Mannillo v. Gorski
255 A.2d 258 (1969)

  • The Gorskis moved into a new house.  Over they years they made improvements, including some external stairs and a concrete walkway.
    • Turns out, they were mistaken about where they property line was and the walkway and stairs encroached on Mannillo’s property by 15 inches.
  • Twenty or so years later, Mannillo realized the mistake. They sued Gorski for trespass.
    • Gorski argued that the 15 inches was now theirs due to adverse possession.
      • Gorski admitted that they were under the mistaken belief that they owned those 15 inches.
    • Mannillo argued that there was no hostile nature to Gorski’s encroachment, so adverse possession does not apply.
      • Adverse possession generally requires a knowing wrongful intent to invade the land of another.
  • The Trial Court found for Mannillo.  Gorski appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that Gorski’s possession was “exclusive, continuous, uninterrupted, visible, notorious, and against the rights and interests of the true owner.”
    • However, New Jersey case law shows that hostility is a requirement for adverse possession.  You can’t assert adverse possession due to a mistake.
  • The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed and remanded for trial.
    • There are two doctrines on this issue:
      • The Maine Doctrine holds that it must be the intention of the occupant to claim ownership of the land.  (A subjective standard).
      • The Connecticut Doctrine holds that the very nature of the act is proof of intention, so there is no reason to inquire into the mind of the possessor. (An objective standard).
    • The New Jersey Supreme Court found that the Connecticut Doctrine made more sense and that hostility was not an absolute requirement for adverse possession.
    • However, the Court was unwilling to throw out the requirement for “open and notorious” possession.
      • In most adverse possession cases, the adverse possessor is taking an entire parcel of land, and it’s pretty obvious they are taking it.  In this case, a small encroachment on a few inches of land is not evident to the naked eye and requires a land surveyor to adjudicate.
        • The owner must have “actual knowledge” of the encroachment.
    • The case was remanded for trial to determine if Mannillo had knowledge (or should have noticed) that Gorski was encroaching on his land.
  • There were a number of other options that the Court could have considered.  They could have forced Mannillo to sell the 15″ to Gorski.  Alternately, they could have awarded Gorski an easement by estoppel, and allowed Gorski to continue to use the land, even though it would continue to belong to Mannillo.