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Law School Case Brief

Bangert v. Osceola Cty. - 456 N.W.2d 183 (Iowa 1990)

Rule:

A highway acquired by prescription is limited by its use. This marks its boundaries and confines its breadth. A prescriptive right cannot be acquired to any property that has not been actually used by the public for the prescriptive period. Prescription acquires for a party precisely what he has possessed, and nothing more; and, in proving prescription, the user of the right is the only evidence of the extent to which it has been acquired. The court has long rejected the claim that a county road established by prescription must be normally 66 feet wide. Instead the factfinder must determine the public use and the extent of the prescriptive easement.

Facts:

Plaintiff landowners sought damages against defendant county for the wrongful removal of trees on their property and standing along a stretch of county roadway. They sought treble damages for the destruction of the trees. The defendant denied liability for the trees, claiming it had a right to remove trees standing on a county road right-of-way easement and that plaintiffs suffered no damages because the trees had no value. The district court held the county had no right to destroy the trees and awarded treble damages calculated on the trees' commercial value. Both parties appealed.

Issue:

Does the right-of-way easement give defendant county the right to remove trees from the plaintiffs’ property?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The court held that the easement was only confined to its actual use by the public. The evidence was not contradicted that the fence was a barrier and not a boundary fence and that barrier fences did not define boundaries. Therefore, the court affirmed the trial court's holding concerning the extent of the county's easement. The court held that the record indicated substantial support for the landowners' contention that the county, through its officials, acted willfully.

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