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Winters v. Christen

Court of Appeals of Iowa

April 19, 2017

A.J. CHRISTEN and AUNE CHRISTEN, and their heirs, devisees, grantees, assignments, successors in interest and any unknown claimants of the followed described real estate situated in Allamakee County, Defendants, and DUANE A. TANK and SHEILA M. TANK, Intervenors-Appellants.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Allamakee County, John J. Bauercamper, Judge.

         Duane Tank and Sheila Tank appeal the district court's grant of summary judgment to James Winters, Carol Winters, Ted Waitman, and Deborah Waitman in this quiet title action. AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED IN PART, AND REMANDED.

          Roger L. Sutton of Sutton Law Office, Charles City, for appellants.

          James Burns of Miller, Pearson, Gloe, Burns, Beatty & Parrish, P.L.C., Decorah, for appellees.

          Heard by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Tabor and Mullins, JJ.

          MULLINS, Judge.

         James Winters, Carol Winters, Ted Waitman, and Deborah Waitman instituted this quiet title action, seeking to establish their ownership over the land situated between their properties and that of the high water mark of the Mississippi River. Duane Tank and Sheila Tank filed an answer to the Winterses and Waitmans' petition, contesting their asserted ownership. The Winterses filed a motion for partial summary judgment to which the Tanks objected. The court granted the motion for partial summary judgment and quieted title in the Winterses and the Waitmans. The Tanks have appealed. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         The Winterses' property lies westerly of the Mississippi River. The Waitmans' property is situated south of the Winterses' property. The Tanks' property is north of the Winterses' and Waitmans' properties, although it does not abut their properties, as other privately-owned land rests between them. To the east of all of these properties is the Mississippi River. However, between the west bank of the Mississippi River and the east boundary of these properties runs a strip of land. Thus, none of these properties directly abut the Mississippi River. Included on this strip of land are railroad tracks on the east side of the strip (closest to the river) and, to the west of the railroad tracks, a public road. The strip of land between the Tanks' property and the Mississippi River is owned by the United States Government.[1] It is the strip of land between the Winterses' and Waitmans' properties and the Mississippi River that is at issue in this case.

         The Tanks and Winterses have previously litigated a related dispute over the property at issue. In 2011, the Tanks filed a petition for temporary and permanent injunctions and seeking monetary damages based on the Winterses' alleged interference with the Tanks' ability to use a dock they had constructed on the river shoreline to the east of the Winterses' property. At that time, the Winterses-who had also installed a dock on the shore-claimed ownership of the same shoreline and all the real estate between their property and the Mississippi River. The Winterses also claimed they had acquired the disputed strip of land by adverse possession. Accordingly, the Winterses sought a permanent injunction against the Tanks and an order requiring them to remove their dock.

         A plat of the land at issue was recorded in 1892. Referencing the abstract of title to the Winterses' real estate, the district court noted in the 2011 action, "It is not clear from the [1892] plat where [the width of the lot] commences. It could commence at some point in the river, on the railroad track or on the possible roadway." In 1949, property was conveyed to A.J. and Aune Christen. The district court recounted that in this conveyance the property transfer "except[ed] that portion of Government Lot 4 lying Easterly of the Northeasterly right of way line of the railroad." That is, in part of the property conveyed, the land to the east of the railroad was not included.[2]

         The district court further summarized that, in 1970, the Christens had a surveyor plat their land; the plat was recorded in October of that same year. The plat divided the land into lots, and the easternmost edge of those lots was the county road. Thus, "[t]he land containing the roadway and railroad tracks, which runs east from the lots to the Mississippi River, [wa]s not divided into lots." Certain lots were then conveyed to Donald and Patricia Clark in 1972; the deed specifically provided: "Sellers will not warranty any title East of County Road . . . ." The same property was then deeded to Billy and Judith Crandall. The deed provided the "intention [was] to convey from [the] County Road on [the] East side, to [the] West line of said Lot." The Winterses owned the property after the Crandalls. All of these conveyances passed "[s]ubject to public highway and rights of the Railroad and U.S. Government if any."

         In resolving the parties' dispute, the district court found: (1) the strip of land in dispute-that is "[t]he real estate lying east of the eastern lot lines, which encompasses the roadway, railroad tracks, as well as the land to the Mississippi River"-was still owned by the Christens' heirs as it "was not included in any lots and, accordingly, was not conveyed"; (2) the Winterses had not brought an action to quiet title, and regardless, the Christens' heirs were necessary parties for the land to be quieted; and (3) neither party had a possessory interest in the shoreline. Accordingly, both parties' claims were dismissed.

          In 2013, the Winterses and Waitmans brought a petition in equity to quiet title. They named as defendants the Christens' heirs and claimed they had adversely possessed the disputed land. Though not named in the action, the Tanks filed an answer, claiming the suit had been previously adjudicated, the Winterses and Waitmans had failed to join the State of Iowa and United States as parties to the action, and the Tanks had also used the property at issue.[3] In October 2015, the Winterses filed a motion for partial summary judgment, alleging there was no genuine issue of material fact that (1) they had adversely possessed the property, (2) the Christens' heir-Sheila Daniels-had deeded the disputed property to them, and (3) the Tanks were legal strangers to the same property. In their resistance to the motion, the Tanks argued, in relevant part, the Winterses failed to establish the ownership of the land between the railroad tracks and the high water mark of the Mississippi River, there was no evidence Sheila Daniels owned the property at issue, and the Tanks had rights to the ...

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