Easement Abandoned – Adverse Possession Statute Applied

May 27, 2010 | Erin Herbold


This case involves an old railroad right-of-way. In 1991, the plaintiffs purchased a tract of land adjoining the right-of-way. In a separate transaction, they purchased the portion of the right-of-way that abutted their property, along with an easement for ingress and egress across a portion of the right-of-way to the southwest of their property. In 1996, the defendants purchased the property southwest of the plaintiff’s property. When the defendants purchased the property, they saw no evidence of use of their property for ingress and egress. In fact, the property was in poor condition and, over the next 20 years, the defendants spent several thousand dollars improving the property and expanding the existing trailer park. In 2007, the plaintiffs filed a petition asking the court to declare that the defendant’s land was subject to an easement for ingress and egress. The defendants answered, claiming that the plaintiffs had not used the easement for over ten years- thus, they claimed that the easement was extinguished under the doctrine of adverse possession. 

The trial court denied the plaintiff’s petition, because they sold the property prior to trial and had no further rights to the property. They did, however, address the adverse possession issue.  In Iowa, “the elements of title by adverse possession are open, notorious, continuous, actual, and hostile possession under a claim of right or color of title for at least ten years.” The evidence showed that the claimed easement was never used for ingress and egress purposes by the plaintiffs. The defendants were able to establish all of the elements of adverse possession and the trial court found that the plaintiffs had forfeited their easement rights. The plaintiffs appealed. 

The Iowa Court of Appeals examined the evidence and found that plaintiffs did sell the original parcel of land in 2007, but still retained the portion of the right-of-way and the easement that was assigned with it. Further, the plaintiffs argued, on appeal, that the defendants failed to establish their claim of adverse possession. However, the appellate court sided with the trial court and found that the defendants proved the elements of adverse possession by a preponderance of the evidence and the plaintiffs claims were “without merit.” Streigle v. Sigourney Builders, Inc., No. 9-631/08-1423, 2010 Iowa App. LEXIS 415 (Iowa Ct. App. May 12, 2010)