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Northwoods Development Corp. v. Klement

Supreme Court of Wisconsin
Jun 30, 1964
24 Wis. 2d 387 (Wis. 1964)


holding that the pasturing of cattle in an area enclosed by fencing can constitute "exclusive, open, and visible" possession

Summary of this case from Day v. Hanson


June 2, 1964 —

June 30, 1964.

APPEAL from a judgment of the circuit court for Langlade Circuit Judge. Affirmed.

For the appellants there was a brief by Avery Avery of Antigo, and Schmitt, Wurster, Tinglum Nolan of Merrill, and oral argument by J. Michael Nolan.

For the respondent there was a brief by Winter Winter of Antigo, and oral argument by Gustav Winter.

Action by plaintiff Northwoods Development Corporation against defendants George Klement and Leo Barth and their wives to quiet title to a parcel of land in Langlade county. Record title to this parcel is in defendants Klement but plaintiff claims title through adverse possession. Defendants Barth are judgment creditors of defendants Klement.

The west boundary of government lots 1 and 2, section 15 north, range 12 east, is Mueller lake. Lot 2 lies to the north of lot 1 and the south boundary of lot 2 is the north boundary of lot 1. This common boundary is approximately one-half mile in length. In 1907 or 1908, Herbst, who was the then owner of lot 1, built a fence extending from the northeast corner of lot 1 to the lake. It followed the true boundary line quite closely for about 30 rods and then where the terrain became rough, veered to the southwest and proceeded to the lakeshore. By veering to the southwest instead of following the boundary line the fence avoided going over the top of a small hill. This also saved 400 feet in distance because the shoreline to the south runs in a southeasterly direction. Trees as well as posts were used to hold the fence wires. The disputed area in this action is a wedge-shaped parcel about four or five acres in size, lying between the fence and the north boundary of lot 1.

In 1917 lot 2 was purchased by one John Hartman, who owned it until April 4, 1962, when he conveyed it by warranty deed to plaintiff corporation. In May, 1963, Hartman gave plaintiff a quitclaim deed to the disputed area. In 1944 defendant George Klement acquired record title to a portion of lot 1 bordering on the lake which included the wedge-shaped parcel in dispute. This purchase by Klement was made from successors in title to Herbst. During the forty-five years that Hartman owned lot 2 he operated a dairy farm and in connection therewith pastured cattle on the disputed parcel as part of a fenced-in pasture. No other use was made of the disputed parcel during this time. Necessary repairs to the fence were made by both Herbst and Hartman. In 1945 Klement employed a surveyor who informed Klement where the true boundary line lay between his premises and lot 2. Klement then protested to Hartman that the fence was not built on the true boundary line and that Klement was the owner of the disputed parcel. Klement, however, made no use of the disputed parcel.

Hartman never paid taxes on the disputed area. Klement has paid them since he became record owner of land in lot 1. While Hartman did some logging on his land immediately to the north of the disputed parcel he cut no trees on it. His explanation for this was that the trees on the disputed parcel lacked the quality of those on the land to the north.

The action was tried to the court without a jury. Thereafter, the circuit court filed a memorandum decision, findings of fact, and conclusions of law. Among the findings of fact was the following:

"That from the time said John Hartman obtained his deed to a portion of said Government Lot 2 in 1917, he regarded his property as extending to the fence line and used it as such; that his possession of the premises involved in this action was open, continuous, notorious and exclusive, and that he regarded it, used it and occupied it as his own property by using it as pasture land. That such possession by Hartman continued for a period of more than 20 years after 1917."

The conclusions of law determined that as of the commencement of the action plaintiff was owner in fee simple absolute of the disputed parcel. Judgment was entered October 14, 1963, quieting title to the disputed title in plaintiff. Defendants Klement have appealed.

The following issues are presented by this appeal:

(1) Are the trial court's findings with respect to adverse possession against the great weight and clear preponderance of the evidence?

(2) Did the trial court commit prejudicial error in sustaining objections to questions designed to elicit from Hartman whether he would have intended to claim to the fence line if he had known that the fence line did not represent the true boundary line between his premises and lot 1?

Adverse Possession.

