Somerville v. Jacobs – 170 S.E.2d 806 (W. Va. 1969)

Case Name: Somerville v. Jacobs
Plaintiffs: W.J. Somerville and Hazel M. Somerville
Defendants: William L. Jacobs and Marjorie S. Jacobs
Citation: 170 S.E.2d 806 (W. Va. 1969)

Issue: Whether the plaintiff, Somerville, can be awarded just compensation for improvements which he made on land which he did not own, but had reason to believe he owned and made a reasonable mistake of fact in good faith.

Key Facts: The  Somervilles owned three lots and wished to erect a warehouse building on one of their lots. They got a surveyor’s report and then mistakenly constructed the warehouse on a lot that was owned by the Jacobs, the defendants.
The Jacobs learned that the building was on their property and claimed ownership on the theory of annexation – the improvements passed to them as part of their land. The Somervilles concede this but assert that the Jacbos cannot keep and retain the building without compensating them for the value of the improvements.

Rule: An individual who improves land of another through a reasonable mistake of fact and in good faith is entitled to recover the value of the improvements from the landowner or to purchase the land which was improved for the value of the land less the improvements.

Dissent: The majority’s opinion has giving the errant party equitable treatment while not providing equitable treatment for the party which was not at fault and did not make a mistake.

Romero v. Garcia – 546 P.2d 66 (N.M. 1976)

Case Name: Romero v. Garcia
Plaintiff/Appellee: Ida Romero
Defendant/Appellant: Mr. and Mrs. Antonio Garcia (former father/mother-in-law of Romero)
Citation: 546 P.2d 66 (N.M. 1976)

Issue: Whether the plaintiff could claim the land under adverse possession when the deed failed to describe a specific piece of property.

Key Facts:
1947 – Plaintiff purchased the 13 acres in dispute from defendant father but defendant mother failed to join in the conveyance. (The 13 acres were part of the 165 acres that defendant father had purchased in 1923).
A home was built on the land and the deed was recorded in 1950. The plaintiff and deceased husband lived in the home until 1962, when he died, and the plaintiff moved out to Colorado and remarried.

The defendants argued that:
The void deed was inadequate for color of title. This is erroneous because a deed is sufficient for color of even though it is void because it lacks the signature of a community member.

The deed’s description was inadequate for adverse possession because it failed to describe a specific piece of property. A deed is not void for want of proper description if, with the deed and with extrinsic evidence on the ground, a surveyor can ascertain the boundaries. An indefinite and uncertain description may be clarified by subsequent acts of the parties

Procedural History: The court found for the plaintiff.

Holding: The subsequent acts of the parties in erecting a house and pointing to the land were sufficient to ascertain the boundaries.

Judgment: Affirmed.

Nome 2000 v. Fagerstrom – 799 P.2d 304 (Alaska 1990)

Case Name: Nome 2000 v. Fagerstrom
Plaintiff: Nome 2000
Defendant: Charles and Peggy Fagerstrom
Citation: 799 P.2d 304 (Alaska 1990)

Issue: Whether the defendants acquired the southern portion of the land in dispute when their only activities included the use of the pre-existing trails and picking up litter.

Key Facts: 7 ½ acres in dispute. Record title which includes the disputed parcel is held by Nome 2000. In 1978 the defendants built a cabin on the north end of the disputed parcel. The plaintiff admits that from the time the cabin was place until it filed this suit (1987), the defendants adversely possessed the north end of the disputed parcel.

Procedural History: Nome 2000 filed suit to eject defendants. The defendant’s counterclaimed that through their use of the parcel they had acquired title by adverse possession.

Holding: The defendant did not acquire the property through adverse possession on the southern portion of the land because absent color of title, only property actually possessed may be acquired by adverse possession.

Judgment: The plaintiffs did not adversely possess the southern portion of the land in dispute. The case was remanded to the trial court in order to determine the extent of the defendant’s acquisition (northern portion).

Alaska adverse possession:
1. Ten year period
2.  Continuous
3. Open and notorious
4. Exclusive and hostile to the true owner

Community Feed Store v. Northeastern Culvert Corp.

Case Name: Community Feed Store, Inc. v. Northeastern Culvert Corp.

Key Facts: Community Feed Store operates a small wholesale and retail animal feed business. Defendant, Northeastern Culvert Corp. is a neighboring business.

