No. 0-344 / 99-1494.Court of Appeals of Iowa.
Filed October 13, 2000.
Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Hardin County, Newt Draheim, Judge.
A. L. L., Inc. appeals from adverse judgment in quiet title action. AFFIRMED.
Mona M. Bowden of High, Bowden, Bicknese Stockdale, L.L.P., Iowa Falls, for appellant.
James P. Walters of Walters Johnson, Iowa Falls, for appellees Reilly and Longhenry.
Clark McNeal of Barker, McNeal, Wiese Holt, Iowa Falls, for appellees Meyer, Off, Howell, Robbins, Krause, and Jensen.
Thomas Brighton, Iowa Falls, Caroline Reynolds, Iowa Falls, Douglas L. Wagoner, Iowa Falls, and Calista J. Wagoner, Iowa Falls, pro se, appellees.
No appearance for appellees Palisade, Marion, Everman, and IES.
Heard by Huitink, P.J., and Mahan and Zimmer, JJ.
A. L. L., Inc. appeals from the district court’s judgment dismissing its petition to quiet title to abandoned railroad right of way in A. L. L., Inc. Because the record fails to support A. L. L., Inc.’s adverse possession claim, we affirm the district court’s judgment.
I. Background Facts and Proceedings.
This quiet title action concerns competing ownership claims to the following property:
Commencing at the N.E. corner of Lot 27, Brekkes’ Addition to the City of Iowa Falls, Hardin County, Iowa, thence N. 28 x 26’W 1376.90 feet; thence South 89 x 58’E 50 feet; then South 28 x 26’E 1376.90 feet along the former centerline of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad to a point 50 feet East of the point of beginning; thence westerly to the point of beginning.
The Cedar Rapids, Iowa Falls, Northwestern Railroad Company acquired a right of way easement from the then owners of this property in August 1880. The easement was used as a railroad right of way until its abandonment on June 3, 1980.
In its petition to quiet title A. L. L. stated that it and “its grantors and devisors claim title . . . by quit claim deed executed on August 30, 1988.” A. L. L.’s petition also alleged:
That Petitioner maintains the fact to be that for more than ten (10) years last past, the corporation and its grantors and devisors have been in actual, continuous, visible, notorious, exclusive, hostile and adverse possession of said real property under claim of right and color of title against each and all of the defendants to this action and all persons claiming any interest in or title thereto.
In addition to these allegations, A. L. L. claimed the named defendants either failed to acquire or perfect any statutory reversionary interest as adjacent owners of abandoned railroad right of way.
Of the named defendants, only John Krause, Marjorie Krause, Curtis D. Longhenry, Robert L. Off, Alice A. Off, Darrell Jensen, John Paul Robbins, Donna Marie Robbins, Roger A. Howell, LaDonna Howell, Steven Reilly, and Francis L. Meyer filed an answer to A. L. L.’s petition. Each answering defendant denied A. L. L.’s adverse possession claims and made claim to their individual interests in the disputed parcel. Calista J. Wagoner, Douglas L. Wagoner, Caroline Reynolds, and Thomas Brighton filed letters with the court claiming an interest in the disputed property. The remaining defendants failed to file answers or otherwise respond to A. L. L.’s petition.
After trial on the merits, the court rejected A. L. L.’s adverse possession claim. The relevant portion of the court’s judgment states:
10. Determination: The Court concludes the August 8, 1880, conveyance constituted an easement for right of way, which created a reversion on abandonment that vested the title in its 50 feet in question in adjacent landowners. See Iowa Code section 327.77 and 614.24 (1999).
Petitioner has not satisfied the elements for acquiring title by reason of adverse possession for the following reasons:
Defendants maintained the 50′ since 1992;
Defendants planted trees, played games, and mowed;
Defendants’ use of the 50′ was consistent with ownership;
Defendants were not trespassers;
Petitioner’s maintenance was only token;
Access to area was available to anyone;
Petitioner acknowledges one Defendant’s interest by requesting help to defray legal costs to defend invasive action by DNR.
Petitioner’s possession was not exclusive, open, actual hostile for 10 years; . . .
A. L. L.’s petition to quiet title to the disputed property was accordingly dismissed. A. L. L.’s subsequent 179(b) motion to enlarge or amend the court’s judgment and demand for entry of a default judgment against the nonanswering defendants was denied.
On appeal A. L. L. contends the record supports its adverse possession claim. A. L. L. also argues the district court erroneously found that the defendants, except Howell and Meyer, hold title to the disputed property by statutory reversion and that default judgment should have been entered against the nonanswering defendants.
II. Scope of Review.
Quiet title actions are equity actions. Iowa Code § 649.6. Our review is therefore de novo. Iowa R. App. P. 4. On de novo review we are not bound by the district court’s findings of facts or its legal conclusions. Iowa R. App. P. 14(f)(7).
