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Sears v. Catholic Archdiocese of Washington

October 7, 2010


Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA-113-04), (Hon. Michael L. Rankin, Trial Judge).

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

Argued March 26, 2008

Before RUIZ, and BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY, Associate Judges, and JOSEY-HERRING, Associate Judge, Superior Court of the District of Columbia.*fn1

Appellants appeal from summary judgment dismissing their complaint for a declaration of their ownership in a piece of land -- known as "Old Lot 826" -- by adverse possession. Appellants (William Sears, Stephen Howard and Alison Kretzschmar) own three properties that back onto Old Lot 826, which is titled to appellees, the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and Saint Peter's Parochial School (jointly referred to as "Archdiocese"). Appellants claim that the trial court erred in dismissing their complaint for quiet title in Old Lot 826. First, appellants argue that they acquired ownership to Old Lot 826 based on their predecessors' adverse possession, which they say transferred to them by deed when they bought their respective properties. Appellants also assert, in the alternative, that they now own the land as a result of their own adverse possession, after "tacking," or adding, their predecessors' time of adverse possession to their own. We disagree with appellants on both points for the reasons that follow, and affirm the judgment of the trial court.*fn2

I. Statement of Facts*fn3

A. Disputed Old Lot 826

Appellants' properties -- lots 816, 817, and 818, in square 793 of the District of Columbia -- are adjacent to each other. On the lots are three adjoining rowhouses, with street addresses at 321, 323 and 323 1/2 D Street, S.E. The back of each of these lots abuts a piece of vacant land that was formerly designated as lot 826 ("Old Lot 826"). On the other side of Old Lot 826 was what was formerly known as lot 837 ("Old Lot 837"). Thus, Old Lot 826 was located between appellants' lots (816, 817, and 818) on one side, and Old Lot 837 on the other.

Saint Peter's Parochial School has been on Old Lot 837, which is owned by the Archdiocese and is located at 422 3rd Street, S.E., for many years. In 1950, the Archdiocese acquired Old Lot 826, located right behind the school. On December 23, 1976, the Office of the Surveyor of the District of Columbia combined and subdivided Old Lot 826 with Old Lot 837 into what is now known as lot 25 (where the school is located) and twelve smaller lots (nos. 807-818) in square 793. This appeal concerns appellants' claims that as a result of their ownership of lots 816, 817 and 818, they are also entitled to ownership by adverse possession of Old Lot 826, which is currently part of lot 25, owned by the Archdiocese.*fn4

B. The Current Owners of Lots 816, 817 and 818

1) Lots 816 and 818

Appellant Sears bought lot 816 from Thomas and Chris Downey ("the Downeys") on March 28, 1996,*fn5 and lot 818 from Thomas Mahr and Karen Nelson on June 26, 2001.*fn6 Each deed described the property being conveyed with a metes and bounds description and specified the lot number (i.e., lots 816 and 818) of the deeded property. Neither deed purported to convey, or included a description of, Old Lot 826. To the contrary, in the case of the deed to lot 818, a handwritten note from the seller advised that: "Lot 818 is being sold. Land beyond survey line is part of Lot 25 and is not of record to the seller of [lot 818]." As to lot 816, Ms. Downey warned Sears when he bought it in 1996, that we always enjoyed the use of this property, that we held it but we didn't have a deed to it, and that he could legally pursue this if he wanted to . . . . I said that all of the land did not convey.

Whatever was on the deed was on the deed, but they had the full use of the yard and that we had always had it too. (Emphasis added.)*fn7 Sears testified that he did not receive a quit-claim deed for Old Lot 826 when he bought either of lots 816 or 818. He also admitted that he had never paid property taxes on Old Lot 826.

2) Lot 817

Appellants Howard and Kretzchmar bought lot 817 from Todd Greentree and Julia Thompson on July 5, 1996.*fn8 The deed to that lot similarly described the deeded property in metes and bounds and specified that the property "is known for assessment and taxation purposes as Lot 817 in Square 793." The deed contains no description that would include, or made any reference to, Old Lot 826. ...

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