At issue is a parcel of land to the north of the plaintiff’s principal building (approximately 60 x 90 feet), covered with gravel. 28 feet of this is owned by the plaintiff, the rest is owned by the defendant. The plaintiff’s suppliers and customers used this area for loading and unloading.

Defendant purchased its land in 1956 but was not until 1984, after a new survey, that it was established that the bulk of the gravel area actually belonged to the defendant. The defendant then erected a barrier to prevent cars and trucks to use this area for loading and unloading. Plaintiff filed for declaration of a prescriptive easement.
The trial court concluded that the plaintiff’s claim of a prescriptive easement failed for two reasons:
1. Plaintiff failed to prove with sufficient particularity the width and length of the easement
2. Any use of the area in question by the plaintiff or its customers was made with the permission of the fee owner. (through public use)

Procedural History: The trial court rejected the claim and entered judgment for the defendant on its counterclaim for ejectment. Plaintiff appealed. Appellate Court found that the trial court erred in making two findings of fact.

Plaintiff met its burden by establishing the general outlines of the easement with reasonable certainty. The plaintiff did not need to establish the minute details of the interest. The plaintiff established that adverse use began no later than 1929 and lasted until at least 1956. There was no showing that the defendant had opened his land to public use.

Brown v. Gobble – 474 S.E.2d 489 (W. Va. 1996)

Case Name: Brown v. Gobble
Appellee/Plaintiff: Gary S. Brown and Mitzi Brown
Appellants/Defendant: David L. Gobble and Sue Ann Gobble
Citation: 474 S.E.2d 489 (W. Va. 1996)

Issue: Whether the circuit court erred in not granting the defendant the tract of land through adverse possession when the defendant proved each of the required elements needed for adverse possession under the doctrine of “tacking.”

  • “Tacking” – to make up the required time period one may add up the time that previous adverse possessors claimed the property

Procedural History: The circuit court granted judgment for a strip of land to the plaintiffs saying that the defendants failed to show their ownership by way of adverse possession. The court believes that because of the stakes involved in an adverse possession case, that “clear and convincing” evidence is needed.

Facts: The defendants purchased the land in 1985 and the two foot wide tract was on their side of the fence that divided the two properties and visually appeared to be the defendant’s property. The real estate agent and deed stated that their land ran up to and included the fence. Plaintiffs purchased their property in 1989 and knew that, through a survey, they owned the two foot wide tract; however, they did nothing to show ownership until they brought the suit in 1994.

Holding: The circuit court either misunderstood or misapplied the defendant’s theory. The defendants did not claim that their actual possession of the property is sufficient to establish adverse possession but that their predecessors met all the requirements of adverse possession and under the doctrine of tacking, the predecessors’ interest was passed onto the defendants.

Rule of Law: One who seeks to assert title to a tract of land under the doctrine of adverse possession must prove each of the following elements for the required statutory period (ten years):

  • That he has held the tract adversely or hostilely*;
  • That the possession has been actual;
  • That is has been open and notorious (sometimes stated in the cases as visible and notorious);
  • That possession  has been exclusive;
  • That possession has been continuous;
  • That possession has been under claim of title or color of title

*Where one by mistake occupies land up to a line beyond his actual boundary, believing it to be the true line, will not defeat his right to claim that he holds the land adversely or hostilely.

Judgment: Reversed and remanded.

Wana the Bear v. Community Construction, Inc. – 180 Cal. Rptr. 423

Case Name: Wana the Bear v. Community Construction, Inc.
Plaintiff: Wana the Bear
Defendant: Community Construction, Inc.
Citation: 180 Cal. Rptr. 423

Issue: Whether the burial ground, which was excavated by the defendant, achieved a protectable status as a public cemetery under the 1872 cemetery law by virtue as its prior stats as a public graveyard.

Key Facts: The defendant excavated a property to develop a residential community. The property had been used by the Miwok Indians between 1850 and 1870 before they were driven out. The property was known to be a burial ground and has been the subject of numerous archeological studies. The plaintiff brought an action to stop the defendant from excavating after uncovering many of the bodies.
A 1854 act held that a place where six bodies were buried constituted a “public graveyard.” In 1872, a new act added a prescriptive clause that required the land be “used as a public cemetery continuously, without interruption, as a burial ground for five years.” It further declared that “no part of the code was retroactive unless expressly declared.” The Miwoks were no longer using the burial ground in 1873, therefore it was not made a burial ground under this new code.

