ten-year period required for an adverse possession claim,” Judge John Baker wrote. “Because nothing in the record suggests that (DeRozier’s predecessor Mark Allen) prohibited (Presley’s predecessor Danny Rasner) from using Dog Run for the thirteen years Allen owned the property, DeRozier has no time to tack on as a party in privity.

“… Finally, like DeRozier, McCain has not met the ten-year requirement. Though McCain had been living on his property since 1999, he has offered no evidence to show when the ten-year clock began ticking or proving that he, in fact, satisfied the duration element,” the court continued.

On the finding that neither DeRozier nor McCain could prove by clear and convincing evidence that they had acquired ownership, the appellate court reversed and remanded with instructions for the trial court to enter judgment in Presley’s favor.

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