This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Ione E. Prader, f/k/a
Ione E. Anderson, et al.,
Grant County Social Services, et al.,
Filed January 23, 2001
Grant County District Court
File No. C999123
David C. McLaughlin, Fluegel, Helseth, McLaughlin, Anderson & Brutlag, Chtd., 212 Second Street Northwest, Ortonville, MN 56278 (for respondents)
John Bullis, Lies & Bullis, 610 Second Avenue North, Wahpeton, ND 58074-0275 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Stoneburner, Judge.
In an action to establish title to land through adverse possession, the district court found that Ione and Curtis Prader met their burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that they adversely possessed a 16-foot strip of land for more than 15 years. Shannon Lien, the record owner of the lot that included the 16-foot strip, appeals, contending the district court erred in its findings and its conclusions. Because the record supports the district court’s factual findings, and the findings sustain the court’s legal conclusions, we affirm.
Ione and Curtis Prader own property in Grant County that abuts property owned by Shannon Lien. Lien purchased her property in 1994. Ione Prader and her first husband purchased the Prader property in 1960. Between 1960 and 1999, Prader and her family used part of the abutting lot for various activities. The ownership of the abutting lot changed several times during those years.
In the fall of 1997, the Praders and Lien began to dispute ownership of the 16-foot strip. A May 1999 survey commissioned by Lien showed that she owned part of the property used by the Praders. In June, the Praders brought this action to establish title to the disputed strip through adverse possession.
At trial the district court heard conflicting evidence of how Ione Prader and her family used the disputed property, the frequency of the use, the extent to which the Praders or the Liens’ predecessors-in-interest maintained the property, the timing of various improvements to the property, and whether the Praders had made offers to purchase the disputed property.
The district court issued detailed findings on the disputed facts, setting forth the Praders’ activities on the property. The court found that Ione Prader and her family had used the disputed strip as their own from the time they purchased the adjoining property in 1960, that the Praders’ offers to purchase a 25-five-foot strip of land did not include any part of the disputed strip, and that Lien’s claim to the ownership of the 16-foot strip has no force because it derives from a defective tax-forfeiture sale. The court concluded that the Praders had proved continuous adverse possession for over 15 years and ordered entry of judgment.
Lien moved for amended findings or a new trial. The court rejected the posttrial motions as untimely, and Lien now appeals, arguing that the court erred (1) in ruling that the Praders’ activities were sufficient to satisfy the requirements of adverse possession, (2) in finding that the Praders’ offers to purchase did not involve the 16-foot strip, and (3) in concluding that the tax-forfeiture proceedings were defective.
To establish title by adverse possession, a claimant must show by clear and convincing evidence an actual, open, hostile, continuous, and exclusive possession for 15 years. Rogers v. Moore, 603 N.W.2d 650, 657 (Minn. 1999) (citing Ehle v. Prosser, 293 Minn. 183, 189, 197 N.W.2d 458, 462 (1972)). Generally, use of land is presumed to be adverse or hostile when a claimant shows open, visible, continuous, and unimpeded use that is inconsistent with the owner’s rights and under circumstances from which the owner’s knowledge and acquiescence may be inferred. Burns v. Plachecki, 301 Minn. 445, 448, 223 N.W.2d 133, 135 (1974). The district court’s findings on acts demonstrating possession will not be set aside unless clearly erroneous. Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 52.01 (2000); Donaldson v. Kohner, 264 Minn. 230, 233, 118 N.W.2d 446, 448 (Minn. 1962) (holding in boundary dispute that appellate courts must view record in light most favorable to district court’s findings).
The district court found that the Praders had demonstrated the requisite possession by the following actions with respect to the disputed property: (1) in about 1960, installing a septic tank on the property; (2) in the early 1960s, having the city install a municipal water line across the property with the above-ground shutoff valve on the property; (3) the family’s children played on the property; (4) the family stored vehicles and equipment on the property; (5) Ione Prader and her first husband conducted family activities on the property; (6) the Praders maintained the property; (7) Ione Prader put a birdbath and shrubs on the property; (8) the Praders planted a walnut tree on the property; (9) Ione Prader’s son planted a row of maple trees on the property; (10) in 1987 and 1993, the Praders put Christmas decorations on the property; (11) between 1987 and 1992, the Praders removed a tree from the property; (12) in 1990, Ione Prader installed a heart-shaped garden; (13) in 1991 and 1992, Ione Prader planted a row of shrubs among the trees earlier planted by her son; and (14) in 1995, the Praders put an archway in the hedge.
We reject Lien’s claim that the findings are insufficient to establish adverse possession because of failure to identify a specific event that commenced the adverse possession. Adverse possession does not require a “particular manner in which possession shall be maintained or made manifest”; “[m]uch depends on the nature and situation of the land and the uses to which it is adapted.” Skala v. Lindbeck, 171 Minn. 410, 413, 214 N.W. 271, 272 (1927).
