Land which is owned by a municipality is presumed to be given to a public use. However, this presumption can be rebutted by demonstrating that the town has abandoned any plans for the land. Evidence to be considered in determining this issue may include the reason the property was acquired by the town, uses the town has made of the property since acquisition, and whether the town has manifested an intention to use the property in the future.
In 1935, the disputed parcel was deeded to the town at the death of the owner, who mortgaged it to the town in order to receive public assistance. In 1947, the adjacent landowner purchased the surrounding land, which included the disputed parcel. From 1947 until 1986, the landowner used the parcel for a variety of purposes such as for gracing cattle and horses, parking vehicles, staging and storage area, even built a no trespass sign. In 1986 the town conveyed the parcel to the grantee who removed the signs erected by the landowner and fenced the area. The plaintiff filed an action to be declared owner of the disputed land by adverse possession. The defendant argued that the disputed parcel is not susceptible to adverse possession because of its public use, being owned by the town. The trial court concluded that the plaintiff established title to the property by adverse possession and disregarded defendant’s condition that the disputed parcel is of public use.
Is the disputed land susceptible to ownership by adverse possession despite being owned by the town during the time the possession took place?
The court affirmed the judgment that the landowner acquired title to the parcel by adverse possession, holding that (1) the landowner's uses of the parcel constituted sufficient possession, because they were consistent with its rural and agricultural nature and he was not required to change or improve the land to claim adverse possession; (2) the landowner's seasonal use of the property was sufficient to establish continuous possession for the required 15-year period; (3) the landowner's activities were open and notorious; and (4) the landowner claimed and treated the land as his own. The court held that the exemption of § 462 against adverse possession did not apply where the public did not use the parcel while the town had title, and the town's conveyance to the grantee manifested its lack of intent of ever using the parcel for a public use.