ITT Rayonier, Inc. v. Bell was the first Washington Supreme Court review of an adverse possession case after Chaplin v. Sanders. [1] In ITT Rayonier the Supreme Court told the Division II appellate court that they really didn’t “phone in” the Chaplin opinion; its a holding for which … they care. [2]

You see the appellate court on discretionary review of a partial summary judgment ruling decided that there were three (3) reasons why houseboat owner Arthur Bell failed in his mission to take an isolated portion of land away from timber company ITT Rayonier.

The Division II Court of Appeals could have decided that it only needed to determine that Bell’s claim did not have sufficient supporting indicia to recognize adverse possession. [3]

Also and and or (AKA – “and/or”), the Division II Court of Appeals could have confirmed that Bell had not been exclusive in his use because there were other houseboat owners other than himself who also used the land and he admitted in deposition that he wouldn’t have attempted to exclude others who may have attempted to use the land if those others had presented themselves.

But instead of leaving good enough alone perhaps not only because of confusion but also because Bell was a douche, the Division II appellate court decided to put out a secondary rationale which flew in the face of Chaplin. Sure enough, Bell decided to take the bait and so he went hat in hand head on platter to the Washington Supreme Court requesting and receiving review. [4]

Here is the argument straight from the lower appellate court:

Even if we were to hold that there was a fact issue on the element of exclusivity, we would be inclined to affirm the trial court. … As we have observed above, another element of adverse possession is that the party seeking to acquire title to land by adverse possession must possess the land under a good faith claim of right. … We are not unmindful of the fairly recent case of Chaplin v. Sanders … where our Supreme Court overruled a long line of Washington cases and indicated that “[t]he ‘hostility/claim of right’ element of adverse possession requires only that the claimant treat the land as his own against the world throughout the statutory period”, and that the claimant’s “subjective belief regarding his true interest in the land and his intent to dispossess or not dispossess another is irrelevant to this determination.” … However, we observe also that the Chaplin court did not indicate that the good faith of the possessor is a question that can only be answered by making a judgment about the actor’s subjective belief. Although a person’s objective acts may shed light on the person’s state of mind, good faith is essentially a state of mind. In a case where a possessor of land concedes that he had no interest in the land and no claim of right, it defies logic to ignore his pronouncement about his subjective beliefs. [5]

Well, a year a month and three days later the Washington Supreme Court took down both Arty Bell and the Division II Court of Appeals.

It reminded that court that the Chaplin court “unanimously held that the adverse possessor’s “subjective belief whether the land possessed is or is not his own and his intent to disposes or not disposes another are irrelevant to a finding of hostility.”

The Supreme Court then expressly quoted: “the doctrine of adverse possession was formulated at law to protect both those who knowingly appropriated the land of others, and those who honestly held the property in the belief that it was their own. 3 Am.Jur.2d Adverse Possession § 142 (1986).” [6]

So, how was the case then disposed?

Why certainly choking it based on Bell’s failure to demonstrate exclusive use.

Oh my gosh, give me a break. You mean to tell me that the high court had a chance to strangle this thing based on insufficiency and decided not to?

Of course it did. It need to demonstrate some judicial constraint.

So, to make sure that no hapless goof like Bell wouldn’t fluke his way through, the timber industry went to the legislature to prevent this kind of nonsense from happening again.

Nine years later, anyone who attempts to take away “forestland” would need to make no less than $50,000 worth of improvements. [7]

Heck, for that kind of money Bell might just be able to afford a two seater for his outhouse!

To do your best to assure that you don’t clean your own shorts in an boundary dispute with your neighbor, first take Justice Smiles’ Initial Assessment [HERE].

[1] 112 Wn.2d 754 . 774 P.2d 6 (1989).

[2] See [HERE].

[3] See 51 Wn.App. 124, 752 P.2d 398 (1988) [HERE]. Facts supporting adverse possession in this secluded where the houseboat had been tied to a couple of trees had only been (1) some gardening; (2) two woodsheds – 1 abandoned and one later built; (3) an outhouse; and a (4) partially constructed sauna.

[4] Reminds me of the opening scene from Apocalypse Now when Martin Sheen’s character Capt. Willard says: “I wanted a mission, and for my sins, they gave me one. Brought it up to me like room service. It was a real choice mission, and when it was over, I never wanted another.”

[5] See again 51 Wn.App. 124, 752 P.2d 398 (1988) [HERE].

[6] See Chaplin v. Sanders, 100 Wn.2d 853, 676 P.2d 431 (1984). [HERE]

[7] See RCW 7.28.085 [HERE].