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Solid Rock Church, Disciples of Christ v. Friendship Public Charter School

May 17, 2007

SOLID ROCK CHURCH, DISCIPLES OF CHRIST, APPELLANT,
v.
FRIENDSHIP PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL, INC., APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA2085-04) (Hon. John M. Campbell, Trial Judge).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reid, Associate Judge

Argued March 22, 2006

Before REID and FISHER, Associate Judges, and FERREN, Senior Judge.

This case concerns a property dispute between appellant, Solid Rock Church, Disciples of Christ ("Solid Rock"), and appellee, Friendship Public Charter School, Inc. ("Friendship"), which operates its school in a building originally known as the Woodridge Elementary School ("Woodridge"), previously owned by the District of Columbia prior to its transfer to Friendship.*fn1 Solid Rock claims ownership by adverse possession of a portion of land which Friendship asserts it acquired from the District. The trial court granted summary judgment in behalf of Friendship. On appeal, Solid Rock claims that summary judgment was improper because there are genuine issues of material fact that must be resolved. We partially affirm the trial court's grant of summary judgment to Friendship, holding that there is no right of adverse possession with respect to District of Columbia property designated for public use. However, we remand this case to the trial court for purposes of determining the boundaries and dimensions of the property in dispute, and what portion, if not all, of that disputed property properly belongs to Friendship.

FACTUAL SUMMARY

The record before us shows that in 1981, Solid Rock purchased property, in fee simple, located at 2900 Central Avenue, in the Northeast quadrant of the District (Square 4339, Lot 26 -- described as part of the Resurvey of Woodridge, Plat of Brewood's Subdivision, as recorded in Liber 46, Folio 159 of records in the Office of the Surveyor). Solid Rock erected a fence with a locked gate in a space (then believed to be an alley or gully) situated between Solid Rock's property and Woodridge. Prior to erection of the fence, the space had been used for dumping debris, and criminal activity had occurred there. In addition to the fence, Solid Rock posted a "No Trespassing" sign. For years thereafter, it considered the property encompassed by the fence to be part of its lot, and now claims that it acquired the disputed land by adverse possession after a period of fifteen years had elapsed, or as of 1996.

On November 8, 2000, the District of Columbia transferred Woodridge, located at 2929 Carlton Avenue, Northeast, to Friendship by way of a quitclaim deed. The transferred property consisted of Lot 812 in Square 4339. Exhibit A, attached to the Quitclaim Deed, explained that Lot 812 was composed of lots previously known as 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 809 and 810, Square 4339. Exhibit A further described the land by metes and bounds, with no reference to the historic documents reflecting these measurements.

On March 18, 2004, Friendship filed a complaint against Solid Rock for declaratory, injunctive and ejectment relief, alleging that Solid Rock had "constructed improvements which are, or can be used as a driveway and a garage . . . which are located in part on [Solid Rock's] [p]roperty and in whole or in part on Woodridge." Friendship filed a motion for summary judgment on October 27, 2004, arguing that Solid Rock could not acquire property by asserting adverse possession against the District, and that Friendship has owned the disputed property since the year 2000. Several documents were attached to the motion. These included: (1) an affidavit signed by Kimberly Campbell, Chief of Staff of Friendship, which stated, in part, that "Friendship did not become aware of the [e]ncroachment until on or about January 2004 when a survey conducted of Woodridge showed the [e]ncroachment"; (2) Friendship's quitclaim deed from the District; (3) a single diagram, dated September 23, 2003, prepared by Currie and Associates, and labeled as a "Boundary and Topographic Survey, Lot 812 Square 4339, Woodridge High School, Washington, D.C."; and Plate 10 (a diagram of a large area with no description, which included Lots 26 and 812) from one of the four volumes published by R.H. Baist, Surveyor (Philadelphia, 1959).

