Robert F. Jennings and Barbara S. Jennings, his wife,
Delaware & Hudson Canal Company,
its successors and assigns, and all persons claiming any right, title
or interest in the subject premises
Docket No. 468-2010-CV
Attorney for Plaintiffs: Ronald M. Bugaj, Esq.
Attorneys for Intervenors Harold and Sheila Sullum: Errol C. Flynn, Esq.
Decided by: Raymond L. Hamill, P.J.
Summary of the Case
In May 2011, the Court issued an Opinion and Order that Plaintiffs in this Quiet Title Action did not meet their burden in proving ownership of a 40 by 60 foot vacant lot in the Borough of Honesdale by adverse possession because their use lacked exclusivity. At that time, the Court also provided Defendants with a prescriptive easement over the vacant lot. Plaintiffs are the owners of a jewelry and photography store on Main Street and Defendants were the owners of a retail clothing store across from the vacant lot between the two parties= businesses.
As a result of the Court=s determination, Plaintiffs filed post-trial motions to which Defendants filed an Answer containing a counter-motion for post-trial relief. Plaintiffs= motion was granted following argument, and the Court provided for a new trial on the issue of proving Plaintiffs= claim for fee simple title to the vacant lot by adverse possession.
The trial was held on February 6, 2012, following which the Court issued Findings of Fact. Relevant to this summary, the Court determined that neither party ever objected to the vacant lot being used for employee parking. In addition, both parties contributed to the cost of snow removal during the winter months, and Defendants contributed to the cost of blacktopping back in 1989. The Borough never maintained nor provided any service to the vacant lot, and there are no recorded documents granting either party any ownership rights to the vacant lot. Finally, there was no objection to the use of the lot until Plaintiffs became aware that Defendant was leasing parts of the lot to third parties for parking. Following the objection, Plaintiffs also objected to Defendants= request for an easement for parking measuring twelve feet in width and their request to replace a staircase to the basement of Defendants= building within the 12 feet. Finally, Plaintiffs also objected to Defendants= request for an easement for ingress and egress from the end of their building 25 feet into the vacant lot.
The Court determined that the evidence presented by Plaintiffs once again failed to substantiate their claims for adverse possession, based on a failure to prove distinct and exclusive ownership. The elements necessary to prove adverse possession were set forth in the case of Recreation Land Corp. v. Hartzfeld, 947 A.2d 771, 774 (Pa.Super. 2008) as follows: AOne who claims title by adverse possession must prove actual, continuous, exclusive, visible, notorious, distinct and hostile possession of the land for twenty-one years. Each of these elements must exist; otherwise, the possession will not confer title.@ In making the determination, the Court relied on Lyons v. Andrews, 313 A.2d 313, 315-16 (Pa.Super. 1973): AThus the claimant=s possession need not be absolutely exclusive; it need only be a type of possession which would characterize an owner=s use.@
The Court opined that Plaintiffs failed to prove any indicia of exclusivity, such as fences, chains or posting of the vacant lot. In addition, several witnesses presented by Plaintiffs actually bolstered the conclusion that Plaintiffs= use was not exclusive. For example, William Corcoran testified that as Honesdale Borough=s Director of Public Works, he once utilized the vacant lot but did not believe it necessary to ask permission of Plaintiffs prior to such use. In addition, Martin Brandt testified that he used the vacant lot to receive furniture deliveries, but never asked for permission prior to such use. As a result, the Court concluded Plaintiffs were not entitled to title to the vacant lot by adverse possession.
The Court next considered Defendants= request for a prescriptive easement to use the vacant lot. A prescriptive easement is created by adverse, open, notorious, continuous and uninterrupted use for a period of twenty-one years. Hash v. Sofinowski, 487 A.2d 32 (Pa.Super. 1985). While adverse possession requires exclusivity, an easement by prescription does not. Dunlap v. Larkin, 493 A.2d 750 (Pa.Super. 1985). The Court determined that both Plaintiffs= and Defendants= use of the vacant lot was consistent with an easement like use, as both parties used the lot for deliveries, trash removal, parking and access. Further, the Court determined that since Plaintiffs failed in their claim for adverse possession, Defendants= request for a 25 foot easement must also fail because there was no testimony to define the dimensions of the predominant use.
Therefore, the Court concluded that both Plaintiffs and Defendants were entitled to a prescriptive easement over the entire 40 by 60 foot vacant lot which would attach and run with the land.