may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Brown, et al.,
Anita L. Field,
Stearns County District Court
File No. C2024371
Michael P. Perry, Michael P. Perry Law Office, 100 First Street Southeast, Little Falls, MN 56345 (for respondents)
Mark McKeon, Willenbring, Dahl, Wocken & Zimmerman, PLLC, Red River at Main, P.O. Box 417, Cold Spring, MN 56320-0417 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge; Peterson, Judge; and Hudson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
In this appeal from a judgment awarding respondents Kenneth D. Brown and Joanne M. Brown title to property, appellant Anita L. Field argues that the facts found by the district court do not establish that respondents acquired title to the property by adverse possession. We affirm.
The parties own adjacent lakeshore lots in Stearns County. When appellant had her lot surveyed, the parties learned that stakes that respondents thought marked the property line did not conform to the legal descriptions of the lots. Both parties claimed ownership of a triangular-shaped portion of appellant’s lot.
Following a trial, the district court found that respondents have owned and used lot 24, block three of Breezeaway Shores since September 1980, and that since 1990, appellant has owned lot 23, the adjacent lot to the north, which is undeveloped. The district court also found:
3. The lots in question may be generally described as seasonal use lakeshore property.
4. The northerly line of the disputed property had stakes placed thereon, which is a reason why [respondents] incorrectly believed that to be the platted property line.
5. [Respondents] regularly used the disputed property for parking vehicles, and to install and remove their dock, and bring in and remove their boat.
6. [Respondents] regularly maintained the disputed property by planting grass and regularly cutting [the] grass.
7. [Respondents] removed trees and brush on the disputed property and planted and maintained a long lilac hedge thereon.
8. [Respondents] moved dirt and created a level parking [area] on the disputed tract, near the ingress and egress easement; they parked a vehicle thereon.
The district court stated in a memorandum that accompanied its order that respondents
changed the character of the land. They took undeveloped open land and removed trees and brush, planted and maintained bushes and cut the grass. If one merely looked at the lots in question, without the help of a surveyor, there would have been little doubt where the property line appeared to be.
See Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01 (stating findings of fact may appear in district court’s memorandum).
The district court concluded that respondents established by clear and convincing evidence the elements of adverse possession of a portion of the disputed property and granted respondents title to that portion of the property.
Appellant does not challenge the relevant findings of fact made by the district court; she argues only that the court erred when it concluded that the facts that it found established that respondents acquired title to the property by adverse possession.
“In boundary-line cases, the findings of the district court will not be disturbed unless the evidence taken as a whole furnishes no substantial support for them or where it is manifestly or palpably contrary to the findings.” Ebenhoh v. Hodgman, 642 N.W.2d 104, 108 (Minn. App. 2002) (quotation omitted). “But whether the findings of fact support a district court’s conclusions of law and judgment is a question of law, which we review de novo.” Id.
To establish title by adverse possession, “there must be clear and convincing evidence of actual, open, hostile, continuous, and exclusive possession by the alleged dissei[s]or for the statutory 15 year period.” Id; see also Minn. Stat. § 541.02 (2002) (establishing 15-year period). Whether the elements of adverse possession have been established is a question of fact. Ganje v. Schuler, 659 N.W.2d 261, 266 (Minn. App. 2003). Evidence presented in support of adverse possession must be strictly construed, with every presumption or inference to be taken against the disseisor. Ebenhoh, 642 N.W.2d at 108. The burden of proof rests upon the disseisor. Stanard v. Urban, 453 N.W.2d 733, 735 (Minn. App. 1990), review denied (Minn. June 15, 1990).
Appellant contends that under this court’s decision in Stanard, the facts found by the district court do not establish ownership by adverse possession. In Stanard, the disseisors’ predecessor filled in a low spot on his property with three and a half feet of dirt, and in doing so, filled in a portion of his neighbor’s property. Id. at 734. The filled-in portion of the neighbor’s property became the subject of an adverse-possession claim. Id. After the disseisors bought the property from their predecessor, they (1) mowed the grass on the disputed parcel every summer and planted an evergreen tree and a bush on the property; (2) stored their dock every year on property that included the disputed parcel; and (3) allowed their children and grandchildren to play on the disputed parcel. Id. at 735. This court concluded that these activities were not sufficient to establish the elements of adverse possession by clear and convincing evidence. Id. at 735-36.
In explaining its conclusion, this court stated:
“It is well-known that many thousands of homeowners have no boundary fences and that adjoining owners occasionally trespass on their neighbors’ lands in cutting grass, trimming hedges, and the like. . . . If such trespasses should be held to constitute a basis for prescriptive rights, every adjoining landowner . . . would acquire . . . an easement in his neighbors’ lands to the extent of such trespass. . . . The trespasser should be required to show by some additional acts that the entry is hostile and under claim of right.”
Id. at 736 (omissions in original) (quoting Romans v. Nadler, 217 Minn. 174, 180-81, 14 N.W.2d 482, 486 (1944)).
This court determined that the “additional acts” that the disseisor in Stanard showed were (1) storing lake equipment on the property in the winter and (2) children playing on the property. Id. This court then concluded that these acts were not sufficient to establish title by adverse possession. Id.
The district court’s findings in the present case demonstrate that respondents’ activities on the disputed property went well beyond the occasional trespasses on a neighbor’s land in cutting grass, trimming hedges, and the like that the supreme court referred to in Romans. The district court’s findings indicate that respondents took open, undeveloped land and turned it into a yard around their cabin, and a portion of the yard that they created and used is on land that appellant owned. The respondents’ activities were not the sporadic, occasional activities that this court relied upon in Stanard.
“The law does not prescribe any particular manner by which an adverse possessor must possess a disputed tract of property. But the possession must give ‘unequivocal notice to the true owner that some one is in possession in hostility to his title.’” Ganje, 659 N.W.2d at 266 (quoting Skala v. Lindbeck, 171 Minn. 410, 413, 214 N.W. 271, 272 (1927)). By using appellant’s property in a manner that showed anyone who merely looked at the property where the property line appeared to be, respondents gave unequivocal notice to appellant that someone was in possession of her property in hostility to her title.