We also find no error in the district court’s relying on Ione Prader’s actions in installing the septic tank in about 1960 or in her installing a city water line across the disputed property in the early 1960s. The shutoff valve for that water line is above ground on the disputed property. Lien argues that the Praders’ septic tank cannot be used to satisfy the requirements of adverse possession because it is not an open or exclusive use of the disputed property. Although Lien’s argument has some validity applied to the use of the septic tank, the excavation for, and installation of, the septic tank provided notice that Ione Prader “was exercising ownership and control” of the land. The actions, taken without consulting the legal owner of the abutting lot, demonstrate Prader’s mistaken belief that she owned the property and show that Prader exercised rights associated with title to the property. Cf. Village of Glencoe v. Wadsworth, 48 Minn. 402, 403-04, 51 N.W. 377, 378 (Minn. 1892) (stating “[c]ontinued acts of ownership, occupying, using, and controlling the property as owner, constitute the usual and natural mode of asserting a claim of title, and it is often the only proof by which such claim can be established, or of which it is susceptible”).
We also reject Lien’s argument that the Praders’ evidence was insufficiently specific to support a claim of adverse possession. See B.W. & Leo Harris Co. v. City of Hastings, 240 Minn. 44, 51, 59 N.W.2d 813, 817-18 (1953) (rejecting claim for adverse possession because many of acts forming basis for claim only ambiguously showed possession and were not tied to a date or shown to have existed for specific time period). The district court’s findings, consistent with the record, establish that the Praders’ use of the property was constant and included specific acts relating to identified time periods. The record supports a finding that these activities were significant, and the court, consistent with case law, explicitly recognized that the Praders’ use of the property evolved as the family matured. See Murphy v. Doyle, 37 Minn. 113, 115, 33 N.W. 220, 221 (1887) (holding that what constitutes occupancy varies depending on “the nature and situation of the property, and the uses to which it can be applied”).
Lien alternatively argues that even if the Praders’ acts were sufficient to establish adverse possession, the chain of possession was broken by the Praders’ offers to purchase the disputed property. An offer to buy land is an admission by the offerors that they do not own the land and stops their attempt to adversely possess it. See Standard v. Urban, 453 N.W.2d 733, 736 (Minn. App. 1990) (citing Olson v. Burk, 94 Minn. 456, 458, 103 N.W. 335, 336 (1905)), review denied (Minn. June 15, 1990).
The district court found that the Praders’ offers to purchase involved a 25-foot strip that was located on the other side of the disputed property and did not include the disputed property. The record contains conflicting testimony on what the Praders knew about the boundaries of their lot and what they did in their attempts to buy part of the abutting lot. But the resolution of conflicting evidence is within the province of the district court, and we are not permitted to retry facts on appeal. See Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01 (stating “due regard” must be given to district court’s ability to judge witness credibility); cf. Wojahn v. Johnson, 297 N.W.2d 298, 303 (Minn. 1980) (applying required deference to district court’s resolution of conflicting surveyor testimony on location of boundary line). The evidence in the record adequately supports the district court’s finding that the Praders’ offers to purchase a strip of property did not involve the disputed 16-foot strip.
Lien’s final argument relates to the district court’s finding of defects in the tax-delinquency proceeding through which Lien claims title to the disputed property. At trial, the parties indicated that a judgment for unpaid taxes was entered in 1988. In its ruling, however, the district court concluded that Lien could not claim an interest in the disputed property superior to the Praders’ because no tax judgment was entered and the delinquency proceeding was defective. The Praders argue on appeal that the judgment was defective, but Lien alleges that the finding that a judgment was not entered is inconsistent with the parties’ stipulation.
Titles obtained through a tax sale are “valid only when there has been a strict compliance with the requirements of law.” Bratrud v. Security State Bank, 203 Minn. 463, 466, 281 N.W. 809, 810 (1938). Because strict compliance is required in tax-forfeiture proceedings, the existence of a judgment is a material issue. See Minn. Stat. § 280.01 (2000) (allowing property for which tax judgment was entered to be sold by sheriff). A court may take judicial notice of the nonexistence of a judgment. See Minn. R. Evid. 201(b)(2) (2000) (stating court may take judicial notice of facts “capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned”); In re Welfare of Clausen, 289 N.W.2d 153, 156-57 (Minn. 1980) (holding that district court “properly took judicial notice” of associated court files). The district court acted within its power in declining to accept a statement of a judicial record that was contrary to the record itself. See State v. Hannuksela, 452 N.W.2d 668, 673 n.7 (Minn. 1990) (appellate court’s responsibility to decide cases on accurate authority is not diluted by parties’ omissions). We further note that Lien has not provided argument or authority that a tax sale, even if valid, would extinguish the Praders’ rights of adverse possession that had extended for substantially more than 15 years by the time of the 1988 tax sale.
The district court’s findings that set forth the Praders’ activities on the disputed property support its legal conclusion that the Praders adversely possessed the disputed 16-foot strip for more than 15 years, the record provides adequate support for the court’s finding that the Praders’ offers to purchase land did not involve the disputed strip, and the district court did not err in concluding that the tax-forfeiture proceedings were defective.