Law School Case Brief
Costello v. Staubitz - 300 Md. 60, 475 A.2d 1185 (1984)
In determining a claim of adverse possession, the appropriate inference to be drawn from the existence of a visible line of demarcation, a fence, erected by a party claiming adverse possession is dependent upon the purpose for which the fence was erected. A fence erected by a claimant for the purpose of claiming it as a boundary only if it is in fact coincident with the actual boundary does not support an inference that it is a visible boundary delineating the extent of the claimant's adverse possession and, therefore, does not constitute evidence of the claimant's adverse possession. However, a fence erected by a claimant for the purpose of claiming it as a boundary supports such an inference and, therefore, constitutes some evidence of the claimant's adverse possession, notwithstanding that the claimant's belief that the fence was in fact coincident with the actual boundary was erroneous.
The record owners, William and Janice F. Costello, acquired title to an undeveloped lot bounded by another undeveloped lot in 1979. A surveyor determined that an existing barbed wire fence that had been erected approximately 30 years earlier was not located on the boundary between the two lots, but rather traversed a corner of Costellos' lot. At a bench trial in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, the claimant, Elmer Staubitz, stated that the record owners' predecessor in interest erected the fence in order to prevent his cattle from straying into the adjoining lot. Staubitz asserted that he had acquired title to all of the land outside the fence by adverse possession. The trial court found that the fence was erected as a boundary between the two lots and delineated the extent of Staubitz's adverse possession. On appeal, Staubitz contended that the fence constituted a visible boundary and that because of unequivocal acts of ownership, title to all the disputed property vested in him by adverse possession.
Did a fence erected by a predecessor in interest to the record owner of real property constitute some evidence of the claimant's adverse possession?
The Court of Appeals of Maryland reversed, holding that the claimant, who was without color of title, was entitled to acquire title by adverse possession only to land actually occupied. Here, the record shows that the claimant was without color of title and claimed all of the land delineated by the existing barbed wire fence. The only evidence presented relating to the fence was that it was erected by a farmer who was the record owners' predecessor in interest. The farmer's sole purpose for erecting the fence was to confine his cattle to his own property and to prevent them from straying onto the adjoining property. Thus, the record shows that the fence on the disputed property was erected by the record owners' predecessor within the predecessor's own boundaries and for the predecessor's own purposes. Under these circumstances, the existing fence was not a visible boundary delineating the extent of the claimant's adverse possession. It, therefore, did not constitute evidence of adverse possession and was not an appropriate factor to be taken into account in determining the extent of the claimant's adverse possession.
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