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Underhill v. Mattson

Supreme Court of South Dakota

September 28, 2016

RON UNDERHILL, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
ROCKY MATTSON, BARBARA MATTSON, CARMEN WALTON and ALL OCCUPANTS WHO HAVE OR CLAIM ANY INTEREST OR ESTATE IN OR LIEN OR ENCUMBRANCE UPON THE PREMISES DESCRIBED IN THE COMPLAINT, Defendants and Appellees.

          CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS ON AUGUST 29, 2016

         APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE FOURTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT LAWRENCE COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA THE HONORABLE RANDALL L. MACY Judge

          DAVID L. CLAGGETT of Claggett & Dill, Prof. LLC Spearfish, South Dakota Attorneys for plaintiff and appellant.

          TIMOTHY R. JOHNS of Johns & Kosel, Prof. LLC Lead, South Dakota Attorneys for defendants and appellees.

          GILBERTSON, Chief Justice

         [¶1.] Ron Underhill appeals the circuit court's denial of his claims for quiet title and conversion in relation to a garage located on his land. The circuit court denied these claims after determining that Carmen Walton and Rocky and Barbara Mattson (collectively, "Defendants") acquired the garage and a small area of land surrounding it (collectively, "the Property")[1] through adverse possession. We affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2.] This suit involves several properties located along Taylor Avenue in Deadwood, South Dakota: Lots 8A, 59, 60, and 61 of Block 35. Taylor Avenue is a north-south street that terminates in a dead end on the north. Lot 59 is the northernmost lot abutting Taylor Avenue on the west, with Lots 60 and 61 sequentially lying to the south of Lot 59. Lot 8A abuts Taylor Avenue on the east, opposite Lot 61. Taylor Avenue's northern terminus curves slightly to the northwest and actually lies on Lots 59 and 60. The disputed property in this case consists of a one-car garage and the land on which it sits, which also lies on Lots 59 and 60, abutting Taylor Avenue's northern terminus. The property sits on a hillside with an ascending slope to the north and steep drop-offs to the south and west.

         [¶3.] Carmen Walton is the current record owner of Lot 8A, where she resides with her parents.[2] Walton purchased Lot 8A and the home located thereon from the Mattsons on January 30, 2001. The Mattsons purchased the lot and home from James and Doris Kennedy on February 10, 1976. The Kennedys purchased the lot and home from Ole and Mary Peterson on April 23, 1952. The Petersons acquired the property in 1914, and Ole constructed the garage in 1935. Each of the foregoing owners used the garage during their ownership of Lot 8A.

         [¶4.] The various owners of Lot 8A have a history of using and maintaining the garage. During the time Mattsons owned Lot 8A, their children used the area around the garage as a playground, and Rocky Mattson installed fencing to prevent their children from falling down the steep slopes. He also conducted repairs to the property, including reroofing the garage and stabilizing the hillside adjoining one wall of the garage. Walton and her father poured a concrete floor and driveway, raised and straightened the building, adjusted the garage doors, inserted new supports in the interior, painted the exterior, removed a tree behind the garage, and replaced the roof. Mr. Walton landscaped the property by placing 10 tons of gravel around the garage to improve water drainage. He also used a skid loader to level areas of the property and built a retaining wall to help prevent the garage from losing structural integrity.

         [¶5.] Underhill is the current record owner of Lots 59, 60, and 61. Underhill resides in a home located on Lot 61, which he acquired sometime in the year 2000. Underhill purchased Lots 59 and 60 from Martin C. Guth around September 26, 2012. Guth obtained a total of 19 lots, including Lots 59 and 60, from RTD Development Co. on April 6, 1973.

         [¶6.] Ownership of the garage did not come into question until the 1990s. In 1995, Mattsons first learned that the garage was located on Lots 59 and 60 and that those lots were owned by Guth. In 1997, the Deadwood City Attorney notified Guth that the garage and Taylor Avenue's northern terminus were located on Lots 59 and 60. Guth, who lived in Wisconsin at the time, was unaware that the garage existed or that the various property owners of Lot 8A had been using it for decades.[3]Mattsons communicated with Guth several times about formally purchasing the property, but apparently no agreement was reached.

         [¶7.] Subsequent to purchasing Lots 59 and 60, Underhill initiated this suit to quiet title in the disputed property on July 8, 2013. He also sought damages and punitive damages, alleging that Walton's continued use of the garage amounted to conversion. A trial before the circuit court was held on October 14, 2015. The court concluded that Walton had acquired the disputed property by adverse possession through her predecessors in interest. ...


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