— A Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling issued on Monday favors two families who are seeking to sell property they jointly own for a proposed county park in
, but it remands a portion of the civil case to the district court for a decision on one aspect of it.
In the ruling, a three-judge panel affirmed a Chippewa County District Court decision in Montevideo granting summary judgment in favor of Mary and Dennis Gibson and Vicki and Keith Poier in the dispute brought by Robert W. Starbeck over the land.
Starbeck owns land adjoining the Poier/Gibson property, and filed a lawsuit in 2022 claiming adverse possession and a prescriptive easement for two portions of the 40-acre parcel that has been owned by the two families since 1974.
He argued that he farmed the portion of a field that encroaches on land owned by the families, and that he maintained a small campground area on the land.
The district court rejected the claim in a summary judgment in favor of the Gibsons and Poiers, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the same in its ruling. The district court ruled that Starbeck had no adverse possession claim — sometimes called “squatter’s rights” — to either portion of the property.
The district and appeals courts concurred: Starbeck had never paid any property taxes on the land.
There was no dispute over the boundary of the property. All of the parties know where the property line is, according to the two courts.
Paying property taxes and a boundary dispute are elements for considering an adverse possession claim. Absent either, Starbeck does not have grounds for the claim, according to the two courts.
In his lawsuit, Starbeck also claimed a prescriptive easement — a right of use — to the campground area. The district court had rejected the claim, finding that Starbeck did not need access to his own property through the campground area.
In its decision, the Court of Appeals concurred that Starbeck could not claim a need for access through the campground. However, it found that access is not the only element to consider for a prescriptive easement. Since the district court had not considered other possible elements, the Court of Appeals remanded that issue to the district court.
The Court of Appeals pointed out in its ruling that a prescriptive easement grants only a nonexclusive use of a portion of another’s property, not a right of exclusive possession or title to that property. It also noted that the district court can now consider arguments by the two families for a summary disposition of the prescriptive easement claim.
In their filings, the two families state that Starbeck used the campground area with their permission.
He denies receiving permission for use of the campground from the families in an affidavit in the lawsuit. He says he controlled access to the campground by installing a chain link fence on a field roadway to it and posting no trespassing signs.
The two families also argue that they provided permission to the public and other parties to use the campground site for recreational and educational purposes. The Boy Scouts and science classes from the Montevideo School District were among those using the site with their permission, according to the families.
The families charge that Starbeck filed the lawsuit claiming adverse possession knowing that they intended to sell the property to Chippewa County for use as a county park.
The county has offered to purchase the Gibson/Poier property and hopes to add an adjacent 40-acre parcel owned by the state of Minnesota to create an 80-acre park with access to the
south of Montevideo.
Chippewa County was awarded a $170,000 grant by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources for the park, and the funding was approved by the state Legislature. The funds and park development have been on hold pending the litigation.
The civil lawsuit will return to Chippewa County District Court on Jan. 22 for a scheduling conference.