Iowa Court Says Fence Used to Contain Livestock, not as a Boundary Marker

September 1, 2022 | Kitt Tovar Jensen

On August 3, 2022, the Iowa Court of Appeals settled a boundary dispute between two neighboring family members. Because neither party established their allegations of boundary by acquiescence or easement by prescription, the court affirmed the denial of their claims.


The plaintiff and defendant in this case are first cousins. In 1972, the defendant purchased approximately twenty acres of land from the parties’ grandfather. That same year, the plaintiff, who farmed with their grandfather, replaced the fence on the southern edge of defendant’s property. The defendant allowed her grandfather to farm this land even after she purchased the property. The plaintiff obtained the parcel of land south of the defendant in 1980.

In 2019, the defendant attempted to enroll a portion of her land into CRP, but learned that her cousin had already done so. The defendant conducted a survey and learned that the fence was anywhere from 429 to 211 feet north of the southern boundary of the defendant’s property. The land between the fence and the defendant’s boundary line comprised approximately 7.9 acres. After the survey, the defendant constructed a fence on the legal boundary line. In response, the plaintiff brought this lawsuit alleging trespass and boundary by acquiescence.

The defendant denied the allegations and brought her own counterclaim for easement by prescription. In 1992, the defendant had purchased an additional 80 acres of land west of the two cousin’s properties. The deed contained an easement for ingress and egress to the public road on the east side of their properties. However, the plaintiff was not a signatory to the deed. To access the field on the western property, the defendant used a path on the plaintiff’s property until he fenced it off in 2016.

The case proceeded to trial. The district court rejected both parties’ claims. Both cousins appealed.

Boundary by Acquiescence

On appeal, the Court of Appeals first considered whether the district court erred in rejecting the plaintiff’s boundary by acquiescence claim. Boundary by acquiescence is “the mutual recognition by two adjoining landowners for ten years or more that a line, definitely marked by fence or in some manner, is the dividing line between them.” Ollinger v. Bennett, 562 N.W.2d 167, 170 (Iowa 1997).

The court held that the fence did not definitively mark the boundary line. The fence only ran along a portion of the property with both edges turning north towards the defendant’s property. Although an irregular shaped fence can be used as a boundary line, the shape of this fence supported the defendant’s argument that its purpose was to contain the defendant’s horses.

Additionally, there was no evidence that the defendant had notice that the plaintiff believed that the fence was the boundary line. The court acknowledged that the plaintiff had both farmed the disputed land and rented it out to farm tenants. However, this was a practice unique to the family as the defendant had permitted her grandfather to do the same. The court concluded that the defendant believed she owned the property as she used the disputed land to ride horses and she had paid the property taxes on the property.

Easement by Prescription

The court then considered whether the defendant established an easement by prescription over the plaintiff’s property. Similar to adverse possession, an easement by prescription is “created when a person uses another’s land under a claim of right or color of title, openly, notoriously, continuously, and hostilely for ten years or more.” Johnson v. Kaster, 637 N.W.2d 174, 178 (Iowa 2001).

The court found that the defendant’s use of path on the plaintiff’s property was not hostile and that she did not claim the easement as a matter of right. To demonstrate hostility, the moving party must show that they claimed exclusive right to the land. Here, the defendant admitted that the plaintiff allowed her to use the land.

Additionally, the court found that the defendant’s claim of right based on need failed. She could access the land by going through her own property and using the deer trails or ATV trails. Because the 80 acres was enrolled in CRP, the court concluded that she did not need to use the plaintiff’s path to move large equipment.