Iowa Court Finds Boundary by Acquiescence But Denies Damages
On April 15, 2020, the Iowa Court of Appeals issued a ruling finding a boundary by acquiescence and denying damages for a trespass claim. Because previous adjoining landowners treated a cement seam as the boundary line for more than ten years, they created a new boundary through the doctrine of boundary by acquiescence. Although determining that a new boundary was created, the court ruled that the prevailing landowner presented insufficient evidence of trespass damages.
The defendant purchased her property in 2012. In 2015, the plaintiff moved in next door to the defendant. The next year, the plaintiff paid for a survey which revealed the defendant had landscaped part of his property. The plaintiff paid a contractor to remove trees and plants which the survey revealed to be on his land. He then filed a lawsuit against the defendant for ejectment of additional landscaping and inanimate objects on the property in dispute. The defendant asserted counterclaims of boundary by acquiescence and adverse possession. She also sought damages for trespass and destruction of property.
At trial, the district court found that the defendant established a boundary by acquiescence or, in the alternative, adverse possession. The trial court declined to award any damages for trespass or destruction of property and denied the plaintiff’s ejectment claim. The lower court quieted title in the strip of land to the defendant. Both parties appealed.
Boundary by Acquiescence
Boundary by acquiescence occurs when two adjoining landowners mutually recognize a dividing property line for at least ten years. The dividing line must be clearly marked in some way and both parties must be aware of the boundary line. Acceptance can be inferred from the failure of a landowner to dispute the boundary line for the ten year period.
The plaintiff claimed there was no clear boundary line because the area was wooded and not maintained. However, the trial court found that the defendant’s predecessor clearly established boundary by acquiescence. The predecessor had maintained the western portion of the property up to a cement seam by mowing, landscaping, and generally caring for the area for much longer than ten years. When the defendant purchased the property, she spoke to the plaintiff’s predecessor who also identified the cement seam as the boundary line. The defendant continued to maintain this area when she purchased it. The Court of Appeals reviewed the evidence and agreed that it satisfied the requirements for boundary by acquiescence.
Trespass and Damages
The defendant appealed the denial of her claim for trespass damages, claiming that the plaintiff had “destroyed her landscaping, reseeded the area, and committed unspeakable acts.” She sought damages to restore the land to the condition it was before the landscaping was destroyed and the area regraded. At trial, the defendant testified she was particularly concerned with water damage and flooding because her property is downhill from the plaintiff’s.
The district court found that the defendant did not prove that the plaintiff was liable for the water damage, nor did she present evidence on the cost to replace trees and plants the neighbor removed. Because of this, the Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling denying an award of damages.
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