The evidence clearly establishes that the only act of possession was Hartman's pasturing cattle on the disputed parcel. This act of possession was exclusive, open, and visible to all the world including the owners of record title to such parcel. Inasmuch as the disputed parcel was part of a larger pasture utilized by Hartman's cattle, all of which was enclosed by fencing, Hartman's possession was of a character to constitute adverse possession under sub. (1) of sec. 330.09, Stats., if coupled with a claim of title.

Sec. 330.09, Stats., provides:
"For the purpose of constituting an adverse possession by a person claiming title, not founded upon some written instrument or some judgment or decree, land shall be deemed to have been possessed and occupied in the following cases only:
"(1) When it has been protected by a substantial inclosure.
"(2) When it has been usually cultivated or improved."

On the issue of claiming title the decisions of this court have repeatedly stated, "To constitute adverse possession there must be the fact of possession and the hostile intention — the intention to usurp possession." Stone Bank Improvement Co. v. Vollriede (1960), 11 Wis.2d 440, 447, 105 N.W.2d 789; Bank of Eagle v. Pentland (1928), 197 Wis. 40, 42, 221 N.W. 383; Ryan v. Schwartz (1896), 94 Wis. 403, 411, 69 N.W. 178. It should be noted, however, that in each of the three cited cases the context in which the quoted statement appears makes it clear that the court was concerned with permissive user. In other words, if possession was pursuant to permission of the true owner, there could not be the hostile intent necessary to constitute adverse possession.

Appellants concede that the general rule is that, where an owner has exercised exclusive and open possession for twenty years or more up to a fence line under the assumption that the fence marked the true boundary of his premises, he has thereby acquired title by adverse possession to any land intervening between his own premises and the fence. They contend, however, that this rule does not apply in the instant case because it was obvious to Hartman that the fence, in diverging southwesterly to the lake from a true east and west line, could not mark the true boundary line between lots 1 and 2. Assuming that Hartman should have been put on inquiry we find no merit to this contention. In fact, there would seem to be a clearer case for spelling out hostile intent where the possessor knows the fence does not mark the true boundary line than where he does not have such knowledge. On this issue this court, speaking through Mr. Justice MARSHALL, declared in Ovig v. Morrison (1910), 142 Wis. 243, 247, 125 N.W. 449, that:

"Actual occupancy of land to the exclusion of the true owner, regardless of whether in good faith or bad faith, whether by mistake of boundaries or with intent to claim the land with full knowledge that the claim is wrongful, satisfies the calls of the statute."

See also Burkhardt v. Smith (1962), 17 Wis.2d 132, 140, 115 N.W.2d 540; 4 Wisconsin Law Review (1926), 41.

Hartman testified at least twice that he intended to claim to the fence line. In any event, there being no evidence that his use for pasturing purposes was permissive, a presumption arises from the continuance of such exclusive possession for more than twenty years that the possession was hostile and adverse. Ovig v. Morrison, supra, pages 249, 250; Hamachek v. Duvall (1908), 135 Wis. 108, 114, 115 N.W. 634.

Appellants further argue that because Herbst had knowingly constructed the west portion of the fence so as to markedly diverge southwesterly from his true north boundary, the pasturing activities of Hartman on the disputed parcel were not sufficient to apprise Herbst of any adverse or hostile intent on Hartman's part. We find this argument wholly unconvincing. Pasturing cattle regularly in an enclosed pasture by a person conducting a dairy farm would seem to us to be of a nature sufficiently open and notorious to afford the basis for adverse possession. The circumstance that the fence forming one side of the enclosed pasture was constructed by the true owner instead of the adverse possessor would appear to be entirely fortuitous. It is the entire enclosure of the pasture in the instant case which excluded Herbst and his successors in title from possession of the disputed parcel.

The cases from other jurisdictions appear to have taken conflicting positions on the question of whether pasturing livestock is a sufficient possession to meet the requirements of adverse possession. Cases which hold that such is sufficient are: Faulks v. Schrider (D.C. Cir. 1940), 114 F.2d 587; McRae v. Ketchum (1939), 138 Fla. 610, 189 So. 853; Berry v. Cohn (1920), 47 Cal.App. 19, 189 P. 1044; and Young v. Newbro (1948), 32 Wn.2d 141, 200 P.2d 975. Contra: Richey v. Miller (1944), 142 Tex. 274, 177 S.W.2d 255 , affirming 173 S.W.2d 490.

