Mannillo v. Gorski

Supreme Court of New Jersey
255 A.2d 258 (1969)

FACTS:

The defendant, Mrs. Gorski, entered into possession of Lot No. 1007 in Block 42 with her husband in 1946. Upon completion of the terms of their agreement, the seller conveyed the land to the defendant in 1952. The plaintiffs, the Mannillos, acquired title to the adjacent lot in 1953. Moreover, the defendant’s son began making improvements/additions to the house, e.g. steps, screened in porch, etc., in the summer of 1946. The defendant then raised the house and, as a result, extended the steps in 1953. The extended steps admittedly encroached upon the plaintiff’s lot by approximately 15 inches. Therefore, the defendant claims she owns the said land by adverse possession. The plaintiffs assert that the defendant did not acquire title to the land because the possession was not intentional or hostile in nature.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY:

The previous plenary trial ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. The defendant appealed to the Appellate Division and, prior to argument there, this court granted the defendant’s motion for certification.

ISSUE:

Does an entry and continued possession under the mistaken belief that the possessor has title to the land in question amount to requisite hostile possession to sustain the acquiring of title per adverse possession?

When does a minor encroachment onto another’s land satisfy the “open and notorious” requirement of adverse possession?

RULE:

Any entry and continued possession of property for the required period of time which is exclusive, continuous, uninterrupted, visible and notorious, even though under a mistaken claim of title, is sufficient to support a claim of title by adverse possession.

A minor encroachment along a boundary line only satisfies the “open and notorious” requirement of adverse possession if the property owner has actual knowledge of it.

ANALYSIS:

Judge Haneman held that the defendant did not acquire title to the land by adverse possession because the encroachment of the steps was relatively minor and, accordingly, did not satisfy the ‘open and notorious’ requirement of adverse possession. Furthermore, per Folkman v. Myers, adverse possession can not be founded on a mistaken belief that the possessor has title. Haneman proceeded to lay out the Maine doctrine (per Preble v. Maine), which dictates that hostile intent is a required element of adverse possession. In other words, a person lacking knowledge of the boundary line may only claim title by adverse possession if he/she clearly intends to possess the land regardless of title. Jude Haneman then proceeds to follow the precedent of French v. Pearcei, in which the Connecticut doctrine, is described. This doctrine holds that adverse possession may be satisfied by merely entry and possession of the land. However, the court rules that the possession must be “open and notorious” in nature to give notice to the property owner and, therefore, meet the requirements of adverse possession. The defendant’s minor encroachment here would not be reasonably noticed by the plaintiff unless they conducted a land survey.

CONCLUSION:

The court ruled that the case should be remanded for trial in accordance with the foregoing, i.e. contemplation of further discovery and a new pretrial. After which, the parties involved settled the case and the defendant, Mrs. Gorski paid the plaintiff, Mannillo, a sum of $250 in exchange for the land covered by the aforementioned encroachment.

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