Iowa Adverse Possession

Iowa case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: adverse possession.

Sabre Mayhugh v. Ester Dea, et al.. IA adverse possession

This case from Shelby County, Iowa, involved a 100-foot-wide strip of land between two adjoining properties. Mayugh brought a petition to show ownership of the strip of land by acquiescence or adverse possession. After the district court, Judge Jeffrey L. Larson, denied the petition, he appealed to the Iowa Court of Appeals.

The strip was part of a former railroad right-of-way. When the line was abandoned, the railroad deeded half of the line to the respective neighbors. Mayugh owned the land northeast of the line, and Dea owned the land to the southwest.

Dea had a fence along the old rail line, but it was completely inside his property line. In 2012, the fence had deteriorated, and Dea's tenant replaced it, rebuilding it closer to the center line of the old rail line. (When the fence was originally constructed, there were still ties in place, making it impractical to build it right on the line.)

The lower court first held that there had been no acquiescence, since there was no evidence that both parties had treated the fence as a boundary line. Instead, the court found that Dea had intended the fence solely to restrain livestock, rather than mark the boundary.

On the adverse posession claim, the lower court focused first on the fact that Dea had paid the property taxes for the disputed land. It also held that while Mayhugh made use of the strip, his use was not exclusive.

After reviewing the lower court's findings, the Court of Appeals affirmed for the reasons given by the lower court.

No. 15-0142 (Iowa Ct. App. Sep. 23, 2015).

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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