Appellants also contend that the trial court should have found no adverse possession on the part of Hartman because of his failure to pay taxes on the disputed parcel. While failure of the adverse claimant to pay taxes is an element to be considered in determining the issue of adverse possession it is not conclusive. Burkhardt v. Smith, supra, page 140; and Hamachek v. Duvall, supra, pages 115, 116.

We have no hesitancy in determining that the trial court's finding of more than twenty years of open, continuous, notorious, and exclusive possession by Hartman of the disputed parcel was not against the great weight and clear preponderance of the evidence. By reason of such finding it necessarily follows that plaintiff has succeeded to Hartman's title to this parcel and was properly granted judgment quieting title thereto.

Rulings on Evidence.

As previously mentioned, Hartman testified that he intended to claim the land to the fence. During cross-examination, appellants' counsel put several questions to Hartman seeking to elicit from him whether he would then have intended to claim only to the true line had he known the fence was south of the true boundary of his premises. The trial court sustained objections to these questions, which appellants contend constituted prejudicial error. They argue that, if Hartman had only intended to claim title to the true boundary line, his possession of the disputed parcel would not have been coupled with the hostile intent necessary to make such possession adverse.

This court in Bettack v. Conachen (1940), 235 Wis. 559, 564, 565, 294 N.W. 57, held that where the intention is not to claim to the visible boundary, such as a fence, unless it is the true line, the possession is not adverse. In support of this holding a number of earlier cases were cited together with the note, "Possession with intention to claim to true line only not adverse," 97 A.L.R. 21. This seems to be the rule in most jurisdictions. 5 Thompson, Real Property (1957 Replacement), p. 547, sec. 2548. In 4 Tiffany, Real Property (3d ed.), p. 475, sec. 1159, this rule is severely attacked wherein the author comments:

"In no case except in that of a mistake as to boundary has the element of mistake been regarded as having any significance, and there is no reason for attributing greater weight thereto when the mistake is as to the proper location of a boundary than when it is a mistake as to the title to all the land wrongfully possessed. And to introduce the element of mistake, and then limit its significance by an inquiry as to the intention which the possessor may have as to his course of action in case there should be a mistake, an intention which has ordinarily no existence whatsoever, is calculated only to cause confusion without, it is conceived, any compensating advantage." (Emphasis supplied.)

To us the above quotation from Tiffany makes good sense. So long as an adverse claimant in the position of Hartman actually intended to claim title to the fence it seems wholly immaterial to ascertain what his intention in that respect might have been if he had known some additional fact. The rule of Bettack v. Conachen, supra, should be limited to situations where the adverse claimant testifies that he only intended to claim to the fence or other visible boundary, if it constituted the true boundary line. Hartman testified to no such qualified intention. Therefore, the trial court properly sustained objections to questions which sought to ascertain a conjectural intent that he did not entertain at the time he exercised possession to the fence.

By the Court. — Judgment affirmed.

Summaries of

Northwoods Development Corp. v. Klement

Supreme Court of Wisconsin
Jun 30, 1964
24 Wis. 2d 387 (Wis. 1964)

holding that the pasturing of cattle in an area enclosed by fencing can constitute "exclusive, open, and visible" possession

Summary of this case from Day v. Hanson

affirming adverse possession finding where plaintiff pastured cattle in fenced area in connection with a dairy farm operation for forty-five years

Summary of this case from Kees v. N. States Power Co.

recognizing that if possession is pursuant to permission of the true owner, there is not hostile intent necessary to constitute adverse possession

Summary of this case from Rubenzer v. Mensch

recognizing that if possession is pursuant to permission of the true owner, there is not hostile intent necessary to constitute adverse possession

Summary of this case from Rubenzer v. Mensch, LLC

stating possession pursuant to the true owner’s permission does not demonstrate the "hostile intent necessary to constitute adverse possession"

Summary of this case from Fabry v. Jagiello

pasturing cattle regularly in an enclosed dairy pasture is sufficient open and notorious use for adverse possession

Summary of this case from Weis v. Kozak
Case details for

Northwoods Development Corp. v. Klement

Case Details


Court:Supreme Court of Wisconsin

Date published: Jun 30, 1964


24 Wis. 2d 387 (Wis. 1964)
129 N.W.2d 121

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