Summary of Mannillo v. Gorski, Supreme Ct. of NJ (1969)
Parties: M is the landowner, G is alleged trespasser/adverse possessor.
Cause of action/remedy sought: M filed a complaint seeking mandatory & prohibitory injunction against an alleged trespass upon their lands. G (DF) seeks declaratory judgment to settle once and for all that she gained title to the disputed premises by adverse possession under NJ statute of limitations.
Procedural History: Trial court entered judgment for DF’s. DF appealed to Appellate Division after trial court judge decided instead to rule for PL’s, but came to this court on certification. This court remands on three issues:
(1) whether the true owner had actual knowledge of the encroachment
(2) if not, whether PL’s should be obliged to convey the disputed tract to DF
(3) and if the answer to the latter question is in the affirmative, what consideration should be paid for the conveyance.
Remand contemplates further discovery and a new pretrial.
Parties later settled after remand, where DF paid PL $250 in exchange for deed to the land in question.
Facts: APE bought a house in 1946, then raised the house in the summer of 1953. In order to do so, he made some changes to parts of the house, including some stairs (but did not change the width of them). Steps and front walk encroached on PL’s property by 15 inches. DF contends they obtained the land through adverse possession through the state’s statute of limitations, as no one contested the land before this suit. PL claims there was no adverse possession b/c there was no hostile intent to take the land to begin with.
Issue(s): Under NJ property law, does an entry and continuance of possession under the mistaken belief that the possessor has title to the lands involved exhibit the requisite hostile possession to sustain the obtaining of title by adverse possession?
Holding: Yes. This court discards the requirement that the entry and the continued possession must be accompanied by a knowing intentional hostility and hold that any entry and possession for the required time which is exclusive, continuous, uninterrupted, visible and notorious, even though under mistaken claim of title, is sufficient to support a claim of title by adverse possession.
No presumption of knowledge arises form a minor encroachment along a common boundary. In such a case, only where the true owner has actual knowledge thereof may it be said that the possession is open and notorious.
Court’s Rationale/Reasoning: NJ case law said that mistake was not necessary of adverse possession; this law goes back to 19th century Maine doctrine, which says that even by mistake the taking of the land must be intentional and absolute (ignorance is no good). It disfavors an honest, mistaken entrant.
The other end of the spectrum is old CT law, which says the very nature and act of dispossession is the intent to assert their own title, and intent is implicit in this taking. Treatise on property favors CT law. The bottom line is, mistake or intentional, when an owner of some part of their land is dispossessed, therein lies an ouster, and if no one complains about it for the requisite amount of time in the statute of limitations, then the adverse possessor takes the land.
The decision is based out of practicality, for if disputes over land included those which were based on a few inches with no physical line of demarcation involved so as the adverse possessor did not know, all owners would have to be constantly on alert for the slightest encroachment on their land, which would require a survey most likely, which would require spending unnecessary amounts of money.
These holdings could result in some cases of undue hardship to the adverse possessor who undertakes a costly improvement which is knowingly claimed by the real owner therefore forcing the adverse possessor to right the mistake, but equity may furnish that sort of relief. If that situation does happen, the owner of the land may have to give the land over to the adverse possessor, but the original owner may receive compensation for their loss.
Rule: NJ statute: “every person having the right or title of entry into real estate shall make such entry within 20 years next after the accrual of such right or title of entry, or be barred therefrom thereafter.” (statute of limitations)
Did court avoid issues?: No.