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Wilcox v. Estate of Hines

Wisconsin Supreme Court
849 N.W.2d 280 (2014)


Facts

In 2002, Richard and Susan Wilcox (plaintiffs) purchased property from the Somas separated from a lake by a 25-foot-wide strip of land owned by the estates of Ralph Hines and William Newman (defendants). During the nearly 40 years they owned the property, the Somas had mistakenly believed that a boat-tour company owned the strip, so they asked for and obtained permission from that company to improve it. The Somas made multiple improvements including landscaping, riprap to retain the shoreline, and a fence with “no trespassing” signs. The Somas told the Wilcoxes that their property did not include the lakefront strip when the Wilcoxes bought the property but said they had a right to walk across it. The Wilcoxes nonetheless continued to improve the strip, adding piers, steps, trees, a patio, and a firepit. Nine years after they bought their property, the Wilcoxes brought an action to obtain title to the lakefront strip under Wisconsin’s 20-year adverse possession statute, arguing that they could tack the time they used the strip onto the time the Somas used it. The trial court dismissed the claim, reasoning that the Somas had not adversely possessed the strip because they disclaimed ownership of the property and sought and received permission to improve it. The appellate court reversed, finding the Somas’ subjective intent irrelevant. The true owners of the strip appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Gableman, J.)

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