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County of Bergen v. Cooper-Shepard

BER-C-233-06 (N.J. Super. Law Div. 2007) (Unpublished)

ADVERSE POSSESSION —A property acquired for incorporation into a public park, though not actively used for that purpose for many years, is nonetheless a part of the park and held for governmental purposes; therefore, encroaching landowners have no right to the property under the doctrine of adverse possession.

A County acquired land for incorporation into a public park, though the land was not actively used for that purpose for forty-eight years. Over those years, various structures were built on the land by neighboring private property owners whose properties adjoined the public land. This was confirmed by multiple surveys. The County filed suit seeking to have the private landowners remove those encroaching improvements. In response, the landowners claimed the right to keep the improvements based on the doctrine of adverse possession.

Adverse possession claims will run against land held by a governmental entity with respect to land neither dedicated to, nor used for, a public purpose. Here, the County claimed that the land at issue was part of a park, a quintessential public use. The Court noted that the subject property had been acquired for park use and had been part of the public park since that time. It held that merely because the subject property was on the edge of the park did not make it any less park land, and found the evidence clearly established that the property was purchased for use as park land and had been given that designation. The Court also found no evidence that the County had ever held or used the land for non-governmental purposes.

The Court concluded that the doctrine of adverse possession could not apply because time could not run against the County such as to provide the landowners with a property interest in its encroachments. The Court, therefore, granted judgment in favor of the County as a matter of law and denied the landowners’ motion.

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