Knauff v. Hovermale (IN)

Summary: Occasional use by others can defeat the element of "control" in adverse possession claims, especially if there are no attempts to exclude persons from the land or stop the use.


Knauff v. Hovermale, 976 N.E.2d 1267 (Ind.App. 2012).


Facts: The disputed area in this case is a 2.33 acre tract of land. The plaintiffs, the Knauffs, purchased their property in 1983, and since then have used the available portions of the disputed area for farming. The defendants, the Hovermales, purchased an 11.171 acre tract of land, which included the disputed area, in 1987 from the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation. In 2010, the Hovermales erected a fence along the western border of their purchase, which is also the western border of the disputed area. Subsequently, the Knauffs obtained a survey and learned that they did not own the land. The Knauffs then filed a complaint seeking a declaratory judgment to quiet title and seeking damages for trespass. The trial court denied the Knauffs’ claims and quieted title in the disputed area in favor of the Hovermales.The Knauffs then filed a timely appeal arguing that the trial court erred when it concluded that they had not proven the elements of adverse possession of the disputed area.


Holding: Affirmed. In Indiana, adverse possession is proven by clear and convincing evidence the elements of control, intent, notice, and duration. The key issue that the court based its ruling on was control which the court defined as the “exercise of a degree of use and control over the parcel that is normal and customary considering the characteristics of the land (reflecting the former elements of ‘actual,’ and in some ways ‘exclusive,’ possession).” The trial court ruled that, based on the repeated use of the disputed area by others for hunting game and mushroom harvesting, the Knauffs failed to show control of the disputed area necessary to establish adverse possession. This ruling was based on the lack of testimony by Knauff that he had tried to exclude or chase off any of the “trespassers” from the property. The appellate court determined that although, given the circumstances of this case, they might not have considered the occasional use of the area by others to be inconsistent with establishing the control element of adverse possession, the trial court’s conclusion on the point was not clearly erroneous, and therefore not reversible.


Opinion Year: 
By: ATG Underwriting Department | Posted on: Fri, 02/08/2013 - 4:27pm