To establish title to real property by adverse possession, a claimant must prove actual, hostile, exclusive, visible, and continuous possession, under a claim of right, for the statutory period of 15 years. The burden is upon the claimant to prove all of the foregoing elements by clear and convincing evidence.
A church brought a motion for judgment seeking to recover possession of a strip of land that it claimed its neighbor unlawfully withheld from the church. The neighbor and her predecessors in title claimed title by adverse possession. They had used the disputed land under the mistaken belief that it was their property. The circuit court entered judgment for the church. It found that the possession was not adverse because there was no intent by the neighbor to oust the true owner of the title to the property. On appeal, the neighbor argued the evidence that she and her predecessors had maintained the land for more than 15 years believing it to be their property and the evidence that she and her predecessors intended to claim title to the land was enough to show that the adverse possession claim was not based solely on deed descriptions, but that it showed an intention to claim title to a definite line on the ground.
Was the court's entry of judgment in favor of the church proper?
The court reversed the circuit court's decision and found that because the adverse possession claim was based not only on the deed descriptions, but also on the belief that the property line ran to a line of woods, the possession was accompanied by the requisite adverse or hostile intent. The evidence of the predecessors' belief that the property ran to the line of woods and the continuous maintenance of the land supported the finding that the period of possession had been for more than 15 years.