Case Caption: Andrew Simpson et al. v. Golden Resorts, L.L.L.P.Case Number: S. Ct. Civ. No. 2011-0069Date: 04/13/2012Author: Hodge, Rhys S. Citation: Summary:

In a declaratory judgment action seeking confirmation of the plaintiff's title to certain disputed property and a declaration that the defendants did not obtain title by adverse possession, the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to the plaintiff and entering an injunction based on that ruling. In review the intertwined issues pursuant to 4 V.I.C. § 33(b)(1), the plaintiff did not meet the burden on summary judgment of establishing the absence of any genuine issues of material fact with respect to the elements of an adverse possession claim. The Superior Court erred as a matter of law in requiring the construction of buildings or other improvements to establish the actual possession element of adverse possession with respect to agricultural lands whose primary purpose is cattle grazing, and erred when it held that appellants failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact with respect to actual, physical and hostile possession. The record contained sufficient evidence of the defendants' open and notorious possession of the property, through affidavits, photographs, newspaper articles, and tourist maps describing or depicting the area. Evidence and affidavits in the record also raise an issue of fact on the issue of continuous and exclusive possession of the disputed property by the defendants for at least 15 years. While there is some evidence that plaintiff or the prior owner may have at times simultaneously occupied the land, at the summary judgment stage all evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the appellants as the non-moving parties. The finder of fact could find plaintiff's witnesses on this issue not credible, and could infer that the control they exercised-if any-was minimal or only sporadic. Although appellants bear the burden of producing evidence of continuous and exclusive possession, plaintiff as the record owner has the burden of proving some intervening act that interrupted the 15-year period. At the summary judgment stage, plaintiff's proof including rezoning activities, surveyors entering the property, and removal of horses from the land, was not sufficient conclusively to rebut the affidavits and other record evidence filed by defendants on this issue . Therefore, the Superior Court erred when it held, at the summary judgment stage, that the defendants failed to establish continuous and exclusive use of the property. Under 28 V.I.C. § 11 and other statutes no limit is placed on the size of a parcel that can be adversely possessed, nor is adverse possession restricted only to land used for residential or agricultural purposes. The Superior Court's "balancing of the equities" conclusion, that defendants' would be unjustly enriched if adverse possession were found, was beyond its authority given the policy judgments of the Legislature in codifying the governing elements of adverse possession. Accordingly, the grant of partial summary judgment in this case is reversed, and-because the summary judgment represented the sole reason for its issuance-the injunction is also reversed.

Attachment: Open Document or Opinion