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Devore v. Vaughn

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Fourth Division

November 22, 2016

STUART A. DEVORE AND VANDEE DEVORE, HUSBAND AND WIFE, Respondents,
v.
LILLIAN VAUGHN, ET AL., Appellants.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Boone County, Missouri The Honorable Jodie C. Asel, Judge

          Before Mark D. Pfeiffer, Chief Judge, Presiding, Karen King Mitchell, Judge and Gary D. Witt, Judge

          OPINION

          Gary D. Witt, Judge

         Lillian Vaughn, Beverly Gardner, Racine Vaughn, Meredith Udell Vaughn, Gary Wayne Vaughn, Keith H. Vaughn, and Michael Lee Vaughn (collectively the "Appellants") appeal from the judgment of the Circuit Court of Boone County, entered after a bench trial, quieting title and vesting fee simple absolute title through adverse possession of certain property located in Boone County, Missouri to Respondents Stuart and Vandee DeVore (collectively "the DeVores"). Appellants raise two points on appeal challenging the trial court's findings that the DeVores' possession of the property was hostile and open and notorious for the required statutory periods. We affirm.

         Factual Background

         This appeal involves the vesting of fee simple absolute title through adverse possession of a piece of property immediately adjacent to property owned by the DeVores. The DeVores are the recorded owners of 8.5 acres, described in a deed dated June 20, 2001, and recorded at Book 1743, Page 730, with the Boone County Recorder's Office as follows:

The Northeast quarter of the Northeast quarter of the Northeast quarter of Section 28, Township 47 North, Range 12 West, Boone County, Missouri except 1 and 1/2 acres in the Northeast corner thereof conveyed to Lee Pierre Harris by deed dated May 11, 1962 and recorded in Book 317, Page 289, Records of Boone County, Missouri.

         (The "DeVore Property").

         The Appellants' parents James and Marjorie Vaughn became the recorded owners of the 1.5 acres adjacent to the DeVore Property on January 10, 1984.[1] The property was conveyed to them by deed dated January 3, 1984 and recorded with the Boone County Recorder's Office. The deed described the property as follows:

One and one half acres in a square in the Northeast corner of the Northeast 1/4 of the Northeast 1/4 of Section 28, Township 47, Range 12 in Boone County, Missouri.

         (The "Disputed Property"). The Disputed Property is bordered on the west and south by the DeVore Property and both properties are bordered to the north by East Woodson Harris Road. James Vaughn died in 1984, shortly after the Disputed Property was purchased. Appellants inherited the Disputed Property after the death of their mother Marjorie Vaughn on July 18, 2010, and became the record owners of the Disputed Property in a Decree of Determination of Heirship on August 11, 2014.

         On March 27, 2013, the DeVores filed a Petition asking that the trial court divest Appellants of any interest in the Disputed Property through adverse possession. The case was tried to the court on September 3, 2015.

         The following evidence, in brief, was adduced at trial. The DeVores have lived on the DeVore Property from June 22, 2001 through the date of trial. The home in which the DeVores live was built in 1994, and 450 square feet of the home was built on the Disputed Property. In addition, a retaining wall connected to the house extended onto the Disputed Property. A fence, which ran from East Woodson Harris Road to the south line of the Disputed Property, was located 82 feet east of and parallel to the boundary line between the DeVore Property and the Disputed Property. The fence was maintained by the DeVores and all of the property west of the fence was used by the DeVores as a yard, which was kept regularly mowed and cared for.

         The DeVores were aware they had only purchased 8.5 acres and knew the remaining 1.5 acres of the original 10-acre tract was owned by Marjorie Vaughn, although they did not personally know Marjorie Vaughn. The DeVores were not aware where the exact property boundary between their property and the Disputed Property was until a survey was conducted in 2014, which revealed that part of their home, retaining wall, and yard were located on the Disputed Property. Stuart DeVore testified that he had never seen Marjorie Vaughn or anyone else on the Disputed Property and immediately after he acquired his property he began to treat the disputed property as his own and take care of the property.

         The DeVores made significant improvements to their home and yard throughout their occupation of the premises and, naturally, resided thereon. The home, retaining wall, and yard were visible from East Woodson Harris Road. The remainder of the Disputed Property, not consisting of the DeVores' home and yard is located east of the above-described fence and is undeveloped and heavily wooded ("the Wooded Tract").

         The DeVores conducted a number of activities on the Wooded Tract, including the creation and maintenance of a significant trail system, activities associated with hunting, and general recreation thereon. In addition, the DeVores took responsibility for maintaining the Wooded Tract, including installing a fence around an open well, and cleaned up after a utility company cleared a significant pathway under a utility line. The DeVores were regularly on the Wooded Tract for many activities. The DeVores testified they would have excluded Marjorie Vaughn and the Appellants from the Disputed Property, including the Wooded Tract, because they considered it their own. However, neither Marjorie Vaughn nor the Appellants were seen on the Disputed Property between 2001 and 2013.

         Marjorie Vaughn lived on East Woodson Harris Road, a dead-end road, past the DeVore Property such that to reach her home one would have to drive by the Disputed Property and the DeVore Property. Neither Marjorie Vaughn nor the Appellants ever gave permission to the DeVores to use any portion of the Disputed Property.

         The trial court entered judgment in favor of the DeVores, quieting title and vesting fee simple absolute title through adverse possession of the entire Disputed Property, including the Wooded Tract, to the DeVores. This appeal follows. Additional facts will be presented as relevant in the analysis section below.

         Standard ...


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