Case Note: Chaplin v. Sanders

In a recent decision the Washington Supreme Court has purported to overrule the long-standing but highly-criticized requirement of “subjective intent” in adverse possession cases. This holding ostensibly resolves many years of judicial confusion and conceptual unrest regarding the state of mind required to constitute a possession of land hostile as to the true owner and under a claim of right. In a typical mistaken boundary dispute, Kent and Barbara Chaplin sought to quiet their title to a strip of property running the length of the western boundary of a tract of land they owned. The owners of the adjacent parcel to the west, Peter and Patricia Sanders, also claimed an interest in this strip of land, including a roadway running the length of it, pleading that they had acquired title by adverse possession. The original property line dividing the two parcels was somewhat west of the road and diagonal to it. A predecessor in interest to the Sanders had built the road in connection with a mobile home park in existence on the western parcel, but had encroached upon the Chaplins’ eastern parcel when he cleared land up to a drainage ditch which bisected the two tracts and which was mistakenly assumed to be the dividing line. A subsequent survey revealed that the roadway and the strip of lawn to the east of it up to the ditch was up to 30 feet onto the Chaplins’ property. This fact was so noted in a conveyance between two of the Sanders’ predecessors in interest. The trial court disregarded the Sanders’ actual notice of the conveyance provision’ and ruled that they had met the requirements of adverse possession as to the roadway. As to the strip between the road and the ditch, however, the court found that their possession had not been open and notorious. The appellate court reversed the trial court, finding that the Sanderss notice of the conveyance provision defeated their claim to any part of the Chaplin property.

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Philip Thompson, Jr., Case Note: Chaplin v. Sanders, 19 Gonz. L. Rev. 777 (1984).

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