Mannillo v. Gorski – Case Brief
Mannillo v. Gorski, 54 N.J. 378, 255 A.2d 258 (1969).
Facts: Gorski (D) and her husband entered into possession of a lot under a purchase agreement in 1946 and obtained title to the real estate in 1952. Mannillo acquired an adjacent lot in 1953. Gorski made improvements in 1953 including a concrete walkway extending to the front and rear of the property which encroached upon Mannillo’s lot by 15 inches. Gorski had built the walkway with the mistaken belief that the property belonged to her.
Mannillo sued Gorski in trespass and Gorski counterclaimed for adverse possession. Gorski asserted that she had acquired the land through adverse possession beginning in 1946 and continuing for more than twenty years. Mannillo contended that Gorski could not acquire the land through adverse possession because she possessed the land through a mistaken belief of ownership. Mannillo asserted the possession must be hostile under New Jersey law and that an encroachment onto the land of another must be accompanied by an intent to invade the owner’s rights.
The trial court entered judgment for Gorski, finding that her possession was exclusive, continuous, uninterrupted, visible, notorious, and against the rights and interest of the true owners. Mannillo appealed.
Issues: 1) Must possession be hostile in order to acquire land through adverse possession in New Jersey (Maine doctrine)? 2) What is required in order for a minor encroachment along a common border to constitute “open and notorious” possession?
Holding and Rule: 1) No. A party may acquire land through adverse possession if that party had a mistaken belief that she had title to the property (Connecticut doctrine). 2) In order to constitute “open and notorious” possession, the true owner must have actual knowledge of a minor encroachment along a common border.
Test for Adverse Possession: Any entry and possession for the required time which is exclusive, continuous, uninterrupted, visible, and notorious, even though under mistaken claim of title is sufficient to support a claim of title by adverse possession.
Open and Notorious Possession: Possession is open and notorious only when the true owner has actual knowledge. When the possession of land is clear and large enough to be immediately visible, there is a presumption that the true owner has actual knowledge of the adverse occupancy; however, there is no presumption of actual knowledge by the true owner when the encroachment is of a small area along a common boundary and is not clearly and self-evidently apparent to the naked eye.
This rule may impose undue hardship upon an adverse possessor. Equity may therefore require that the true owner convey the disputed land to the adverse possessor upon payment of its fair value.
Disposition: Remanded for a determination of whether Mannillo had actual knowledge of the encroachment and, if not, whether Mannillo should be required to convey the strip of land in exchange for its fair value.