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An Adverse Possession Decision With A Twist

An otherwise-normal adverse possession case took an interesting turn when, in a recent decision, the Land Court judge declined to quiet title to the plaintiff’s property after denying the defendants’ counterclaim for adverse possession.

In Borawski v. Gralinski (Land Ct. July 18, 2018), Judge Cutler heard plaintiff Robert A. Borawski’s request to quiet title to his property in the face of adverse possession assertions made by defendants Edward J. Gralinski, Jr. and Diane Gralinski. The adverse possession claims were typical – the defendants claimed adverse possession through acts of farming on the subject parcel.  The judge found that a multi-year interruption in the farming activities prevented the defendants from gaining title by adverse possession.

The unusual portion of the decision came when the judge declined to grant plaintiff’s request to quiet title to the parcel in his name.  Pointing to deficiencies in the plaintiff’s demonstrating his title to the parcel in question, specifically: a different town name in the plaintiff’s deed, lack of evidence as to plaintiff’s chain of title other than the one deed submitted, and a lack of expert testimony confirming that the parcel in the submitted deed was in fact the subject parcel, the judge declined to quiet title in plaintiff’s name. That the defendants had stipulated to plaintiff’s record title was legally insufficient where the Court assesses the merits of the quiet title action separately from the adverse possession action.

While judgment entered that defendants had not acquired title to the parcel by adverse possession, the judgment likely will not put the plaintiff’s mind entirely at ease.  The judge’s concerns regarding the plaintiff’s deed raises questions as to who has record title to the parcel.  It is possible that further title examination would demonstrate that the plaintiff did in fact have record title to the parcel in question, but the judgment in this matter is far from ideal.  It serves as a reminder that those who bring quiet title actions bear the burden of proof in demonstrating that they have good title to their property and cannot simply rest on a declaration that the named defendants have failed to prove any interest in the property. It also demonstrates that the Court will not simply rubber-stamp a quiet title action in these circumstances.