Jackson ‘adverse possession’ ruling overturned

March 30, 2017 GMT

The Wyoming Supreme Court has reversed a lower court decision that gave a Teton County property owner claim to a portion of his neighbor’s land.

The case involves a small portion of property in the Hi Country subdivision, a neighborhood adjacent to Indian Trails subdivision in West Jackson. Property owner Louise Galiher brought her neighbors, Dennis and Vicki Johnson, to court after the Johnsons claimed the northwest corner of her property had become theirs after they had used the piece for years for storage and parking.

“It’s called adverse possession,” Teton County Chief Deputy Attorney Keith Gingery said. “If I am on your land for 10 years and I’m open and notorious about it — I’m not secretly going on your land at night, I’m openly on your land and you know I’m there and I don’t have your permission to be there — after 10 years that’s my land.”

The dispute started in spring 2013, when Galiher received the results of a commissioned survey that showed “junk” on the northwest corner of her property, “covered in part by weeds that were 3 feet high” and “evidence of vehicles parking on her property,” according to the Supreme Court ruling.

Galiher contacted Teton County to have the junk removed, which prompted a three-way conversation between Galiher, Teton County Code Compliance Officer Jennifer Anderson and the Johnsons, who owned the stuff. The Johnsons had been using the corner of the Galiher land for “a number of years” and wished to continue to do so.

“Galiher denied him permission, but granted his request for 48 hours to remove his things,” the ruling read.

A week later Dennis Johnson staked a claim on the property.

Around mid-May the cops were called into the mix, and a few weeks later Galiher brought the case to Teton County District Court. The Johnsons filed a counterclaim and sought to take the property by adverse possession. The district court ruled in favor of the Johnsons, saying the couple had taken adverse possession of the property in 1986 and in 1996 acquired title to it.

The case was sent to the Supreme Court, which essentially found that the Johnsons did not show evidence that they were hostile enough about using the property to claim adverse possession.

“It must be so incompatible with or so in defiance of the rights of the true owner that an ordinarily prudent owner would be on clear notice that his ownership was in jeopardy,” the high court ruling stated, “that the claimant intends to possess the property as his own and that the owner should take some action to protect his title.”

The court suggested that more testimony and evidence should have been reviewed before a ruling, as the court was unclear if the Johnsons had permission to use the land — to claim adverse possession, permission to use the land cannot be granted by the owner — or not.

The justices reversed the judgment and remanded the case back to district court for reconsideration.