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Acquisition of title through adverse possession is a fact to be proved by the one asserting the title. The burden of proof extends to all of the necessary elements of such possession and includes the obligation to show that it was actual, open, continuous, and under a claim of right or title. If any of these elements is left in doubt, the claimant cannot prevail.
Plaintiffs and defendant owned adjacent lots in New Bedford. Record revealed that the title to a parcel of land, including the disputed strip has been in the defendant since 1936 and that taxes on the whole parcel have been assessed to it and paid by it to the city since 1936. The defendant has operated a gasoline station on the property since 1936. On the other hand, plaintiffs held title as tenants by the entirety to the lot adjoining the defendant's on Emma Street by virtue of a deed dated February 14, 1957; that the deed to the plaintiffs and the deeds to their predecessors in title, dating back to 1923, were all warranty deeds, and that none of them purported to convey the disputed strip to the grantee. It was undisputed that plaintiffs and some of their predecessors made use of the strip for various purposes without protest or objection by the defendant; however, record also revealed that during the renovation of the defendant’s gas station, the contractor used the disputed area for the storage of building materials and equipment for a period of three or four weeks without protest from the then current owner of the plaintiffs’ land. Claiming that they and their predecessors in title have occupied the disputed strop adversely to the defendant for more than twenty years, plaintiff brought a bill in equity to enjoin defendant from entering upon the disputed land, and to recover damages for trespass. The trial court held that the plaintiffs had acquired the strip of land by adverse possession; however, no damages were awarded for trespass. Both parties appealed.
Under the circumstances, did the plaintiffs acquire the disputed land through adverse possession?
The reviewing court reversed because the use of the strip by defendant within the required statutory period broke the requisite element of continuity of possession. Acquisition of title through adverse possession was a fact to be proven by plaintiffs, the party asserting title. The burden of proof extended to all of the elements of possession and included the obligation to show that it was actual, open, continuous, and under a claim of right or title. Since continuity was not established, plaintiffs could not prevail.