When it comes to property law and aggressive trespassers ie., bad faith, Van Valkenburgh v. Lutz (1952) sets precedent for establishing the adverse possession doctrine.
Here’s the simple facts of Van Valkenburgh v. Lutz. Initially, in round one of a two part case, this is an appeal regarding an action of claim of title under adverse possession of a prescriptive easement; that is, the Lutz family (defendants) brought a lawsuit claiming adverse possession on a piece of land in Yonkers, New York, adjacent to their land. However, the Van Valenburgh family (plaintiffs) moved into the neighborhood, bought the adjacent lot, and wanted the Lutz family off. The case would play out in the courts in a subsequent case.
Here’s the issue regarding Van Valkenburgh v. Lutz: Was title to the land acquired by adverse possession? The court had to answer this issue.
Van Valkenburgh v. Lutz set the following property law rule: To gain title to property by adverse possession, there must be proof of actual occupation under claim of title for period of time.
Aside, this case demonstrates bad lawyering. The Van Valkenburgh’s lawyer waived an underlying claim, which he should of never done. Also, the Valkenburgh lawyer just went after a motion, which was a bad move. Someone should of been sued for legal malpractice.
Interestingly, the majority decision of this case is wrong. The majority said entire occupation of the land is necessary for adverse possession; however, one only needs to occupy a portion to gain adverse possession. The dissent was right when saying a portion of the land needs to be occupied for adverse possession.
In the final analysis, the Lutz family lost at the final court battle. They were not rewarded for their bad faith, which the lower court tried to reward them for. Also, it shows that even though the Lutz improved the land, built a garage and home on the said land, the Lutz lost.