IA Appeals Court Allows Daughter-In-Law's Adverse Possession Claim

Iowa case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: Adverse Possession.

Hutchins v. Hutchins. Iowa adverse possession

In 1977, Joy and Wilbur Hutchins purchased about 10 acres in Elkhart, Iowa. In 1987, they invited their son Michael and his wife Gloria to move onto the property with their daughter. Gloria and Michael placed a manufactured home on the property, and they lived there ever since. The treated the property as their own, raised a fenced-in garden, built a two and a half car garage, and laid sidewalks and a garage apron. Starting in 1999, they paid the real estate taxes on the property. Michael and Gloria have their own electrical service, but their water came from a well shared with Joy and Wilbur. In addition, the two couples shared a driveway.

Michael died in 2005, and Gloria continued to live on the property and maintain it. In 2011, Wilbur served her with a notice to quit tenancy. She filed a petition with the District Court of Polk County to quiet title. She claimed ownership of the property by adverse possession. A trial was held, and the trial court, Judge Mary Pat Gunderson, agreed with Gloria that she had acquired title to the property by adverse possession. Wilbur appealed to the Iowa Court of Appeals. Both Joy and Wilbur died while the case was pending, and their son, Larry Jutchins, was subsituted.

The main issue, both at trial and on appeal, was whether Gloria's occupancy of the property was "hostile," as required to establish an adverse possession claim. Wilbur argued that possession could not be hostile because Gloria came onto the property with permission. But the Court of Appeals disagreed. It noted that "hostility" in this sense does not imply ill will. It requires merely that the occupier assert ownership by declarations showing an exclusive claim to the land. The court cited an earlier Iowa Supreme Court case which stated that the person claiming adverse possession must show only that she "takes and maintains such possession and exercises such open dominion as ordinarily marks the conduct of owners in general."

The Court of Appeals carefully examined the evidence and concluded that the trial court had not erred in making this finding.

For these reasons, the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the District Court.

For another recent Iowa decision involving adverse possession, see Westcott v. Malli. which was decided on March 12, 2014.

No. 3-1198/12-1966 (Iowa Ct. App. Mar. 26, 2014).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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