III. The Merits. A. Statutory Reversion.
Iowa Code section 327G.77 and its predecessor, section 473.2, both provide for the reversion of abandoned railroad right of way to an adjacent landowner. See Byker v. Rice, 360 N.W.2d 572, 575
(Iowa App. 1984). Section 327G.77 applies to reversions based on abandonment after July 1, 1980. Section 473.2 controls reversions based on abandonment before that date. Id. The statutes differ in the elapsed time required to complete a reversion. Id.
As noted earlier, A. L. L. claims the district court erroneously found that some or all of the defendants acquired title to the disputed property by statutory reversion. The defendants who are parties to this appeal disagree, citing the absence of any finding or decree as to the ownership of the disputed property.
Our interpretation of that portion of the district court’s judgment cited earlier is the same as the defendants’. The district court did not make a particularized finding concerning the origins of the named defendants’ interest in the disputed property nor did it quiet title in any of them. Moreover, a contrary conclusion would not advance A. L. L.’s adverse possession claim. A. L. L. must recover on the strength of its own title, not on the weakness of the defendants’ title. Atkin v. Westfall, 246 Iowa 822, 825-26, 69 N.W.2d 523, 525 (Iowa 1955).
B. Adverse Possession.
To establish ownership by adverse possession, A. L. L. must prove hostile, actual, open, exclusive and continuous possession, under claim of right or color of title, for at least ten years Meyers v. Canutt, 242 Iowa 692, 696, 46 N.W.2d 72, 75 (1951). One claiming title by adverse possession must establish all its constituent elements by clear and positive proof; it cannot be shown by mere inference. Carpenter v. Ruperto, 315 N.W.2d 782, 784
(Iowa 1982). There are usually no equities in favor of one who claims property of another by adverse possession, and his acts are to be strictly construed. Lawse v. Glaha, 253 Iowa 1040, 1046, 114 N.W.2d 900, 903 (1962). While title by adverse possession is a legal title in fee simple, the doctrine is to be taken strictly Meyers, 242 Iowa at 696, 46 N.W.2d at 75. The law presumes the possession of land is under the regular title. Lawse, 253 Iowa at 1046, 114 N.W.2d at 903.
Adverse possession does not necessarily require the claimant to live upon the land, or to enclose it with fences, or to stand guard at all times upon its borders to oppose the entry of trespassers or hostile claimants. Clear Lake Amusement Corp. v. Lewis, 236 Iowa 132, 138, 18 N.W.2d 192, 195 (1945). It is enough if the person pleading the statute takes and maintains such possession and exercises such open dominion as ordinarily marks the conduct of owners in general in holding, managing, and caring for property of like nature and condition. Id. At the same time, this possession must equate to ouster of the owner of the land, or it is not sufficient to support adverse possession. See Keller v. Harrison, 151 Iowa 320, 323, 128 N.W. 851, 852 (1910) (providing that adverse possession requires an entry and ouster of the true owner in order to operate as a bar to recovery by the title holder); 3 Am.Jur.2d, Adverse Possession § 76 (1986). “[A] mixed, shared, or scrambled possession is not exclusive and will not ripen into title.” 3 Am.Jur.2d, Adverse Possession § 78 (1986); ee Huebner v. Kuberski, 387 N.W.2d 144, 147 (Iowa App. 1986) (holding that in the absence of color of title, a showing that property was mowed and maintained by both parties adversely to each other was not sufficient to demonstrate adverse possession).
A. L. L.’s adverse possession theory is premised on a quitclaim deed to the disputed property, its possession, and improvements made to the property. A. L. L. also cites evidence indicating that it paid the real estate taxes assessed to the property, removed the railroad tracks, and defended an environmental lawsuit premised on allegations of hazardous conditions on the property. The record, however, also indicates the defendants contributed to the property’s maintenance and used the property for their benefit. The district court’s findings of fact detailing defendants’ possessory claims are abundantly supported in the record, and we adopt them as our own.
We, like the district court, conclude A. L. L. failed to sustain its burden of proof. At best the record shows no more than mixed, shared, or scrambled possession. A. L. L.’s adverse possession claim fails because it did not prove the essential element of exclusive possession.
C. Default Judgment.
We also reject A. L. L.’s argument that it is entitled to default judgment against all defendants who failed to answer or otherwise defend this action. A. L. L. cannot be allowed any greater relief than it appears to be entitled to under the allegations made in its petition and evidence in support thereof Neilan v. Lytle Inv. Co., 223 Iowa 987, 988, 274 N.W. 103, 104
(1937). We have already determined that A. L. L. failed to prove all of the required elements of adverse possession. Default judgment will not be entered where a plaintiff has failed to carry its burden of proof. See Curtis v. Smith, 42 Iowa 665, 673 (1876) (finding that even though codefendants default, “if the proof made shows a want of equity in complainant’s case, he must fail in his action”).
We affirm the district court judgment in its entirety.