Law School Case Brief
Celebration Worship Ctr., Inc. v. Tucker - 35 N.E.3d 251 (Ind. 2015)
The doctrine of adverse possession entitles a person without title to obtain ownership to a parcel of land upon clear and convincing proof of control, intent, notice, and duration, as follows: (1) The claimant must exercise a degree of use and control over the parcel that is normal and customary considering the characteristics of the land; (2) The claimant must demonstrate intent to claim full ownership of the tract superior to the rights of all others, particularly the legal owner; (3) The claimant's actions with respect to the land must be sufficient to give actual or constructive notice to the legal owner of the claimant's intent and exclusive control; and (4) The claimant must satisfy each of these elements continuously for the required period of time. The requisite period of time for adverse possession is 10 years. Ind. Code § 34-11-2-11. Once the elements of adverse possession have been established, fee simple title to the disputed tract of land is conferred upon the possessor by operation of law, and title is extinguished in the original owner.
Appellant plaintiff church (Celebration Worship Center) filed a complaint for declaratory judgment, seeking to determine the boundary line between it and appellee defendant homeowners (the Tuckers) to determine ownership of its real estate, to allow it to build a fence along the boundary line, and to seek further injunctive relief against the defendants to cease their “trespass” activities. On July 16, 2013, the trial court denied the church's motion for summary judgment and granted summary judgment in favor of the homeowners on both the adverse possession and prescriptive easement claims. The Court of Appeals reversed on both claims, concluding that the church, not the homeowners, was entitled to summary judgment. Now, on a transfer to the Supreme Court of Indiana, the church has appealed the trial court's July 16, 2013 order granting the homeowners' motion for summary judgment on both the adverse possession and prescriptive easement claims. As such, for the basis of this present appeal, the homeowners are the moving party for summary judgment. In their motion for summary judgment, the homeowners argue they took fee simple title to the disputed real estate from their immediate predecessor in title, Patty Tucker's mother.
Is the grant of summary judgment valid on the ground that the defendant homeowners established title to and use of real property by adverse possession and prescriptive easement?
The Supreme Court of Indiana affirmed the trial court on both the adverse possession and prescriptive easement claims. The Court held that the homeowners established that their immediate predecessor (Patty Tucker's mother) in title adversely possessed and obtained fee simple title to the disputed property by operation of law prior to the church ever taking title to its real estate; the homeowners satisfied the tax payment requirement for adverse possession because they argued that they and their predecessor paid all taxes that they reasonably believed in good faith to be due on the disputed property because they believed the property to be part of the side yard of their lot for which they actually paid taxes. The evidence established that the homeowners' immediate predecessor in title obtained a prescriptive easement; thus, the church failed to rebut the presumption that the homeowners' prescriptive rights ripened prior to the time the church took title to its real estate. The homeowners also designated evidence in their motion for summary judgment that established by clear and convincing proof that they met the common law elements of adverse possession: control, intent, notice, and duration.
As for the applicable standard of review, the Court reviews a summary judgment decision de novo, applying the same standard as the trial court: summary judgment is appropriate where, drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party, the designated evidence shows "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.
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