Skelly v. Brucher
The mere existence of evidence tending to support a rejected claim of adverse possession does not establish that the court's finding that the claim was not proven by clear and convincing proof is clearly erroneous. Robert and Pamela Skelly brought this action against their neighbors, Carl and Stephanie Brucher alleging that the defendants were committing a trespass and private nuisance through their activities on the plaintiffs' property, including constructing and maintaining a gravel driveway, storing boats, trailers and motor vehicles, discarding brush and setting up athletic equipment. The defendants answered the complaint and, relevantly, filed a counterclaim asserting that they had acquired title to the disputed area by adverse possession. Following a trial to the court, the court rendered judgment to the plaintiffs on their trespass claim awarding $7000 and quieted title to the property in the plaintiffs. The court rejected the defendants' claim of adverse possession, principally, because they failed to prove what portion of the plaintiffs' property, if any, they and their predecessors in interest continuously possessed in an open and hostile manner without the plaintiffs' consent for an uninterrupted period of at least 15 years. The defendants appealed claiming that the court's factual findings on their adverse possession claim were clearly erroneous. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. The defendants unsuccessfully argued that the testimony of their predecessor, William West, and Carl Brucher, concerning their uses and maintenance of the disputed area, coupled with a map identified as an exhibit demonstrated that the Wests and defendants occupied and possessed the same part of at least a portion of the disputed area. William West's testimony was imprecise and indistinct on a number of points. The uses he made of the property were far less intensive and intrusive than those made by the defendants and included parking a car, leaving compost, planting raspberry bushes and mowing the lawn. Such uses were not known to be hostile to the plaintiffs' predecessors in title, and were not carried out to the exclusion of those neighbors under a claim of right. The trial court's non-reliance on West's testimony to establish adverse possession was well within its discretion. Additionally, to support their claim, the defendants could hardly rely on a map marked only for identification because the defendants had objected to it and kept it out of evidence.