Holding: The burial ground did not achieve a protectable status as a public cemetery.

Judgment: Affirmed the lower court and did not stop further excavation.

Dred Scott v. Sanford – 60 U.S. 393

Case Name: Dred Scott v. Sanford
Plaintiff: Dred Scott
Defendant: Sanford
Citation: 60 U.S. 393; 15 L. Ed. 691; 1856

Issue: Whether the plaintiff was a citizen and could bring a claim against the defendant for assault.Key Facts: The plaintiff was a slave who was taken out of the slave state of Missouri to Illinois and Minnesota, both free states. When the plaintiff returned to Missouri he was sold to Sanford and brought suit against the defendant for assault. Scott claimed that he was a Missouri citizen and a free man and Sanford claimed that neither Illinois nor the Missouri Compromise could deprive him of his property interest in Scott.

Procedural History: The district court found that the defendant was not liable for assault. The trial court held that the plaintiff was a slave and was merely property and the defendant was able to treat his property as he wished.

Holding: The Supreme Court held that the plaintiff was not a citizen and could not bring an action in court.

Judgment: The Supreme Court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.

Popov v. Hayashi – 2002 WL 31833731 (Cal. Super. Ct. 2002)

Case Name: Popov v. Hayashi
Plaintiff: Popov
Defendant: Hayashi
Citation: 2002 WL 31833731 (Cal. Super. Ct. 2002)

Issue: Whether the defendant is liable for conversion when he picked up the home run ball that was dropped by the plaintiff.

Key Facts: Barry Bonds 73rd Homerun. The plaintiff caught the ball in the upper portion of his glove but was tackled and thrown to the ground by the crowd. The ball fell out and the defendant picked it up and put it in his pocket. The plaintiff sued for conversion.

Holding: The plaintiff and defendant had equitable claims and could not prove their case either way.

Reasoning: Although the plaintiff proved intent to possess the ball, he could not establish that he would have fully possessed the ball had he not been tackled by the crowd. If he could have established this, his pre-possessory interest would have constituted a qualified right to possession which can support a cause of action for conversion.

Judgment: The ball was sold for $450,000 and the proceeds were divided equally.

Pierson v. Post – 2 Am. Dec. 264 (N.Y. 1805)

Case Name: Pierson v. Post
Plaintiff/Appellee: Post
Defendant/Appellant: Pierson
Citation: 2 Am. Dec. 264 (N.Y. 1805)

Issue: Whether a trespass was committed when Pierson killed and carried off the fox that was being hunted by Post.

Key Facts: Post was hunting a fox with dogs and hounds and while he was hunting the fox, Pierson, who knew that Post was hunting, killed and carried off the fox.

Procedural History: The first court found for the plaintiff, Post.

Holding: A trespass was not committed although the conduct of Pierson was uncourteous towards Post, his act did not produce an injury or damage for which a legal remedy can be applied.

Reasoning: Based off Barbeyrac, the actual bodily seizure is not necessary constitute possession of wild animals; however, pursuit alone is insufficient to constitute possession.

Judgment: The second court reversed the decision.

Dissent: The dissenting opinion stated that property in animals may be acquired without bodily touch or manucaption, provided the pursuer be within reach, or have a reasonable prospect of taking, what he has thus discovered an intention of converting to his own use.

Willcox v. Stroup – 467 F.3d 409 (4th Cir. 2006)

Case Name: Willcox v. Stroup
Plaintiff: Thomas Law Willcox
Defendant: Stroup (Director of the SC Department of Archives/History and the State of South Carolina
Citation: 467 F.3d 409 (4th Cir. 2006)

Issue: Whether the plaintiff had good title of the Civil War documents when they had been in his family’s possession for over one hundred and forty years and there was no evidence that showed any other had title to the property.

Key Facts: The plaintiff found 444 documents from the administrations of two governors of South Carolina during the Civil War in a shopping bag in his late stepmother’s home. The documents have an appraised value of $2.4 million. The plaintiff allowed the documents to be microfilmed for the state archives. When the plaintiff attempted to sell the papers, the defendant obtained a temporary restraining order preventing the sale. The plaintiff sought a declaratory judgment that he owned the papers.

Reasoning: If there is no evidence to the contrary, proof of possession, is sufficient proof of title.

Rule of Law: Proof of possession is sufficient proof of title if there is no evidence to the contrary.