Iowa Court Finds Prescriptive Easement for Dock and Shoreline
On June 5, 2019, the Iowa Court of Appeals issued a ruling concerning a disagreement over property rights between two neighboring landowners. The court found little evidence to support a finding to grant the land in question in fee simple ownership to the defendants, but affirmed the lower court’s grant of a prescriptive easement to them.
In 1962, a landowner built a lake on their property. Their neighbors, the plaintiffs, granted a perpetual easement for water from the lake to over flow onto their land. Eventually, the defendants purchased the land from the landowners. At some point, the defendants refused to allow the plaintiffs to use any portion of the man-made lake. The plaintiffs brought this lawsuit in 2013. The district court ruled that both parties had the right to use the entire lake and that the boundary line between the two properties was a fence on the north side of the lake. The parties appealed the ruling and the Court of Appeals heard the case in 2017.
At that time, the court affirmed the ruling finding the plaintiffs had a prescriptive easement to use the entire lake but rejected the defendant’s claim of boundary by acquiescence for their portion of the lake. The court then remanded the case for the lower court to decide how the shoreline and dock on the plaintiff’s property should be treated. The district court ruled that the defendants had established an easement by prescription for the shoreline and the dock, but not a fee simple interest. The defendants appealed.
Adverse Possession and Boundary by Acquiescence Claims
The defendants argued on appeal that the shoreline and dock should have been awarded to them in fee simple under the doctrine of adverse possession or boundary by acquiescence.
To establish ownership by adverse possession, the proponent must show open, exclusive, continuous, actual and hostile possession in good faith for at least 10 years. While adverse possession grants ownership of land, an easement by prescription grants the right to the use of the land. Although the defendants used and maintained the shoreline and dock for over 30 years, the plaintiffs testified they also used the shoreline for years without permission from the defendants. Therefore, the court ruled that adverse possession would not be appropriate because the element of exclusivity was not met.
To establish boundary by acquiescence, the proponent must show the boundary has been accepted as the partition line for at least 10 years. In this case, the defendants claimed the fence on one side of the lake extended through the southern portion at one time. However, the court found there was not enough evidence to establish that the plaintiffs knew of the existence of a mowed path or recognized it as the boundary line for a period of 10 years. Therefore, the court found that there was no boundary by acquiescence.
Dock Dimensions and Shoreline
The plaintiffs brought another claim asking the court to amend the boundaries of the shoreline and dock. They requested the size of the parcel be reduced to minimize interference with their use of the lake. The court held that because the dock should not impede the plaintiffs’ use of the lake, twenty feet of shoreline was enough to allow access from the defendants’ property to the dock.
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