Crites v. Koch, 49 Wn.App 171, 741 P.2d 1005 (Div. III, 1987.08.06) – [Cause No. 7898-1-III] upholds the Whitman County Trial Court’s decision to quiet title by adverse possession to plaintiff Crites to land south of an access road, but reversed the trial court’s decision to also award a Crites a prescriptive easement to land north of this access road in favor of title holder defendants Kile [and ostensibly defendants Koch as well though the opinion never refers to them].
- Land Type: Agricultural
- Water Feature: Not Specified
- Taxes Paid by AP: Not Specified, Unlikely
Chain of Title:
- TH – Defendant Kile: 1930s Johnson Family –> Kile Family [and Koch Family(?)] in 1984.
- AP – Plaintiff Crites: Pre-1970s county road widening –> time of suit.
Disputed Property Generally:
Black Acre” [is] a parcel of land encompassing approximately 7/100 of an acre. … Black Acre forms the southeast corner of a quarter section owned since the early 1930s by [TH defendant predecessor] the Johnson family. Don Crites owns and farms the quarter section immediately to the south of the Johnson property. Members of the Kile family farm the quarter section immediately to the east of Crites’ property. Consequently the Kile property abuts on Black Acre at the southeast corner. (p. 172).
Disputed Property Specifically:
Black Acre is separated from the rest of the [TH Defendant predecessor] Johnson property by County Road no. 3000. originally constructed in the 1930s. Sometime during the 1970s, the county raised, widened, and blacktopped the road. Robert Johnson sold land on both sides of the road to the county for this purpose. At the same time, the county constructed an “approach” off the road, raising the adjoining edge of Black Acre to facilitate vehicle access to and from the property.  A vehicle access path now bisects the property. (P. 172 -73).
[Justice Smiles’ Comment: It is unfortunate that the opinion fails to specify what direction this bisection formed by the vehicle access path runs. However, it is assumed to be east-west thereby creating a northern portion of land for which a prescriptive easement was claimed and a southern portion for which adverse possession was claimed.]
The [title holder appellants] used Black Acre as [A] shortcut to reach nerby fields and as a place to [B] park equipment occasionally but never farmed the property. Crites apparently farmed the entire parcel until the county road was widened in the 1970s. After the access was constructed, Crites continued to  farm the southern part of Black Acre, approximately to the point where the vehicle path crossed the property. (p. 173).
When plowing, Crites would [Z] “trip the plow,” i.e., raise it, so as not to leave a ditch that would interfere with the use of Black Acre as a shortcut to neighboring fields. Crites, who planted and harvested the parcel in the same manner as his own property, never discussed his use with the Johnsons. According to Crites, the [TH – Defendant] appellants’ use of Black Acre never conflicted with his farming; similarly, appellants acknowledged that Crites’ farming had never restricted their use of Black Acre. All of the witnesses agreed that it was customary for farmers to cross their neighbors’ land, with or without permission, as long as such use did not adversely affect the crops.”
Sufficiency of Adverse Possession Claim:
Whether there are sufficient facts to uphold Plaintiff Crites prescriptive rights to land south of the access road for which the trial court recognized he had gained ownership by adverse possession.
Triffling Encroachments” by TH Doesn’t Nullify AP’s Exclusive Use – Triffling encroachment s by an owner on land held adversely does not render the claimant’s use nonexclusive. See 3 Am.Jur.2d, .. at 175; cf. Danner v. Bartel, 21 Wash.App. 213, 584 P.2d 463 (1978)(title owner’s exercise of nonpossessory right of entry by maintaining drainage ditch not inconsistent with findings that adverse possessor had “exclusive” possession), … (p. 175).
The appellants testified that they refraind from parking on or driving across the southern part when it was seeded. It was undisputed that Crites’ farming never interfered with the appelants’ use of Black Acre. As noted by the trial judge in his oral opinion, the appelants’ use of the southern part of Black Acre was “very, very slight.”
Crites’ use of the southern part of Black Acre thus differed fundamentally in scope and substance from the use made by the appellants. Consequently, appellants’ slight and occasional use of the southern part, which occurred in deference to Crites’ intensive use, does not constitute shared occupancy. … Substantial evidence therefore supports the trial court’s finding that Crites’ possession of the southern part of Black Acre was exclusive. (p. 175).
Munson and Gren, JJ., concur.
Justice Smiles’ Thoughts:
Adverse Possession Element Rankings:
- Actual Notice: High (5)
- Constructive Notice: Low (1)
- Hostile: Above Average (4)
- Exclusive: Above Average (4)
- Continuous: High (5)
- 10 Year Stat Period: Met (5)
- Overall THAP Sufficiency: AP (4)
This is another good example in which use on the ground is more important than what the record of title says in a book somewhere.
This also clearly shows the idea the inter-workings of hostility operating as a superior right and as such if the land is normally used by the owner in this way while still allowing neighborly accommodations, the flip side of hostility – exclusivity – is not sufficient to overturn an adverse possessor’s superior use.
[Note: With minimal touches, this is a republication of an original blog post of 2014.07.28]