Massachusetts adverse possession law

property-line-survey-getty_f11341f289ae931d07403cac3726db78_3x2_jpg_300x200_q85Trial Report: Winiker v. Bell (Middlesex Superior Court CA 09-907)

I was lead trial counsel in a week-long adverse possession/boundary line dispute case back in August in Middlesex Superior Court before Judge Bruce Henry. We had closing arguments last week, and the judge’s decision just came down. I’m thrilled to report that we prevailed! Hard work (lots of it) does indeed pay off…

Judge Henry drafted a 13-page well-reasoned opinion, which I’ve embedded below. By and large, the judge accepted my view of the facts and the law, and cited many of the cases which I referenced in my briefs. The claimants, having been unable to establish adverse possession, were ordered by the judge to remove their driveway and retaining wall which encroaches onto my client’s property.

Some take-aways from the case:

  • Prepare, prepare, prepare. I had a lot more work on my side, with 8 testifying witnesses and a binder full of exhibits. I prepared for a solid two weeks before this trial, and by the trial, I knew every blade of grass and rock on the disputed area. I also had deposition testimony of the claimants which I used to impeach them when they inevitably changed their stories or failed to remember key details. I also had blowups of aerial photos of the property which were very helpful. Lastly, I convinced the trial judge to take a “view” of the property, so he could see the layout of the property himself. My opponent had much more trial experience than me, so I had to overcompensate by knowing the facts and law inside and out.
  • Track down old owners. Since my opponents were claiming adverse possession going back to the 1960’s, the first and most important thing we had to do was to track down all the old owners of my client’s property, and put together an accurate historical timeline of the property. Including my client, there were seven owners of the property! This was the only way my client could mount a defense against the claim. One of the old owners lived in Florida, and he came up to testify about having pig roasts near the disputed area, among other stories. Other former owners testified and a few were not exactly thrilled to be dragged into court.
  • Establish a theory of the case. Going into the trial, I knew that the claimants’ use of the disputed property — lawn mowing, landscaping, storing construction materials and snow plowing — was arguably not strong enough to establish adverse possession. I also knew that they did nothing to prevent the owners of my client’s property from accessing the disputed area. I hammered them continuously on each of the required elements of adverse possession, eventually punching holes in the foundation of their case. I also had to be a bit ruthless. My opponents’ age was in their 70’s, so I had to exploit their memory lapses. An amusing moment was when the husband produced an old photo of his 3 kids, but when questioned, could not remember the names or ages of his own children!

With yet another win under my belt, I have built a solid niche practice area in Massachusetts adverse possession law and boundary line disputes. I really enjoy working on these types of cases as they are factually intensive and usually have a fair share of nasty neighbor drama!

Listen to my recent radio appearance on boundary line disputes and adverse possession! Click play.

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Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts adverse possession and boundary line dispute attorney who has tried numerous adverse possession cases in Land Court and Superior Court. Please contact me if you are dealing with a Massachusetts adverse possession dispute.

Samuel Winiker v. Kimberly BellJudgment, Findings of Fact and Rulings of Law

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Update: My Clients Prevail (Click Here for Judge’s Ruling)

Effective Preparation and Historical Timeline Key To Trial

I just completed a four day jury waived trial in an adverse possession case in Superior Court. I wanted to share some of my experience as a Massachusetts adverse possession attorney, and what I learned during this case. (For confidentiality reasons, I will not disclose the name of the case or the county in which it was brought). We are waiting for a decision from the judge, which will take several months.

Side Property Line Dispute

The case was a fight over land between two homes in a suburban town.  The dispute arose after my client, “Ms. Jones,” surveyed her property in anticipation of doing an addition project. The survey unfortunately revealed that a portion of the driveway and nearby retaining wall owned by her next door neighbor, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” encroached the side lot line. Efforts to resolve the encroachment dispute were unsuccessful, and the Smiths ultimately filed the adverse possession lawsuit, claiming that they had used not only the small encroached area, but a much larger 2,200 square foot area of Ms. Jones’ side yard, for more than 40 years.

Tracking Down Old Owners

Since the Smiths were claiming adverse possession going back to the 1960’s, the first and most important thing we had to do was to track down all the old owners of my client’s property and put together an accurate historical timeline of the property.  Including my client, there were seven owners of the property! This was the only way my client could mount a defense against the Smith’s claim, since the Smiths owned their property all that time. One of the old owners lived in Florida, and he came up to testify about having pig roasts near the disputed area, among other stories. Other former owners testified and a few were not exactly thrilled to be dragged into court. That’s the nature of the beast.

Proving The Timeline

Next, we had to demonstrate the historical use of the disputed area over four decades. These are very factually intensive cases. The key to every adverse possession case is what and how the parties actually used the disputed area. The parties’ knowledge or lack thereof of the true boundary line is really not the important issue. Generally, the more intense the use and the more the claimant takes action to exclude the other party from using the disputed land, the better the claim for adverse possession. Conversely, the less intense the use, the less successful the claim. Still, adverse possession is a very difficult claim to win as the law does not favor taking someone’s land.

Some important questions in any Massachusetts adverse possession case are:  Did the plaintiff mow the lawn? Did they maintain any landscaping? Did they install a fence or other barrier? Did they demarcate where they used the land? Did they make any permanent improvements to the disputed area? Did they plant anything or install a garden? Did they clear brush? Did they cut down trees or plant new trees? Did the defendant grant permission to use the disputed area. (Permissive use destroys an adverse possession case).

Preparation Is Key

Compared to my opposing counsel, I had a lot more work on my side with triple the number of testifying witnesses and cross examination of the claimants. I prepared for a solid two weeks before this trial, and by the trial, I knew every blade of grass and rock on the disputed area.  I also had deposition testimony of the claimants which I used to impeach them when they inevitably changed their stories or failed to remember key details. I also had blowups of aerial photos of the property from Bing Maps which were very helpful. Lastly, I convinced the trial judge to take a “view” of the property, and he did visit the property with counsel the day after the trial was over.

We are filing post-trial briefs at the end of August, and then the judge will make a decision. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts adverse possession and boundary line dispute attorney who has tried numerous adverse possession cases in Land Court and Superior Court. Please contact me if you are dealing with a Massachusetts adverse possession dispute.

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