Solid Rock filed an answer, and an amended answer and counterclaim, alleging adverse possession, as well as an opposition to Friendship's motion for summary judgment. The opposition to the summary judgment motion contended that Friendship had no standing to raise any of the District's defenses; the District never claimed ownership of the disputed property between 1981 and 2000; and Solid Rock acquired the disputed property by adverse possession. Attached to Solid Rock's opposition were several documents, including: (1) a letter from Roland Richardson, Jr., an architect and specifications consultant obtained by Solid Rock, indicating that he had reviewed documents in the District's Office of Surveyor, including a plat and site plan for Square 4339, Lots 23, 26, and 27, and concluding that although "[t]here is no easement or open area noted in any of the records reviewed," "the space between the existing fence and the property line between Lot #812 and Lot #26, was probably an easement for the power poles located along the property line; and further, the boundary of Lot 26 on the Central Avenue side of the property actually reflected 116.4 feet, instead of the 90 feet recorded on the historic plat covering Lot 26; (2) an affidavit from Bishop Thorpe of Solid Rock stating that the garage referenced by Friendship was on the property when Solid Rock acquired it but that Solid Rock expanded and improved it between 1982-1984, and again in 1990; Friendship's quitclaim deed did not identify the disputed property as part of that conveyed to Friendship; Exhibit A attached to the quitclaim deed "is not the official land description on file with the District Surveyor's Records Office"; Solid Rock fenced in its entire property in 1981, including the church building and the disputed property, and "exercised actual, open and notorious, exclusive and hostile, and continuous possession over the property for a period of more than fifteen (15) years against the District . . . "; and (3) Solid Rock's deed in fee simple. In its statement of material facts in dispute Solid Rock asserted, in part, that the disputed property never was located on Woodridge property, and that Exhibit A to the quitclaim deed was not provided to Friendship by the District.

On December 3, 2004, the trial court granted Friendship's motion for summary judgment, as well as judgment on Solid Rock's counterclaim. The court declared "[t]hat both the driveway and the garage structure which are the subject of this action are located in part on Friendship's Property and in part on [Solid Rock's] Property"; and ordered Solid Rock to remove the encroachment at its own expense, within thirty (30) days of the docketing of the court's order. On January 7, 2005, the trial judge met with the parties to consider Solid Rock's emergency motion for a stay and to "clarify . . . the bases for [his] ruling on the motion for summary judgment." He stated that "as a matter of law there was no genuine issue of fact regarding whether the very structure in question . . . did in fact encroach on property . . . that is now owned by Friendship . . . ." Furthermore, Solid Rock "cannot adversely possess [property] against the District of Columbia, against a municipality[,]" and "the D.C. public schools are part of the District of Columbia government for purposes of this doctrine . . ." The trial court concluded that Friendship had standing because its "interest[s] clearly are affected by the encroachment in the case . . . ." Finally, the trial judge stated that in issuing the order on the summary judgment motion, his "intention was to have that order be on the grounds stated by the . . . plaintiffs."

ANALYSIS

Solid Rock contends that Friendship lacked "standing to sue the Church to recover the disputed property." It also argues, in essence, that the trial court erred in granting Friendship's motion for summary judgment because there are a number of material facts in dispute; and further maintains that it acquired the disputed property through adverse possession. Friendship insists that it had standing to bring its lawsuit against Solid Rock, that Solid Rock could not acquire the property through adverse possession since the District is a municipality, and further, Friendship claims that it exercised ownership rights over the disputed property.

Standard of Review

This court reviews summary judgment decisions de novo, viewing all evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. The New 3145 Deauville L.L.C. v. First Am. Title Ins. Co., 881 A.2d 624, 627 (D.C. 2005) (citing Brown v. George Washington Univ., 802 A.2d 382, 385 (D.C. 2002)); see also Holland v. Hannan, 456 A.2d 807, 814-15 (D.C. 1983). Summary judgment may be granted where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Super. Ct. Civ. R. 56; Id.; see also Kelley v. Broadmoor Coop. Apartments, 676 A.2d 453, 456 (D.C. 1996). "There is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party ...


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