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Dave T. Helm and Van E. Helm v. Ken Clark

December 21, 2010

DAVE T. HELM AND VAN E. HELM, APPELLANTS (PLAINTIFFS),
v.
KEN CLARK,
TRUSTEE, OR HIS SUCCESSOR IN TRUST, UNDER THE KEN CLARK LIVING TRUST DATED MARCH 28, 2006, APPELLEE (DEFENDANT).



Appeal from the District Court of Lincoln County The Honorable Dennis L. Sanderson, Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kite, Chief Justice.

Before KITE, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, VOIGT, and BURKE, JJ.

NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in Pacific Reporter Third. Readers are requested to notify the Clerk of the Supreme Court, Supreme Court Building, Cheyenne, Wyoming 82002, of typographical or other formal errors so correction may be made before final publication in the permanent volume.

[¶1] This case involves a dispute between adjoining property owners in Lincoln County, Wyoming. David T. Helm and Van E. Helm (the Helms) attempted to relocate a fence which for many years had separated their pasture from a pasture belonging to Ken Clark, Trustee of the Ken Clark Living Trust. The fence was south of the recorded property line between the Helms' property and Mr. Clark's property. Mr. Clark objected and claimed that he had acquired title to the property between the recorded boundary and the fence by adverse possession. After a bench trial, the district court quieted title to the property in Mr. Clark. On appeal, the Helms claim the district court committed various errors in arriving at its decision.

[¶2] We conclude the district court correctly ruled that Mr. Clark had proven his claim for adverse possession of the disputed tract; however, the district court's decision as to the size and exact location of the disputed area is clearly erroneous. Therefore, we affirm in part, but reverse and remand for a determination of the exact legal description of the adversely possessed property.

ISSUES

[¶3] The Helms' statement of the issues is repetitive, so we rephrase the issues as follows:

1. Whether the district court's findings of fact that Mr. Clark had established a case for adverse possession*fn1 were clearly erroneous or contrary to the great weight of the evidence when:

a. There was no evidence of "the definitive location, course or continuity of the fence" and "many facts material to proving adverse possession [were] absent or lacking;"

b. The trial court specifically found Mr. Clark "admitted the north-south fence on the east boundary of the area being adversely possessed until 1999 was a fence of convenience;" and

c. The "evidence clearly shows the north-south fence on the east boundary of the property claimed to be adversely possessed was moved in 1999 or only eight years before this matter ensued."

2. Did the district court err by failing to rule that Mr. Clark was estopped from arguing that the Clark/Helm fence was a boundary fence because members of his family had admitted that the north-south fence on the east boundary of the property was a fence of convenience?

Mr. Clark's statement of the issues is more general.

FACTS

[¶4] In this section, we will set out only the basic facts underlying the dispute. More details will be provided as necessary to analyze the specific legal issues in the "Discussion" section of this opinion. Mr. Clark and the Helms own adjoining agricultural properties in the NE 1/4 of Section 12, Township 30 North, Range 119 West, 6th P.M, in Lincoln County, Wyoming. The properties have been in the Clark and Helm families since the 1920s. Mr. Clark's property is north of the Helms' and their respective deeds indicate that the sixteenth section line dividing the NE 1/4 and the SE 1/4 of the NE 1/4 of Section 12 forms their property line, i.e., Mr. Clark owns the NE 1/4 NE 1/4 and the Helms own the SE 1/4 NE 1/4 . A fence between the properties was built long ago and is south of the actual property line, meaning that part of the Helms' property is fenced in with Mr. Clark's property.*fn2

[ΒΆ5] The Helms decided to move the fence to place it on the property line. Mr. Clark objected, and the Helms filed an ejectment action on October 25, 2007. Mr. Clark counterclaimed alleging that he had acquired title to the property north of the fence by adverse possession. The district court held a bench trial and ruled that Mr. Clark had proven the elements of adverse possession and the Helms had not provided a sufficient explanation to ...


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